- Top = Made of three layers, the top is the folding roof of a Cabriolet
- Roof; hood = Another word for the top
- Padding = The rubberized synthetic horsehair (or aftermarket foam) insulation layer of the top
- Headliner = The white or black layer that you see inside the car; this layer hides the top frame and beautifies the interior
- Boot = A cover for the top when the top is down
- Tonneau cover = An accessory that covers the interior when the top is down
- Windstop = An accessory that mounts to the rollbar that cuts down on the amount of wind blown around in the front seat area when the top is down
Convertible Top Types
- Haartz smooth vinyl, with a pin-point appearance
- It is a topcoated and embossed PVC material with a cotton weave backing
Grain "Cabrio" Vinyl
- Haartz vinyl that has a rougher texture than pinpoint
- It is a topcoated and embossed PVC material with a cotton weave backing
- More durable than pinpoint, but retains dirt more
Sonnenland Classic Canvas
- Haartz German-made canvas that was the original material on models factory-equipped with canvas
- It is a 3-ply canvas made of an acrylic twill-weave facing, neoprene rubber inner layer, and a polyester "dobby" backing
- The most expensive option when looking for a replacement
Sonnendenck Canvas (aka Twillfast)
- Haartz American-made canvas
- It is a 3-ply canvas made of acryllic twill-weave facing, butyl or TPU rubber inner layer, and a polyester "dobby" backing
- Equivalent replacement of Sonnenland, but at a lower cost
- Haartz American-made canvas
- It is a 3-ply canvas made of an acrylic square weave facing, butyl rubber inner layer, and a woven cotton backing
- The least expensive canvas replacement option
Canvas vs. fabric
Both canvas and vinyl are types of fabric; therefore, canvas is the more accurate word to use. White canvas tops are available at Electron Top. However, like white canvas shoes, white canvas convertible tops would be a nightmare to take care of.
Canvas vs. vinyl
Contrary to common belief, one is not better than the other. Canvas has a higher wear rating, but both can and will last 10 years or more if properly cared for (during summer and winter) and both require regular maintenance. Many think canvas looks better, but those are personal opinions. Canvas tops are more expensive than vinyl tops. Selecting your new top is entirely up to your needs and your preferences.
No hard-top conversion currently exists on the market. In the '90s, a British company called Top Techniks in West Sussex created a multi-piece, foam infused removable hard-top kit called the Vilkus. Reportedly, only 5 were built before the company went bust. Click here for photos.
Glass vs. Plastic Rear Window
The factory rear window in Cabriolet convertible tops is glass with defrosting capability. Glass is far superior to plastic: Better insulation, defroster, doesn't turn yellow, doesn't scratch easily, higher resale value, etc. Plastic windows are available with new tops from three suppliers (see below), but you are advised to stick with glass.
Swapping Tops with Another Cabriolet
Tops can be swapped; all tops are the same, it's the headliners that have slightly different styles. See the next section regarding the frames.
How to Put the Top Down
- Pull locking handles down
- As you pull the passenger locking handle down, push the small release lever in the handle up
- Grasp the locking handles (one at a time if necessary), pull the handle/push the top down to disengage the retaining hooks, and then swing handles up again
- Grasp the front edge of the top and push up; then fold top to the rear
- When folding the top down, tuck the material neatly into the center crevice of the top linkage
- Firmly press down on left and right rear portion of the collapsed top until locking mechanism is securely engaged (should hear a <click>)
- Power tops: Follow the first two procedures; handbrake should be engaged and the key in the ignition in the battery-on position (engine must be off) before pressing the button. Additionally, the boot must be unsnapped; the snaps are wired into the power top's circuitry.
Top Does Not Go Down All the Way
- The top's struts could be seized
- The frame components could be misadjusted or bent
- Be sure to look at the locking mechanisms
- Your 1982-1993 Cabriolet could be using a frame from a 1980-1981 Cabriolet
How to Put the Top Up
- Remove boot, if installed
- Unlock the top on both sides by pressing the locking knobs down
- Grasp a locking handle and pull the top up (WARNING: If the top will not pull up, do NOT force it or damage to top components may occur! Press the locking knobs down while pulling up on the top, one side at a time; top should now be fully unlocked for you to pull it closed).
- Pull a handle down, push/pull the top down and swing the handle back up, making sure that the retaining hook is fully locked into the retaining bracket -- you should hear a <click> when the handle and hook are locked into position; repeat on other side
- Double check that the headliner is not rolled under anywhere, particularly at the rollbar and behind the rear windows
NOTE: If the J-hooks are difficult to latch, be sure the rear windows are not causing the problem; sometimes, with the rear windows up, the top will not unfold forward far enough for the latches to engage all the way. Roll the rear windows down, latch the top, and roll the windows back up.
