Retrofitting a Koenig Jeep Hardtop

Jack Ahlberg, Watkinsville, Georgia

FInishedIt's been four years since Jack Ahlberg's three-part series on Restoration of a 1954 CJ-3B was published on CJ3B.info, and now here's Part 4. Jack describes how he produced a steel hardtop that is solid and snug, beautifully finished, and provides lots of visibility. I can see this becoming a popular restoration/upgrade project, especially among those of us who live where the winters are cold and snowy. -- Derek Redmond

Getting Started

The process of fixing my original Koenig Standard Cab started with words of encouragement from the regular visitors of The CJ-3B Bulletin Board. I gleaned ideas from their comments, suggestions, cautions and advice. I alleviated some concerns and came to grips with the fact that I was going to have to drill many holes in the Jeep to get the top mounted. I also knew that if I altered the original Koenig top and put it on the Jeep, I would be in for some criticism from the diehard "keep it original" Jeep owners -- but that concern soon gave way to wanting to have it the way I wanted it.

After retrieving the components from the storage area where I had placed them five years earlier, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the parts were still there although still in need of restoration. I had forgotten that there were so many pieces, and many were in bad condition.

BeforeIt wasn't that they had worsened in storage, but were that way from being exposed to the elements for many years at Dad's farm. The Jeep had not been stored in a garage, so there was evidence of severe rust pitting on some of the parts. This can be seen in some of the original pictures in Part 1 of my story. I had sandblasted and primed (20K JPEG) the entire Jeep to prevent further deterioration, but knew that there would have to be a lot of work done at some point if the top was going to look decent.

I had made the decision that I would do everything possible to make the top look as close to the original as I could, but in the end I made some changes to the original. I used the same philosophy in restoring the top as I did the Jeep. In other words, it was a total take down and apart. If it had fasteners, screws and bolts, I removed them in order to make the cleaning easier. All the door hardware and mechanisms were disassembled, cleaned and lubricated. New weather channeling for the door windows was installed, as the old pieces were gone.

Sanding and Painting

As luck would have it, a roll of film with a number of pictures of the process, was lost. I am sorry that these are missing, but I will tell you that the process I used was fairly simple and was given to me by a friend who owns an automotive repair and body shop. The steps are as follows:

  1. Make sure the metal is clean and free from all rust. I prepared the surfaces by sanding, wire brushing and sandblasting.
  2. Neutralize the metal to prevent progressive rust from occurring under your finished paint.
  3. Fill the metal with a good metal bonding agent. There are several good products to choose from as well as various textures. Prices will vary depending on texture and brand. I used a product called EVERCOAT Z-Grip for the initial applications. The price was $14 per gallon. A hardener is supplied with the bonding agent and must be mixed in small amounts with the bonding agent. This is a trial and error method and as one becomes more use to the process it becomes easier to guess at the right ratios. Instruction on the products assists in how to do this process. Work the bonding agent in small amounts. Don't mix too much at one time as it will harden quicker than it can be applied and waste will occur.
  4. Sanding is the most critical part of the process. Body shops have specialized power tools for this work. They are much quicker, but are expensive. I used my Porter Cable orbital sander for the rough sanding. I learned very quickly that you have to be careful with this type of sander as it can produce a wavy finish which is not acceptable. My finish sanding was a very repetitive process of using a flat sanding tool 12 inches in length. This worked very well on the flat surfaces and you can achieve a smooth surface free of waves and dips. Smaller areas were done with a 4x2 rubber sanding-block. Sanding is a progressive process using various sanding grits ranging from a 40-grit on initial sanding to a 180-grit for the final process before priming. Sanding material can be obtained from most automotive paint supply stores. A tip another friend gave me was that when you think you have it ready for primer, spray the surfaces with a very light coat of black paint. Re-sand all the surfaces. If there are high spots, the black paint will disappear. If there are low places, the area will remain black indicating that additional bonding agent is needed. It is an extra step, but it works. If there are imperfections in your bonding process, they will be magnified in the painting process.
  5. Prime the surfaces. When I went to purchase the primer I was amazed at how many types of primers you could choose. When I told the dealer what I was doing and showed him a piece, he recommended a primer that had a "filling" ability and could be put on up to a thickness of about 1/4-inch in progressive spraying. This is the product I chose and it is called EVERCOAT Finish Sand High Speed Polyester Primer Surfacer. The primer was expensive at $58.00 per gallon, but it sure did the job. There is an additive that comes with this particular primer and the spray life is about 45 minutes before it has to be discarded. Instructions are on the product and are easy to understand. Had I known about this product before I started the process in step 3, I could have saved my self several days of hard sanding. I did purchase a spray gun made specifically for this type of application. You can overspray a piece after 15 minutes of set time to get the desired buildup. Believe it or not, you can build the primer to a thickness of 3/16 and this will cover a lot of imperfections in metal.
  6. Wet-sand the primed surfaces. This step is very much like step 5 except you start with a 180-grit and finish with a 680-grit. Like all bodywork, it is messy to work with, but in this process, you are using water with your sanding medium and it is not dusty. It is important that you keep enough water on the surface to prevent clogging of the sand paper and dragging on the surface. When you think you have it smooth and ready for final painting, I would suggest the black spray tip in step 5.
  7. Apply the final paint color. I did not have the required equipment to do a final paint application. My air compressor was not adequate to maintain a constant pressure nor did I have a moisture trap in the line. I did not have the necessary spray guns required for final paint application and I did not want to invest in such equipment for a one time use. I took the various components to my friend who does automotive repair and he did the final paint applications. The final paint included a clear-coat application. I observed the final process that included a wet sanding of the final paint with 1280-grit paper. The paint was then buffed to the high gloss finish.


