Four Door Tri-Five Convertible Conversions - Re-Creation & Restoration

C.A.R.S. Shows There's More Than One Life For A Four-Door To Live

Barry Kluczyk Oct 1, 2000 0 Comment(s)
Sucp_0010_01_z Tri_five_convertible_conversion Convertible 1/12

Can you believe that this almost-ready-for-paint '57 Chevy convertible started life as a four-door sedan? The folks at C.A.R.S. commissioned the conversion into a convertible using a host of reproduction sheetmetal parts from their catalog.

Four doors are two doors too many. Many enthusiasts will agree with this axiom-except for one of our editors, whose fondness for four-door Biscaynes makes us wonder if he hasn't been sniffing too much octane booster!

The fact is that four-door cars aren't as popular as two-doors and convertibles. Whether it's that they're perceived as family cars, the not-so-graceful style, or the implied weight penalties on performance, they're just not cool. (Yes, we know old wagons, which are heavier and slower than a four-door model, are all the rage. Go figure.)

One of the clearest examples of the chasm between the desirability of a two-door and a four-door can be found with the '57 Chevy. A rusted-out parts car convertible is worth more than a show-car four-door any day of the week. In fact, we've seen many a straight and clean four-door go begging at swap meets for no other reason than those two extra doors. It's a shame, really, because the four-door represents a great bargain in the vintage Chevy market.

But something has quietly happened in the classic Chevy restoration world that may greatly change the way enthusiasts view that cheap four-door that's for sale in the want ads. That's because it's now possible to transform a lowly four-door into a true '57 convertible. Not only is it possible, it's been done already-to the rolling shell you see on these pages. Classic Chevy restoration giant C.A.R.S. Inc. built it strictly with replacement parts off its shelves.

Sucp_0010_03_z Tri_five_convertible_conversion Side_view 2/12

"It's really a new day for classic Chevy enthusiasts who've always wanted a convertible," says C.A.R.S. President Bob Chauvin. "All the parts needed to build a true convertible can be ordered out of our catalog."

That wasn't always the case, but in the 25 years that C.A.R.S. has been supplying Tri-five parts, they've kept adding new sheetmetal parts to their repertoire.

"It's been a natural progression of manufacturing more and more parts that restorers have needed," Chauvin says. "We started with floor pans and now we make or sell just about everything to construct a new car."

Starting From Scratch
Or, at least, re-create one in the owner's image of what he always wanted.

C.A.R.S. had its turquoise and bare metal roller built from a common and inexpensive '57 four-door sedan. (The turquoise-painted parts represent what's left of the original donor car, while the bare metal parts represent the C.A.R.S.-supplied replacements.) Luckily, all the '57 body styles share a 115-inch wheelbase.

Sucp_0010_05_z Tri_five_convertible_conversion Rear_view 3/12

In a nutshell, the conversion requires the removal of the roof, doors, doorposts, and rear quarter-panels, and the substitution of the convertible-spec parts. Of course, it's not as easy as all that. For one thing, the top of the windshield frame must be cut off and replaced with a convertible-style frame (which C.A.R.S. has). There are several small components that go into the frame, but they're all incorporated into the replacement part-simply hack off the old frame at the appropriate location and weld in the new piece.

Since the car will have longer coupe or convertible doors (either will work for the swap), the center doorposts between the front and rear doors must go also. But that's pretty easy once the factory spot-welds are drilled out. At press time, C.A.R.S. was still working on reproducing complete doors (right now they offer only outer skins).

One of the major steps in a convertible conversion involves fitting a factory-style X-member reinforcement to the car's frame, along with some other reinforcing skid plates. These parts are necessary to strengthen the car's now-topless personality, and C.A.R.S. has them available in reproduction form, too.

Sucp_0010_04_z Tri_five_convertible_conversion Reproduction_skins 7/12

A classic profile, indeed! Convertible quarter-panels were hung in place of the originals, as were longer hardtop/convertible doors (used inner door structures had to be located, then re-covered with reproduction skins).

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 Pro
Although 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.

Sucp_0010_06_z Tri_five_convertible_conversion Trunk 8/12

The sedan trunk lid was retained, but re-skinned. Nearly everything inside the trunk is available in reproduction form.

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 World
Re-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...

Sources

C.A.R.S.
Berkley, MI 48072
C.A.R.S. West
Fullerton, CA 92831
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