Sid Chavers' Removable Roadster Tops
Over the last few decades, Sid Chavers' name has become synonymous with first-rate hot rod upholstery. His custom interiors and tops are impeccably crafted, and he estimates he's upholstered over 700 hot rods since opening in February 1976. In 2000, he and partner George Atkins found a way to incorporate that craftsmanship in a production, mail order collapsible roadster top. The BopTop has a good looking traditional hot rod profile, can be installed or removed in a matter of minutes, and disassembles to fit compactly in the trunk with room to spare. It's changed the way hot rodders use their roadsters, and 14 years and over 3,000 tops later, it's also clearly stood the test of time. We thought it would be interesting to see how the BopTop has changed over the years, how it's made, and what new options and accessories are available.
Sid grew up in Northern California during the '60s surrounded by the hum of commercial sewing machines in his dad and uncle's motorcycle parts manufacturing business. They made seats and sissy bar back pads, and Sid learned upholstery by watching and helping out whenever he could. He took on his first side project upholstering a friend's Chevelle, then put his career on hold for a few years when he joined the Navy after high school. Upon returning home in 1976 he went into business, opening Sid's Custom Upholstery in Mountain View, California, about an hour south of San Francisco.
At first the shop took in any work that kept the lights on, from auto and boat interiors to couches and dining room sets. "I've always been a car guy," Sid says, "but I didn't have aspirations of being a hot rod upholsterer. I was just trying to make a living." After a couple of years, the automotive side picked up and Sid stopped taking in furniture projects. Late model interiors, convertible tops, and the occasional custom job kept the shop busy—and growing.
In '86 Sid built a Deuce highboy to compete for America's Most Beautiful Roadster at the Oakland Roadster Show. "It had leather floors and a lot of other stuff that hadn't been done," he says. "That's where everybody noticed the car—and noticed me." Before long the hot rod and custom side of the business became a full-time affair. In 1989, he sold Sid's Custom Upholstery (which is still going strong today), and opened a new shop, Sid Chavers Company in nearby Santa Clara, where he focused 100-percent on tailor-made hot rod interiors.
BUILDING A BETTER MOUSE TRAP
Sid's interiors were in high demand from the start, and for the first decade he kept busy working for many well-known builders, turning out hundreds of hot rods—many of which were roadsters requiring tops. It wasn't until 1999 that the idea for the BopTop developed.
Anyone who's owned a roadster with a stock-style folding top knows that they can be problematic. The top bows need to be modified to work on a chopped car, and even on roadsters with stock height windshields, folding tops tend to look too upright and boxy without some work. Once they've been modified, they usually won't fold down all the way, resulting in an unsightly bunch of material that decreases visibility. The solution is to either have the top on or off, but fitting a folding top in the trunk is no easy task. Even if you can do it, forget about having any extra room for a duffle bag or cooler. And then of course there's the damage caused by the top rubbing against the paint wherever it comes in contact with the body.
One night Sid and George Atkins, a longtime upholsterer at the shop, were talking about different ways to solve those problems on a roadster Sid was building for himself. "We wanted to do something different," he says, "something that would excite people." They thought about cutting the deck just behind the seat and building a mechanism that retracted into the body similar to OE-style hard tonneau covers. "But we realized that would have been a massive undertaking, and we didn't have the engineering background to get it done." That's when George had the idea for a top that could be disassembled and stored in the trunk.
Powder coated steel mounts are custom-fit to the wooden header to align with mounting posts on a variety of aftermarket and original chopped windshield frames. The folding top mechanism comes pre-assembled and mounts to the stock Ford posts just behind the doors. Fully installed, the frame doesn’t come in contact with the body anywhere other than the four stock mounting locations.
Fabricator Mike Dutra worked with Sid and George on a prototype. It had a steel tubing frame with a durable skin that snapped in place. They wanted a profile that was classic and timeless—something that would look good on traditional and contemporary hot rods alike. Sid already had a pretty good idea of the look he was going for, but admits that the McGee/Scritchfield roadster, now owned by Bruce Meyer, had some influence. "Whoever made the lines of that top got it right," he says.
After a year of tweaking and finessing, they arrived at a prototype they were happy with. Leonard Lopez, owner of Dominator Street Rods, created a fixture for building the frames on a production basis, and Sid and George officially launched BopTop in May of 2000.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Today's BopTop isn't much different from that original prototype, which is a testament to their engineering. The frame comprises two header mounts, a wooden header, and five sections of steel tubing, all assembled with stainless hardware. The frame attaches to the body at the four stock mounting points—two in the quarters behind the doors, and two on the windshield posts. No part of the top comes into contact with the body anywhere else, eliminating the potential for damaged paint.
The steel frame is covered with colorfast Haartz convertible top material that is available in 15 different colors. The liner is either tan or black, and the frame is powder coated to match. Assembly and disassembly takes minutes, and the entire frame stows away in two compact, durable cases designed to prevent parts from rubbing against each other during travel. Selflubricating Delrin dowels make it easy to connect and disconnect the top bows.
