It’s a common car. Ford’s first all-new car after World War II proved to be a popular and well-built automobile. Many were produced, and happily, many survive today. The production numbers were impressive, with 317,869 Custom DeLuxe Tudor sedans (model number 1A-70B) rolling off the assembly line in 1951 alone. It was the last year of a three-year body style, and many would argue it was the best of the bunch. But sedans, by their very nature take on a utilitarian look in comparison to a hardtop or convertible. Hot rodders and customizers found the cure for such mundane appearances; it’s called a top chop.
Chopping the shoebox Ford...
Chopping the shoebox Ford 5 inches takes time and talent, but with the canted B-pillar and raised windshield opening, the sedate sedan takes on a whole new attitude. The roof has been moved forward to visually extend the quarter-panels.
The vertical B-pillar, and what seems like an excessive amount of glass by today’s standards, contributes to the old sedan appearance. However by reducing the height of the roof several inches that sedate sedan takes on a sleek new profile. Now that ’51 Ford looks like it’s slicing through the wind with ease. Of course getting from sedate sedan to sinister hot rod takes some work—a lot of work.
John Kocsis had a vision for his ’51 Ford, and it included dropping the top some 5 inches. Larry Shoaf and his team at Rodcrafters in Welcome, North Carolina, have lowered a lot of lids in their time, so the Kocsis shoebox rolled into the shop for some major surgery.
The first step in any top chop is to be certain all the panels fit perfectly on the car before any cuts are made. Satisfied with the fit of the doors Larry went inside the car and welded bracing across the door openings, front to rear, and side to side. It is imperative that the lower portion of the body hold its shape when the roof is removed. The bracing was installed, allowing room to enter the car. With the car properly braced it was time to design the chop. There are any number of ways to lower the roof on any given car and the process must be thought through before any cutting is done.
Larry Shoaf prefers to make...
Larry Shoaf prefers to make each cut exactly the same on both sides of the car. This ensures the window openings will be the exact same shape. Since it’s difficult to measure from a radius, he makes these simple marker sticks.
As the roof is lowered on a 1951 Ford sedan (and most other cars) two things happen. The roof area becomes longer and wider. The more you chop the top, the more dramatic the change in both width and length will be, so consider that before cutting. Often a little restraint will save a lot of work.
The challenge is to design a roof that looks appropriate for the car. To overcome the widening of the roof the windshield posts, B-pillars, and rear window areas are generally tapered in a bit on the bottom and out on the top portion. By splitting the movement, the roof posts moving out and the body attachments moving in, the overall movement of each piece is effectively cut in half. In some drastic chops the roof panel itself must be widened with a strip added through the center of the roof from front to back; generally avoiding this major surgery is good thing. This chop would be accomplished by just leaning the posts.
To compensate for the extended length of the roof you have two options. Leave the roof turret intact and angle the windshield posts back while moving the rear window forward until the roof is united with the body again. The B-pillar is then moved to align with the back of the door. Or, you can cut the roof in two pieces and add a strip of new metal through the center of the roof from side to side.
The determining factor in which method is used is simply a matter of style. If you want a longer roof then add the strip, if, however, you think the car would benefit from proportions that visually lengthen the quarter-panels and shorten the roof, plan on leaning the windshield posts back and moving and leaning the rear window forward.
Before any cutting can be...
Before any cutting can be done the inside of the car must be cross-braced to prevent the lower portion of the body from moving when the roof is removed.
Marking your cut lines with...
Marking your cut lines with tape is much easier than trying to scribe a line around a curved post. It’s a great way to keep your measurement true, as the width remains constant around the post.
Measurements are taken and...
Measurements are taken and written right on the roof with a Sharpie for future reference, the centerline of the roof is also located and scribed onto the roof, and the center of the cowl and the panel in front of the decklid.