August 4, 2001 By Elizabeth Aguilera
A cut-above cruiser
What has four doors, a roll bar and a glorious view of the sky? It isn’t the stock PT Cruiser that rolls off the Chrysler assembly line, that’s for sure. Try a convertible Cruiser.
It’s been whacked, hacked and transformed into a convertible, suited more for hauling a surfboard than lugging a baby buggy.
Convertible PT Cruisers are rolling out of Newport Convertible Engineering in Placentia this week.
The small company is shipping converted Cruisers to dealerships from Arizona to New Jersey, said Al Zadeh, president and a chief engineer.
So far, the company, with about 10 employees, has made 20 convertible Cruisers and hopes to do hundreds more by the end of the year.
It takes three weeks to “re-image” a Cruiser, an option not offered by Chrysler.
The cars are usually sent to Zadeh by dealers who want to offer chop-tops.
The convertible Cruisers will go for $6,900 to $9,000 more than stock models.
The conversion process is involved. Workers reinforce the chassis by adding inch-square steel bars along each vehicle’s 14-foot underside and to the body between the front and back doors. The front windshield is reinforced, and a roll bar is installed for greater safety and stability.
The conversion adds close to 100 ponds to the car, which weighs 3,123 pounds.
For almost two decades, Zadeh has masterminded the crop-top look for high-end vehicles, including the Mercedes SEC, BMW 850 and Acura NSX, as well as Cadillacs, Ferraris and Rolls Royces.
Last year, the company custom-converted about 65 cars for $20,000 to $40,000 each.
Zadeh’s business was born out of his dissatisfaction with his own MGB when he was a student at the University of Southern California engineering school.
Later, he converted his Nissan 300ZX and then a Porsche 928.
Two years ago, Zadeh garnered accolades and a mountain of orders for his convertible VW Beetle.
He was going to open a second facility and was armed with thousands of requests for converted Beetles when Volkswagen North America began voiding warranties on his productions, he said.
Zadeh and another local Beetle converter, R. Straman Co., are suing Volkswagen N.A for $150 million.
This time, he wants to work with the manufacturer, he said.
A deal between Zadeh and Chrysler would catapult him into mass production and keep the Cruiser from losing truck certification, said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, an industry consulting firm.
The Cruiser keeps Chrysler’s truck fuel-efficiency ratings on the low side, he said.
Chrysler has been showing off its own two-door PT Cruiser concept convertible at auto shows, but it’s part of a styling study and the manufacturer is not releasing any information about plans, said Sjoerd Dijkstra, Chrysler spokesman.
“The reason we are doing this study is because of this type of thing,” Dijkstra said. “We expected after-market outfits to start doing things to the PT Cruiser because it lends itself to personalization.”
Convertibles, according to Peterson, are very expensive to manufacture in high volume.
The biggest vehicle converter, American Sunroof Corp. in Michigan, works with some of the major manufacturers to produce convertibles, Peterson said. Chrysler does all its convertibles in-house, Dijkstra said.
Zadeh is holding out hope.
“This is a fun automobile,” he said. “When it came out, I looked at the different design and saw a fun surfer car. I looked at the lines and it seemed like it would be a fun car for a convertible.”