Around 2002, I purchased a 1987 Chevy Caprice Classic, which I lovingly dubbed the Boat. Being a teenager, I decided that my boat would be a thousand times better if it had only been a convertible.
The following story is being recollected with help from an old forum thread about the same subject. It is simply being re-edited to match the formatting of this site. The original forum thread can be read here: My boat is slowly sinking! (It's a lot more "bloggy" than this write-up)
It all started one hot summer afternoon when I decided it was time to put in a sunroof. I wasn't planning on doing this the right way or making it look good. I just wanted functionality. The car itself was on its last leg and was starting to get costly. I decided not to really worry about anything but having fun with it.
I grabbed a pencil, ruler, and some string. I drew a sunroof-shape on the sheet metal of the roof. Then I grabbed a Dremel and went at it. Unfortunately, the Dremel wasn't really doing much other than wasting cutting discs. That's when I decided to drive over to my uncle's garage and borrowed an air grinder. Once I started using the air grinder, the hole was cut in a matter of minutes. The cut was pretty ragged and sharp, so I used a different disc on the grinder and deburred the cut.
By the way, pay no attention to the ugly rusted roof nor that not-so-awesome steering wheel cover. I honestly have no idea why I had that on there. Probably out of necessity.
There was only one problem. When I drove to my uncle's house, I had a little problem backing up on his driveway. I had the driver's side door opened while backing up. Yep. You guessed it. The door hit a gate post and pretty much snapped off.
Back when I had the car, I was delivering pizza for a living. The next day when I went to work, my boss basically sent me home for the day and said I couldn't deliver without a door - I have still yet to find that rule written anywhere, but whatever. So I drove over to my local Pick-A-Part and looked for another Chevy door that would fit. I got lucky and they had the exact same model car on the lot. Unfortunately, it was dark blue.
One hour and $40 later, I had a slightly used door in my trunk and I was driving home. I will say I did get a lot of strange glances while going down the freeway without a door. When I got back home, I spent the next hour getting the new door bolted and aligned onto the body perfectly. It was useable, but it sure was ugly.
A week or so later, I got bored again one day and decided that the sunroof just wasn't enough. The next logical step was to simply cut the entire roof off. I went to my uncle's garage again (steering clear of the gate) and got out the air grinder. First, I cut off all the window holders/glass holders/whatever-you-want-to-call-thems from all the doors.
I now needed to get through the rear corner supports. I knew it wasn't going to be fast or easy, but I tried to go at it anyways. After about an hour, the air grinder finally proved itself and got through the rest of the support. Unfortunately, it was starting to get dark, and I didn't think I would have enough time to get the other side done that night. That's when my uncle came out and suggested I use the Sawz-All. Why didn't I think of that?
I only cut the back off because I just wanted to finish for the night. The next day, I went to work on the front sections. I quickly cut through the thin sheet metal from the rest of the roof, but I left the side supports on. My seat belts were attached to these and that left me kind of stumped as to what to do about it.
After browsing around online and basically coming to my own conclusion that it would be legal (who knows if it really was), I just cut off sides and decided that a lap belt would suffice. The Sawz-All made quick work of the rest of the metal, and some deburring with the air grinder made it smooth enough to touch without slicing your hand open.
What do you do when it rains?
Well, for one thing, I live in southern California and we don't get THAT much rain, so it wasn't a huge problem. When it did rain, I found out that as long as I drive over 25mph, the rain would never hit me. When it came time to park the car, I had a tarp in the back and I had hookup places on the front windshield and back by the trunk. The tarp would clip on perfectly and create a nice incline for the water to just run off the back.
Doesn't that create a structural problem?
Yes! And I wouldn't recommend ANYBODY do it unless you're willing to put your life at risk. From the day I cut the roof off I could easily tell a difference in the sway of the car. It dipped and sagged a lot more than it used to. When I would go over bumps and things, the frame constantly bowed. To this day I'm still surprised the thing never snapped in half
Why didn't you make a real convertible out of it?
Time, money, and general laziness. I didn't want to put money into the car either. I had already dismissed it as a lost cause and just wanted to have fun with it. Making a true convertible out of it with a retractable roof doesn't sound like fun to me. That sounds like work.
What happened to the car?
The car's starter died one day. While trying to replace it, I found out that it was in an incredibly hard to reach spot and even the local shop guys said it would be a hard job since they would have to take a lot of other things out of the way to get to the starter. This happened right around the time I decided to move to Las Vegas. I knew that even if I put the investment into the car to get it back to running condition, it would most likely never survive the trip to Vegas. So I let it sit at my mother's furniture store until one day some guy came in and offered to buy it for $200. As a starving kid moving to Las Vegas, $200 sounded better than a car that wouldn't start, so I made the deal. The last I heard, the guy was parting it out. If I were given the choice today, there is no way in hell I would sell that car for $200. That car will always hold a special place in my heart.