Right sideThis is a picture of the right side panel. It was on this panel that the brass label indicating the name of the manufacturer, Koenig Iron Works, Houston, Texas, was placed. The label was in the lower right hand corner of the panel. Thanks to John Hubbard for helping me determine what kind of top I had. The label had been painted over and I didn't know it was there until John told me where to look.

If you are wondering about the piece that I am holding in place, it is a result of an afterthought. My left hand is in the original opening that contained a small glass panel that would slide open to allow air to circulate. The original size was 12x15 inches. After I had the panel ready for primer, I decided to enlarge the side opening to allow additional light and to improve the visibility while driving. The opening in this panel was enlarged to 21x27. The radius on all the corner openings was six inches, to allow the window molding to lie smoothly to the metal surface. I made the same modification to the left panel as I did to the right.

Rear windowThis picture shows the rear end of the right panel after the panel was cut to facilitate a new window opening. You can see a 3/8-inch hole at the top that I drilled in the removed piece to allow my saber saw to do the cutting. The cutting was easily done and required a steady hand. All cut edges were filed smooth.

Lift gateThis is a picture of the lift gate showing the original opening which was 11x15 inches. As you can see the opening was very small and you could not see out the back with the rear view mirror. The new opening is 20x27.

Pre-Installation Steps

The hinge assembly of the Koenig top was not an attractive mechanism in the original format. It consisted of multiple components that were held together with nuts and bolts. The only reason that I can think of doing it that way was to make certain that it could be "customized" to fit whatever Jeep it was going on, and the minor tolerances could be facilitated by the nut and bolt assembly.

Door hingeI definitely took some liberties with the hinge and I was very pleased with the final result. Since I had removed the hinge and door assembly in one piece, I was able to make some modifications to allow for a more attractive final assembly. You can see that there are no bolts in the main component. The bolts that are visible are the ones that are in the hinge to hold the door in place.

Once I was sure of the final adjustments, I removed the door from the hinge and was ready for the welding. I had a friend do some welding on the overlap of the various components and this allowed for the removal of most all the bolts that held the components together. I would only recommend doing this if you were certain that the assembly was going back in exactly the same place it came from or the assembly would not fit properly. You can only be sure of this by trial and error and by putting the piece in place, making adjustments, removing it, welding and then finishing.

After I had the assembly welded, I removed all of the bolts and filled the holes and primed the components with the EVERCOAT, which I referred to in the painting section. This filling included all the overlaps and butt joints that were in the assembly. The final look appears to be a one piece assembly.

I mentioned welding in the above paragraphs. I had several metal fatigue breaks in the various panels and components and I had these fixed. The corner welds in the panels were broken and rusted through to the point that there was considerable compromise to the stability of the corner. I had four braces welded that were "L" shaped, and looked something like a carpenter's square. The dimensions were 11x37 inches and the corner was a 90-degree angle -- see a drawing of the braces (40K GIF). I placed these braces on the top of the lower flanges where the panel attaches to the Jeep and under the upper flanges of the panel where the flange connects to hold the top. I drilled 5/16-inch holes in the braces, in alignment with the existing holes in the flanges. These braces greatly enhanced the stability of the top and virtually eliminated the tendency of the top to be "shifty" when pushed on.