Top is Leaking
- Top's outer shell has cuts or tears in it
- Top is not seated properly against windshield frame and/or windows (adjust J-hooks -- on handles -- as a first step)
- Windows are not closing as they should (adjust windows inside door; remove door panel)
- Rubber seal at top, front of door windows is folded under
- Top normally leaks a bit when water is sprayed directly at the junction points (top seal and windows), like when washing the car
- Rear window seal has lost its glue resulting in a loose-fitting seal (upholstery glue or silicone can solve this problem)
- Small gap just below/behind the corner caps (what the boot snaps to)
Horrible Wind Noise
Tighten up the J-hooks, but do not over-tighten them to the point where it's difficult to latch the top closed (i.e., there should be slight resistance, but not enough to struggle with); otherwise, the latches, handles, etc. could break. If this does not solve the problem, adjust the header/seal alignment: click here (scroll down to post #30) for a how-to. If that still does not solve the problem, try putting a thin bead of silicone along the header or seal. If that doesn't fix the problem, the seal along the top of the windshield frame is probably too far gone and needs replacing.
Convertible Top Frame
All frames can be swapped onto all Cabriolets. However, be aware that the 1979-1981 frames are different from the rest: they sit higher when down; swapping these frames onto a 1982+ Cabriolet is not common. If swapping the entire frame assembly, be sure all components of the frame are present (particularly the rear hinges) and be sure that the frame is 100% straight (even the slightest bend can result in major frustration). Additionally, make note which year Cabriolet the frame is being removed from; when needing to replace the headliner, you will want to use the frame's year, not your car's year.
1980-1981: These frames sit higher when down. It's not advised to swap these frames onto 1982+ Cabriolets.
1982-1993: These frames are all the same. When swapping these frames onto 1980-1981 Cabriolets, be sure the rear hinges are included.
Convertible Top Seals
Click here for a diagram, part number and price lists. Those listed as "NLA" are no longer available new. If you cannot locate new seals, you will have to source used ones. For window and body seal information, please go to the Body page.
Where to Buy New Seals
New convertible top seals are only available through Volkswagen dealers, or through limited online OEM part resellers such as Mk1 Autohaus, World Impex, Classic Parts, etc.
Convertible Top Latching Handles
If the J-hooks on your Cabriolet's latching handles are missing and/or broken, be aware that there are slight differences in the hook and nut thread size as outlined in the table below; the two are not interchangeable. Be certain that you're buying the correct hooks for your model year, whether used or new (FYI: a new hook - yes, the little hook, not the entire handle - costs around $30!). If you're buying a used set of latching handles (with the hooks), they are direct replacements.
Water is Dripping from the Handles
The track where the front seal slides into is attached to the top mechanism by three or four screws; in between the track and the top there is urethane or some kind of silicone that dries out over time, causing water to flow down into the car. Undo it, sand down both sides and reapply the silicone or urethane.
Convertible Top Struts
If your top's struts have seized, they can be replaced with new ones.
- Volkswagen Lift-O-Mat part number: 155871997A
- Sachs-Stabilus-Boge replacement part number: SG401018
- At mcmastercarr.com, replacement part number: 9416K337 (you will also need two eyelets per strut, P/N 9416K84)
As of September 2007, the following places carry the aftermarket replacement strut: Rock Auto, Auto Parts Warehouse and through special order at your local auto parts store.
Power/hydraulic tops use different struts. The part numbers for the OEM struts are: 155871795 (left), 155871796 (right).
Convertible Top Tension Cables
Info coming soon.
Convertible Top Cover (aka Top Boot)
1979-1981 Convertible Top Covers
Description: These boots have snaps across the front that attach to the parcel shelf. They are designed to fit the 1979-1981 convertible tops, which sit higher when the tops are down.
1982-1993 Convertible Top Covers (cars without rear shoulder belts)
Description: These boots have two Velcro straps at the front that attach to the underside of the parcel shelf, two elastic straps that hook or snap to the plastic panels on each side of the rear seat, G-hooks at each rear corner that attach to the vinyl loops at each rear corner of the top, black plastic protective caps at each front corner.
1990.5-1993 Convertible Top Covers (cars with rear shoulder belts)
Description: These boots have two Velcro straps at the front that attach to the underside of the parcel shelf, two elastic straps that hook or snap to the plastic panels on each side of the rear seat, G-hooks at each rear corner that attach to the vinyl loops at each rear corner of the top, black plastic protective caps at each front corner, and cut-outs for the factory rear seat shoulder belts.
Where To Buy a Top Boot
Used: VW forum classifieds and eBay (average cost is $60). As with anything else on eBay, it's buyer beware: Some sellers (or, more accurately, scammers) simply re-use old pictures and describe the boot as being in "like-new condition!" when, in fact, the boot is an over-priced piece of crap. Additionally, I've seen many boots on eBay that are missing their plastic caps (the protective inserts at each front corner) and even had a seller tell me that the caps were/are "accessories to buy separately", which is complete and utter bulls**t (all boots/covers came from the factory with all of the parts described above). If the caps are simply missing/broken, that's one thing (the seller is being honest); it's quite another to feed a buyer a story about the caps being "accessories". Anyway, ask to see pictures (and check the date stamp of the pictures) of all sides of the boot before committing to buying it to make sure it's in good condition and contains all of its parts! Download the boot guide (coming soon) for purchasing details.
New: Cabrio World, M&T Mfg. (cost is approx. $300).
