WT 4x4 Tech Tips

 

STC Fast Track Top

On a Bronco!

http://aabestco.com/

 

By: Damon Haas

INTRODUCTION:

Since I live in sunny California, I figured it was high time I took advantage of the removable top that Mother Ford gave me when I purchased my 1994 Ford Bronco.  The problem is, that I don’t drive it every day, and I needed some way to keep the elements out.  I had seen a variety of soft tops out on the market, but none really served my intended purpose.  The Soft Top Company has been selling a full soft top for some time that incorporated a bunch of snaps to hold the top on.  You could roll the side and rear windows up “safari” style, but at freeway speeds, these tops were not exactly “stout” enough for me. 

 

Low and behold, the Soft Top Company (STC) finally released the Fast Track style top that incorporates removable side and rear windows that are easily removed with a zipper.  This allows the windows to be completely removed, and yet the top still retains some structure that is secured to the body of the vehicle.  STC had been making this style top for other makes of vehicles, most notably were the 66-77 Ford Broncos.

 

This write up will cover a brief over view of the installation steps, some of the required tools, a few key components, and my own personal experience with this new STC Fast Track top, from aabestco.com.

THE PURCHASE:

I purchased the STC top from aabestco.com.  I came across them while searching for tops on the Internet, searched through their inventory, and found that they were distributors for STC.  The only problem was that I did not see the new Fast Track style top that I had heard rumors about.  A quick phone call to aabestco.com got me in touch with a gentleman by the name of Karl.  I have to say, that hands down, I received some of the best customer service from Karl and his coworkers that I have EVER received.  Not only was Karl extremely patient with all my questions, but also he took the time to call STC and find out if they were going to release this product.  He promptly returned my call, told me they were, and then put a rush order through for me because my club was heading to the Rubicon for a big event.  Karl was courteous, quick to respond, and just very pleasant to deal with.  He came through as promised, and his coworkers even followed up after I ordered to make sure everything was correct.  Now that is what I call service.

 THE TOP AND INSTALL

I was very pleased to come home from work and find this large box waiting for me at my front door (earlier than expected I might add, thanks to aabestco.com).

As I opened the box, I found everything to be well packaged.

As I started the assembly, I noticed that there were lots of parts, well written directions and everything was in its own bag.

 

There seemed to be quite a bit of attention to detail on the part of STC when putting everything together, including hand written notes on one of the two sleeves provided.  These sleeves are for carrying/protecting the windows and top.

 

The top is made of a durable denim (look to summary for more on this), with tinted windows.  THIS top comes with heavy-duty velcro, heavy-duty zippers and the “tracks” that secure the top, instead of the infamous snaps of old.

 

Once I was sure that I had everything, “read” the directions, and got all the proper tools, it was time for the install.  Removing the top is fairly easy, although you will need a Safety Torx T40 bit.  It looks like a little star and has a recessed center section to fit over the little nipple in the head of the bolts that secure the top down.  I got a set of these at Kragen for about 10 bucks

 

Before you can get to these bolts, you must remove the plastic trim pieces around the edge of the top.  Be careful when removing these, as they are held down with little plastic “grabby screws”.  Obviously that is not the technical name, but they have little fins that grab onto the hole they are pressed into.  Anyways, they break pretty easily if you get frustrated like me and use a little too much “pressure”.  In this picture, you can see the torx head bolts, and what’s left of those pesky “grabby screws”.

 

There are a few of these bolts along the sides and top of the fiberglass shell.  Some are longer than others, so it is important that you note which ones go where if you plan on re-installing the hard top in the future.  This is the front of the shell

  

As I mentioned, a few of the bolts are quite long.  Instead of using a socket wrench, I used my air ratchet, which made quick work of all the bolts.

 

Once all the bolts are removed, you will need at least one other person to help remove the top.  I would guess that it weighs around 120 pounds, but is quite awkward to carry.  Take care to not destroy the weather stripping underneath.  Once you are done with that, look at the old bolt holes and see if you still have all the retaining clips like below.  I somehow managed to “push” one or two down into the holes, so luckily STC anticipated dummies like me, and sends some new ones out with their top.

