Nothing transforms a car like chopping its top. For good reason; second to sectioning it's the most intense car modification. It's so monumental that it can change a car's entire personality.

Of all, the '33 and '34 three-window just about begs for a little off the top. In fact, it's pretty tough to find a famous one that hasn't been chopped: the tops on the Pearson Bros', SO-CAL's, Pete Chapouris' California Kid, Jake's, Cal Tanaka's, Bill Vinther's, Lance Sorchik's, and Randy Bianchi's three-window Model 40s sit just a little bit-or sometimes a lot-lower. Legend has it that Bobby Alloway doesn't even know what a stock-top '33-34 even looks like.

The all-steel, 1934 Ford three-window coupe body that Steve's Auto Restorations (SAR) recently introduced rekindled interest in the Model 40. To make it as appealing as possible, SAR offers the body with a stock-height top, thereby leaving the decision whether to chop, the amount to chop, and the style of chop up to the customer. Just as it will with any other original or reproduction body, SAR will chop the top on its own body-which is exactly what the shop did for the customer who bought this one.

The SAR body lends itself to chopping even more than the original. A few radius tweaks for consistency withstanding, its top shape is an exact copy of Ford's, however a few of its construction details are unique. Rather than butt-welding the top panels as Ford did, Experi-Metal, the company SAR hired to produce the body, flanged the center panels, overlapped them with the side panels, and spot-welded everything together. Here's why that makes the body so much easier to chop than Ford's:

As explained elsewhere in this article, the Model 40's top is a soft trapezoid. Regardless of chop style, the upper part must expand and the lower part contract if the panels are to meet properly. On a genuine Ford body, that means pie-cutting the base to shrink it, slicing the top to spread it, and filling the gaps that result from spreading the panels. It adds considerable work to the job, which translates to considerable time and, if a pro does it, money.

That's where the overlapping panel construction helps. Tell SAR to forego finishing the seam and the panels come apart by drilling the spot welds. Then the top components can be tapered and spread at will. The fabricators at SAR say that unless the chop is extreme there's usually sufficient overlapped material to reduce if not completely eliminate the need to create fillers.

In this case, Duc Pham and Joe Cusic clipped the top 3-1/4 inches at the rear and 3-1/2 inches at the front of a customer's body. It makes the car look aggressive without sacrificing its vintage personality or tractability (mail-slot windows in heavily chopped tops can make cars ungainly to use, if not ungainly looking). It also just happens to be a cut that doesn't require extensive clean up. They also lengthened the top instead of slanting the posts as explained elsewhere in this story.

And the results speak for themselves: the Model 40 body is something else, and the cut puts it in another league altogether.

To Stretch or Slant
There are as many ways to chop a top as there are cars, but most would-be top choppers reach a fork in the road: stretch or slant?

The reason is top profile. By the early '30s, most car manufacturers adopted a more trapezoidal top style. While it made the stock tops look sleeker, chopping them creates a ponderous situation: the chopped top ends up too short to fit the body. Aligning the top by one set of pillars makes the other set fall short by an amount determined by the angle of the pillars and the extent of the chop.