Way back when, when I got my TJ, it came with a hard top and full doors. I ran that setup for a number of years and enjoyed the trails. The doors obtained a nice Arizona pinstripe finish and I managed to keep the hardtop glass intact. As the trails became more challenging, the hardtop was retired (with the glass still intact) and a used factory soft top was installed. The full doors were replaced with a used set of metal half doors. Although the soft top windows continued to accumulate pinstriping, the used top did well up until last spring when I managed to rip it going through a tight squeeze on Copperhead Trail.
I had read some good threads on the Jeep forums about the Viking Offroad TJ Fast Back soft top. An updated version was in the works and so I waited until it became available. Several delays later, I get a notice that my top is shipping. By now, the used factory top was looking even worse and the new Viking top was looking even better. I was ready to see if the wait was worth it or not.
Saturday morning arrived and it was time to take off the old and put on the new.
You gotta start with a “before” photo so you can compare it to the “after” shot when you are all done, right? At this point in time, Viking isn’t offering a spice colored top so black it was. Yeah, the soft upper doors will be color mismatched but then again, they aren’t on very much of the time here in central Arizona.
The Viking Offroad Fast Back soft top uses the Bestop TJ Header Windshield Channel, or as many call it, the No-Drill Header. I had a no-drill header left over from a bikini top that I used a few times. A friend of mine had sold his TJ and had the bikini and header laying around the garage. His wife told him to get rid of the stuff….so I got it.
The Fast Back top is pretty handy….you can remove the windows and stash them in the storage bag before you hit a brush trail. Doing so will save your windows from being pinstriped as they so easily do out here in Arizona. The brush is brutal on soft top windows. Placing them safely in the storage bag and storing the bag in the top itself….well, how much easier can it get. You/ll always have the windows with you if the weather turns bad on the trail or for that cold (or hot) ride home after the trail is finished.
The install starts with getting your existing top removed. If you have a hard top, you’ve probably had it on and off a few times. A half dozen bolts and an electrical connector gets it ready to be lifted off. Don’t strain your back….get a friend to help you lift it off of the tub, especially if you have a lift and big tires.
If you have a factory soft top, be sure to keep the rear window/tail gate bar as that will be recycled and installed with the Fast Back top. If you have door surrounds, leave them in place as they will be used too.
You can remove the header bar along with the tube frame hardware (from the roll bar). That won’t be needed for the new top. I was in a hurry and left the mounting brackets on the roll bar (for now). I’ll get them off the next time I am routing some wiring under the roll bar covers.
With my soft top in a pile behind the TJ, I was ready to mount the Bestop no-drill header in place. I took the opportunity to clean up a couple of spots that normally are not accessible (yeah, I know you can’t see them but there was enough dirt to choke a dust bunny).
Viking Offroad TJ Fast Back Soft Top
Having used the bikini header before, I knew how to install it (it isn’t hard). The only problem was that I couldn’t get the header to fit squarely on the windshield frame and snug down into position (against the rubber windshield seal). What the heck was going on here?
It didn’t take long to realize why things were not lining up as expected…..I had a clearance issue with the sPOD mounting panel/bracket. The header was not being allowed to clamp down as far as needed in order to align itself to the top of the windshield channel. What to do?
Some blue painters tape, a right angle grinder, and a 4″ flapper disc was all that was needed. The blue tape was used as a guide on the header to help me grind a straight line. I ended up doing a couple of test fits and when all was said and done, I removed a 1/4″ of metal from the header. You only have to remove the metal from the area between the two clamping brackets. Since the header is made from aluminum, it doesn’t take that long to grind down to the taped line. Obviously, if you don’t have a sPOD, you won’t have to make this adjustment.
Speaking of adjustments…..get use to them. What I mean is that once you start to modify your TJ, you will find that as time goes on, your existing mods can very likely interfere with a new mod. The sPOD covers the footman loop on the windshield frame and the Fast Back top uses the footman loop (as do other tops). The sPOD has an opening in the top of the switch panel that would allow you access to the loop, but after looking at it, I didn’t see it being all that easy to get to. So I opted to use my TBT roll bar to secure the top (more on that later). My point….mods will eventually interfere with mods (yeah, my radio was something in the way too) and you just need to improvise a bit and work around the problems. It can be done….take your time and come up with a workable solution. Welcome to modifying the best 4×4 vehicle that ever had tires on the ground!
With the header ground down to a good fit, I bolted it into position. This time it clamped properly into place and I was ready to proceed with getting the top in place.
I put the top on top of the roll bar and let it heat up a bit in the warm July Arizona sun. OK….that took 97 seconds and I was ready to proceed with getting the top’s plastic rail tucked into the lip of the header. Be sure you have the top centered properly. If you have someone standing in the back of the TJ (which I did not), they can keep tension on the top as you slip the plastic rail into the header groove.
I kept an eye on the top as I worked my way across the front of the windshield to make sure there were no seams that looked troublesome (improperly stiched). I’m happy to report that the sewing looked very good. My tugging and pulling on the top yielded no weak seams. Note, I’m not advocating that you should stress test your top….just saying that as I was fitting the top to the header and door surrounds, the top saw a fair amount of tension and everything looked very good.
With the front plastic rail inserted into the header, it was time to get the center strap in place. Slip it down around the back side of the center roll bar. It is designed to hook to the footman loop (mentioned earlier). By adjusting the tension on the strap, you can adjust the top’s tension. I hooked mine to my TBT front roll bar which worked just fine. There was enough adjustment in the strap to accommodate my need to make this change.
Things were starting to take shape. Next it was time to snug up the ceiling panel straps (one on each corner). I grimaced when I read the next step of the instructions….”Gently pull the strap over the roll bar, and around the seatbelt stud….”. Seatbelt stud! What #!@&$* seatbelt stud? My TJ had not seen a rear seat nor rear seatbelts since the 3rd day of ownership, which was now over 9 years ago. (See what I said about mods interfering with mods!)
I broke out my box of TJ nuts and bolts….you know, the box you throw the factory “junk” in as you do each new mod and take factory pieces and parts off of the TJ. Pay dirt! I found a couple of bolts that would pass for “seat belt studs”.
Next up where the side windows. They zip into place pretty….pretty easy to do. I cheated a bit and used a step stool to climb up and down onto the TJ’s tires (good place to stand while you work), the rocker guard rails (another good place to stand while you work), and the rear bumper. I was up and down that thing a bunch and it was certainly easier than jumping up and down for an hour (my old bones don’t take kindly to all that jumping around).
Viking Offroad TJ Fast Back Soft Top
Did I mention that the windows zipped very easily into place? I’ve seen tops where aligning the zippers took some serious effort. The Fast Back top wasn’t anything like that. The zippers mated up nicely and were easy to operate.
With the side windows attached, the rear window was attached. Three buckled straps secure the window to the ceiling panel. I also started the zippers on either side of the window….about 6″ worth of zipper engagement. At this point, you don’t need to tension anything else on the top. Everything needs to be attached and in place as the next step is where the plastic rails get inserted into the grooves all over the TJ.
Next, attach the Fast Back’s plastic rails, above the doors, into the grooves at the top of the door surrounds. Do this on both of the door surrounds. Take your time and get everything aligned nicely.
With the plastic rails slipped into the door surrounds, continue with the plastic rails along the front edge of the side windows. These are pressed into position going down the door surrounds (top to bottom). Without tension from the rear edge of the window, these may not stay in place rear well. Don’t worry, get them in place and they will get snugged down as soon as you start working the lower plastic rail into position.
Speaking of the lower plastic rail on the side windows, start tucking the rail into the body groove, front to back, along both windows. Again, take you time and work everything into place.
The plastic rails at the rear corners are pre-cut to make it easy for you to bend the rail around the corner of the tube. If you are a lousy driver and have beat your corners to pieces, buddy, you are on your own! LOL!
At this point, you should now have all of the plastic rail tucked into the corresponding grooves on the header, the door surrounds, and the body.
Viking Offroad TJ Fast Back Soft Top
My fingers were getting tired from tucking the plastic rail into the grooves, but with the bottom of the rear windows all pushed into place, that was the last of the plastic rail (my fingers were rejoicing in being almost done).
I grabbed the rear window/tail gate bar (you did save that, right?) and slipped it onto the rubber strip at the bottom of the rear window. Center the bar side to side using the window as a reference.
It was time for the final adjustments….
As previously mentioned, there are three straps that attached the rear window to the ceiling panel. With the window bar pushed into placed on the mounting brackets, the rear window zippers were zipped closed. I was then above to snug down the rear window straps and also readjust the straps that were looped under the seatbelt mounting stud.
I took a couple of minutes to loosen one strap and snug another to get a wrinkle or two out of the top. Things were starting to look pretty good.
At this point, it was time to go all the way around the TJ and check to make sure all of the plastic rail was properly tucked into the grooves. Check the door surrounds top and back edge, to make sure everything is properly aligned.
The storage bag was next to be put into position. I have the storage back upside down in this photo so you can see the mating hook and loop fastener that will match up with the pieces sewn into the ceiling panel. After this photo was taken, I flipped the window storage bag over and matched the hook and loop patches with each other.
At this point, the rear section of the top (roof) was pulled to the rear of the vehicle (over the top of the storage bag). This places the storage bag between the ceiling panel (below it) and the rear roof (over it). Tucked safely out of the way, it is available for when you decide to temporarily store your rear windows. I forgot to mention that the storage bag has partitions partitions in it (like curtains) so that you can place a partition between each window so you don’t have the window plastic touching any other window plastic.
Most of the folks that have been following this web site for the past 10 years know that I pretty much say things the way they are. And I have to say that Viking Offroad missed a pair of straps in the soft top box. The rear top is properly held in place by a pair of straps that attach at the rear corners of the tub. They have a small hole sewn into the seam through which the strap with a metal hook on it attaches to the corner of the body. These were missing from the box my top was shipped in. I sent Thor an e-mail to let him know I was short a pair of straps. In the mean time, I found that a pair of bungee cords work just fine to keep the top in place. I’ve no doubt that Viking Offroad will have a pair of straps on the way this week.
So….how does it look?
Not too bad as far as I am concerned! I ran about an hours worth of errands today around town, which means I did surface streets and several miles of freeway driving.
It all fits really well. I put the soft upper doors on when I ran around town….it’s the only way I can compare noise levels and fabric flapping. I found it quieter than my old soft top, especially when I did not have the fan control cranked up to position #3 to “inflate” the top to quiet it down. Even when the A/C was on recirc mode, I could feel less fabric movement when I put my hand up against the top (over the center console area). I also didn’t have to crank the radio up quite as far when I got on the freeway. How much quieter was it? I don’t have a dB meter and so I can’t give you a value, but it was better than the factory top it replaced.
Another thing I noticed….looking at the inside rear view mirror, I could actually see things through the unscratched rear window. Yes, I know that has nothing to do with the quality of the Fast Back since any unscratched window would yield that. However, I do believe there is a smaller blind spot in the passenger rear corner. I believe the Fast Back side and rear window combination provides more viewable area when looking over my right shoulder for a lane change.
When I get the rear straps from Thor, I’ll take one more photo from the rear of the vehicle so you can see what it looks like. I’m not going to post one now with the bungee cords in place as someone will look at the photos without reading the write-up and go babbling that the Fast Back top is crappy because you have to use your own bungee cords to hold it in place.
In summary, I like the look (the fast back style is nice), I like the quality (the seams are stitched very well, the plastic rails are sized and positioned well), and the fit to the vehicle is very good. My hat is off to Thor and Viking Offroad for a very nice replacement top with its own built in window storage. Simply put, I don’t think it gets much better than that.
Be safe out there and remember to TREAD Lightly!
Update 07/19/2008 – A bit about customer service and my missing straps on the next page.
Viking Offroad TJ Fast Back Soft Top
As I mentioned on the previous page, the straps to tension the top to the rear corners of the body were missing on my top. Technically, half the strap was missing (the adjustable part) but since I didn’t know what the entire strap looked like, I simply told Thor (via e-mail) that I was missing the straps on both corners.
On Tuesday, when I got home from work, I had an e-mail waiting from Viking Offroad. It had gone out first thing Tuesday AM. Thor was on vacation and Leroy was responding to my weekend e-mail. He was filling in and wasn’t familiar with exactly what I needed and so asked if this could wait until Thor returned the following week. I told him not a problem as the bungee cords were doing just fine.
The next day, upon arriving home from work, I’ve got another e-mail from Leroy waiting for me. He had gotten hold of Thor and informed him of my problem. Thor instructed him to send me a replacement top. It was waiting for me on Friday when I got home from work. Leroy had included a return UPS label so I could return the first top when I got them switched around.
Rather than try to figure out specifically what was wrong, Thor went the extra mile and just sent a replacement top. While I believe that Leroy and I could have resolved the problem with a bit more communication, that became a non-issue with the new top on the way. I honestly believe that most any other company would have sent the minimum necessary to fix the problem (which would have been OK)….but I now realize that Viking Offroad is not just any other company. Kudos to Thor for fixing this small problem in a very big way!
And now, time to install the rest of the top…..
Saturday (just a week after I first started installing the top), I opened the box with the new top in it. The straps were there (OK, so now I know what I was missing) along with the entire top and so was the return UPS label. Once I saw how the adjustment strap was configured, and what part was actually on my top, I was happy to find that all I needed to do was transfer the lower portion of the strap from the new top to my top. There was no need to remove my top and replace it with the new one. A few minutes later, the bungee cords were removed and the lower straps were threaded into place and attached to the top.
Here is a close-up of the strap and specifically the metal hook that attaches to the groove that retains the plastic rails. The install instructions caution you to not exceed 35 pounds of force when pulling the straps tight.
A reader of one of the Jeep forums asked how well the rear window and top all fit together, so I snapped this photo to give folks an idea of how well the fit is at the rear of the vehicle. The window zippers (on both sides of the rear window) are fully covered by a flap held down with hook and loop material. The top of the windows is also sealed over with a flap held with hook and loop as well.
Zooming back just a bit to get another shot of the rear with window and tail gate closed and the top straps now in position. I can’t see water intrusion being an issue at the rear window area unless you are in hurricane type conditions.
OK….just one more photo and then I am done. This one shows the fastback shape that I now have since there is no factory soft top hardware to shape the top like a box. (and that’s a good thing!)
That is it….I have a fully functional top with great fitting seams and corners. It doesn’t flap like the factory soft top did and I can essentially turn it into a safari top with just a few minutes of effort. Now all I have to do is wait for that first scratch on those incredibly easy to see through tinted windows. <grin>
OK….I lied….I had to add one more photo. I wanted to see how things looked with the hard doors installed. It’s been a couple of years since I had them on. I blew off the dust, washed them down, and bolted them to the hinges. All in all, I think they look pretty darn nice with the new top!