Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Body -> Vinyl
Tips from Bob on revitalizing your Imperial's vinyl roof:
The best and longest lasting shine for a weathered vinyl top is to clean it well to remove dirt, dead pigment, etc. Let it dry well. Get a bottle of Mop n Glow from the supermarket. Using a damp sponge, spread the Mop n Glow on it using long, straight strokes . Use in the shade, of course. Get it even as possible, but don't worry most times it takes 2 or more coats, especially if badly dried out. An old fellow that worked for a Hudson agency told me about this. I did it on my 68 Crown 4dr and it really works-- my Imp sat outside for hurricane Bertha and many storms since, and the top still shines well. Much better than Armor all and lasts MUCH longer.
It has not cracked or crazed - it goes away slowly and you will know when a treatment is required as the shine will be gone. It is not a glaring shine, just a nice glow.
Tip from Ernie:
Anybody having stiff but uncracked vinyl such as dash pads, arm rests, door panels and such should know about a product called Spray 303. It
softens vinyl back to almost new condition. It works so well that I was able to remove the original dash pad from my 58 (lots of weird bends and curves) to repad it. It seems to work on just about any plastic I've tried it on including the lower windshield molding and B pillar covers.
I found this web site http://www.properautocare.com/303auti.html and I feel that after using this product that all their claims are true. BTW:
I don't have shares in it, unfortunately.
Question from Mike (caring for vinyl tops):
My top was recently replaced, but I live in constant fear of it cracking, fading, and just plain looking nasty. One fellow mentioned that Armor All has a lot of silicone in it. I assume this is bad? Anyone tell me why? And what are the preferred methods of caring for sun-exposed vinyl? Obviously you want to keep it clean (soap and water) but what can you spray/rub onto it to protect it?
Lexol (the stuff you use on leather) is a also available for vinyl. I've had good luck with it, but then again, my vinyl top normally stays in the garage and I may not be the best source for a sun-exposed top. Armor All looks good, gives a nice shine, etc., but I hear there's something in it (might be the silicone, might be something else..) that over time will actually dry the vinyl out.
As for your 45's / 33's I would recommend neither. My records, including my "Little Anthony & the Imperials" LP (does that qualify for IMP content?) prefer a 50/50 mix of water to rubbing alcohol, which cleans them gently and thoroughly.
From Mark M.:
I think we discussed using Armor All several years ago and so some of this may be old news to many, but . .
Here's the latest story I've heard about it. This comes from a guy who does detailing at a local dealership. He claims that Armor All will ruin your top or your dash for the following reason: it coats the surface of the top or the dash with silicon molecules, which are round (according to him - I've never seen one close up) and act like millions of tiny little magnifying glasses on your top. In other words, they concentrate the light and the heat and actually accelerate the expansion & contraction that goes on when a car is out in the sun and then in the dark, etc. This expansion & contraction causes it crack faster.
I think this sounds plausible, but . . . expansion & contraction of vinyl is going to occur regardless of whether or not you have silicon (or silicone?) on it. I don't really see how that can "accelerate" the cracking. And I would rather have something on it that had some sort of UV blocker in it than nothing.
Second, I remember, from YEARS ago, when these products first came out, that they did an awful lot of testing. I can't imagine that they didn't discover this problem when they created this product, some 30 years ago . . . (I think it's been that long) . . . or maybe they're just scamming us?
I don't use Armor All, but I use other vinyl protectants. Right now I'm using Meguiars. I will tell you in 15 years or so how it works . . .
Question from Joe:
I need to repaint my vinyl dashpad. Any tips or hints where to buy the paint?
Leatherique has everything you want and good advise on how to do this job.
SEM brands make a prep spray that is very useful when painting vinyl and plastic interior parts. It chemically " cleans" the part and lets the paint adhere much much better than just spraying the paint on. You may have to go to a shop that sells paints and paint prep products to body shops and such to find it. It can be found in spray cans as well as in bulk as I recall and its not expensive.
I second Mikey on SEM products. They do a very good job on vinyl and other plastic parts that need renewing. I even sprayed my boot on my convertible and it looks great.
Question from Loyal:
I just got my '66 Crown Coupe back from the shop after having work done & was talking to my mechanic. He's an older gentleman with lots of experience. We were talking about the Vinyl top on the car & he suggested using Aero Floor Wax on it. He said they used to do that at some of the car lots. Has anyone tried this before? I wouldn't think it would hurt anything, but I had never heard of this. I had heard that Armor All tends not to be such a great thing to use.
