The '49-51 Ford shoebox derives its nickname from the somewhat slab-sided appearance that gives the car that iconic boxy look. These were the first new bodies from Ford after World War II and the rear fenders had melted into the quarter-panels, the front fenders had risen to meet the hood, and they too were now flush with the doors. There wasn't so much as a hint of a running board and grille openings were lower and wider than ever before. By 1949 standards it was quite a modern approach to the automobile and that style would endure for three years.
All this modern sleekness made a perfect palette for customizers, and not long after these cars arrived at the local Ford dealer hot rodders and customizers were modifying these smooth new automobiles. Terms like chop, channel, and section were applied to these new cars and suddenly a sleek car became downright slippery.
And so 64 years later we're still reshaping the shoebox. Eric Black provided the team at Honest Charley Garage with a rendering that employs all of the time-tested modifications but still has managed to create a look that is traditional, fresh, and restrained. In the last issue we channeled and now we're about to chop the car 2 inches up front and 3-1/2 in the back, and in a coming issue we'll pancake the hood-all very traditional modifications to produce a custom of perfect proportions.
One of the more interesting features on the 2013 AMSOIL/STREET RODDER Road Tour car is while it has the look of a radical custom none of the modifications required to achieve that profile would be considered radical. Chopping a shoebox Ford 2 inches is conservative by any measure and likewise channeling the car was also limited to a few inches. And yet, in combination the profile is somehow radically lowered without putting painful restrictions on the interior space, something Jerry Dixey will be pleased to hear. (Editor's note: It's Jerry's lot in life if he must suffer a bit for vanity! To look cool in a hot rod comes first, assuming a mullet-wearing chauffeur leftover from the '60s could ever look cool!) As a matter of fact, when the Wise Guy seats are installed the view out of the chopped windshield will be straightforward, with no need for hunching over for a clear view of the road.
Chopping any post-war car brings challenges that require excellent and advanced sheetmetal forming skills. The compound curves, the overall size of the panels, and the curved rear glass all present challenges to overcome. If chopping a Model T coupe is a one, lowering the lid on a shoebox would come in around an eight.
However, the principles remain the same: Think before you cut; measure, mark, and then measure again before you make that first cut. Taking a side, front, and rear photograph and doing a "paper chop" is a good way to anticipate problem areas. Finally, always try to make each cut precise and clean: you'll be glad you did later when it comes time to fit those panels back together.
One problem area on any top chop is the rear corner of the quarter window. In stock form the lower rear corner of the quarter glass incorporates a pleasing radius and it is important to maintain a radius and avoid the dreaded "pinched corner" seen on poorly executed chops. Another major decision involves dealing with the rain gutter or driprail. On most cars the driprail not only channels water away from the top of the door, it is also a feature line of the car. Removing the driprail can make a roof look all-together too round and will also allow water to freely enter the top of the doors. Once again if removing the driprail is part of your plan, try doing it on a photograph first and remember you will also have to seal the doors properly. Finally there is the vent window issue. While it is popular to remove the vent window bear in mind it can make the door glass look excessively long, and possibly more importantly it can make fitting roll-up glass a real problem.
As it turns out our Eric Black illustration included both a pleasant rear radius, driprail retention, and maintaining the vent wing window at the A-pillar. All three of these decisions by the artist keep the car flowing and traditional in appearance.
After spending hours measuring, marking, taping, and pondering Delton Scott and Richard Marter of Honest Charley's Garage plugged in the Sawzall and connected the cut-off wheels. The relatively mild 2-inch chop will minimize misalignment of the top and bottom but there is still plenty of work to do. Bear in mind that the more you remove the greater the disparity in panel alignment. The amount of work in a 2-inch chop is dramatically less than the work encountered for a 4- or 5-inch chop, something to remember when you are contemplating lowering any lid.
Prior to beginning the chop, the entire interior of the car must be crossbraced. That means door openings and across the B-pillars and even putting a couple of braces in the rear window opening to preserve that shape. When installing your bracing you must make it substantial enough to hold the body in shape but also allow enough room to crawl inside because there will be some inside work during the top chopping process.
Key measurements and marks include a perfect centerline on the roof with a corresponding center line on the cowl and the rear panel in front of the decklid. If any cuts are at all confusing, simple notes and arrows written on the top with a Sharpie will help avoid cutting "on the wrong side of the line". In short, take your time and think things through.
After removing all paint from the roof, any trace of a headliner, and all interior moldings, we were ready to begin the top chop. Cutting began at the A-pillars, and then we moved to the rear roof area, followed by the final cuts at the B-pillar. From here it is easier to illustrate the process through the accompanied photos and captions, so follow along as we drop the top on our 2013 AMSOIL/STREET RODDER Road Tour '51 Ford.
1. Our '51 Ford has been channeled on a slight angle to the rear, with no channeling at the firewall and 3 inches in the rear; this gives it that slight tail dragger look. Our top chop will be 2 inches at the A-pillar and 3-1/2 inches at the rear window to continue the angular stance.
2. The side windows on a '51 Ford sedan are nearly the same size and it gives the car a certain old, stodgy sedan attitude. Dropping the top will shorten the rear window a bit and give it a more interesting shape.
3. With the roof down to bare metal it's time to start measuring, marking, and thinking about where to cut the top for the best results. Best results always involve minimal cutting.
4. The team at Honest Charley Garage has laid out the centerline on the roof, the cut line on the panel in front of the decklid, and the cut lines on the A- and B-pillars.
5. The centerline is marked on the roof and also on the panel in front of the decklid. The lower band of yellow tape is the cut line to free the rear window from the body. Note braces in the rear window.
6. The first cut and most import piece to preserve is the lower rear corner of the rear side glass. This panel will be removed to save the curved rear corner.
7. A Sawzall is best for cutting through the multiple layers of steel that make up the window frame area. Work slowly and make your cuts clean and on the mark.
8. A cutoff wheel is used to cut through the single-layer steel roof. This cut will free the window corner from the body.
9. After removing the lower corner of the window opening you have a gaping hole, but you will be glad you cut this piece out later in the process.
10. After doing both sides you should have a couple of pieces that look like this. Measuring and making cuts the exact same on each side will help to ensure perfect window symmetry when lowering the top.