The conversion to convertibles is on cutting edge
The Orange County Register
December 21, 1998 By Chris Knap
From an unassuming little industrial parka stone’s throw from the Orange Freeway, Al Zadeh is building the quintessential California car experience for drivers from Alaska to Abu Dhabi.
We’re talking about the breezy, eucalyptus-scented, moonlight-glow on-the-water kind of feeling you get when you pick up your Mercedes SL from the valet at Las Brisas, drop the top and purr down Pacific Coast Highway.
Lesser-financed mortals may know it s the post-surf-session buzz you feel when you stash your stick in the passenger footwell of the Karmann Ghia and blast off down the coast toward Bolsa Chica, a pink glow spreading behind the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
“Everybody always thinks that Californians drive convertibles,” says Zadeh, president and chief designer at Newport Convertible Engineering.
For the past 15 years, Zadeh and his craftsmen have made convertibles out of high-end coupes like the Mercedes SEC, the Acura NSW and the BMW 850 – none of which come from the factory as a drop-top.
These days a downscale coupe – VW’s New Beetle – has got business booming.
Walk in the back door of Newport Convertible Engineering and the scene is startling: Workers armed with power hacksaws and high-speed grinders are ripping the roofs off a 1998 Mercedes S320 (for Kuwait’s chief of intelligence), a 1998 New Beetle (for chairman of Disney Consumer Products) and a 1998 Cadillac Deville (for the president of South Korea).
It was frustration with the top on a ‘70s-era MGB that led Zadeh to design his first convertible, back when he was still in engineering school at the University of Southern California.
After graduation, he bought a Nissan 300ZX and cut the roof off. Then came a Porsche 928, and a business was born.
Zadeh’s craftsmen start by raising the car on a lift, then cross-bracing the under carriage with welded tubular steel. After the top is cut off, additional braces are welded to the floor pan. Then a power top is hand-built.
This fall NCE teamed up with Special Vehicle Concepts of Newport Beach and ConvertiBeetle Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., to market New Beetle convertibles.
“It’s just taking off,” says SVC’s Peter Cameron. He says he’s delivered 30 NCE New Beetles and has orders for another 170, including 120 from a rental agency in Germany.
The sale price of a NCE New Beetle is generally about $30,000 – nearly twice the price of the base car. With special wheels, trim and engine option, you can spend $40,000.
R. Straman Co., an exotic sports car restorer in Newport who turns Ferrari Daytonas and
Testarossas into convertibles, is also converting New Beetle.
Richard Straman’s conversion includes power rear quarter windows that give the car more of a factory look than Zadeh’s roadster-style tops. Straman’s done 10 Beetles so far and has orders for 50 more. He charges $10,000 for a manual top conversion and $12,000for a power top.
“There is wild enthusiasm for it,” Straman says.
I took a spin in one of Zadeh’s New Beetles to see what all the fuss is about.
Because of the forward placement of the windshield, dropping the top on the converti-Beetle gives more of a wide-open feel than the typical roadster.
Despite all the bracing there’s still a bit of door-post shake, and blasts over 60 mph are bound to give you a bad hair day. But for buzzing down PCH at 50 mph it’s just about perfect.
“Who in the world normally takes a coupe and makes it into a convertible?” asks Barton Boyd, a Disney exec who had a Beetle convertibilized as a birthday present for his wife.
“Vicky years ago had an old-fashioned Beetle convertible. We went and looked at the (New Beetle) and she just happened to fall in love with it.
“It absolutely without question is one of those silly impulse things.”
But if you’ve got to have that California feeling, it just may be worth it.