Although there's some major surgery involved, we were surprised when Chauvin told us all the stuff that didn't have to change. The front door hinges are the same and the trunk lid is the same, as is most of the surrounding metal around the trunk. A new piece between the trunk lid and the convertible top is needed, but it's a standard '57 Chevy piece and, of course, its available. There's a different panel that runs from the convertible top well to the top of the tail fin, also.
"All you really need is a car with the cowl forward," Chauvin says. "Everything else is available from us." Well, that's not entirely true. C.A.R.S. sells the front fenders, inner fenders, front splash pan, and radiator core support-basically everything but the hood. What the company doesn't sell is all the convertible top hard parts.
"We've got the front bow; the part that latches to the windshield frame," Chauvin says. "We also sell convertible material, pads and trim to go with it, but the other convertible hard parts, such as the bows, have to be sourced elsewhere-but we're working on them!"
There's also some stainless steel brightwork around the windshield that isn't all available. C.A.R.S. has a some portions of the eight-piece set available, but the company is still working on the remainder of the parts.
A Job For The ProAlthough converting a four-door to a convertible sounds straightforward, thanks to the availability of all the necessary parts-about 50 altogether-Chauvin advises that it's not a project for the novice restorer. In fact, the company commissioned a professional restorer to build its showpiece, and it took him a couple of weeks to get it assembled. And though it's not an inexpensive proposition, the finished product is essentially a new car with mostly new metal throughout.
Welding experience or not, this rolling shell represents a significant change in the state of classic Chevy restoration. "Every time we take the car to a show, it's mobbed," Chauvin tells us. "People get inspired. They want to build one right away."
But the prospect of a convertible from a four-door brings up some interesting questions. Will unscrupulous builders try to pass off a re-constructed four-door as the real thing? Maybe. But, right now, it's less probable than finding a fake Bel Air that's being passed off as the real deal.
Just to make sure, you'll want to bone up on your '57 Chevy cowl tag reading. On the first line, right beside the designation "Style No. 57," is a four-digit code for the body style. Codes 1219, 1019 and 1019D designate the car as a four-door, depending on the series (150, 210, or Bel Air). Convertibles came only in Bel Air trim and carry 1067D or 1067DTX body style codes. Chevy also placed the '57 cowl tags in two different locations. Some are found on the driver's side of the firewall, while others were riveted just beneath the heater control valve on the firewall.
Brave New WorldRe-creating a Tri-five Chevy from scratch is a relatively new concept, although not unique to the restoration hobby. Some blue oval stones, like the '32 Ford roadster, can be built from scratch, or are available in reproduction form as complete steel bodies. But the C.A.R.S. rolling display represents a first, and not simply because all the parts needed for the conversion are available.
It's the conversion itself that's going to cause a stir among the Tri-five faithful. Some purists will undoubtedly see such a transformation as the bastardization of a classic. Still, others-and, we suspect, there will be more of them than purists-will see it as an opportunity to build the car they've always wanted, or a chance to build a wild custom convertible without chopping up a valuable original drop-top.
And though the C.A.R.S. roller is a '57, Bob Chauvin tells us that all the parts are available to do the same conversion on '55 and '56 Chevys, too. Our advice? Buy that orphan four-door while you can. They just got a whole lot more attractive.
Now, if C.A.R.S. would only do the same for early-'60s Biscaynes, we'd bring a Sawzall to a certain editor's garage and have at it...