TAKE COVER: RALLY TOPS

RALLY TOPS KEEPS the WEATHER out of PROJECT ZUK

4WDrive - - Contents - WORDS AND PHOTOS BY BUDD STAN­LEY

Project Zuk is run­ning, and with the Samu­rai fi­nally be­com­ing driv­able, it’s time to start piec­ing the body back to­gether into a road-wor­thy ve­hi­cle. First is­sue, the rotting mess of a hard­top that the Samu­rai came with from the pre­vi­ous owner. It was rid­dled with cracks, mould and other bi­o­log­i­cal en­ti­ties. To throw this top onto the new Aqualu body would be an in­sult to the good folks who built Project Zuk’s shiny alu­minum body.

The sim­plest and cheap­est fix would be to go out and grab a rag­top. Call me a princess, but I want a hard­top. I don’t plan to stop wheel­ing when the white stuff be­gins to fall, so seal­ing in as much heat as pos­si­ble and keep­ing out the rain are top pri­or­i­ties. I also dig the hard­top look. I was hop­ing to score a tin top Samu­rai when look­ing for can­di­dates for this build, but they are be­com­ing tougher and tougher to find in de­cent con­di­tion for a re­al­is­tic price.

My best op­tion was a com­pany called Rally Tops based out of Cal­i­for­nia. They build fiber­glass hard­tops de­signed specif­i­cally to fit Jeep Wran­glers, Chevy/ Geo Track­ers, Suzuki Side­kicks and Sa­mu­rais. The Rally Tops unit most closely matched the lines of the tin top and would pro­vide a weather tight fit. They of­fer sev­eral dif­fer­ent designs that in­clude a sport top that drops straight down be­hind the roll­bar and an­gles into a ton­neau cover, a two-piece hard top that al­lows you to re­move the targa panel, or in my case, the one-piece hard­top. This was an all new de­sign and we had one of the first units to pop out of the mould.

Get­ting one of these is not the eas­i­est propo­si­tion, as Rally Tops doesn’t ship with the usual couri­ers, so we found our­selves with a very large truck in our drive­way with a large smelly man drop­ping off a very large box on a pal­let. The box looked like it had been towed up from Cal­i­for­nia dan­gling on a towrope, so we kept the smelly man on­site un­til we could peer in to en­sure the top it­self had no dam­age.

Our one-piece top is a sturdy fi­bre­glass shell fully in­su­lated in­side with car­pet­ing. The list of op­tions for these

tops are quite ex­ten­sive. We didn’t opt for the sun­roof or open­ing side glass, but we did get the third rear brake light, in­te­rior dome light and roof rack (good for an ex­tra 150 lb of cargo).

The kit comes with all the hard­ware and in­struc­tions needed. Rally Tops has done a good job mak­ing use of all the cap­tive nuts al­ready in the Samu­rai’s body… only… we didn’t have a stock Samu­rai body. No worry, the hard­ware got tossed into the spares bin and we would sim­ply drill and bolt the hard­top into place on our Aqualu body.

As the up­per Samu­rai body con­sists of nine body pan­els bolted to­gether, the Rally Tops kit comes with a tube of high quality sil­i­cone seal to fill in all the gaps and weather proof the metal be­fore in­stalling the canopy. With the help of edi­tor Irons, we lifted the Rally Tops into po­si­tion. The top sank softly over the rollover hoop and aligned it­self beau­ti­fully in the wind­shield seam for a snug fit. Catches are mounted to the vi­sor mounts where latches on the un­der side of the top will grab hold for a good tight fit. In the rear, we had a bit of a prob­lem.

As we are not us­ing a stock Samu­rai body, some­where in the equa­tion a 6 mm (1/4-in) gap was left be­tween the bot­tom of the canopy and the rear tub gun­nels. Adapt­ing to the sit­u­a­tion, we grabbed

some ¼-in rub­ber mat, trimmed out the shape of the top of the body gun­nels and cre­ated a ¼-in thick gas­ket to shim the canopy to the body. We then drilled four holes, two on ei­ther side and sucked the canopy down onto the body with some stain­less nuts, bolts and wash­ers.

An­other lit­tle is­sue that came up with the fit­ment to the Aqualu body was the fact we now had a tail­gate that dropped rather than swung open. The rear glass on the Rally Tops’ canopy is de­signed to close in be­hind the tail­gate, cre­at­ing a weather-tight seal. For this we had to get cre­ative with the grinder and fab­ri­cate the lower base of the win­dow to sit just on top of the Aqualu tail­gate, with two tabs that reach in be­hind to lock it down when the tail­gate is latched shut. It took a lit­tle longer and re­quired a lit­tle more fab­ri­ca­tion and de­sign than we planned, but the re­sult was well worth the ex­tra bit of blood, sweat and tears.

A test drive into the wilder­ness dur­ing a winter blast yielded an in­te­rior that was well-in­su­lated, both in terms of warmth and sound-dead­en­ing, and pro­duced the boxy look I was look­ing for. Af­ter nearly a year on the Samu­rai, the Rally Tops looks just as good today as it did when it came out of the box. UV has had lit­tle to no ef­fect on the fin­ish, the glass still looks clean, and the whole unit still sits solidly on the body. Af­ter a cou­ple re­movals, the foam liner along the out­side of the con­tact points did pull it­self apart and a cou­ple of the sil­i­cone seals are start­ing to sep­a­rate from the canopy, how­ever the Rally Tops has held up very well.

I’m quite happy with the Rally Tops hard top; it has proved weather re­sis­tant, sits solid on the body, gives the Samu­rai a great look and in­creases in­te­rior se­cu­rity. It’s not a cheap in­vest­ment when you con­sider the cost of some of the can­vas tops you can buy, but the added com­forts and con­ve­niences are well worth the in­vest­ment.

Rally Tops One Piece Samu­rai Hard­top - $985.00 www.ral­ly­tops.com

A third rear brake light is al­ways a good idea.

The Rally Top ar­rived in the back of a large truck in a large box.

In­te­rior clips hold the front of the top down snug­gly on the wind­shield frame.

The op­tional roof racks are locked into the rails for ad­di­tional cargo car­ry­ing.

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