Modern convertibles are made with a certain degree of engineering prowess and precision. I made one with a reciprocating saw, an old Hyundai, and some friends who shared in my dream of low-budget open-air motoring.
Extra safety warning: This story is for entertainment purposes only — making your own “convertible” is dangerous and driving it even more so. Jokes aside, sharp metal edges can maim you and bleed you out, and the consequences of nicking an airbag don’t bear thinking about. Everything outlined here is a bad idea. Protect yourself and do not try this at home.
I grew up with many farm-dwelling friends. It left me jealous of the freedom afforded by country life with open paddocks. I’d seen the hijinx that friends had gotten up to with farm cars, free from the shackles of the road rules. I wanted that for myself.
However, my life has always been firmly planted in the suburbs and urbs. I couldn’t simply cut the roof off a car and drive it around the streets. It would be pulled over and impounded at best, and I’d be arrested for driving it at worst. Thus, I brewed up a dastardly plan: I would deftly chop the roof off a car, but leave it such that it could be bolted temporarily back into place. This would let me quietly drive it to a distant private property under the radar. There, the roof could be removed. Sweet roofless hoonage would ensue.
I didn’t realize it at first, but this method turned out to be a lot more work than simply cutting off and discarding the roof. However, it was the only way we could reliably build the convertible and then get it out of town. Needs must, and all that.
The lucky car in question was a two-door 2001 Hyundai Accent. Widely considered a budget car of little value, I’d always appreciated its lines and its daring little spoiler, and secretly wished it had become a darling of the tuner scene. The asthmatic 1.5-liter four, though, put paid to that. It claimed just 100 horsepower at 5,800 rpm.
By the time this particular 2001 Hyundai Accent fell into my hands, a low horsepower figure was the least of its problems. It was battered and bruised. Teen drivers and multiple accidents had taken its toll. A last thrash canyon run blasting along to Against Me’s White People for Peace had stripped the last life out of the transmission. All this made it the perfect car for the job. That, and the price: I adopted the car for the princely sum of $100 Australian dollars.
My plan was simple. We would chop the roof off with a reciprocating saw. The roof would be cut along a line just behind the top of the windshield. Other cuts would be made at the top of the B-pillars to preserve the seat-belt mounts, and at the C-pillars at the rear. This would enable the entire roof and rear hatch to be lifted off as a whole unit. Given the state of the car, we planned our cuts by simply drawing straight on the exterior of the car with a paint pen.
I elected to leave the door frames intact for simplicity, though it would somewhat spoil the “top down” look. We’d use some cheap steel brackets to bolt the roof onto the car at the windshield and C-pillar to make the car appear roughly stock for our journey to our secret hooning paddock.
When work kicked off in earnest, we drilled holes on either side of our cutlines for brackets that would hold the roof on later. Attaching these with bolts meant we needed access to the sheet metal from the inside of the car. This proved difficult due to the C-pillar’s enclosed sections. In the end, some brutality with a screwdriver liberated the interior plastics. From there, we were able to chop away at sheet metal with an angle grinder to get access where we needed it.
With brackets in place, I fired up the reciprocating saw and started slicing off the roof. It’s amazing how quickly a metal demolition blade will scythe through a hatchback. We unbolted and rebolted our brackets in place so the car held some rigidity during the cutting process.
After a few hours work, we’d separated the roof from the rest of the car, though it remained bolted in place with our bracketry. Removing it would simply require undoing 16 bolts and unlatching the boot. It wasn’t quick, by any means. For our purposes, that was fine. We finished up by slathering the car in spray paint and duct tape to hide our handiwork, and set off for some escapades.
The Reality of a Homebrewed Convertible
Our modifications naturally ruined the structural rigidity of the car. However, with the roof bolted in place, the car didn’t actually feel that different from stock. It still soaked up bumps okay, and wind and road noise was only slightly increased from before. That was until we hit a corrugated dirt road. The car shook and rattled like a box of loose nails left on a washing machine. All the rough metal edges were scraping against each other. An angel’s symphony, it was not.
Removing the roof was fussy and dangerous. It took four of us to lift the roof off and place it on the ground. Both the roof and the car itself now bore many jagged metal edges left rough by the saw. Anyone could easily slash a vein or nick an artery if we weren’t careful. We got back in the car rather gingerly, but the sheet metal did manage to cause one casualty—it tore a deep slash through my cherished H&M overshirt I’d scored in Hong Kong. Vale.
The top-down driving experience was utterly joyous. Sitting in the car with three homies, blasting along at 40 mph with Taylor Swift on the stereo? A delight. The Accent somehow held up okay, despite missing much of its structure. We belted our little drop-top through handbrake turns and slaloms in the dirt, all with the wind in our hair.
Funnily enough, acceleration wasn’t noticeably faster with all the weight loss. Given the state of the auto box, though, this was hardly a surprise. I was surprised at how well the car held up to abuse, too. I had expected it to have all the strength of a wet noodle. Despite chucking it into turns and over bumps, though, I didn’t spot a whole lot of visible flex. The car remained chuckable over several hours without falling to pieces, much to our enjoyment.
A sealed road in regular traffic conditions might have revealed the weaknesses of our build. We had no roof and no protection from the elements. Driving up curbs and over speedbumps would have revealed more of the weakness in the chassis. But out in a paddock, on its last night before its trip to the wrecking yard? The little Hyundai delivered plenty of smiles per gallon.
It showed me that you don’t need a lot of power, performance, or handling to enjoy a convertible. The top-down experience adds so much by itself. If Hyundai had built a convertible Accent, I’d be keeping my eye out for one to this day. I still occasionally hunt for used Golf Cabrios and 307 Cabriolets to this day.
The project helped me realize a long-held dream of mine, too. I’d always wanted to belt around a paddock with abandon, and it was exactly as fun as I’d hoped it would be. Getting to do so in a four-seater drop-top with some of my best friends only made it better.
The car was tired, though, to be sure. The CVs were clicking away and the transmission was sounding increasingly irate as we hooned into the night. I suspect a week of regular driving would have quickly ruined the chassis, too. It would have been impossible to shut the doors properly and the flex would have become obvious. In time, I’d have cut myself on the many sharp protrusions and that alone would be enough to taint my opinion of the car.
I would have really enjoyed the opportunity to fettle the Hyundai further. I’d owned convertibles before, but a two-seater Miata was something I could only share with one person at a time. When you’re out in a four or five-seater drop-top, every drive feels like an adventure.
The new year may yet grant me the opportunity to repeat this experiment. Going again, I’d like to right some wrongs. Less sharp edges, more chassis bracing, that sort of thing. Maybe even an ill-fated shot at doing something vaguely road-registerable. The possibilities are tantalizing. In the meantime, I’m browsing the used classifieds for something that looks ready for a haircut.