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Cover Up With a Tonneau Cover - Part 1

Photos and text by Wayne Scraba

If you have a racecar or a hot rod, it's pretty much guaranteed that sitting somewhere in your yard or shop is a pickup truck.  You can't live without them (we can't).  They haul parts.  They play.  They commute.  They occasionally show off.  And in many cases, it's a matter of all of the above.  And we can certainly relate, too, because our own Sierra is constantly on the go.  The truth is, the truck is more of a workaholic than anything else: Need to haul an engine block down to the machine shop?  Check.  Need to load a car body on a trailer and tow it to the body shop?  Check.  Need to drag home a cord or two of wood for the fireplace?  Check.  Need to toss suitcases in the back to overnight at a big car event?  Check.  Need to do any of the above in the unpredictable weather yours truly experiences Pacific Northwest?  Check.  And it's because of all of those things, a bed cover of some sort ranks right up top as a must have for a pickup truck.

Over the past forty plus years, I've personally had just about every type of tonneau known to man.  Tonneau covers have been around even longer.  All have advantages and disadvantages.  In this case, what we wanted was something with the versatility of a hard tonneau but with the simplicity and good looks of a traditional low profile vinyl tonneau.  Additionally, we wanted something that fit over the rail, but at the same time wasn't bulky like some hard covers or some of the tri-folding soft tonneaus (been there, done that).  We couldn't find exactly what we wanted, but then we spied an El Camino at a local car show.  It had a near flush, tight fitting tonneau that well punched all of our buttons.  As it turned out, it was manufactured by a company called Craftec (1490 Lakeview Drive, Wylie, TX  75098)/  Like many other tonneaus, the Craftec cover is custom made to fit the make, model, and year of the truck.  The frame is an absolutely ingenious design, manufactured from high strength 6063-T6 aluminum extrusions while the actual cover is heavy-duty vinyl.  The configuration comes complete with a pair of gas shocks that hold the tonneau up when open.  A pair of easy-to-use latches keep the cover closed at the tailgate.  We like the look and feel too: The ultra low profile of the design is such that the cover is pretty much flush with the bed rail (or no more than 3/8-inch above the bed, depending upon the truck).  The tonneau uses a clever rubber weather seal system and it's extremely easy to remove when the need arises.

So far, so good.  What about the install?  Check out the accompanying photos.  Bottom line here is, this is the coolest tonneau we've ever encountered (and as pointed out, yours truly has had more than a few).  It works as advertised, fits as advertised, and encompasses our "workaholic" criteria and looks great doing it.  Here's an initial look at how it goes together (part 1 - more to come!):

First things first: It's a good idea to loosely assemble (no fasteners) the framework for the cover before you begin.  It'll acquaint you with the various pieces and you'll have a great idea on how it goes together.  We simply set it up on the shop floor.

All of the major extrusions used for the tonneau framework are numbered.  Basically, it's a very clever "giant Meccano Set" (remember those?).

The side rails go together first.  Craftec makes use of a splice to join the two pieces.  The bolts you see are actually self-tapping.  And they're easily assembled with a 3/8-inch ratchet and socket.

Bow rails are three-piece jobs - two side adapter extrusions along with the main rail.  The exrusion is a neat piece that is held in place by way of the screw (shown).  But there's also a slick round segment that fits into a similarly shaped receiver in the side rail extrusions.

These are the mounts for the gas struts.  As you can see, the mount is a two-piece affair that fits inside the side rail extrusion.  Once you tighten the nut, the mount locks into place.  Honestly, this entire setup is so clever, it makes our head swirl thinking about how the Craftec folks figured this all out.  It's amazing!

Latch handles (located at the rear of the tonneau cover frame) are designed to lock under the pickup's bed rail.  They're adjustable for height (you can add or subtract washers).  And in operation, they flat work - no gimmicks either.  Simple is good!

After the side rails were assembled (see earlier photo and caption), we moved on to the front rail (marked #1).

Corner brackets are assembled as shown.  The bracket extrusions have little steps in them.  You push them in all the way until they're flush with the side and front extrusion and then tighten them down.  Easy peasy!

Assemble the bows next.  The adapters engage the side rail (shown earlier) and then the bows simply slip into the adapters.  Depending upon the truck bed length, you might have two or three bows.  We set up our sample at equal distances front to rear.

Move to the rear of the tonneau frame.  It assembles just like the front, but on end has a wing nut fastener.

At thsi point, we had the tonneau frame work pretty much nailed down.  While not entirely necessary, we test fir the aluminum frame to the bed of our pickup as shown here.  It fit perfectly.  Next issue, we'll wrap up the install.  Watch for it.