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  • Writer's pictureFred Schlabach

Redneck cabriolet...

By 1991 I was tired of living in the suburbs of Philadelphia and being stuck in traffic jams, so I began my exit strategy. Having attended and worked at a summer camp in Vermont, this was the place I aimed to go. Several problems stood in my way. In 1989 fresh from my cross country roadtrip and newly employed as an Irrigation Designer for Toro, I had purchased my first new car (Honda Civic) and had a loan on it. I still had a 1973 VW camper, a 1966 Corvair and (2) 1950 Ford pickup trucks. I had a salaried job. I shared an apartment with 3 other friends.

My basic plan was to get a summer job in Vermont which would allow me to move and have 3 months to figure out what came next. I applied for and got a job as Assistant Program Director at Bethany Birches Camp ( in Plymouth Vermont.

My father bought the Corvair from me and said I could store the Fords in his barn. A young guy who wanted to follow the Grateful Dead approached me out of the blue and offered to buy the van. My sister and her husband were looking for a reliable car, so we made a deal where they would take over the payments on the Honda and I would get their 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit. And lastly, a friend was looking for a place to live and was happy to take my space in the house I shared. I gave my notice and headed north...

Packed and ready to move to Vermont. 1978 VW Rabbit (orange of course)

I grew up in a state that was fairly flat and almost totally paved. I moved to a state with mountains and more dirt roads than paved. The Rabbit was fine most of the time until I started working at the top of a dirt road. After that first winter I bought an all wheel drive Toyota and the Rabbit sat in my driveway sinking into the mud.

The car basically had no value to anyone around my area and there was no Craigslist to reach a wider group of people so my friend Jeremy and I came up with an idea. Summer was on it's way, so why not make a convertible. A mutual friend had a nice shop with a welder and cutting tools that he agreed to let us use.

Before surgery (polaroid)

The first step was to remove the rear and side glass as well as the headliner. The rear hatch was going to get cut, so we made some patches and welded both sides just below the cut line.

"C" pillar and hatch cover cut

Windshield and door frames cut.

Neither of us had any experience welding o

r cutting cars apart so we did the best we could. Cuts were marked with a sharpie and a sawzall with a metal blade was used. All things considered, we did ok.

Top off!

It was ready for the maiden voyage. We jumped in and... the doors wouldn't shut! It turns out that a unibody car relies on it's roof structure for rigidity. Convertible versions of those types of cars have a lot of bracing in the floor. We jacked the car up from the middle and got the doors shut. The fix for our problem was simple. We welded the doors shut and were good to go. The voids in the body were filled in with copious amounts of sprayfoam and then smoothed out with body filler. The topless Rabbit was primed and given a backyard spray job. Unfortunately, a trip to the DMV revealed a problem that we hadn't taken into account. Evidently, it's no problem if you drive a Jeep without doors. If you have a car that has doors, they must be able to open (tell that to Bo and Luke Duke). Our awesome project was dead in the water and not able to be registered.

One good thing about living in Vermont is that there are many dirt roads and we spent the summer driving the "Grape" (we had painted it purple) around the local area. As winter approached the redneck cabriolet was parked in a neighbor's woods with his discarded cars. It sat there for about 20 years until all of those vehicles were sent to the scrapyard. Sadly, I have no photos of the finished product.

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