The top skin is made of Haartz Stayfast, a three-layer composite material with an acrylic square-weave outer fabric over a rubber inner layer. It's available in 15 different colors that match or complement many paint finishes. The inner lining is either black or tan cotton, and the steel frame is powder coated to match. Sid and George chose the Haartz material because it's durable, it holds its shape, and it carries a lifetime guarantee against fading. Though at first Sid stitched the tops in-house, today they're made in Denver, Colorado, by a company that specializes in manufacturing convertible tops. "They're made just like a factory production top, with durable heat-seamed and sealed seams," he says.
One of the biggest improvements to the BopTop is their expanded range of applications. The original tops were designed for '32 Fords with two-inch chopped stock-style windshields. Now they're also made for '32s with three-inch chopped windshields, as well as DuVall, So-Cal Speed Shop, and Dan Fink Metalworks windshields. Additionally, a version for '28/'29 Model A roadsters with a two-inch chopped stock-style windshield is also available.
If your car doesn't fall into one of those categories—if it has lengthened doors, an extremely laid-back windshield, a custom windshield frame, or anything else that significantly alters the proportions—Sid and George can build a custom BopTop, but they'll need your car. If a standard BopTop frame fits the bill but you're looking for a custom top color or material, that can be done by mail order.
The initial installation of the frame isn't overly complicated, and each top comes with instructions and a 20-minute DVD explaining the process. That said, it does require some cutting and fitting, so you have to know your abilities. Standard tools you'd find in any reasonably-equipped hobbyist's shop are required, including a razor knife or shears, a staple gun, various drill bits, a tubing cutter, cutoff wheel, or hacksaw, and a round file or reamer.
Because no two windshields are positioned exactly alike, the top material and steel tubes that extend forward over the side openings will need to be cut to length. Also, the mounts for the wooden header must be drilled and installed with the header in place. The steel top tubes then slide into the header mounts with self-lubricating Delrin connectors. With the frame assembled and installed, the top is snapped in place, stretched and stapled to the wooden header, and a trim piece finishing the leading edge is stapled in place. "To be honest, when we first came out with the top, I thought the initial installation would be the killer of the whole deal," Sid says. "I didn't know how it would work out for the homebuilder. But most guys have done a real nice job."
Reading between the lines, you can see that while this is an "off the shelf" product, each top is tailored to your car. There will always be slight variations in windshield placement and angle, top posts, and certainly between various aftermarket bodies. The construction of the BopTop frame allows for minor tweaks, like bending the tubes or trimming spacers, to ensure each top fits perfectly. Most of the time installation can be completed in an afternoon, and if you're more comfortable leaving it to the pros, an upholstery shop should be able to do it in about an hour.
Once the initial installation is complete, the top can be removed and reinstalled easily. To remove and store it, the skin simply unsnaps from the steel frame and gets folded up with the header. The steel frame disassembles, and both it and the header/top skin are stored in their own Cordura bags (the heavy-duty material used in backpacks). Individual compartments in the frame bag keep the pieces from banging together on the road. Sid likens the breakdown and reinstallation process to setting up a tent: if you haven't done it in a while, it could take you 20 minutes. If you have, it can take as little as five. "But a lot of guys don't ever take them off," he says. "They like the look, they can hear their passenger, and they have protection from the sun, which is a bigger concern these days."
Another change to the BopTop line that's worth noting is additional rear window options. Originally the tops were fitted with a cast aluminum frame with a fixed lens. Around 2002 they introduced the HotSlot, a CNC-machined, chrome-plated frame with an S-A-R (super abrasion resistant) acrylic lens. The two-piece frame is machined with a series of points and corresponding dimples that perforate the top material and hold it in place on all sides, eliminating any bunching or wrinkling.
Six years ago they introduced a removable rear curtain fitted with the HotSlot window. It lends an even more authentic, vintage look, and also increases visibility and airflow. The curtain straps inside the top above the window opening, allowing it to hang down and snap in place across the bottom of the frame. A separate trim piece covers the frame when the curtain is removed.
Most recently they've added the CoolSlot, a functional version of the HotSlot that pivots open. Both the HotSlot and CoolSlot can be purchased separately and installed in any custom top. And for those who own an older BopTop and want the removable rear curtain, a replacement skin can be purchased and installed over their existing frame.
Side curtains are also available, but Sid says, "I preface any conversation about them by saying I'm going to sound like I'm talking you out of them. I'm not—they work well, they're just a pain to use." Originally '32 Fords had a hole in the door tops for a side curtain mounting post, allowing the curtain to open with the door. Since those holes usually filled on most hot rod bodies, BopTop curtains Velcro inside the top and hang down, which means they don't open with the door. "If you're looking to just extend the hot rod season by a few weeks, they may be too much trouble," Sid says. "But if you're stuck in the rain with a 400-mile trip ahead of you, they're perfect."
Sid and George's BopTop and its related accessories offer a range of solutions for those of us who enjoy open-car cruising with a little flexibility.