  

The first step(s) of the actual install is putting what STC calls the “body aluminum” in place.  These are four metal pieces that make up the lower track along the sides of the vehicle.  They are side specific, and mount using supplied bolts/washers that go directly into pre-existing holes from the hard top.  The directions explain it well.  In the pic. below, both pieces are in place, and unbolted.

 

This pic. is actually a little later in the install, but shows what it looks like from the outside on the drivers side.  Note the “track” along the outside.

  

You do need to drill one small hole on each of the rear pieces of “body aluminum”.  In this pic. you can see the white bushing underneath the “body aluminum”.  You need to center the bushing around the predrilled hole in the supplied bracket, and then drill a hole in the bronco body.  This is then secured with a supplied screw.  Also note that one of the bolts is shown to the left, and the wing nut, which will later secure the “rear body aluminum”.

  

The directions state to even up the two pieces of “body aluminum”, but as you can see, it isn’t a perfect fit.  I don’t think this will ever be a problem, but the weather stripping does not butt together where the seam is, which could leak in heavier rains.

 I left the stock upper weather stripping piece in place.  The directions didn’t say anything about removing it, and it covers up what would be relatively sharp metal edging, so while I did remove it to install the upper brackets, I did put it back in place.  This picture shows how the “body aluminum” fits snugly up against it.

 

The next step involves drilling two holes per side to mount the “bow mount”.  This is the little piece that secures to the “body aluminum” and holds the two spreader bars that support the top.  Look at the picture in the detailed directions.  I am usually a picture guy, and skip all the written word directions.  I now know why, as I put the bracket in the wrong location the first time around.  So again, the following picture is what NOT to do.  The bracket should be on the INSIDE edge, not the outside.

 

The following pic shows the “bow mount secured in the proper position on the inside edge.  You will need a tape measure, as these two brackets (one on either side) need to be in a specific location.  Also not the trimming on the “bow release bracket”, which I will talk about more in a bit.

  

The next step is to install the two pieces that make up the “cab aluminum”.  These are the pieces that involve the most drilling into the body, 18 spots over all.  This is perhaps the most technically difficult part, and the part that took the most concentration to get right.  Measurements here are very important, and a second set of hands becomes very useful to hold things in place while you start to drill the first few holes.  The sequence that you drill holes is also very specific, so please refer to your detailed instructions for the proper method.  Be sure to read it a few times before starting, as it confused me (not hard to do) the first time through.

 

 This next pic. shows how the top and side pieces come together, and there proximity to one another.  In my opinion, this may be another potential leak spot, but only time will tell.

  

The next step of the install requires putting together the two pieces that will make up the  “tailgate aluminum” piece.  I’m not sure if I lost a few screws (from the kit) or if I was some how shorted some, but I had to go rummage through my hardware supply to come up with a few extra screws to secure this piece together.  The directions suggest using rivets, which I plan to do in the future for a cleaner install.  The supplied directions make it easy to put this piece together, and it then secures to the side “body aluminum” at the wing nuts that were shown earlier.  The supplied piece of weather stripping is pressed on to the tailgate piece, and is self-explanatory.

 The next step is to install the “bow release brackets” which are little pieces that install into the “bow mounts” that allow for some adjustability of the bows to ensure a snug fitting top.  I ran into a small problem here, as once my release brackets were installed, they hit the bolts that secured the ‘bow mounts” which would prevent the bows from being able to move and collapse all the way down when the top is folded for “topless” mode.  This impairment required removing approximately 1/161h inch from the bottom of the bracket with my bench grinder.  You could probably use a hand file or dremel tool with a carbide blade just as easily.

  

As you can see, it is still a very tight fit, but works just fine and required an extra 5 minutes or so.

