Building CatVert (Phase 1)

November 21, 2004 – I trailered CatVert out to Greg Zuch in Batavia, NY.  Everything I could remove and still allow CatVert to start and drive had been removed.  All of the upholstery had been stripped out, the dash had been taken apart, and all outer trim had been removed along with the hood and trunk lid. This was Greg’s starting point.

In disassembling CatVert, I discovered that the front floors were rusted through but this wasn’t really an issue because the floors had to be changed anyway to make this project look like it had been done at the factory.  The Mustang convertible uses a different floor pan than the hardtop with edges that flange in the opposite direction from the hardtop.

In order to partially make up for the loss of the roof, Ford also used a different sear riser that stretched from side to side so that it provided lateral stiffness.The hardtop, by contrast, only had a pedestal under each seat. When fully welded in place, the seat riser tied into both the floor pans and the inner rocker housings that were also unique to the convertible.

To conform to the way the factory modified the Mustang convertible, we also needed to install the inner rocker panels.  However, this was the key place in which the additional 4″ of wheelbase in the Cougar came into play.  In order to get the right length, we purchased two sets of Mustang convertible inner rockers, welded them together, and then cut them to the correct length for the Cougar.

However, this was a necessary step because what Ford effectively did with the Mustang convertible was to create a box frame using the rocker panels, rear seat and top support, and the torque boxes at the firewall. Additional lateral bracing came at the two end points (radiator support and tail light panel) and in the center of the box in the form of the seat riser (above) and inspection plate (below).  Without the inner rocker panels to provide longitudinal stiffening, this concept would not have been sufficiently rigid and would have produced significant cowl shake.

Note in the pictures of the undercarriage below the way the front frame rails flange into the floor pans.  This was another convertible-specific factory modification and it appears to have provided additional bracing to take some stress off of the butt-welded junction of the frame rail and floor pan.

As mentioned above, the floor pans for the convertible have a flange that turns in the opposite direction from the hardtop floor pans.  The result is that the convertible pans, inner rockers, seat riser, and outer rockers all join together to create a very strong, 4-panel edge from wheel house to wheel house.

Once the understructure was completely converted to a factory standard, it was time to remove the roof and begin installing the convertible top support mechanisms and reshaping the rear seat area for the folding top arms and well.

I had originally purchased a rusted-out Mustang convertible to use as a donot car for the top support panel, along with other odds and ends, but here again we learned another difference between the Mustang and Cougar.

The Mustang is actually wider than the Cougar at this point. The Mustang support panel would certainly work, as Kevin Marti proved with his ground-breaking project, but it was going to require a lot of cutting, measuring, and trial fitting to get it right.  As it turned out, Greg had a better option.

Greg had purchased a 1969 Cougar convertible that had been destroyed by a vengeful wife during a divorce proceeding.  Dimensionally, the top support panel from that Cougar was a perfect fit for CatVert and greatly simplified the installation at this stage.

The picture at left below shows the door jamb reinforcement that needed to be installed.  It continually surprised us to see how much additional engineering was necessitated just to create a structurally sound convertible version of a hardtop model.

The picture at right shows the dogleg and wheel house reinforcements.

The last piece of the structural conversion involved the convertible top well area and modification of the quarter panels to flow smoothly into the well. There were two key requirements driving the project at this point. The finished project had to look like the factory did it so, first, the quarter panel line had to retain the Cougar styling at the quarter window and, second, it had to have a Cougar-like slope to the roof.  A Mustang-like notch would not maintain the Cougar profile in the way we had envisioned.

The quarter panel posed the most significant challenge.  The steep rise of the upper quarter panel line as it flowed into the C-pillar meant that we couldn’t just flatten the top of the quarter and reweld it to the side of the panel.  The tension on the metal trying to return to its original shape would eventually cause distortion in the shape.  Once again, the 1969 Cougar convertible came to the rescue.  An 18″ long section from the top of quarter panel was cut out and grafted into CatVert. That length brought the patch back to a point where the rise in the ’68 panel was nominal and could be reworked without issues.

In order to get the roof slope that we wanted, we had to cut the well back deeper than Ford did on the Mustang and deeper even than Ford did on the ’69 Cougar convertible.  The idea was to keep the roof line as similar as possible to the hardtop and to prevent the filler panel between the trunk and well from looking disproportionately wide.  In the end, we accomplished both objectives. Below, the patches and filler panel are mocked up and ready for final bodywork.

At this point, the only remaining task for Phase 1 was to install the folding roof frame and create the custom fabric top to go on it once the car was back from paint and body.  Greg assembled the top and installed it.  Then he called on an experienced craftsman who’d been installing custom tops on convertibles since back in the days of custom coach work.  CatVert turned out to be Willie’s final custom top.  He passed away before CatVert reached the final reassembly stage and so never got to see his custom top installed on the finished car.  All I can say is “Willie, you did yourself proud”.

With the structural conversion completed and the custom top pre-fitted, it was time to turn our attention to the restoration and interior customization work. Click here for Phase 2.