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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
how to replace the outer skin of a 1980-1993 vw cabriolet.
- with the top closed and the windows open, remove your back seat, parcel shelf, and empty your trunk.
- remove the rear glass: clean and lubricate the seal, make sure no points are sticking, remove the wires for the defroster, find a helper, and from the inside of the car gently push the glass out of it's seal, using as much surface area of your hand at a time as possible.
- remove the staples that hold the outer skin to the window frame with a screwdriver.
- remove the trim pieces / snap receptacles at the C pillars.
- from under the parcel shelf side panels, detach the headliner by bending the sharp tabs down and breaking the contact cement's adhesive grip.
- remove the 13mm bolt that holds on the mount for the gas shock on each side.
- using a 10mm wrench and a suitable back up wrench (a small "ignition wrench" worked for me) make the rear tension cable loose.
- carefully peel the outer skin from the rear perimeter of the car so as not to bend the cable or scratch your paint.
- remove the rear tension cable from the top carefully if you wish to save it for reuse.
- open the top partially such that the section that contacts the windshield points straight up.
- carefully remove the rubber window seals from their channels, minding the phillips screw at the A pillar on the front seals.
- find the phillips screws that hold on the seal mounting channels and remove them.
- drill out the rivet on each side that holds the vinyl strap from the top to the frame behind the roll bar.
- if applicable, drill out the rivets that hold on the outer skin at the bottom of the C pillar.
- remove the bar and side pieces that hold the outer skin to the frame where it contacts the windshield.
- remove the outer skin from the frame: it is glued at the C and A pillars and along the front bar with contact cement.
- remove the side tension cables from their receptacles at the A and C pillars.
- inspect your insulation pad and decide if you want to replace it. if the fabric on top has deteriorated, fix it.
- check, clean and lubricate the entire mechanism. fix rust spots on the body and top frame.
- install new side side tension cables into the new outer skin. if there are springs on your C pillars between the frame and the cable, the new cables should measure 94cm. if there are no springs, the new cables should measure 106cm. check the length as the dealer supplied cables i purchased were the wrong length. initially i purchased the 106cm cables, which actually measured 102 and 103mm long. i shortened them to 94cm as they were not returnable.
*the dealers' electronic parts catalogue, ETKA, has an error - it specifies the long cable for all cars up to mid 1993, whereas my 1987 and 1988 examples use the short cable. be sure to order the correct cable for your car.*
- close the top but don't close the latches, let it float a few cm open.
- drape the new skin over the frame and tuck the mechanism in the front "pocket" of the skin.
- align things as best you can.
- insert the rear tension cable's ends into the top and into the car. don't forget those fabric loops for the boot cover hooks, if applicable.
- if you have an EZ-ON stayfast canvas top, trim the excess material from underneath the rolled bead. it is not trimmed from the factory to fit in the rear channel.
- get some clamps of various kinds and begin trying to coax the cable into place. the top will have to be clamped to the car body in order to hold the cable in it's channel while loose.
- using the backup wrench and the 10mm, tighten the cable a little at a time while adjusting the top alignment. use the stitches at the C pillars as reference points.
- tap the cable into the channel as you tighten it with a soft piece of wood and a rubber mallet, working from the middle toward each side in sections. installing this cable should be a slow, patient, calculated process.
- re-attach the gas shock mounts with their 13mm bolts.
- attach the side cables at the A and C pillars: make sure the grommet the cable runs through at the C pillar is not going to chafe the cable, turn it using an easy-out or replace it if you must.
- adjust the pocket at the front as best you can, trimming material as necessary for an unobstructed fit.
- glue the front pocket to the frame at the bottom, apply the cement to the plastic former and 1cm of the headliner inside. do not use spray glue, most upholstery shops will supply a good quality product if you ask. 3M super 77 will not stand up to temperature changes so avoid it.
- punch holes where the screws for the metal bar and side pieces attach at the front using a hole puch and hammer.
- install the bar and side pieces with their phillips screws, working from the middle out.
- glue the flaps at the A pillars but do not trim the excess.
- with the top partially open apply glue to the C pillars and the corresponding area of the skin, then close the top and attach these lines with as much tension and accuracy as you can apply.
- feed the new vinyl straps through the insulation pad and rivet them to the frame.
- clean the seal channels and apply 0.5cm x 3cm closed cell weatherstrip foam to their backsides. punch holes for the screws.
- install the seal channels and rubber seals: a blunt flathead screwdriver and a small amount of strategically placed lubricant can help. don't forget the screws at the A pillars.
- trim the excess material at the A and C pillars from beside the seals on the inside.
- close and latch the top and cut an X for the rear window, ending your cuts approximately 2cm from the corners.
- trim as necessary and clamp the skin to the rear frame with C clamps and spring clamps, adjusting alignment as you go. leave a minimum of 5cm to pull all around, and slice the corners as necessary. you will need at least 15 clamps to do this correctly.
- fasten the fabric with stainless 3/8' (5mm) staples on the bottom lateral, then the top lateral, then each side, and then finally the corners: as many clamps as can fit in one area at a time should be used, and constantly adjusted for tension and alignment.

- using a hammer and appropriate anvil, ensure the staples are tight.
- clean your window seal as best you can.
- clean your window as best you can, and then put the window in the frame.
- wrap a length of nylon twine or a suitably strong rope of about 3mm thickness around the inside channel of the seal and place the glass and seal onto the car.
- have a helper push the glass into the car as you seat the seal using a blunt flathead screwdriver and the rope. the rope pulls out of the seal and places the lip onto the flange neatly.
- reinstall the trim / snap receptacles at the C pillars, trimming the skin as necessary. ensure the rubber seals they clamp down are aligned.
- wash your car.
- take a break.
- clean up your garage.
- go drive around and show off.
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