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6 cyl Bristol cars Type 400 to 406 - restoration, repair, maintenance etc

Custom Soft Top

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Old 20-04-09, 07:21 PM
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Default Custom Soft Top

Has anyone (perhaps Ashley J) got ideas of a firm who does customsied soft top conversions from original hard tops like the 401-406 and onwards here in the UK. Clearly a 405 was done and so was a 402 from a 401, but I am thinking that my 406 may look the part as a convertible (am I mad?). Maybe it's the lovely weather I have enjoyed mowing the lawn or the need for air conditioning to cool off after jumping into a car that's been sitting in the sun for 4 hours (like today in Abingdon, Oxfordshire). Obviously I would need the thing designed with a suitable folding frame and fabric hood. The good news is that I could possibly avail myself of a standard off the shelf heated glass screen from say a Merc/BMW or other recent model. With modern fabric, soundproofing/padding and internal material, it ought to be waterproof and reasonably quiet. I think it would add value in spite of my left of field engine option. Liked being in Peter Kent's 412, except its looks are best admired from the inside.

Clyde
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Old 20-04-09, 08:40 PM
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Default Custom Soft Top

Clyde,
one thing to think about making a soft top with glass rear screen ,
soundproofing / padding internal lining and external cloth is that where
will it all fit when you lower it .
It will either fill up the back seat area , or sit on the top of the body a
bit like the 400 & 405 dropheads which to me spoils the look of the cars &
possibly impedes the rear vision .
Years ago I had a 402 which had a simple folding hood frame and only the
external cloth , it all folded neatly out of sight behind the rear seat back
.
I will make a similar arrangement for my 400 convertible project.
It would be a big job to do such a conversion properly and how successful
would the hood be at speed , its a big cockpit to cover .
Have you considered carefully removing the roof and converting the roof into
a detachable hardtop.
Good Luck
Geoff
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Old 20-04-09, 09:22 PM
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Default Custom Soft Top

Clyde
If anyone could do that conversion it'll be Alpine Eagle anyway, but
Geoff has a good point and it might turn out to be a very expensive
mistake.
Ash
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Old 21-04-09, 06:40 AM
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Default Custom Soft Top

Geoff and Ashley,

Thank you both for your responses and thoughts.

Before I speak with Alpine Eagle (John H in particular), I wanted to
get feedback from the many knowledgeable and competent ones here on
the list. I know that there are two soft top ways to go (having
owned a brace of Healeys many years before in Oz). Firstly a
removable frame and a single covering fabric/vinyl hood with a clear
plastic rear and side lights (windows). This is the cheapest, least
complex and noisiest option and may, due to location and fabric
fixing locations, hinder the look of the bodywork without the hood in
place. The entire frame and hood could be put away in bags in the
boot leaving the uncluttered body work around the rear clean with
little rearward obstruction. The second option, my preferred, is a
fixed in place folding frame and fabric covered arrangement that will
fold sufficiently flat so that it does not protrude too much above
the rear bulkhead (on top of the petrol tank behind the seat. On
reflection, this may require reduction in the petrol tank capacity
and therefore height, as well as movement of rear seat forwards
slightly to accommodate a folded hood. The tank capacity is large to
start with and so losing a few gallons is not an issue, same with
rear seat space. The creation of a folding hardtop is not considered
due to cost and huge loss of boot space. Ever taken a look at
current moderns with such a device - bugger all luggage capacity
except for a purse and comb. A removable hardtop might be an added
bonus though, only if it could go over a fixed in place soft top, but
again at what cost and what extra convenience if the soft top is
sufficiently cosy and sealed.

Whether or not a glass screen could be practical in this
configuration will remain a moot point, but not a deal breaker for
me, just a preference. Issue really is side windows in such an
arrangement and how to get adequate sealing over the front door
glass, especially if top and rear frame is removed to enable a frame-
less look and feel (along with removal of the rear side glass. Cars
like the Mercedes SL from 91-99 had three lights inserted in the soft
top with rear plus two around the corner sides to give more vision
and light into the cockpit. If the top on a 4 seat Bristol lacked
hard side glass at the rear, then a compromise would be to include
plastic lights into the rear curved sections either side of the rear
light. It is something I would pose to a specialist anyway as I
would not want a cheap solution like those used on Midget, Sprite,
Morgan or Lotus that's for sure. Even removable side glass behind
doors would be OK as long as sealing and fixing was up to the job as
they could be stored in bags in boot or behind and under the soft top.

