Junk in my Trunk
December 10, 2009 9:17 AM   Subscribe

I want to make my car into a truck. Do I just buy a blow torch, superglue and bubble wrap?

I will soon be inheriting a PT Cruiser and I've become fixated on a strange idea. An open bed sedan/truck (El Cruisero) would be perfect for my mini farming/gardening pseudo-country lifestyle. How does one go about doing that type of auto conversion? If it is cut down from the back of the front seats and a rubber lined bed created would that be more subtraction than addition? I know it is more than a hack saw job, but how difficult could it be? The PT has very low mileage and the body is in newish. I can't help but think the end result (painted Ford '49) would be adorable. I am in MA which isn't exactly the best place for auto exotic fixations. Any ideas on where to start? Other than picking out the paint, there is no way I could do this myself.
posted by Pennyblack to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One consideration is that the body you are cutting off is structural in a modern car. Real pickup trucks have a proper frame with rails to provide rigidity to the bed area.
posted by smackfu at 9:24 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

If all you want is an open back, a sawzall will do it. I wouldn't go hauling a lot of stuff, and you might wind up with a collapsed rear suspension, but it'd probably work.

However, if you don't want to get killed in a rear-end collision there's not really an option. Unlike an old body-on-frame car, the upper rear portion is a key structural element.

My advice: go buy an El Camino or Subaru Baja.
posted by paanta at 9:27 AM on December 10, 2009

How about just removing the back seats and putting some waterproof lining on the floor and calling it a day? Cheaper and you may still be able to resell the car at some point.
posted by timpanogos at 9:32 AM on December 10, 2009

You might want to also consider that PT Cruiser is just an uglier Dodge Neon.
posted by cellphone at 9:32 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hope you're ready to rebuild the suspension. A car's springs and shocks aren't designed to handle the kind of load that a truck is expected to carry.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2009

Do you have a way to fabricate a partition between the newly open back and the front section? You will need custom-made metal parts, a way to make and mount a new rear windshield, etc. I think timpanogos's suggestion is the best and safest idea here.
posted by Behemoth at 9:44 AM on December 10, 2009

You can get a panel truck conversion kit. May be too pricey for what you have in mind, though.
posted by procrastination at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2009

Or you could sell the Cruiser and use the money to buy a truck. Solves the same problem, without killing you in a rear-end collision.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'd also make sure that if you make substantial changes to the car that it'll still be street-legal where you live.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2009

similar work has been done before, here with a toyota van, a blow torch, and what looks like little else done.
posted by nomisxid at 10:05 AM on December 10, 2009

How much weight are you going to be hauling around? It might be easier to have a shop bolt on a hitch and get a small trailer.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2009

You would want guys like these to do the work to ensure structural integrity and so on and if you don't want it looking really crappy. (I have no idea if they are the best people around, I just saw that they are in MA). A friend of mine once had an old Plymouth that he chopped the roof of of, and eventually it sagged so much that the doors wouldn't open. It was also not possible to drive it in the rain without getting the interior soaked and in a rollover crash it would probably have been a deathtrap. A much cheaper option might be a used Chevy SSR.
posted by TedW at 10:09 AM on December 10, 2009

Compare and contrast the link by nomisxid to the pictures from this thread.

If that sounds like your idea of fun, go for it. If this is 'just an idea' you're not going to spend $10k and hundreds of hours on, well, sell it and buy a truck.
posted by anti social order at 10:11 AM on December 10, 2009

Pretty sure you'd be pulled over by MA's finest and sent for a vehicle inspection as soon as you hit the road with that thing.

Even if you didn't, the vehicle would drive like crap. You'd lose all the rigidity that the body provides (i.e. what remains would flex like crazy) and you'd be removing several hundred pounds from an already front heavy vehicle leaving you with something crazy like an 80/20 weight distribution.
posted by VanCityChica at 10:18 AM on December 10, 2009

Another voice in the chorus of voices saying, "sell the Cruiser, buy a truck".