I have not used AERO Wax on the top. I believe that AERO Wax is milky looking. I tried FUTURE because it is very clear. I had noticed while using it on floors that it tended not to be effected by sunlight or become discolored. The car I used it on has a white top and really would not respond to any of the normal maintenance procedures. Under the best of circumstances the top had become permanently dull and unattractive. Trying this truly was a last resort, but it did work.
I also tried it on a dash pad, but the result was too glossy and too much glare from the sun. Removing it was a big chore. I would highly discourage trying it on any interior trim.
Regular maintenance with the correct high quality products will preserve the top and other vinyl trim and prevent the need for trying unorthodox treatments to restore a good appearance.
In using anything for something other than its intended purpose I would be concerned about the potential for unwanted effects such as the yellowing that Greg brought up here.
I use Meguiars Vinyl and Rubber Cleaner and Conditioner on another make's vinyl top and am very satisfied with the results. The product goes on easily and really gives a rich look to the top once it dries I would wonder if the liquid floor wax would cause some discoloration of the vinyl over time (yellowing). Maybe not. Meguiars is a well known name in the auto care products industry and so far, I haven't gone wrong by using anything from them.
Before my current job, I worked in a parts house for 18 years. The Meguiars products are very good, indeed. As far as Armor All goes, I don't even use it on the interior anymore as it seems to ATTRACT dust.
Has anyone heard of the "sprayed-on" vinyl tops?
I saw a few of these in the 70's. I knew a woman who had her '65 Mercury Comet repainted at a 'fast food' (franchise), shop, and for a few dollars more they put this stuff on that looked sort of like vinyl from 10 paces. They even put two strips of molding near the sides, to look like seams! As I remember, this top treatment weathered fairly well during the next five years or so that she kept the car. Mike Friedman
I make and assemble vinyl tops and convertible tops as "extra job". I have made some "fakes" too: vinyl tops from cheaper interior vinyl (cheaper in Finland, maybe not in the USA) and a couple sprayed on:
I have made "sprayed on top" by sprayed paintable rust preventer (the plastic coating used on wheel housings and lower panels of car). Before spraying, I glued tapes as seams.
You can paint that plastic coating with car paint added with matt paste to get right kind of color and shine. (Here in Finland, we get that rust preventer in different colors: black, white and blue and others??)
Real vinyl top material cost about $10 - $15 / yard: you need about 5 yard (two times the length of the top + rear pillars). If you uninstall the trim and old top yourself, I think that you can get reasonable priced seaming and installation from your interior maker /shop.
Simulated leather tops were actually available on 1959 Imperials as part of three Southampton roof options.
It was called the Silvercrest Landau Roof, which gave you a "clean sweep of stainless steel in the forward roof area, crowned at the rear by a graceful black canopy. The canopy has a textured Scotch grain finish that has the look of leather and the durability of flint-hard baked enamel."
The other two roofs were the Silvercrest or Landau individually.
The Landau cost was $31.20, while the Silvercrest added $139.80 to the window sticker.
This simulated leather crinkle-paint finish was also standard on DeSoto Adventurer hardtops.
Question from Rob (1960):
I own a 1960 Crown 4dr hrdtp, with a strange paint job. My Imperial is black, but the roof canopy is or has been painted with a textured, flat paint that looks like a leather or vinyl top. The inserts above the doors are the shiny black enamel. This paint has been applied professionally, because you can see the straight finish lines around the rear window. Has anyone seen anything like this or know of any special applications that might have been done sometime in the past 44 years?
Reply from William:
In the later 1960s, after the vinyl roof option was very popular, there was a spray-on simulated vinyl roof that I believe was even an option on Dodge pickups. Kind of looked like rough asphalt, not quite like the glued-on factory equipment vinyl fabric. There were even kits in J.C. Whitney!
In the 1980s, there was a barrier coating that was first applied to 1981 Chevy Citations on the lower portions of two-tone cars. It was a rock chip coating that was painted over. Kind of flexible, but not much.
Question from John (1963):
I never have seen this option listed anywhere, but have seen 2 such cars. The trim is also slightly different in the section. I saw a gold one in Worcester, Mass. back around 66 that was always parked in front of a glass shop. More recently, perhaps 5 years ago, I went with a friend to look at one for sale, a black one in Johnston, RI. That one was advertised in Hemmings for some time. The car ran very strong, but had some minor body damage & other misc. The seller wanted way too much money for it. So yes, this is a factory deal & probably very rare. I'd try to keep it intact.
