A shop will charge you $800 or more for this job. You can buy the top for $200, plus some tools for $100 (which you’ll keep), and you can do it yourself to save $500. You can use the bucks you saved to go to Vegas 😉
It took me 3 days to do. I hope with this article you’ll do it faster.
1. This is my 95 mustang. The top construction on 1994-1998 mustangs are the same, and tops on 1999-2004 must be very similar.
I bought my top online and it came with step-by-step instructions. During the process the instructions were useful, however they had very few illustrations, they didn’t mention many tools that you’ll need, and missed a few steps.
My general advice is to use the instructions and read this article because it’s complimentary to the instructions.
2. This is a tacking strip. You need to buy one together with the top because the old one will crack when you remove the old staples.
3. This is a rivet tool. I bought mine at Home Depot for ~$20. Also, buy 3mm rivets and 4mm rivets.
4. This is a special star-like screwdriver. It’s needed to unscrew the screws that hold convertible top and the inner cloth lining. I bought mine at Home Depot.
5. This is a special 12-point 13mm star socket that you’ll need to unscrew the back of the top. I bought mine at OSH. The set is expensive but at OSH I could buy just the one that I need. I also bought a handle for it. Don’t buy an L-shaped handle.
6. Your first challenge is to remove the u-shaped metal strip that runs around the back of the top (see picture). In order access the screws that hold its sides you’ll have to disassemble the side plastic panels. And in order to disassemble the side plastic panels, you’ll have to take out the back seat.
7. To disassemble the back seat, locate plastic “buttons” under the lower cushion, press them, and lift the lower cushion.
8. To remove the back cushion, unscrew the screws that hold the bottom, and lift the cushion.
9. Now you can access the clips that hold the side panels. Remove them using a hammer. You’ll need to buy the same clips to replace the ones you removed as they aren’t reusable. I bought replacement clips at Kragen.
10. Now disconnect the rubber parts that hold each side panel as shown on the picture. Carefully remove side panels. you’ll need to apply some force to pull them toward the front of the car as there are clips that hold them (you can see the clip on the picture. Also, pay attention to the bottom part that goes under another plastic part.
11. Remove the rubber parts that obscure access to the screws of the back metal strip.
12. Remove the screws that hold the back metal strip, and the strip itself. To access the back screws, open the hood. First challenge complete!
13. The second challenge is to remove the old top. Remove the screws that hold the front of the top using the star-like screwdriver. The top must be open. After unscrewing the screws, remove the metal bar under the screws.
14. The instructions say that you should note how the corners of the top look like so that you’ll make the new one the same way. Here is the picture.
15. Using a flat screwdriver or other tool of your choice, remove the staples that hold the front part of the top. The staples go into tacking strips. We’ll replace the tacking strips so it’s ok if they crack during this process.
16. Close the top half/way. Unscrew the screws that hold the inner lining.
17.There are three horizontal metal bars that run across the top. The lining is screwed in a tricky way to those bars. The instructions call the front bar (with the staples that you’ve removed) as bar #1, then other bars are 2, 3, and 4. When unscrewing the lining, make a note of the order in which you unscrew it from the bars. (I didn’t make a note and had to do extra work because of it).
18. The back of the lining is attached by screws below the rear window and are hard to access. You might break a sweat while unscrewing them. The good news is that there are just two of them, one on each side. Complete the removal of the lining.
19. Detach the sides of the top from the frame by unscrewing the bars that hold them, and then pulling the top fabric (it’s kind of glued there).
20. Each top side end is held tight by a spring that runs through a metal ring on the top. Use the magic wire to hook the spring and pull it up; use pliers in another hand to release the loop of the spring.
21. Now access the tightening cords that are attached to the side pillars of the top and release them. Then pull the cords out through the loop in fabric. (no picture)
22. The most difficult step in top disassembly is to unscrew the screws that hold the back of the top. There are more than a dozen of them and they are hard to access. Use a 12-point 13mm socket mentioned above.
23. The back of the top is stapled to the metal bars that you have just unscrewed. Remove the staples but don’t remove the staples that hold the window part of the top.