I'm in favor of all sorts of automotive engine and body modifications, but I draw the line at cutting out supports on unibody vehicles. If it's body on frame, hey, knock yourself out, but unibody vehicles should not have their sheet metal adulterated, for all the reasons stated above.

Used trucks can be found very cheap, in all sorts of configurations. Sell the Cruiser or simply trade it directly for a truck.
posted by mosk at 10:22 AM on December 10, 2009

Seconding the advice to sell it and buy a truck. Pickups are cheap.
posted by box at 10:24 AM on December 10, 2009

The end result might be adorable, if it's done right. That's a lot more involved than just taking a sawzall and cutting off the rear. As noted, the body is an integral structural component, unlike older body-on-frame designs, so there will need to be some sort of bracing/reinforcement added. A convertible PT cruiser would be a much better start, already having that extra reinforcement.

I don't want to buzzkill your dreams but this is the type of project that you either do out of love and learn as you go, spending tons of time and some fair amount of money (and you have a second vehicle), or you pay a hot rod shop the big bucks to do for you. Done badly you'll just end up with a PT cruiser that looks like someone hacked the back off with a sawzall and it will have zero value, aesthetic or monetary. I say this as someone who loves cool old cars and hot rods: as a practical matter you're much better off selling it or trading it in on a small pickup, like a Toyota Tacoma or Chevy Colorado size.
posted by 6550 at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2009

I say this as a petrolhead who has torn down and rebuilt a pickup, including fabricating metal parts for the bed and body, replacing the engine and suspension parts, and lots of other stuff:

This is a tremendously bad idea unless you have lots of time, skills, tools, facilities, and money to pour into it. It will end up with no structural rigidity or integrity, will flex like crazy when driving, have terrible steering, be unable to carry any significant load without the frame buckling in the center, will be noisy and not at all water tight, and will look epically junky.

Watch the Top Gear episode where they make a convertible minivan to see a) how well the conversion will go if executed by a layperson with a sawsall, and b) the structural and dynamic problems that arise when you chop the top off of a modern car.

Even if all you want to do is saw half the roof off, along with the C pillars, with no regard for whether the driver's compartment has any separation from the elements, you're going to end up with razor sharp edges all around that you'll have to cover up somehow and then deal with paint, etc. and upholstery issues, along with electricals in the roof.

Either sell the PT Cruiser and get an actual pickup or just take the rear seats out, line it with plastic, and use it as a cargo van.
posted by The World Famous at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2009

Just so you know a unibody pick up isn't impossible. Many pickups have been/continue to be made without frames. Dodge did it two and a half times (Big A 100, Small Rampage, and the Unibody cab and chassis Sprinter). Plus Volkswagen, Jeep, Honda, the adorable Subaru BRAT, Ford, Chevy and I'm sure dozens of others.

Usually when doing a conversion from wagon to pickup where the end result is to resemble the original a person procures two copies of the vehicle, a main and a parts donor. This is because it is common to first cut out the middle of the main car with cuts directly behind the seats and again about 6-12" from the rear of the body. The rear piece is then fitted to the end of the front piece giving you your cab. The donor (a front end collosion car is a good donor) then is used to make the box sides and the tail gate. A convertible would be ideal as your donor because it features a basically vertical trunk lid instead of a lift gate which would be a lot easier to make a tailgate out of it.

And while one probably wouldn't be able to just tack something together and have it work it is quite possible to make a succesful project out of this concept. It is going to be either expensive or take a lot of time and probably both.

At a minimum you'd need a place to store both cars. Skill with a MIG or TIG. Either skill with fiberglass or shaping metal for stuff like bed rails. Skill to build a jig to keep your alignments within adjust ability. And general mechanic skills like bending brake and fuel lines and splicing wiring harnesses. Paint could be farmed out or you could go with the dozen coat roller job.

And if it was me I'd look for a donor or kit to turn out a 1958 Sweptside tribute. Fins like a 56 Caddy would go perfect with the PT front end.
posted by Mitheral at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2009

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