Reply from Danny:
This is interesting to me, because the 1963 I have has a black top that is painted on and is textured. I assumed it was an aftermarket thing, similar to the bed linings used today that are sprayed in. If this is factory, then this will simplify my restification of this car, since I had planned on removing all this and painting the top body color. Did they do this in 1963? I haven't found the build sheet as yet, but I expect it would tell this.
Question from Jeff (1964):
I have had no luck finding a correct vinyl top for my 64 LeBaron. SMS doesn't have it. I called Nationwide Auto Glass (listed in the IML Archives)....they are no longer in the trim business. They suggested that I call Crown Auto Top in Columbus, Ohio, which I did. They told me that a vinyl top in the correct grain is no longer available.
My car was originally royal turquoise with a white vinyl top. My questions are:
Could the car have been ordered with a white painted top?
What are the trim differences between the '64 LeBaron with and without vinyl tops?
I don't know if I should replace the vinyl top with one made from the incorrect material, do away with the vinyl top and paint the top white, or do away with the vinyl top and paint the entire car royal turquoise.
Sorry about your problems finding vinyl top material. They changed it rather plain-looking stuff in 1966.
A white painted top was available on 1964 LeBarons. Regarding trim differences, it seems that cars with vinyl tops had the 1" thick drip rail moldings, and those without had the thin style. However, I have seen some metal-roofed 1964 LeBarons with the thick moldings. My metal roof 66 LeBaron has the thin moldings.
Personally, I would forget the vinyl roof and paint the car solid turquoise. (I think formal cars should be solid colors, but that's just my preference.)
My thoughts are paint the whole car royal turquoise. That is such a beautiful and fairly uncommon color, that I think the car would look great. I'm reminded of Chris Hawkins' great looking dark (deep??) plum 66 LeBaron and how elegant and limousine-like it looks in one solid color. Yours would look equally attractive, I think.
I don't think painting it white would look as good. For some reason, that would seem to be a bit less elegant than a solid color to me. Also, I would not use an incorrect vinyl either. The vinyl grain on your Imperial was unique and particularly suited to the car. To use something else would, in my opinion, detract from it.
As always, there is no absolutely right or wrong decision but that's my opinion.
Question from Jeff (1964):
What suppliers have the elk grain vinyl found on late 60's Imperials?
I went to a car upholstery shop with a sample of the old vinyl. They hand no problem getting the correct vinyl but it took sometime. This vinyl was used on the cars in the twenties. If you have problems let me know and I will find out where they got it or if they still have some.
SMS Auto Fabrics in Portland, OR they will probably have it but they are very sloooooooooooooooooow.
Question from Joe (1966):
Anyone know who has leather grained '66 Imperial top vinyl?
I got mine in Calgary, Alberta. They told me the grained or "Elk Skin" vinyl for the top was used on the Fords from the 20's. So if you find a shop that does car interiors, they should be able to order it. Mine cost $125.00 CDN dollars.
New tops for your Imperial can be found at HydoElectric. Their prices are around $295.00 to $375.00, depending if it has real glass. Actually, I do not think you can get glass for a '66. I would call them at 800-343-4261.
Question from Rob (1967):
Anybody know how well the metal work is under the vinyl top? I know on the lower-end Mopars, the finish work under a vinyl top could leave allot to be desired.
I have seen at least 2 '68 LeBarons without the vinyl top. In my opinion, they look a bit odd. I think the design looks better with the vinyl. But the finish of the top (on those that were ordered w/o vinyl) was excellent. They may not have been finished off as well if they were ordered with vinyl.
I remember a new silver '67 in Southern California when I lived down there. It was quite beautiful and not the least bit odd looking. I just think that we aren't use to seeing them that way, so it would tend to stand out.
I have two '68 LeBarons, both have vinyl tops. The vinyl tops on both of these cars is different in thickness and grain from the tops used on the Crowns, which was much thinner and with a different grain pattern. The vinyl used on the LeBarons looks more like leather than the tops used on the Crowns. The Crown Coupes used the landau roof as standard, with the full vinyl roof as an option. I much prefer the landau vinyl roof on the coupes, due to the more attractive chrome metal work that extends from the body and over the roof.