I have not found a confirmed custom soft top maker in UK, although
the major supplier to the top end is Edscha in Coventry and there are
several smaller firms out there. The frame will need to be robust
and include sufficient strength along front mounting as well as the
side frame areas surrounding front windows to ensure sealing and
water restrictions. Such an approach would give the fabric hood
connection to the body a seamlessness without obvious studs, fixings
etc, just like say a Merc SL top or others.

Certainly would not want an expensive mistake or folly for sure and
appreciate feedback. Geoff, a 400 convertible would look stunning.
I think Dr Blow's got a buttermilk one which is very smart.

One of the reasons I am thinking about this option, is that having
spent (budgeted so far) a considerable sum, the extra to go the
missing roof route is probably not that much extra, but may add
considerably more fun and flexibility as well as potential value (in
the event of me or my heirs selling it). Inspiration-wise, SL-Jones
had a huge side elevation drawing on his office wall of a Bristol (a
406 if I remember) as a soft top and it looked fantastic. It was one
of his many project ideas, just like converting a 405 into a two door.

Clyde
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Old 21-04-09, 09:54 AM
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Clyde,
The permanent folding mechanism with a lined mohair hood would be the way to go, otherwise it will look nasty. But surely it must cost the best part of £10k to do it well. My Aston Volante had a lined hood and that cost £2.5K to replace 6 years ago and that was just cloth and labour. But you have to cut and finish the body, produce a custom built rail for the top of the windscreen that the hood can lock into. You'll need a custom built frame, a new petrol tank and something to cover the area where the hood folds down when the hood is up. If you can even get the hood to fold down into a recess behind the rear seats, which I doubt because the car is too narrow to accommodate the sides of the frame mechanism. You might find you need to remodel the rear seats.

And don't think you won't need air con. Convertibles get even hotter than normal cars because the dark matt roof covering absorbs heat from the sun far more than a gloss painted metal roof does, and there will be plenty of times when it isn't desirable to have the roof down.

Also I can't see it adding value to the car, if anything I think it will reduce the number of potential buyers. Personally I would never buy an aftermarket chop top.

Just go out and buy a nice Stag for £10k
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Old 21-04-09, 10:09 AM
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Default Custom Soft Top

Clyde,

Having just returned from speaking to Matthew, the proprietor of the trimmers Strong & Turton (www.strongandturton.co.uk) about this, he did offer the opinion that many of the new hoods he makes up to replace such unique efforts as is being proposed here are extremely difficult to get to 'look right'.

He seemed to think he would go down that road with great caution. By the way, these people have done quite a bit of carpet/leather/general trimming work for me over the years on several cars and have always done a good and not over-priced job. They prepare all the cars that Frank, Dale, & Stepson (which is next door) sell.

George
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Old 21-04-09, 10:22 AM
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Default Custom Soft Top

I couldn't agree more.
Just buy any convertible and leave this car alone!
I have a TR4 and and a Series 1 Land Rover, neither of which ever have a
roof on them. I just drive them when it isn't going to rain.
My wife has a Saab convertible, with a super roof, but simply never uses it.
But that's a different issue.
Have fun, but don't ruin a perfectly good saloon/coupé. They're prettier as
they are.
Andrew.
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Old 21-04-09, 10:26 AM
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Thanks George, I had seen this site the other day with others. I agree your man Matthew is right about getting the look spot on as the roof line needs to be curvaceous but taut implying a very special and strong frame over such a large, albeit narrow, cockpit.

Kevin, Agree with the points noted except the choice of a Stag - not for me. Converting the 406 to a DHC would need to be done very well to make it worthwhile, let alone desirable as a value improvement. I am merely seeing if anyone has experience of doing it or knows if it has been done. Another issue I thought about on the way in to London today was the fuel filler point, normally high on the left rear wide pillar. This would need to be moved to the highest point on the top of the side or back of the car and may cause a dramatic reduction on fuel tank capacity to ensure the difference between filler height and full level in the tank. May even force the car to be a 2 seater rather than a full 4 seater putting in the undesirable category straight away.

