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Project TJ Reboot V3: Finding The Best Soft Top For Our Jeep

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on February 16, 2017
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You’re looking for a soft top for your Jeep JK? Well, there are many choices. Quite a few brands, a multitude of styles, a number of fabrics, and many other differences in soft tops confront the interested buyer. What’s best for you and your Jeep? That depends upon your type of off-road activity.

Soft Top Styles

If you’ve decided that a soft top is for you, now you need to decide on the style. There are a few major styles, and there are derivations and variations of all among the soft top manufacturers.

The bikini style is very popular, offering shade over the area forward of the B-pillar roll bar and lots of open space to the side and rear for fresh air and uninhibited views of the surroundings. They are usually very easy to install and remove, often requiring nothing more than adjustable straps for attachment to the Jeep. The safari style soft top is a variation on the bikini theme, but it offers a little more coverage and protection from the weather (and sun) than the bikini. It covers both front and rear passengers and, often times, a bit of the cargo area as well, depending on the type of Jeep you have. Safari soft tops usually incorporate a zippered or roll-up fastback-style covering over the rear cargo area.

Full-cover soft tops do just that- fully cover the Jeep’s tub. The benefits to a full-coverage top are numerous. They better protect passengers and gear from the weather and dust, as well as sun exposure. The two major categories here are usually referred to as frameless (with no internal frame, and sitting on top of the Jeep’s sport bars) and conventional (has an internal frame and appears more like a factory top in shape). Some can be completely closed up for maximum coverage, with either full- or half-doors made of fabric with vinyl windows. Some are available with fastback-style rear compartment covers with zipped quarter panels and vinyl windows. Some can be fully folded or rolled back to open up the entire Jeep to the sunshine, and some conventional-style soft tops even offer a flip top than can fold back to uncover the front seats while leaving the remainder of the Jeep fully covered.

One of the most time-consuming parts of this job was removing the old soft top. It had been on Project TJ Reboot for longer than anyone here can remember, the fabric was cracked and torn, the windows were completely opaque, zippers were a mess, and some of the strap buckles had been broken so the straps were tied in knots to keep them attached to the roll bar of the Jeep. Ever tried to untie a knot that’s been cinched down for years? Then you know what we’re talking about.

TJ Reboot Choice

We chose the latter for our Project TJ Reboot. Although it lives in Southern California, it will see many climates and weather patterns. Believe it or not, a Jeep owner based in the region can experience the warm sandy trails of the desert or cold snowy terrain of the mountains all in the same day. We wanted something that could be wide open, partially open, or completely closed up.

There are varying grades of vinyl fabric (weighing 28-, 23-, and 18-ounce per square) offering different levels of quality and performance. The heavier, the better, when it comes to acoustics and durability. There are also soft tops made from sailcloth in various texture patterns: black diamond, denim grain, and even textures called Buffalo Grain and Prairie Grain. Bikini tops are often made from 23- or 18-ounce fabric. Some companies use lower quality solution-dyed polyester fabrics to make their soft tops.

After looking around, we settled on the Bestop Supertop NX. Bestop offers its high-end soft top in a twill acrylic fabric with a butyl rubber liner and polyester backing. The twill offers a soft fabric feel, good acoustics (sound deadening), a rick black color, and it’s easy to clean. The top is made of premium 28-ounce multi-layer acrylic fabric sewn with 135-gauge polyester industrial thread, and features sealed seams. Bestop fabrics are manufactured and tested to meet a very high level of UV and chemical resistance.

The Supertop NX from Bestop also features the company’s trick Sunrider flip-back front panel, windshield header bar, factory-style composite-material door surrounds, powdercoated bows and rails, quick-release bow knuckles, adjustable tensioning, DOT-approved 30-mil vinyl side and rear windows with a 31 percent tint to keep the interior cooler in hot weather, and YKK scoop count zippers for easy installation and removal.

The side bow, center bow, and header structure of the Bestop Supertop NX was assembled first. The side bows were attached to the header, making sure the side bows were oriented with the bends pointing up and the pivot knuckles facing outward. A Phillips-head screwdriver will be needed here, and all the holes are pre-drilled. Then the center bow was attached to the side bow by laying the plastic bumpers of the center bow on top of the side bows, aligning the holes in center bow with those in the side bows, and using the kit-supplied hardware to secure them together. A Philips-head screwdriver and 8mm wrench were used on this step.

Care Tips

We’ve learned a bit about taking care of a soft top over the years. Here are some tips. Keep it clean. Jeeping is all about dirt and mud, but once home, take the time to wash off the top to protect the fabric. Don’t use petroleum-based products to clean your soft top, as they will degrade the fabric. You can use mild soap and warm water, with a very soft bristle brush to clean the fabric, and then rinse with clear water. Some manufacturers offer specialized products to clean and protect your soft top.