24. Remove the staples that hold the top to bar #4 (just above the window). Don’t remove the window part of the top unless you want to change it, too. In my case, I left it in-place.
25. Challenge two complete! Don’t throw away the old top just yet, you’ll need it.
Challenge 3 is to replace the tacking strips. There are three tacking strips: The center one and two side ones. There are two cloth strips that run on each side from back to front that are attached to the side tacking strips. I suggest to replace the side tacking strips only if they are damaged.
To replace a tacking strip, first remove the rivets that hold the old tacking strip by using a drill with the bit diameter wider than the diameter of the rivet and drill through the center of the rivet until it falls out.
Using a utility knife, cut out a piece of tacking strip to match the size of the old one. Then put it in place and drill the holes (4mm for side strips and 3mm for the center strip).
Attach the strip using the rivet tool. The picture is not accurate because it shows the front bar lying on the floor. I detached the front bar because I was also replacing the lock mechanisms which needs more tools, and I wouldn’t recommend detaching the front bar if you are just replacing the top. Challenge 3 complete!
Challenge 4 is to install the new top.
As the instructions for the top say, put the new top on a flat surface, then put the old one on top of it, and make the necessary markings. Keep in mind that the old top has stretched with time, and its sides might look bigger than the new tops. On my new top, there were holes on the sides that ended up being the correct points for marking the cut-out lines (they should run through the holes).
Make the cutouts. The cutouts are needed because the screws will go thought those holes. If you make the cutouts too deep then your top will leak so be careful.
Top installation process is the reverse of top removal process.
First, staple the top to bar #4. Use 10mm staples.
Then, staple the back to the bars under the window using 10mm staples. Use clamps to fix the cloth in place before stapling. The cutouts should align with the screw holes on the bar. (The picture shows that my cutouts were too small, and I had to make them deeper later.) Use 8mm staples.
Next, screw the back bars to the frame using the 12-point 13mm socket. Break a sweat again 😉
Bars 3 and 2 are not stapled; instead, you need to unscrew and remove the aluminum sticks inside the bars, put them though the corresponding loops on the inside of the top, put them back in and screw them back.
Don’t staple the front bar yet! You must install the lining first. I made a mistake that’s shown on the picture and had to undo it.
Pull each tightening cord through the loop of fabric on the side of the top. Use the magic wire to do it. First, pull the magic wire through the loop, hook the cord, and pull it back. Attach the tightening cord to the pillar.
Attach the rings on the sides of the top to the springs with the help of the magic wire.
Wrap the sides of the top around pillars and “glue” them to the same place where the old top used to be. Screw the panels that you removed in step 19.
Install the lining to bars 2 and 3 (I can’t remember which one is first so I asked you to note it). The order is important.
If you replaced the side tacking strips, make sure you have stapled the side cloth strips to the side tacking strips using 6mm staples.
Pull the lining through the front bar, wrap it around and staple it to the center tacking strip using 6mm staples. Try to staple it exactly to the same place where it was to avoid stretch lines later. Then attach the button clips that hold the lining to the corners of the front bar.
Wrap the new top around the front bar and staple it in just a few places. Then close the top and test it for stretch lines. The top might not close all the way but that’s ok. It’s better if it’s tight than if it’s loose.
After making sure everything is even and there are no stretch marks, staple the rest of the top. Pay attention to corners to make them the same way the old corners were.
Screw the metal bar to the top bar above the staples of the new top and test the top again. This time, try to close it all the way. If it’s too tight, try to stretch it little by little, like you stretch your legs during an exercise. The instructions recommend to use a hairdryer to warm it so that it stretches better. Challenge 4 complete!
The next challenge is to install the u-shaped bar that runs around the back of the top, and then everything else that you took apart:
1. Using clips attach the “wings” on the sides of the top to the body
2. Install the u-shaped bar with all screws including the side screws
3. Install the rubber parts around the window
4. Install Side panels (install new clips)
5. Install Top cushion
6. Install Bottom cushion
Challenge 5 complete!
Screw in the remaining screws on the lining. With the back seat installed it should be more convenient to do. Don’t forget to plug in contacts to the window defroster. The job is done!