I like the 406 as it is, I am merely considering the possibility, so don't assume I am about to blow much hard earned moeny on a fool's folly.

My car will be air conditioned irrespective of hard or soft top anyway. Apart from feasibility, even if plausible, cost will be the final arbiter as to whether or not I go this route. In the meantime I am considering changing my 928S4 later this year with a slightly young 630i convertible, so that may just solve my dilemma.

Clyde
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Old 21-04-09, 11:10 AM
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Default Custom Soft Top

I reckon you`d buy a reasonable 412 for the price of the conversion. So,
then you`d have a pair of Bristols ... everyone`s dream. P
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Old 21-04-09, 10:31 PM
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Default chop

Quote:
Originally Posted by 406Special View Post
I am thinking that my 406 may look the part as a convertible (am I mad?).
Clyde
Clyde,

I think it is a great idea. I would do several things:

1. Switch to LPG gas, removing the fuel tank entirely, replacing it with the cannisters in the boot, thus giving you plenty of room. If you need a small reserve for petrol, have a burst-proof racing tank built and installed where the spare tyre goes.

2. Carefully measure the size of existing convertible tops as produced on what now are old cars. I suspect you may find one that fits perfectly. You may find that you need to replace the front windscreen with the model from the donor car as well, but this could work to your advantage if the donor car you select is more common, thus having a mainstream windscreen. In fact, it may prove far easier to do a full chop top than try to match something to the Bristol screen, and using a more sloped screen may look far better.

I would also look at American cars, for example, the Corvair, Chevy-II, Rambler American, Chrysler LeBaron (& Doge equiv), Ford Mustang, etc. which is narrower than the typical Yank boat. Also, look at the BMW, Toyota : Celica GT, Saab. Go to ebay salvage parts, put in the keyword convertible and sort by price. If you buy, it probably is cheaper to ship the whole car, chop off what you need and sell the rest as UK salvage. Since you are looking for an usual part of the car, the parts will be wanted by someone else, if you pick the right car. Or try Ebay UK, for example look at Item number: 380117724464 a BMW M# convertible being broken. I suspect the call for convertible roofs with windscreens is less than the demand for engines, wings, etc.

3. Find a 12 year old computer wizard to morph the 406 bottom with various convertible tops as found on the internet. With computers you can now try out the looks a whole lot easier.

4. Just for a laugh, ask Toby Silverton. They seem to be far more flexible than in the old day.s

Claude
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Old 22-04-09, 07:15 AM
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Claude,

Very inspired consideration and as always a thoroughly thought
through. It would in one go remove issues of front and rear glass
cost and rarity for the 406. Would definitely cost more to achieve.
The engine I have in mind could easily run full time on LPG and is a
back stop consideration with the engine builder. Removal of the tank
would provide a massive space in the rear, but is it wide enough for
all the gubbins that would be required. Changing the front screen
would necessitate a substantial amount of work round the bulk head,
for both body work and strengthening, albeit I would be inclined to
give the current screen's dimensions and curvature to a specialist
screen supplier to find the nearest range of potential replacements
to avoid too much of a departure from the 406 profile and looks. As
long as the screen was from a fairly modern convertible, then the
options may be there. Apart from hood frame and mechanism plus
screen attachment parts, there would be no need to take a whole car
just to get these parts (I am assuming). I will run by John Hodson
of Alpine Eagle when I next see him - a large frown and wry smile
will be the initial reaction me thinks. His stock answer is
"...anything is possible, it's just money...".

Clyde
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Old 22-04-09, 08:02 AM
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Default chop

Well, I think we should always dream, but total restoration of
Bristols is not cheap, and rebuilding them to a different format is
probably always going to be even dearer, as you will try things
differently from original and they may need to be redone. Maybe in a
recession you could get lots done for less, but I'm doubtful about
that. I agree that putting a soft top onto a rather smart car like a
406 needs to be done with care; otherwise could look quite dowdy.
The 400 of Marlborough looks fine with quite a lot of folded stuff
among the curves and external guards of the body, but in my humble
opinion such folded canvas would look ridiculous on a 406. I'm also
noting caution on the part of top/hood makers as to the outcome
visually. But, with devoted application, anything can be done. Just
wondering about the integrity of the body if the lid is chopped off.
Must need some reinforcement.

