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part 27 -- February 13 -- Can I build a ragtop???
It is a very pretty day and I ran the heater to warm up the floor and tools but by noon I had the doors open. In the last part I mentioned that I get bored sanding all the time and with all the body work to be done, it is easy not to want to do the same thing over and over.
I have talked on and off about wanting a convertible. I have also talked about wanting to do something in the custom area more than just extending the fins a little. Some time back I talked with Bob Hoffmeister (Impparts) about a 64 ragtop he had in his yard. Having no idea of the measurements of a 64 against my 57, I thought it might be close. Bob and I exchanged information for some time but when it came down to it, the price that Bob needed for his top was more than I was willing to pay for something that I was not sure would work.
What I need to do was find a top assembly that I could study for a while. Convertible tops are comlex, complicated, magical things that are a close relative to automatic transmissions and electronics. What I mean is that I have never been into one so I haven't the slightest idea how they work. However, being somewhat daring I figured that I could do whatever I wanted to. Strolling through the Yellow Pages, I started calling junkyards looking for a big convertible. Unfortunately they do not exist other than at a few "old" yards that think that anything that isn't late model is a valuable antique, regardless how close they may be to turning back to their natural state. The only convertibles I could find was a very few 80s Mustangs and a bunch of LaBarons.
The yard with the LaBarons offered a complete top set with hydraulic cylinders but no pump or motor for $100. This included the top bows and windshield header. I asked them to throw in the sheet metal brackets where the entire thing bolts in. Looking at the LaBaron I realized how big my Imperial was and how much the top would have to be 'stretched'. I looked at the top on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday afternoon with my usual coating of filler dust in my nose and hair, I decided to do it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The yard threw in another top bow set for 50 bucks and I planned on using the extra top for parts.
If you have never taken a top apart, you are in for a treat. They are heavy and the top is screwed and stapled on very securely. It took me about an hour and a half to get the fabric stripped. The next thing was to figure out how to mount it so I could work on it. I finally decided to build a bracket out of some 2X8s I had in my shop. Cleaning off a section of workbench I bolted the 2x8s to the bench and drilled 3 holes to hold the bracket.
There are lots of brackets and stuff that do not have any impact on the tops operation and because I need to understand how the top works before I can modify it, I started taking things off.
This is one of cross brackets. It is held on with two Philips screws. The front assembly where the top connects to the windshield header is held on with two bolts on each side. It comes right off.
By the way, all those staples which hold the top on will eat your hands alive. I spent about an hour pulling staples out of the plastic just to save my hands further abuse.
I also measured the opening on the 57 and made a diagram. There is a lot of work to do if I am going to be able to pull this off.
I also took lots of photos of how things are connected. The top was very hard to open by hand even after oiling all the hinge points so I decided to disconnect the sides. This makes it much easier to operate and I can experiment on one side at a time. Since I have two tops this seemed the safest approach and gives me two attempts to get it right. A lot of the bracketery is held on with rivets that I had to grind off.
Following are a bunch of detail photos of the hinge points and operation. I spent several hours trying to understand how everything works and how each piece related to others. Basically, making it wide enough will be easy. I think that I can add a single section and get the right length.
I spent a lot of time wandering back to the car to look and measure. The top will also need to be higher, longer and not lean in toward the center as much. I also wanted to consider 'chopping' the top to improve the profile. I went to another junkyard just to browse for ideas and donor cars. You see quite a few modern customs with newer model tops grafted on. The side glass becomes the issue. Still have quite a bit of thinking to do.
If you are interested the detail photos follow. Otherwise you can take the shortcut back. I still have some cogitating to do.
Continue with photos...
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