If the appeal of convertible vehicles has diminished in recent years, that feeling of the wind rushing through your hair while out on the open road will always hold charm for some drivers.
Many drivers like to do so in a Jeep, where the vehicle’s 4-wheel drive capability and sturdy frame make it an excellent vehicle for rugged terrain.
The Jeep Wrangler, which was introduced in 1987 but whose roots date back to the 1940s, has its best sales year in 2018 when more than 230,000 Wranglers were purchased. As part of that transaction, many Jeep owners replace their hard tops with soft tops, a feature unique to the automaker.
Colorado-based Bestop was the first to innovate the Jeep soft top nearly 70 years ago and remains the soft top of choice for consumers and industry leader—especially when it comes to premium tops. Soft tops allow Jeep owners the simple option of “opening up” their vehicles to become convertibles with a swift swap. Bestop soft tops are easy to install and operate and offer several different configuration styles, often all in one top.
Georgia-based myTop has introduced an electrical component to its soft tops and moves them into the open or closed position at the touch of a button. “myTop was born out of the thought many a Jeep owner has had while changing their top,’’ said David Lozano of myTop. “That thought was ‘There has to be an easier way.’’’
The retractable soft top for Jeep is not new. Tom Bradley started Bestop in the Rocky Mountain foothills in 1954 with the vision to open up and let in “the pine-scented air and warm sun, making his drives even more enjoyable,’’ the company says on its website.
With canvas, a sewing machine and an idea, Bradley and seven employees in his Boulder upholstery shop stitched together the first soft tops for Jeeps. The company grew over time, and Bestop has been the exclusive provider of original equipment soft tops for Jeep Wranglers since the 1980s. Bestop also manufactures replacement soft tops for Jeep Wrangler and CJ models.
While Bradley’s early designs were rather simple, Bestop now offers a wide assortment of soft tops with abundant features for the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator. Some products from Bestop can be installed in 30 minutes with a pair of wrenches.
“Our tops are easy to install, and we’re able to keep the price point down,’’ said Duane Junkin, a design engineer with Bestop. “The design interface with the Jeep is also a benefit, and clearance is favorable for drivers and passengers.”
Take it Easy
myTop aims to simplify the process of lowering and raising the top. “We wanted to make it easy to make the Wrangler a convertible,’’ Lozano said.
The company’s journey also began in Colorado, five decades after Bestop. It started in 2013, and the first prototypes hit the road in 2014. It now has dealers and installers in 38 states and seven international markets, and hopes to have all 50 states covered by the end of the year.
Like Bestop, myTop makes a soft fabric cover. It also includes small electric motors that maneuver the top into the up and down position in just eight seconds. Tops are available in different colors, and can be used in square back and fast back models.
Bushings, bearings, flanges and washers from Providence, R.I.-based igus are included in the Bestop products. They are made with iglide 300, the company’s most popular material worldwide. The material offers high wear resistance, is cost-effective, and is resistant to dust and dirt—all important design considerations for an off-road vehicle. The all-purpose bearing is typically included in applications for medium to high loads, medium surface speeds and medium temperatures. The products are used in everything from agriculture equipment and construction machinery to fitness and physical therapy equipment.
“We were looking for a bearing solution because the product we had been using was too thin, and there was no crimp. We needed a bearing within pivot joints for smooth actuation,” Junkin said. “There was some friction between link-to-link contacts and spacers that we needed to solve.”
Lozano said myTop specified igus components due to the high stress tolerance and corrosion-free material. “Both the bearings and washers are located at the pivot points of our mechanism,’’ he said. “They avoid corrosion when exposed to the environment. They make the mechanism silent in each opening and closing.”
igus components are frequently found in automobile assemblies, including door hinges, linkage systems, sliding doors and tailgates on SUVs, seat adjustments and brake calipers. The same benefits that make them useful in those applications make them valuable for the soft tops as well.
“We needed a bushing solution and igus helped us find that solution,’’ Junkin said. “They are frictionless and fit well with our units. We’ve been using them since 2014 and it has helped us solve an issue we had been working on for a while.”