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ACME Hardtop Restoration

NOTE: The information contained on this webpage is becoming more valuable as time passes. As of 2005, AJ's is no longer in business. To the best of my knowledge, nobody is making new CJ-5 hardtops any longer.

I've wanted a hardtop for my CJ-5 since I purchased it in the mid-90s. However, as you may already know, they are quite rare. There are a few options for CJ-5s: 1) Steel hardtops were available from the factory until 1979, 2) There are still a couple of current manufacturers like AJ's, 3) Cut down a CJ-7 top to fit a '5, and 4) Find one of the "original" fiberglass hardtops made by ACME of old. I reviewed all of the options but the first three had their own set of problems: 1) Factory steel hardtops rusted through faster than Jeep bodies, 2) AJ's tops run well over $2000 with full hard doors, 3) Cutting down CJ-7 tops presents a whole set of problems and issues; although, I know a few people that have done it. Personally, I didn't view any of these as viable options so I decided to find an ACME hardtop with doors.

You occasionally see hardtops on CJ-5s but, their owners will never part with them. I looked for a top for a number of years and nearly gave up hope until I found a complete Jeep with top for sale. The Jeep barely ran and was in terrible shape; however, it had a top with full doors. The owner did not want to sell the top separately from the CJ so, I bought the whole Jeep and parted out everything I didn't need. I made enough cash in the transaction to basically get the top for free with enough left over to buy new hardware and paint.

The listing for the Jeep stated the ACME hardtop was "brand freakin' new" but that simply was not the case: The passenger-side handle was broken, the driver-side latch was completely missing, both doors had cracks where the outer shell wrapped around the inner, the top had a few small dents, the hinges were rusted, the zinc handles were corroded, and the finish was worn and faded. Even so, it seemed to be structurally sound.

Before I got carried away trying to restore the actual top, I decided I should first fix the broken/missing ACME latches. I began searching high and low across the country to find a replacement latch but, they simply are not available. I only found one used parts dealer that had a single pair of CJ-7 ACME latches for sale at $99 each but, nothing for a CJ-5. I even tried looking for entire doors but, they're next to impossible to find. I quickly discovered that WORKING latches were more rare than the actual tops since the zinc inners had a tendency to sieze if they were not properly cared for.

While browsing through hardware and parts catalogs, I found a slamming cab lock made my A.L. Hansen Manufacturing Company that had similar overall width and latch-to-handle dimensions to the original ACME latch. By fabbing up my own latch strike plates, I was able to make them work. If you're interested, you can read about the entire process here.

I was relieved to get the latch problem solved and was finally able to begin refinishing the hardtop and doors. Since I was dealing entirely with fiberglass, the process was fairly simple. I refinished the doors, rear hatch, and top in that order.

The first order of business with the doors was to remove the old rubber seals and adhesive. From the looks of it, there appeared to be at least three separate attempts to affix the weather seals to the doors. There were layers upon layers of old glue and silicone caked around the doors; the previous owner(s) failed to remove the old glue before applying new. I tried using a few solvents to remove the glue but, I was afraid they would damage or soften the fiberglass resin. I found dental instruments to be the best tools for scraping the old adhesive off of the doors. They also allowed me to remove any loose or chipped fiberglass.

Once everything had been scraped, I wiped everything down with PPG Acryl-Clean DX330 to remove all of the remaining grease and wax allowing me to visually inspect everything for cracks. As I found them, I used a Dremel tool with a carbide bit to cut through the gel coat and enlarge the cracks. This gave the fiberglass filler something substantial to grab.

Most hardtops, ACME included, have a rough texture to them but, it makes repairs nearly impossible to make since filler requires sanding. Also, my top had wear spots that practically eliminated the texture in a few areas. Due to the large number of repairs I had to make, it would have been impossible to duplicate the original texture so I decided to sand everything smooth removing all traces of the original texture. While I was at it, I decide to remove the ACME logo that was molded into the rear hatch.

While the ACME hardtop itself was in decent condition, the doors were in pretty bad shape. They appear to be made using an inner and outer shell with the edges of the outer shell wrapped around the inner to hold it in place. Unfortunately, the wrapped edges were damaged in a few areas and the shells could be pulled apart at a couple of corners. Even where the edge was intact, it provided a very uneven surface to mount weatherstripping. I used the opportunity to not only repair the cracks but also fill in the unevenness with fiberglass filler.

Fiberglass repairs are very similar to making repairs in steel save the hammer pounding. First, I laid down a smooth coat of Kevlar-reinforced, short-fill fiberglass filler and sanded it smooth once dry. Then, I laid down a coat of smoothing filler. It is somewhat self-leveling and, once it is final sanded, leaves a very smooth surface. Here's a tip that you may find useful: Assuming they are all compatible with the filler product that you have chosen, use different colored cream hardeners (red, blue, white, etc) in each layer of filler that you need to spread. This will allow you determine how much you've sanded through each coat.

Once everything had been sanded down, I was ready to create the new mounts needed to hold the top to the Jeep tub. I sat the hardtop onto the Jeep tub and mounted the doors on their hinges. From there, I was able to take some measurements and determine how to mount the top. I decided to fabricate a pair of hard brackets for the door openings and a pair at the hatch. I also decided to use a couple of over-center latches around the perimeter of the top for good measure. That only left the windshield to worry about. The original owner actually drilled holes into the front on the hardtop so he could drive screws into the windshield frame. I wanted a nice, clean look so this was not an option for me and I filled in the holes. I decided to use a pair of extended shackle rotary latches to hold the top to the windshield frame.

Instead of simply using screws to mount all of the brackets to the ACME hardtop, I installed Rivnuts any place I needed an attachment point. A Rivnut is similar to a pop rivet; however, its center is hollow and threaded. I used 1/4-20 Rivnuts throughout. Once that was done, I was finally ready for primer and paint!

I chose to use PPG products for this project since there were a number of places near me that carried their products. I sprayed on two coats of PPG DPLF epoxy primer and wet sanded everything with 400grit before proceeding. I then sprayed on 3 coats of PPG Deltron 2000 DBC Amber Fire Pearlcoat basecoat and followed it up with two coats of PPG DCU2042 Low VOC Speed Clear clearcoat. Check out my paint page for details on how I professionally sprayed my own paint.

I final wet sanded everything with 1500 and 2500grit Meguiar's sandpaper and buffed everything out with a variable speed buffer/polisher. I still have to complete the interior of the top but, am very happy with the results so far. Before continuing with the interior of the top and doors, I fitted everything back on the Jeep to make sure everything still fit. It definitely looks good ... I'll post more once the interior has been completed.

Please help! It has become extremely expensive and time consuming for me to maintain this website. If you find this information valuable, please consider donating $5 to help out.