Kerry's 1957 Imperial Restoration - part 30

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If you like the look of this...keep reading!

March through August...lottsa distractions

It has been a while since I updated the saga. Those who have been following the work in progress ( know that I took off the top on my 57 with the intention of building a convertible. I purchased two new Labaron tops with the intention of making one top for the 57.

Well, let me just say that it is not as easy as it looks. After months of dinking around, find or fabricate hinges. Getting my fingers pinched when the whole floppy thing twisted the wrong direction, etc. I decided to take a different route. Now, most people would say that they were beaten but in true guy fashion, I will simply say that I just had a change of heart!

I have some jpgs but quite honestly, it's too embarassing so let's just forget the whole thing...

Fundamentally, I believe I COULD eventually do it. However, I was beginning to wonder if it was worth the level of effort. More importantly, I was worried that it would not "look" like I wanted it to. Current plans call for a lift off padded top. The custom car crowd calls these "Carson Tops"

Carson tops are constructed out of fairly light weight framing, usually wood or electrical conduit. They are normally covered with chicken wire streched tightly over the frame to support the padding. Finally fabric top material is fabricated and attached. I am leaning toward a wooden frame because I am pretty good with wood and have a bunch-o-tools. Not sure yet. The main thing is the top must be sturdy but LIGHT!. Lift off is the key phrase and I would like to be able to lift it off by myself.

Actually, the ideal thing would be a multi-piece top which I could stow in the trunk. I've been thinking about the engineering of such a thing and have a plan. But then again, I had a plan for a convertible top once........

So, how do I go about building a carson top. I have a BUNCH of old hot rod and custom car magazines dating back to the 50's...probably 5-600 or so. Main titles are Street Rodder, Rod and Custom, and Car Craft. I spent a morning looking through the indexes and pulled every issue that had a top on building a carson top. Ended up with 6-8 but every darn one "assumes" a few things. For instance, how does one fasten the top material to the frame. What about headliners? How do you attach it to the car? Just a few key things. Hopefully between the bunch I will be able to figure it out.

While I am on the subject of magazines, I hate to say that we have lost another good one to the comglomerates. A few years ago Tex Smith (OLD time hot rodder and do it yourself author extrordinair) had a great magazine called Hot Rod Mechanix. Mechanix was FULL of great stuff for people who wanted to do real work. Unfortunately it merged with American Rodder, the one the babes draped all over the paint in string bikinis. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for pretty women (I am married to one) but not in my car mags!!! Rod Action had been going steadly downhill for years. They went through an identity crisis for a while but occasionally would have some great how to articles. They did a series that is quite a lot like this saga about a guy doing radical work to a 37 Plymouth Mayflower but when they changed format a couple of years ago it stopped. Finally they stopped too. I started getting a Chevy mag. When I called Challenge Pubs they told me it was the substitute for Rod Action. I asked them to cancel and send me a refund. Its been 3 months and no check. Finally Rodders Digest, another great mag was bought out by TAM publications and recently it also merged with American Rodder.

Street Rodder has grown to 200 pages of advertisements and most of the how to articles about how to install one of their advertisers products. I can now install a Mustang II crossmember kit in at least 97 different kinds of old cars. The rest is full of shoots of pro built cars that the average Joe could no more build than swim the Atlantic. Oh well, its better than nothing.

Well enough about my magazine bitches. Back to the car.

I've been thinking about how I want the end product to work. I'd really like to chop the top but haven't the guts to try and cut the windshield. Heavily curved windshields are very hard to cut. Even more difficult is the side glass. As you know Imperial side glass is curved and tempered. This means it cannot be cut. Period. This is complicated by the fact is not rectangular. The top is shorter than the bottom. If it was rectangular it would be much easier.

I even consider a late model top swap, new winshield and frame, side glass and all. But to be honest, this is a MAJOR deal and like the convertible top fabrication, one that I’m afraid would take a LONG time (if ever) for me to complete. So I guess I’m sticking with the stock height. I will attempt to make the carson top "thinner" to give the illusion of reduced height.

I’ve also got my design down for the back seat cover (tonneau) that I am going to build. Those of you who are not complete Imperial bigots may remember the 60-63 T-Bird Sports Roadsters. They had a removable one piece fiberglass tonneau that flared to head rests. Great look and one that I want to try and duplicate with my own version. However, I want mine to be in two pieces so I can store it in the trunk. Won’t it be neat if the top and the tonneau can both store in that huge trunk.

Well, it's pretty obvious I haven’t got a lot of real work done. Bunches of thinking and looking but not much work. I haven’t even sanded off the last of the filler I put on last February. Lots of travel and summer projects have cut into my play time.

One day in mid August, I got my youngest son to help me set the deck lid and hood on the old girl and push her outside for a photo shoot. The jpgS follow.

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I have tried to get various angles. The plan is to draw some sketches so you can "see" my vision.   Haven't gotten to it yet but did make some color printouts so I can trace the outline.  These are well traveled prints and as I write this I am on the way to Japan.  I hope to have some time and if so I will scan them when I get back.

Well it's 3 AM in Japan and I've been up since 2.  I hate traveling this far, my body will be hosed for weeks.  Anyway, today I went into a Office Depot in Ginza (a major shopping area in Tokyo) and bought some tracing paper.  Following are some sketches. 

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This is my favorite "vision". I like the racy lines and the tonneau can be seen. Again, I hope build the tonneau so it is in two pieces and stores in the trunk while fitting flush when installed. Those are supposed to be 59 Caddy taillight lenses, perhaps in the center of the original 57 Imp lenses.... I'll probably use the original "sparrow catcher" trim and spear

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This shot shows the side view with a possibility on the carson top. The aspect ratio on this sketch makes it look a little tall. Notice the fender skirts. These are called "Bubble Skirts". Normally you make them from the top of old car with the proper curvature. They tend to make the car look lower. Also notice that the top is "flatter". That is, it has less crown than the stock top. This should also make the illusion of lowness. The funny shape on the rear window is still just a design idea. The existing glass would slide through the channel.

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This is the rear view. I plan on using the stock rear bumper but have not draw it in here.

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Bad sketch of a possible front end treatment. Note the suspended pod headlights as in the 61 Imps

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Really bad sketch of another frontend idea. This was 3AM today and I'm having trouble getting over the jet lag.

I have been concentrating on the back end but thinking about the front.  My 57 came with a big single headlights.  Mine are in excellent shape but as far as I am concerned they are butt ugly!  My current thinking is to mount 61-63 "pod" headlights upside down in the existing opening and reshape the grill.  The attached sketch is ROUGH but you get the idea.  I also think the front will run without a bumper.

I also want to get the old girl mobile.  Pushing her around the shop and yard is a pain and she always seems to be in the way.  You know what I mean???  It should not be a problem to mate the engine and transmission and "drop" it in but there is a ton of other "stuff" that has to happen first.  For instance, I need to hook up the dual master cylinder and find some way of testing it.  Then I need to clean up and paint the engine compartment.  Problem is that I haven't picked the color yet.  I may just give up and do the engine compartment in gloss black.   There is nothing trick about the engine anyway, just your basic 440.  Most people will never know it's not stock as I can count on my hands the people I know who have even SEEN a 392 Hemi.  Besides, if anyone gets funny, I'll tell them she started was a 59 before I started customizing and therefore it is a 413....that should confuse the issue


This page was last updated October 19, 2003.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club