Windows: Never wash the vinyl windows with a brush. Always use a clean soft towel soaked in water or a sponge, and mild dishwashing liquid to clean the windows. Never wipe the windows when they are dry, this can create deep scratches. The windows should not be rolled or folded in very cold weather; they can become stiff and will crack. Wiping snow or frost from the windows can also scratch them.

Zippers: A clean and well-lubricated zipper is a working zipper. There are special products for this, but remember to not use petroleum-based products here either, as they can damage the fabric around the zippers. We have seen some owners use very light applications of wax to keep the zippers moving happily, but too much can attract dust and gum up the works, and wax can become stiff in cold weather. Powdered graphite can also be used as a zipper lubricant. If a zipper opens up behind the slider because its jaws have spread, you can carefully squeeze the slider’s jaws back to parallel with needle nose pliers.

Snaps: Keeping your soft top’s snaps clean and lubricated with silicone can help keep them from sticking. If a snap is stuck, gently pry it open with a small, flat-bladed screwdriver to avoid damage to the snap or stud.

Leaks: With age may come seam leaks. This can be avoided or stopped by using 3M Scotchgard on the inside of the seam. Small tears or holes can be repaired using good old-fashioned iron-on patches (Dritz makes a thick canvas patch) like your mother used to fix your pants when your were a kid. Be careful with that iron, though, or you could melt the fabric you’re trying to repair.

