“With all that done, the car looked great, but I always wanted a convertible. But even the lowliest converts were priced beyond most wallets. I’m a frugal guy and I had an idea that had been floating around my head for years. I wanted to cut the top off the Chevy and make it a convertible. But [and this is the heart of the story] I wanted to retain the top so I could have the best of both worlds: a hardtop and a convertible.
“Luckily, I have an older friend named Carl Lindbeck who has a man cave hobby shop where I have access to all the tools and toys necessary to build a car. I also have a friend named Mike Kornowski who is a mad fabricator—he has the skills needed for the meticulous metalwork and was fully behind the project. He comes from a family known in the area for taking on difficult projects and making them look simple.
“So on a cold December day, I rolled the Chevy into Lindbeck’s shop, stripped out the interior and glass, and began cutting. Between Lindbeck and I, we had the top separated from the body in about two hours. It would be nice to say it was easy, but GM put in a lot of inner structure to secure the top and it took some close inspection and contemplation to figure out the right place and position of the cuts. The cut lines across the front and rear were kept tight to the window trim so that when the top was replaced the seams would be nearly invisible. Cuts to the inner structure were a little more difficult, but with perseverance everything came apart.
“Once the top was separated from the body and set on the ground there was a rush of elation that the job had been done. Then, and only then, did we celebrate with a beer (a clear head was needed for the cuts!). Guys would walk into the shop while we were working on the top and just start shaking their heads. They would say I was crazy to chop the top off. My goal was to have the top go back on and not be able to tell it comes off. I thought, worst case scenario, was that I’d have to weld the top back on.
“It seemed so simple, just cut the top off, add a couple studs, and bolt it back on. Luckily that’s where the fabricating skill and mind of Mike Kornowski came in. He has the ability to see the future … he can look at a project and see what’s needed to make things work as I would like. Kornowski’s skill at welding and fabricating parts and pieces is beyond the norm. He bent and twisted and smoothed out parts and made the whole concept come together. When he finished his magic, it was as if GM intended it to be.
“Once Kornowski was done with the fabricating, I moved on with the necessary bodywork to make the transition from hardtop to convertible look seamless. When all that was done, the car was taken back to Norm Kranz for repainting the pearl white.
“About three months from the day I rolled my car into Lindbeck’s shop, it was done. I had the best of both worlds, as I’d always wanted. Most people have no idea when the top is on or off, if it’s a hardtop or a convertible … I’d like to think it’s both. It is great to have the option of a removable hardtop—except when you get caught in the rain and the top is hanging from the ceiling in your garage ... you just have to drive faster to stay dry. Everyone asks me how I take the top off and on. I built a cradle that supports the top from underneath and installed an electric winch up in my garage rafters. I drive under the winch and lift the top off with the cradle. Otherwise, I can find two young guys or four old guys to lift it off manually.