Sean
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Old 22-04-09, 08:53 AM
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I would compromise and just get a full length webasto-type sunroof fitted instead. Far cheaper, you can probably get it electrically driven and you will still have the good looks of the 406.

I would be wary of converting a 406 to full drop top. On the one hand you might have an elegant drop top similar to the RR or Bentley Mulliner drop tops (encl). On the other hand, it might look a bit odd and boring. It is the reason why the convertible versions of cars like the RR Silver Shadow had the 'coke bottle' style over the rear wing to add elegance and interest to the design.
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Old 22-04-09, 10:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by seanmcs View Post
Just
wondering about the integrity of the body if the lid is chopped off.
Must need some reinforcement.

Sean
Having owned a 405DH for a while and sunk a fortune in the first stage of its restoration, I can assure you that the Bristol is remarkably strong. According to my restoration man in Connecticut, the butcher marks from Abbott suggest the car was built as a 405 saloon by a welder who belongs in the welding hall of fame, and then chopped by a sloppy blacksmith to become a drophead. He showed me the chop work, and it was primitive. Effective, but primitive. There also was no extra support bracing installed in the bodywork.

Keep in mind, the Bristol has a full chassis that provides all the structural integrity, unlike modern monocoque bodies that rely on the body to hold together. In fact, if you examine the car you will find that the body is held on outriggers... in the 405DH the spans were timber. The strength of the car is in the massive steel underneath.

Claude
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Old 22-04-09, 10:38 AM
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http://www.villageforum.com/bristol%20406c.jpg

Photoshop montage of a 406 with Corvair Corsa roof. The rear glass may prove to be an interesting challenge unless upper window frame is retained.

Can you email me a better side photo of the 406? The club does not seem to have such a profile.

Claude
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Old 22-04-09, 11:57 AM
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Default Custom Soft Top

Claude:

Well I am familiar with the super chassis. But I still wonder if you
chop off the lid, the remaining metal will not be open to distortion/
vibration. The Alivs cars were built with that in mind and they were
fine. So, quite a lot of work in a 406 Bristol.

Sean
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Old 22-04-09, 01:40 PM
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Default Custom Soft Top

It will depend on how the body is mounted / bolted to the frame. Typically
a body sits on rubber circular pads that in turn sit on the frame. There
is movement on the rubber pads and if the body is not rigid enough ( how
much is enough?) then the movement will cause doors to jam and paint to
crack. The door gaps will shift and not be parallel.
Dorien
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Old 22-04-09, 03:10 PM
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Default Custom Soft Top

I assume that the 412 has it`s substantial hoop between the removable roof
and the soft bit at the back is to keep the body/ chassis rigid. Given
that the chassis etc is much the same on the 406, perhaps that is needed.
P
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Old 22-04-09, 04:46 PM
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Default A reminder from the past

I was reminded about the crucial nature of hood design if Clyde takes the top off his 406 while I was dog walking this morning as a Cortina Mk2 Crayford Convertible drove past with the hood up. The design just screams compromise from every direction and is decidly unhappy in almost all area such as visibility, taughtness and so on. Frankly the original metal top is a far better design.

I remember that when the first Ford Ka was designed what eventually became the StreetKa was part of that design from the very start years before it finally emerged. At least that way its integrated. Sometimes these versions are designed and never see the light of day outside the company like the coupe versions of the Mk1 Focus - both of them!

I'd suggest that its a lot cheaper to draw and waste lots of paper or CAD images (has anyone done a proper 3D scan of a 406?) before you embark on the final version in the metal.

Notwithstanding that, what an adventure Clyde - good luck with it.
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Old 22-04-09, 05:31 PM
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I think option 4 may not be a goer as I asked Toby to build me a Beaufort
at the AGM and he just groaned and held his head in his hands.

I didn't think that was a very enormously encouraging response! I think
there are 2 problems here

1 - He doesn't think I'm serious

2 - It will have to wait for my long anticipated lottery win...
I'll have to return to Kensington one day with a huge bag of cash and then
see what he says!

Philippa
p.s. I want it bright red with cream leather.
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