Hard Top Articles

1) Another Hard Top Footprint Protection Idea

An Article by Stu Brennan

January, 2001

As presented to, and thanks to T.E./A.E.

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If you use your hard top, you are undoubtedly aware of the dreaded Hard Top Footprint, the marks left in your paint by the gaskets on the bottom of the top. It is possible to buff out the marks with polishing compound, but how many times can you do that before you get down to the primer? There are some folks in Colorado who are selling some clear stick on body protector material cut to the right shape, and it’s supposedly easily removable. However I’ve got multiple layers of paint on my car, and I’m not about to go pulling on any of it, even with an allegedly removable adhesive.

After seeing how hard it was to reposition those giant SUNI refrigerator magnets, I suddenly realized that it might be possible to use this material for body protectors. The magnetism would hold it in place, and it would easily come off when not needed. Arts and crafts stores in my area carry 1’ x 2’ sheets of this material, with a white coating, for about $6 each. Thinking that it might be fun to start a small business selling these, I also located a commercial source, Bunting Magnetics., who will sell you industrial quantities, in several colors

I conned Bunting out of a sample, and made up a set of protectors for my Tiger. My design was for a 4-piece protector, with no piece longer than 2’. They are shaped to match the gasket outline, so they’re almost unnoticeable when installed. Like the craft store material, the Bunting sample had a layer of white vinyl bonded to the brown base material, but I used Duplicolor fabric and vinyl spray to color it black. I compounded the old marks out of my paint, and tried them for a few months this spring and summer.

Here’s what I found when I pulled the hard top off in September. The white vinyl had started to separate from the base material, probably because of the gaskets continually pushing on it. A sample of this material (sprayed black) spent the spring and summer on the roof of my Cherokee, which lives outside in Massachusetts, with little if any deterioration. When I recently examined the samples in cold weather, the wrinkled vinyl coating appeared to have shrunk, forcing the magnetic material to have an upward warp to it. Forcing it back flat caused the vinyl coating to split. Bunting also sells uncoated magnetic sheets, so this might be the way to go. I did not try any of the craft store samples under similar conditions.

Second, I could see some traces of the top footprint in my paint. I know the polishing stuff I used had wax in it, so I may not have completely polished the old footprint out. It is not clear whether the footprint is caused by the gasket moving against the paint, or just from pressing against it. The magnetic sheets are rather thin, and probably don’t do a good job of spreading out the force of the gasket edges.

Third, the protectors did not stay in place as well as I’d hoped, as the hard top was being installed. My hardtop gaskets are new, and really tight, and the body did have a fresh coat of wax on it, so I’m sure these were factors. Maybe they would stay in place better if they were wider, rather that trimmed to match the gaskets, but then they would be quite obvious. Perhaps paint them body color?

Fourth, the protectors get rather stiff when cold, and don’t conform to the body shape as well as they do when warm. Since most hard tops don’t see a lot of action until the weather gets too chilly for top down motoring, this makes it even more difficult to get them to stay in place during top installation.

Fifth, I am not sure what the long term effects of water wicking under the protectors would be, although I noticed nothing bad under the sample on my Cherokee.

In any event, my experiment only turned up more problems, so I’m not about to start selling anything I can’t stand behind 100%. Feel free to take my idea and develop it further, maybe with a different type of magnetic material. Even though I can’t point to a successful experiment, intuitively it seems right, and I’m going use mine for another year and see what happens. I also made up a set to match my tonneau cover outline. I like to drive with the tonneau in place, half open if I’m alone, and it does flop around at speed. The stitch patterns had buffed their way into the paint.

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Our thanks to Stu Brennan and TE/AE for sharing this article.

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