When the top was originally put on the Jeep, apparently no welting had been put between the top and the Jeep itself. This allowed for metal wear and the opportunity for rust to do its work. The lower edge flanges on both of the side panels had several places where the rust had gone completely through the surfaces that bolted to the Jeep leaving sections looking like Swiss cheese.

I used a combination of welting and rubber weatherstripping when I started reassembly. On the vertical surfaces, excluding door openings, I used a one-inch wide green nylon welting. I chose this over the rubber weatherstripping due to possible movement of the component on the surfaces. I don't know whether my thinking was correct or not, but I knew that I did not want metal against metal. Time will tell if my decision was correct.

On all of the horizontal surfaces that bolted together, I used a one-inch wide by 1/8-inch thick weatherstripping purchased at the local Auto Zone store. This has made the top very tight as far as wind noise is concerned. It has virtually eliminated the "metal" noise that comes from metal against metal.

The Finished Product

FrontNote that I finally have the external rear view mirror reinstalled. If you look closely, you can see a nylon strap from the arm to the windshield to keep the mirror steady. This is temporary until I can fabricate a brace to help stabilize the mirror. I have had the arm break twice from the length or weight of the arm.

When I reassembled the top I used all stainless steel fasteners. I left them unpainted and it creates a nice accent, I think. I have not had much luck in the past in keeping paint on anything that comes in contact with wrenches or screwdrivers.

See also a view from the right side (50K JPEG).

leftI debated on the selection of glass colors, but ended up selecting a tinted gray. The black tint looked equally good, but law enforcement frowns on certain shades of black, so I went with a color they accept in Georgia. The glass turned out to be the most expensive component of the restoration. The tinted glass is twice as expensive as the clear, but what the heck, nothing is too good for the CJ-3B. Total cost for glass, molding, and installation was $575.00.

What I noticed immediately when I took the Jeep for a drive, is that there are no blind spots with this configuration like there were with the original Koenig top. The rear view mirror on the inside gives a good view of what's coming up behind you, with some vibrations of course!

You can definitely see out of this Jeep!
Note the inside rear view mirror.

The mat that is on the rear floor came from Wal-Mart and was just the right width. No trimming was needed. The length was a little long, but it was cut to fit up under the seat and provides a non slick surface for my Boykin Spaniel, Coke, to ride. It also reduced some of the road noise.

DoorThe door panel was made from 1/8-inch tempered masonite and a one-inch hole drilled to receive the window handle. There were two channels to receive the panel, one on the bottom and one on the angled side. The panel is covered with a heavy-duty black vinyl put on the masonite with a strong contact adhesive cement. The panel was inserted into the channels and fasted with stainless steel screws. There is a metal flange that goes across the top of the panel and is held in place to the door channel with three stainless steel metal screws.

When I was preparing the doors for painting, I found evidence that there had been weatherstripping at one time on the edges of the door. I put the same 1x1/8-inch weatherstripping on the doors that I used on the horizontal surfaces that bolted together.

Roof linerThis picture shows the roof liner in place. The liner was constructed from two pieces of 1/8-inch tempered masonite. The joined pieces were taken to a local auto trim shop that placed a one-piece heavy cream-colored vinyl on the masonite. My original thought was to put black vinyl on the top to match the seats and door panel. My decision to use cream-colored vinyl came from the owner of the trim shop. His argument made sense; black was hotter in the summer heat and would make the interior darker where the cream was cooler and would make the interior brighter. It is a nice compliment to the green and black, so I am happy with the outcome.

Before installing the liner, 3/4-inch Styrofoam insulation was cut and placed against the metal top. The metal top had several channels that came welded in the original top that had been used for guides to fasten the liner to the top. The pattern of screws shown were somewhat dictated by the placement of the metal channels. The insulation and the liner will make the top cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Now I can use the heater, which works very well. It doesn't take much to heat the Jeep now that the top is on. -- Jack Ahlberg

Thanks to Jack for this 1999 look at his restoration project. As of 2018 the Jeep has been sold. -- Derek Redmond

See original installation instructions for Koenig All Steel Jeep Cabs.

See more Jeep Hardtops on CJ3B.info.

Go back to Part 1 of Restoration of a 1954 CJ-3B, and see also Jack's Vinyl Canvas Jeep Cover.

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Last updated 23 June 2018 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond