Convertible tops on the Corniche-era cars tend to be fairly reliable. They usually wear out, rather than fail catastrophically. Usually.
There is one issue that can lead to sudden and disastrous failure, and extensive damage to the car. That is separation of the convertible top from the windshield header bar while the car is moving at highway speed.
If that happens the force of the wind will almost certainly blow the top fabric out of the frame, and the metal top frame will be badly deformed or destroyed. With parts going out of production this may make the car a total loss.
How does this happen, you ask? It comes about when the header bar latches break, and they can break without any warning. That’s the purpose of this post – to encourage you to check your latches and change them if they show signs of failure.
Look at the photo below. It’s a typical 1980s convertible, and the latch looks pretty normal, right? Look closer – it’s not “normal.”
The photos below show the latch base with the lever removed. As you can see the cast base is cracked and moments away from breaking. The thing is, you would never have seen this defect unless you pulled the latch up and made a point to look under. We do that on every Corniche we get for service now, and I suggest you do the same.
If you find cracks like these the only safe action is to replace the latch. OEM latches were $3,000 when they went out of production but Albers sells a reproduction latch for under $1,000 as of summer 2015. We are using those with good success.
|A reproduction header bar latch (c) JE Robison Service|
When you fit the latch don’t forget to look at the header bar seal – a common source of water leakage.
This post applies to 1967-on Shadow drop heads, and Rolls-Royce Corniche and Bentley Continental drop heads with header latches.
(c) 2015 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts. John is a longtime technical consultant to the RROC and other car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine vehicles. Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665
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