Updated: 13-Mar-2024


General Information

Terminology

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

  1. Pull locking handles down
  2. 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
  3. Grasp the front edge of the top and push up; then fold top to the rear
  4. When folding the top down, tuck the material neatly into the center crevice of the top linkage
  5. Firmly press down on left and right rear portion of the collapsed top until locking mechanism is securely engaged (should hear a <click>)

Help Icons No AttributionTop Does Not Go Down All the Way

How to Put the Top Up

  1. Remove boot, if installed.
  2. Unlock the top on both sides by pressing the locking knobs down. (Power tops require this step before pressing switch button.)
  3. 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).
  4. 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 when the handle and hook are locked into position; repeat on other side.
  5. 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.

Help Icons No AttributionTop is Leaking

Help Icons No AttributionHorrible 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: tap 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 Material Types

Pinpoint Vinyl
  • Haartz smooth vinyl, with a pin-point appearance
  • It is a topcoated and embossed PVC material with a cotton weave backing
  • 1979-1984

Pinpoint Vinyl


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
  • 1985-1993

Grain Vinyl


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

Sonnenland Canvas


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

Twillfast Canvas


Stayfast Canvas
  • 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

Stayfast Canvas



Canvas vs. fabric

Both canvas and vinyl are types of fabric; therefore, canvas is the more accurate word to use.

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.

Hard-top Conversion

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. Tap 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.

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

Diagram with part numbers: Top Seals Guide

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 limited online OEM part resellers such as Mk1 Autohaus, Vintage Rubber, VW's 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.

Help Icons No AttributionWater 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.

Power/hydraulic tops use different struts. The part numbers for the OE struts are: 155871795 (left), 155871796 (right).

Convertible Top Boot (aka Cover)

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.

1991.5-1993 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.
Which Boots Will Fit? Boot:
1979 - 1981
Boot:
1982 - 1993
Boot:
1991½ - 1993*
Car:
1979 - 1981
Car:
1982 - 1993
Car:
1991½ - 1993*
* with factory-equipped rear shoulder belts

Where To Buy a Top Boot

Used: VW forum classifieds, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay (average cost is $60-150). As with anything used, 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

  1. Unlock, if necessary, and open trunk lid. (Note: 1979-1980 convertibles do not have the locking mechanism; skip to step 3.)
  2. Pull knob located on left side near luggage compartment opening to release safety/security lock; leave trunk lid open.
  3. Release seatback from latched position by pulling driver's side strap.
  4. Fold seatback forward onto the rear seat cushion
  5. 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)
  6. 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
  7. 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. Tap 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 official online vendors):

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.

Headliners

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:

Top Manufacturers

Many suppliers and manufacturers are selling tops on eBay.

Top Suppliers (North America unless otherwise indicated; those in bold are most recommended/used)

Cleaning & Care of the Convertible Top & Boot

Vinyl Top, Headliner & Boot

Cleaning

Protection

303 is the best. Other vinyl and leather conditioners are on the market; visit your local auto parts store for a selection of products.

Canvas Top

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.