  

From there, you are pretty much home free.  The two “bows” slide together and then bolt to the “bow release brackets”.  There is one bow designated as front and rear, and the directions explain this well.  Once that is done, continue to follow the directions to install the top.  An excessively cool or hot top can be more difficult to install as it either becomes to stiff or flimsy.  The directions call for a specific temperature to make this easier, but it WILL install with a little coercion either way.  The first time you throw the top on, it is definitely beneficial to have at least one extra set of hands, and two sets wouldn’t hurt, just until it relaxes from shipping. 

 

So now what, you want pictures of the installed top?  Too bad, you have to wait until the end.

 

PRODUCT REVIEW

 

I tend to be overly critical and quite anal, so take my following comments with a grain of salt.  On the other hand, I spend a lot of time “wrenching”, so I am pretty adept at working on trucks. 

 

Overall, this top went on quite simply and only required basic hand tools and a drill.  The quality of this STC top is very good.  I am impressed with the stitch work, the heavy-duty zippers and Velcro, and the reinforcing and padding in the corners and rub areas.  The directions, while thorough, can be a bit confusing, however.  My biggest gripe with the directions is that the relevant pictures were not contiguous with the directions, and often times I felt like I had to search for the appropriate illustration.  A simple restructuring of the directions would probably make this an extremely easy install for the newbie, as well as the seasoned wrench. 

I really liked the tailgate piece, as it is easy to put on and take off, which makes loading things in the back of the bronco much easier than I had expected, AND you do not have to drill holes into the tailgate.  The supplied hardware, and careful planning on STC’s part to use many of the factory mounts, made installing this bracketry relatively easy.  The bows have some adjustability that makes for a good fitting top as well.  It seems that this top was well thought out, with a lot of time was put into the design phase, which builds confidence in the consumer.

 

 

SOOOO, lets get onto the trail review already.  As I stated, I received this top less than one week before we were heading up to the Rubicon for some Memorial Day four-wheeling.  I was a little apprehensive about running a “soft top” when I knew that it would be encountering tree branches, rocks and lots of dirt. 

 

Well, the first night it rained “cats and dogs” and the top didn’t leak one bit.  While I wasn’t moving when it was raining that night, it certainly bolstered my confidence that this top was worthy of seeing some inclement weather and keeping me dry.  The top also withstood some pretty good pokes from low hanging tree branches, and I didn’t get one rip, tear or severe scratch in the denim at all.  The tinted windows I ordered were another story, however, but what can you expect from plastic windows.  I certainly don’t attribute this to anything that STC did, as every soft top I have ever seen has had marring to the plastic windows, period

 

The ease of removing and installing the windows makes this top a real treat.  I can remove the windows in about 1 minute, and the install time is about 3 minutes, and that is because the rear portion of the passenger side window likes to hang up a little as you zip it closed.  With a little “massaging” it closes just right and looks great.  With the windows removed, the top does flop around a little bit, but if I did not have a roll cage, I don’t think it would make any noise.  The top portion of the soft top tends to flap about on the rear “halo” section of my roll cage, and if it were not there, the top would have nothing to hit.  When the windows are installed, the top is nearly as quite as when I had the hard top on.  There is really a very surprisingly small amount of wind noise generated from this top, even with my big lift and less-than aerodynamic stance at freeway speeds.

 

Overall I rate this Soft Top Company Fast Track style top a 9/10.  It installs easily (taking only about 3.5 hours, and that is taking pictures, reading and re-reading the directions, and topping for “refreshments” from time to time) and can be done by one person for the majority of the work.  So far it seems quite durable, and very user friendly.  I am deducting two points for the directions and a few spots could use a redesign to help eliminate potential leaking.  In my opinion, if the overlapped some of the seams differently, it would prevent even more leaking, but that is just a guess at this point.

 

Overall, I rate the customer service from aabestco.com as a 10/10, and I hope to be able to do business with them again.  Karl and his team are flat out awesome.

Okay, Okay.  Click here for the rest of the Pictures

 

 

 

 

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