Next were the pivot brackets that go on the vertical B-pillar of the sport bar. The padding was unzipped to reveal the pre-existing nutserts in the sport bar. The pivot brackets (driver side pictured) were installed with kit-supplied hardware using a T30 Torx driver.
We had to cut the lower of two pre-existing slots in the zippered padding on both sides of the sport bar into an elongated “L” shape in order to get the padding to fit over the long lower tangs of the pivot brackets once they were bolted onto the sport bar. Then the padding was zipped back tight on both sides of the sport bar.
The door surrounds were hammered on Project TJ Reboot, so they had to be replaced. If yours are broken, warped, or cracked too, be sure to let Bestop know these need to be part of your order when purchasing your Supertop NX. If your Jeep still has the molded seals on the belt rail, remove them by pulling up on the plastic rivet. The new door surrounds were installed (drivers side pictured) by inserting the pin in the bottom of the door surround into the hole in the belt rail just aft of the door. Then we pressed the curved channels on top of the door surrounds around the horizontal top section of the sport bar. Four knobs came with the kit. The knobs had threaded steel bolts that were passed through the holes in the channels of the door surrounds, through the sport bar, and then screwed into pre-existing nutserts in the underside of the sport bar.
At this point in the Bestop Supertop NX installation, we placed the side-bow-center-bow-header assembly on top of the Jeep. We left the header resting (but unattached for now) on the windshield frame top, the side bows laying atop the door surrounds, and the side bows “locking blocks” (brackets that attach to the spring-loaded pins on the top of the door surrounds) unattached for now as well. Then, the pivot knuckles of the side bows were snapped into place on the upper tangs of the pivot brackets on the sport bar b-pillars.
We had already assembled the rear bow, using a Phillips-head screwdriver (all the holes were pre-drilled), making sure the knobs in the pivot knuckles faced toward the inside. Now it was time to install the rear bow on the Jeep. The rear bow pivot knuckles contain spring-loaded pins with small knobs facing outside. The pivot knuckles were attached to the lower tangs of the pivot brackets, and since this was a new top (and had not yet stretched a bit from repeated use), the pivot knuckles were installed in farthest-forward hole in the lower tangs of the pivot brackets.
While pulling the top of the rear bow forward, we pulled the fabric stay pads (they’re actually thick and sturdy woven poly straps) that are attached to the center bow straight back to the upper corners of the rear bow (keeping the fabric stay pads flat). Then we aligned the holes in the ends of the fabric stay pads with the holes on the upper corners of the rear bow, and secured them together with the #8x1/2-inch pan head washer screws. Again, a Phillips screwdriver was used here.
This next step reminded us of the importance of vehicle maintenance, and by that, we mean cleanliness in this particular instance. There had been so much mud splashed in to and never cleaned out of the rear cargo compartment and around the inside of the Jeep’s belt rail that rust had frozen the nuts used inside the belt rail to secure the mounting bolts for the old soft top’s tailgate bar mounts. We had to use a small die grinder to eliminate the rusted nuts and remove the old mounts (which did not match the new Bestop tailgate bar). Because the Bestop kit came with screws (likely because of the assumption this may be your first soft top and there would be no holes already drilled here), we sourced some small nuts and bolts from the local hardware store in order to attach the new Bestop tailgate bar mounts.
The top arch was the next piece we installed. That was as simple as snapping the tabs on the ends of the top arch into the slots in the door surrounds. A little pressure from one end, once the other end of the top arch was snapped into place, will allow both ends of the top arch to seat well in the door surround. There was an adhesive paper strip on the arch that we removed after installation to reveal the soft foam upper side that will help support and tension the Bestop soft top.
Now it was time to drape the Bestop Supertop NX across the top of the Jeep and the support bars we had already installed. This allowed us to fold back the side bows to expose the header’s underside and attach the leading edge of the Supertop to the header. The top’s fabric was attached to the header using the nine #8x1/2-inch pan head washer screws (beginning with the center, and alternating sides as we worked our way outward). A #8 oval head screw was used on each corner of the leading edge of the top fabric to secure it to the header. This was easiest done standing up in the front seats of the Jeep, and when done, we folded the side bows forward and again rested the header on the top of the windshield frame.
Next, we snapped the two fabric loops (two button snaps on each loop) attached to the inside top corner of the Supertop to the top bar of the rear bow. The two rear window roll-up straps were also snapped to the outer snaps on each side of the rear bow’s top bar.
We opened the zippers on the inside of the rear corners of the top, and then slid the plastic stiffeners fully into the pockets on the inside of the rear corners. The angled ends of the stiffeners were positioned upward in the pockets to correspond to the angles of the top of the pockets. The pockets were then zipped shut with the stiffeners securely inside.
If the ambient temperature of your workspace is cold, then this step may require that the top be warmed up so it will give a little. Bestop recommends that installation be performed in temperatures above 72 degrees. Below that temperature, the fabric may contract, making fitment difficult. We moved the Jeep outside into the warm sunshine for a couple hours before pulling down gently on each corner of the top at the rear bow and worked the plastic lip sewn into the bottom of each rear corner underneath and into the metal retaining lip on the outside of the belt rail along the edges of the rear corners of the Jeep’s tub. With the bottoms of the top’s rear corners securely in place, we then locked the spring-loaded pins on the door surrounds into the locking blocks on the side bows, closed the header latches to secure the front of the top to the windshield. The hook-and-loop fabric roll on the inside of the top was then wrapped and fastened around the center bow. We’ve heard of people using a heat gun or hair drier to warm up the fabric prior to installation, but the fabric can be damaged from too much heat.
The rear quarter panels were then partially attached to the top by zipping them from the front edges near the doors, closing the zippers only about 10 to 12 inches. This allows enough wiggle room to then secure the fronts of the quarter panels by slipping the plastic lip into the channels along the front of the door surrounds. The zippers were then pulled shut all the way to the lower rear corner of the quarter panels, and the plastic lips sewn into the bottoms of the quarter panels slipped under the lip on the belt rail starting from the rear. Lastly the hook-and-loop strips on the quarter panels were fastened and the plastic lips sewn around the edges of the top secured under the lip in the top of the door surrounds.
The rear window had been installed on the tailgate bar, and the tailgate bar slid into its mounts on the rear of the Jeep. To get the rear window zippers started, we pulled the two sliders all the way down on the driver side of the rear window until we could connect the two sliders with the zipper’s catch pin. Then while holding the top of the rear window up with one hand, we used the other hand to pull the top slider up, over, and down, zipping the entire window closed. Take care to not catch the zipper on the two layers of fabric it’s sandwiched between. After making sure the tailgate bar is centered securely in its mounts, we tucked the plastic flaps on the bottom of the rear window under the tailgate mounts.
The before and after photos tell the story: Project TJ Reboot’s original upper door halves were trashed. The material was faded, worn, and torn; the zippers were broken, stuck, or missing; and the vinyl windows were so sun damaged, scratched, and opaque that you could barely see out of them. The new Bestop Upper Door Slider’s fabric is crisp and clean, and there are no zippers to hassle with. The real glass window slides open and can be easily kept clean. Best of all they pop in and out of the metal lower door halves just as quickly and easily as the old uppers. Now, we can actually see what’s next to us on the road or trail, without taking the upper door halves off.
Completely installed and zipped tight, just in the nick of time as rain drops began to fall from the sky, the new Bestop Supertop NX not only looks good, it makes our tired old Jeep TJ Wrangler look great wearing it. With about 5 to 6 hours of work (we subtracted the time to take notes and set up for photos), we were able to strip off the old cracked and weathered top, and install the new “classic” full-coverage soft top and upper slider doors.

Sources

Bestop
Broomfield, CO 80038
800-845-3567
www.bestop.com

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