I have a friend in France who has a '68 LeBaron, this car did not have a vinyl roof or air conditioning. It was a gift grom Chrysler to the French President of Simca, which Chrysler either owned or had an interest in at that time. During 1968 Chrysler was proud of their anti-rust efforts, but I do not know how this was done, dipped in a vat I guess, and I suspect the body was suspended by the roof, which might have prevented it from getting coated with the anti-rust compounds.
Question from Mark (1971):
I am thinking of having a vinyl top put on my '71 and had a question. After talking to my local upholstery/auto top guy-- who restores old Mopars-- he said he could buy a kit, or a pre-cut top for my Imperial.
My concern is the seams. I like the way the original seams on the Chrysler & Imperial tops look, and I'm worried that a pre-cut top will not look right.
Kerry Pinkerton pointed out to me the area where the difference is most noticeable: the rear. (Around the backlight) When you stand directly behind the car and look at an original top, the seams are almost perfectly vertical and parallel to each other.
This is hard to describe in words. What I mean is, the seam goes like this:
On an aftermarket "kit," they look like this:
This is a poor respresentation, but hopefully you get the idea. The seams spread out toward the bottom. They are straight if you lay the vinvyl on the ground, but when you wrap the straight edge over the curved roof, the line doesn't stay straight.
My question is, can you buy the vinyl in uncut sheets? Has anyone done it that way? Or do I HAVE to get a "kit?"
You don't have to get a kit but if you don't the seams wont be flat heat sealed like you saw mine were. The fact that mine are a little flared was the installation guys. The 'kit' can't define the window because it is a function of exactly where the top vinyl is placed where the window openings become.
I had a new top installed on my '74, I carefully removed the old one to keep it all one piece and the upholstery shop made an exact copy of the original. It cost me $200. I would shop around first.
However because the Charger was a "canopy" style top, there was no seam (except for the A-posts). The correct Imperial seams are heat-sealed, but I don't know how you could do that?
Question from Kevin (1971):
I need some info on how to put a vinyl top on by yourself. What do I need? Where do I get it? How much will it cost? How do I take off all the necessary trim, especially around the windshield, and on top of the door trim off? I got the trim off by the trunk lid, but can't figure out how the rest comes off. I sanded all the rust off until there was nothing but shinny metal and applied rust killer and gave it a couple coats of gray primer.
My advice to you, or anyone else that doesn't have experience in replacing vinyl tops, is to have a vinyl-top shop do the job. Some glass shops do it too. The price I got for replacing the tan top on my '75 was about $300-$350 if they did ALL of the work.
Maybe you can find a shop that will "finish" the job since you took off the old top yourself. Then, of course, it will be cheaper. Most likely it is good that you did all of the de-rusting yourself. That way, you took the time and know the rust is eliminated. Did you use POR-15?
Sometimes the trim requires special tools to remove to avoid damaging it. In that case, it is cheaper to have someone else do the job instead of spending extra $$$ on tools...once you find them.
On my cars that had vinyl tops I usually strip the vinyl, prep the metal area and PAINT the area rather than re-installing vinyl. Paint is WAY cheaper, looks good, lasts longer and is EASY to do yourself (since you've already done the hard part... getting rid of the rust). Also, paint won't contribute to the return of the rust under vinyl. Not as big a problem here in Arizona, but I know in other areas of the country a vinyl top is a breeding ground for major rust.
I would have to agree with Otis on this: let a shop do it. Although there is a section in the factory service manual telling you how to do it, and several books on the subject, and I have seen the occasional "non-professional" like Kerry Pinkerton do a good job on replacing a vinyl roof on a fuselage car . . . I'd have to say it would be the type of job I would not want to have a "learning experience" on.
I do most of my own work, but installing a vinyl top yourself is not a good investment. Why, because contact cement and concrete do not care about good intentions. Once you put it down, it's down and not easy to fix. I had a new vinyl top installed on my 73 for $225. The material alone would have been 150+ from JC Whitney. so 75 bucks to make sure it was right was a cheap win. One thing I noticed is that the prices vary GREATLY. I got everything from 500 to 225. The place I expected to be the most expensive was the least.
And as for having a qualified shop do it, absolutely! But ask to see some of their work, and I also endorse painting the roof before affixing the new vinyl. No need to cut costs now like the factory did... you're not building thousands of them!
On the 69-71 Imperial, there is a lot of detail in the shop manual about removing & replacing the top. The back area in particular looks like quite a bit of work. I agree that its probably a lot better to let a shop handle this. Just getting the top on straight is not as easy as it looks. Even when brining it to a shop, I'd copy the instructions for removing & replacing the pads around the rear window. If they never did one of these, they might make a mess without the instructions.
