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Old 02-16-2005, 06:24 AM
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Rich Lackey

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retractable hardtop

Hi guys,

As some of you who have read my posts before already know, I am building a chopped and dropped '54 Chevy Bel Air. It is a 4dr sedan, but will soon be a 2dr and part of the plan is a retractable hardtop for the car.

The reason for not starting with an original convertible or hardtop is cost. I knew I was going to be making major body modifications anyway (4dr to 2dr conversion being the least of my concerns)and the 4dr was the most cost effective starting point. Here in South Africa the only way to get a hardtop or convertible would have been to import one from the U.S. but the 4dr sedans were manufactured here.

The engineering involved doesn't put me off, I already have some working drawings and CAD models of the mechanism. All the major components will be CNC machined and/or fabricated from scratch. I feel confident I can handle it but does anyone know of others who have built a retractable hardtop?

Anyone with thoughts or advice please comment.


Rich Lackey

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Old 02-16-2005, 08:18 AM
Brian Martin,Freelance adviser
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Pretty ambitious Rich, that would be a tough mod. Have you looked at the fifties Ford retractable? Forget the screw jacks and all the micro switches and relays that Ford used, that was a friggin nightmare. But the mecanical part of it seems like a way to go. The roof will have to split in the middle as they did, that is actually the hardest part I would think. You need to decide to make that an "automatic" movement or just let the roof go up and back and you can manually fold that part.
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Old 02-18-2005, 03:22 AM
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Rich Lackey

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Hi Brian,

I've been looking at the fifties Fords, as well as some brand new Mercedes and BMW retractable prototypes and concept cars.

It seems not much has changed in terms of the basic mechanics necessary to fold up a steel roof into a trunk sized space, although I have found a few different ways to do it.

The main thing that has changed it seems is the control technology, actuators and electronics, and this is a good thing as it should make the whole thing a lot easier for me to wire up now than it was fifty years ago.

The major difference between the Fords and my Chevy is the relative size difference between the roof and trunk. The Fords had huge trunks, not much shorter than the whole roof itself.

I have what is effectively a 220mm long roof to squeeze into 100mm of corresponding trunk space, which means three sections to the roof not just two.

The other challenge for me is the width of the roof compared to the width of the trunk opening, but I overcame this by designing a mechanism that tilts the folded roof into the smaller opening along the logitudinal axis, bringing it down level once one side of the roof is tucked in under the trunk opening.

Obviously the trunk hinges open from the back not the front, and the trunk lid extends all the way to where it meets the glass. Other modifications will be a big fat X member to strengthen the chassis.

I am trying to get some dimensions together for the conversion to 2 doors, specifically the length of the original doors for the '54 convertible and hardtop. Any idea where I would find this?

Any more input you have would be great!

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