How to Install the Boot
- Unlock, if necessary, and open trunk lid. (Note: 1979-1980 convertibles do not have the locking mechanism; skip to step 3.)
- Pull knob located on left side near luggage compartment opening to release safety/security lock; leave trunk lid open.
- Release seatback from latched position by pulling driver's side strap.
- Fold seatback forward onto the rear seat cushion
- From rear of car slide boot evenly over collapsed top; secure hooks to the loops above trunk lid (attaching the hooks is not necessary; just make sure that the boot is down as far as possible)
- From inside the car, attach edge of boot to the Velcro fasteners on underside of parcel shelf and secure sides of boot with the straps and hooks/snaps provided
- Return seatback to its upright position
Convertible Top Boot Storage Bag
Volkswagen/Karmann never provided a storage bag for the top boot. This site's creator, however, makes a top boot storage bag. Click here to see/order one.
Replacing the Convertible Top
The roof on a Cabriolet is made up of 3 layers: outer shell (top), insulation pad, headliner. You can buy the top, in it's entirety (most vendors have package deals) or one part of it, on your own and install it yourself or take the car and top to an upholstery/top shop for them to do the work. You can also take the car to an upholstery/top shop for them to purchase the top and install it. Each option has its own monetary cost (prices are from online vendors, not eBay or VW dealers):
Pinpoint vinyl top: $130+
Grain vinyl top: $150+
Canvas top: $300+
Rubberized horsehair insulation pad: $100+
Vinyl headliner: $100+
Side cables: $15-25/pair
Rear tension cable: $25-150
Shop labor: $800+
A DIY top replacement takes two people for a faster and easier job. With 2 people it takes, on average, 6-10 hours; with 1 person who has never done it before takes, on average, an entire weekend (roughly 16 hours); however, it's best to grab someone to help remove and re-install the rear window and rear tension cable. Read all instructions (listed at left) prior to attempting a top replacement.
When replacing the top, the tension cables should be replaced as well. If the headliner and/or insulation layer are in poor shape, it's best to replace these when the outer shell is being replaced as they cannot be replaced without removing the outer shell.
For top shops in your area, look in the phone book for a shop that's been in business for several years or ask around (dealers, fellow convertible owners, clubs, etc.), or look in local ads (newspaper, AutoTrader) for Cabriolet ads saying "new top" and politely call the person. Call the shop and ask if they've done VW Cabriolets/Rabbit convertibles and, if so, how many. Ask for references, if need be. When the shop has been chosen, make it clear from the very beginning (and put it in writing on the contract) that the top replacement should look exactly like the old one from an installation standpoint: rear tension cable should not be showing, the rear window should be straight and centered, the top should fan-fold down with little assistance, and the sides above the windows should not be arched. Do not leave the shop before inspecting the replacement job thoroughly.
Be aware that there are 3 different types of headliners sold by most suppliers. The one your car uses depends on the car's year (measure the seam distance of your existing headliner). Volkswagen lists just two headliners, however:
- Seam: 16 inches
- VW part #155871047A
- Seam: 17¾ inches
- VW part #155871047B
- Seam: 19¼ inches
- VW part #155871047B
EZ-On (Exactly like OEM vinyl tops, including the "rain gutter" seams)
Robbins (Exactly like OEM vinyl tops, including the "rain gutter" seams)
G.A.H.H. (German manufacturer of high-quality tops)
Acme (does not have "rain gutter" seams)
Haartz (Original manufacturer of the top fabric)
All tops are made with heat-sealed "stitch" seams, except Electron Top, which uses sewn seams.
Many suppliers and manufacturers are selling tops on eBay.
Top Suppliers (those in bold are most recommended/used)
1A Auto (Vinyl: Acme; Canvas: Haartz)
CabrioWorld (Vinyl: EZ-On; Canvas: Haartz)
Chuck's Convertible Parts (Vinyl: ?; Canvas: Haartz)
Electron Top (in-house)
EZ Softtops (Vinyl: Haartz)
J Bugs (Vinyl: ?; Canvas: Haartz)
The Johnson Company (Vinyl: Robbins)
KwikTops (Vinyl: Haartz; Canvas: Haartz)
M&T Manufacturing (Vinyl: Robbins & EZ-On; Canvas: Haartz)
TopsOnline (Vinyl: EZ-On & Robbins; Canvas: Haartz)
World Upholstery (Vinyl: ?;Canvas: Haartz)
Cleaning & Care of the Convertible Top & Boot
Vinyl Top, Headliner & Boot
- Simple Green® + water + damp cloth + plastic scrub brush. For best results, do not dilute the product before applying; instead, spray the product on, scrub a small area then spray the area with a bit of water and scrub again, then wipe off.
- A concoction of 5 parts water, 5 parts Simple Green® and 1 part bleach is said to clean and restore a dingy white vinyl top to white.
- Vinyl cleaner (follow bottle's directions).
- Mr. Clean Magic Eraser + a damp cloth.
303 is the best. Other vinyl and leather conditioners are on the market; visit your local auto parts store for a selection of products.
Water only or use a canvas-safe products such as Raggtopp.
According the owner's manual: Do not leave the top down for longer than 3 days.