July 1995 by John Pearley Huffman
It takes more than a romantic weekend with a hacksaw to build a convertible.
First, a fable.
Because Datsun didn’t build ’74 B-210 convertibles, open-air fanatic and B-210 owner Jay Hutchinson rectified Datsun’s oversight in one weekend of furious hacksawing. Jay more or less sanded the edges flat and finished the car in lime Rust-Oleum, then spent the summer and fall of’85 cruising “The Frog” through the beach-side student ghetto of Isla Vista, California. But Jay runs 6 foot 3 inches and 280 pounds, and The Frog soon drooped at the door sills. By that ThanksgivMOTOR TREND
ing, Jay had to spot-weld the doors closed, after lifting the car’s center with borrowed hydraulic jacks, or they wouldn’t shut at all. By Christmas, the door welds had broken, the interior’s putrid puddles were breeding algae, and the electrical system had failed. A-1 Import Auto Wrecking gave Jay $5 for the hulk. The moral? It’s easy to hack the roof off a car; it’s hard to build a good convertible.
Want an SC 400 droptop? Don’t ask Lexus. A retractable Mark VIII? Lincoln stocks no such critter. And while there are many private converters around the world who’ll scuttle your car’s top for a price, few are actually talented enough to produce useable convertibles.
Among the latter is Newport Convertible Engineering INC, in California, (714-632-3287), which makes convertibles out of everything from Cadillac Eldorados to Acura NSXs. The company’s chief designer and engineer, Al H Zadeh, outlined for us the process (which usually takes from four to five weeks) of turning a coupe or sedan into a convertible complete with power top and hard boot cover.
Foremost is “restructuring the body” to recover lost rigidity. According to Zadeh, in most cases this involves tying together the chassis with 2×2-inch steel box tubing along the rocker areas connecting to the highest point possible at the front and rear ends of the car. After that strengthening, the cut lines are determined (with an eye for style), and the car is decapitated using air saws and die grinders. The vehicle is then road-tested to see if more bracing is needed, after which the top is built. Surprisingly, Zadeh claims that engineering a folding top is a straight-forward process; it’s devising an aerodynamic, aesthetic line that’s the challenge, because clumsy airflow leads directly to high noise levels.
Zadeh’s most challenging conversion is also among his most satisfying: the convertible Acura NSX. Due to space limitations, the canvas top’s flop is manual, but the bracing is all-aluminum, just like the rest of the sportster. Zadeh is particularly proud of how well the top’s design integrates with the mid-engine car’s original body lines.
From all appearances, Newport’s work is top-notch, with prices starting at about $9500 for a simple “convertiblization” (the average price is about $12,500).