A custom top is a must if you have the budget, and are doing a
serious restoration. John Hubbard's 1954 CJ-3B underwent a
frame-off restoration, and the custom canvas top
was the logical finishing touch for his Jeep. John says that the canvas
ages very well and looks better with age. He says that the canvas gets
tighter with age rather than looser as vinyl does. John told me that
Beachwood has a 1954 CJ-3B and a set of original bows for fitting the
tops and they test fit all of their tops before they are shipped out.
He was very impressed with the attention to detail and craftsmanship.
Of course, quality and craftsmanship do not come without a price. I have a limited budget for my Jeep, and a frame-off restoration is impossible for me to do, so I plan a slow restoration to fit my time and financial constraints. The ready made soft top was affordable (barely) and still looks good and fits well. Since I do not have a garage I wanted the top on before winter.
There seems to be little difference between the Bestop Tigertop and the Kayline top (later manufactured by Specialty Top Company) which was made from the same grade of vinyl. The Bestop Tigertop is only available in Black for the 3B. The main advantage of the Kayline top was that it was available in a variety of colors.
Joel Kamunen comments that "The Kayline doesn't have the cutout for the original top holder in the rear corners."
All five people who responded to my inquiry on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board about which top to purchase, owned a Bestop, and all were pleased with it. The recommendations and a slightly cheaper price convinced me to buy the Bestop. Call around to find the best price and also check on the shipping charge. Although I found the Bestop at the same price from two Jeep parts suppliers, the shipping costs were very different and made the decision about whom to buy from.
Note: Turner 4WD has Kayline (Specialty) installation instructions online in PDF form, and Autostyles has Bestop installation instructions in PDF.
Installation of the soft top is not difficult, just tedious. Two people is a must! Do not try this alone. My wife's cousin put a soft top on his CJ-5 by himself and was very disappointed with the outcome.
Here are two tips for a tight fit to ensure the best looking installation: 1. Make sure the distance from the inside edge of the windshield to the rear inside edge of the vehicle body is correct (66 1/2 inches); 2. Install the top on a warm day ( above 70 degrees F or 21 degrees C), perhaps even in the sun rather than the shade.
Make sure you have a channel on the top front of the windshield for the top, because this part does not come with the kit. In general, the instructions for installation are easy to follow and give some good tips like using chalk on the snaps to get proper placement of the body studs. I found the placement of the door channels and upper door hinges was not well explained in the instructions and the measurements provided were not quite right which made the first attempt with the passenger door incorrect. I found that it was a lot easier to put the channels and hinges on after the fabric top had been installed with door placement done by eye from inside while your helper holds the door from the outside.
I also discovered that the sheet metal screws provided with the top for attaching the body studs are weak and the heads shear off with the slightest torque, especially where the metal is thicker (where the studs for the doors are to be placed). I suggest going to a hardware store and purchasing stronger screws before starting the installation.
Randy Merritt had similar cautions for anyone preparing to install a Tigertop, in this posting to the CJ-3B Bulletin Board: "When you receive your top it will contain everything you need for installation except the aluminum channel that you attach to the windshield frame if yours is missing or has rusted away. This item is purchased separately from Bestop and they do provide information on ordering it.
"I installed my Tigertop not quite one year ago and found it to be quite self-explanatory and easy to install with the proper tools. The most important thing to do is to place your Jeep inside a heated garage to do the install. This helps the fabric to soften up and allows the fabric to stretch properly during installation. For those of you have a tonneau cover on a pickup and you try and snap in during cold weather you know what I am talking about.
"Aside from that, the most important thing to do is ensure the measurement from the top of the windshield frame to the top of the rear of the body tub is correct. It may take you a while to adjust the windshield latches on your dash panel as one always seems to move when the opposite side is adjusted. After you have properly measured the windshield frame correctly on both sides, measure again and then measure once more. I can not emphasize this enough. If the measurements are not correct the top will sag or have wrinkles in it after installation.
"If memory serves me correct, the installation instructions tell you to mark the location of the snaps on the body tub with chalk. I tried this, and because the paint was fairly fresh and the Jeep had wax on it the chalk did not work well at all. I found that a good quality dry-erase fine line marker works great for this purpose as it shows up well, and when you have the holes drilled for the snaps you can wipe the marker off with a tissue or soft cloth.
"The only other thing to be careful of is installing the brackets for the top bows. If these are not placed correctly, the top will not sit correctly on the bows and once again a problem. The measurements for these brackets are made by measuring from the dash panel to the proper location on the top side of the body tub. I started using a tape measure and after 20 minutes of frustration realized that the 36" steel ruler hanging in my garage was the weapon of choice for this operation. Aside from what I have mentioned above, do not try and install this by yourself as this is definitely a two-man job to ensure proper fit. I found that if you purchase pizza and provide refreshments of their choice you will not have any problem finding someone to help with your install. Pay attention to the small details and your top will look great. There are more photos of my '62 Jeep in the Owners Photos section. Best of luck." -- Randy
With good care your vinyl soft top should look good for years. There are products available to protect soft top materials from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. There is also a scratch remover kit to keep soft top windows looking good. Both are available from Jeep suppliers like Four Wheel Drive Hardware. (I've always used Pledge. -- Derek)
Jon Paulsen told me his Bestop is still in good shape after about 6-8 years. He had a great suggestion to preserve the back window. Rolling up the back panel will fog the window (introduces many fine scratches). Jon got a grommet kit and installed two grommets in the bottom of the material under the back window, one in each corner. He uses a snappy cord to attach the rear panel to his roll bar when he wants to open it. If, like me, you don't have a roll bar, you probably could attach the panel to the front bow of the top.
Joe Caprio posted his window cleaning technique on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board:
Herm Tilford commented: "I have used either a plastic cleaner designed for the clear windows, from a boat or marine supply, or a fine car polish which is very close to the same thing. The main thing to remember about the windows is that they are a man made material with natural oils in it. If the natural oils dry out your windows with soon follow. Use the polish religiously and generously and your windows will last a long time. Don't roll up the back window if it's dirty or the side windows if they are dirty as it will scratch the plastic."
Thanks to Dan Fedorko and the other contributors. -- Derek Redmond
Elsewhere on the web, Jaime Gomis has posted instructions for making a bikini top for a CJ-3B.
See also a history of Soft Tops for Willys Jeeps.
Return to Tech Tips on The CJ3B Page.
CJ3B Home | Site Map | Updates | Search | Links | Bulletin Board