Painting the roof first is a good idea, since primer isn't waterproof. If you don't already have the top. Legendary Interiors has them. I got one of the correct material for the 69 from them for $80.00.
Question from Tony (1972):
My '72 Le Baron's roof is in excellent shape other than its textured and in the depressions there is a stubborn white coating (it's a tan roof). I would like to get the white out but nothing seems to work. Anyone have a suggestion?
When I got my '70 Imperial last year, it had a thick white coating all over the dark blue vinyl top. It looked terrible, and I didn't think I would EVER get it clean!
First of all, I think this white film is caused by many years of frequent use of Armor All or a similar product. Armor All really hasn't worked well when I've used it on vinyl tops -- if it gets rained on, it runs, leaving streaks down the sides of the car. And over time, it leaves this white coating.
I tried a bunch of different cleaners to get this white film off of the top, but the only thing I found that would work is Castrol Super Clean. HOWEVER--you MUST be really careful with this stuff, because in full strength, it will discolor the paint on your car!!!
I cleaned my top by spraying small sections, using a stiff nylon brush to agitate the cleaner, letting it sit for about five minutes, and then cleaning the area twice with a damp cloth. It took a while, but I was able to do this pretty carefully without getting any of the cleaner on the rest of the car. After I had finished cleaning the top, I rinsed the whole top really well with a hose, and then immediately washed the car to make sure no residue of the Super Clean remained anywhere.
The top looked AMAZINGLY better!
I followed this up with Armstrong Vinyl Floor Polish (available at Lowe's), which gave it a nice shine (but not too shiny). The Armstrong product seems to do a much better job than Armor All or any other products I've tried over the years on vinyl tops.
I have a similar white spot on my '71's roof and I'm not sure what it is or how to get it off, but to clean my vinyl top I often use a soft bristle brush with a cleaner like 409 or Castrol Super Clean (I think that's what it's called). But first I wash the car and the top, and I dilute the cleaner. The brush helps get down in the cracks in the texture.
The Castrol Super Clean is great but it's intended to be diluted for most applications. It can discolor your paint and your vinyl or plastic parts if you spray it on directly and undiluted.
Question from Henry (1975):
Has anyone replaced one of these leather-looking vinyl tops before>\?
If so, where did you get it done?
Are there any tips on taking the old one and the padding off so they can be used as a pattern if I have to start from scratch.
Reply from Kerry:
Any auto upholstery place can probably do it. They won't need a pattern They order the kits from sevaral manufacturers. Mine came from Atlanta for my '73 and arrived the day after I selected the vinyl. The kits come with considerable extra material with the seams heat bonded. They are then stretched and trimmed to fit. The adhesive is contact cement making it a challenge for the DIYer. Contact cement doesn't care about good intentions. Let it touch in the wrong place and get ready to order a new top.
The good news is that it is relatively inexpensive. I don't recall how much the top on my '73 was 4-5 years back but it's in the '73 saga on the web site. I think it was about 250 bucks or so including padding. I did already have the trim off.
Question from Allen (1975):
Does anyone know where I would purchase the vinyl top replacement covering for my 1975 Imperial? I am planning on tackling this project myself. Can anyone donate any experience good or bad?
Reply from Kerry:
You can order the top 'kit' from JC Whitney who probably orders it from Crown.
Just a comment on doing the top yourself from someone who is a big do-it-yourselfer. There are two things in life (at least) that do now care about good intentions, i.e. concrete and contact cement. Contact cement will NOT release once you have touched the top to it without damaging the top material. Having the vinyl top installed was the only thing I had someone else do on my '73. It cost $225 including the top. I could have bought the top kit for $150 but for $75, I'll let the pros do it. I did have the trim removed before hand though which may have reduced the price a little.
BTW, shop around for a top shop. I had price quotes from $450 to $225 and the place I expected to be highest was the least expensive and had the best reputation.
Crown is a major 'builder' of vinyl tops. I think they are in Georgia. They provide seam welded tops to installers etc. For my 73, they received the call from the body shop that installed it after 2 PM and the top arrived THE NEXT DAY!!!!!! Now THAT is customer service. All my shop did was trim the front, sides, and back to fit, cut out the window and glue it down. Of course, that was the hard part.
This page last updated November 30, 2004. Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club.