Used cars

Man Converts E36 3-Series Sedan Into A Cabriolet

Though perhaps ill-advised, the ingenuity and work that has gone into dropping the top on this E36 is nevertheless noteworthy. 

Looking at this E36 at a glance, many would perhaps dismiss it as any other 3-series cabriolet. Upon closer inspection however, the most ardent of Bimmer-nerds around would probably start to notice that all is not as it seems this particular retro BMW drop-top. 

It is just the little things like the fact that the doors are just a bit too short on this particular cabriolet, and that the windscreen rake as well as tonneau cover looks just that little bit too shallow. Well, both of these little inaccuracies are perhaps to be expected though because this red BMW convertible actually started life as a sedan, before being ingeniously hacked into the roof-less example we see here. 

Just to reiterate, you didn’t read that wrong, this particular E36 cabriolet was indeed born out of a 3-series sedan. No, not even the two-door coupe, but instead the hum-drum four-door saloon variant. 

Spotted first on Facebook, this rather ingenious cabriolet conversion was apparently the pet project of Harshit Gupta of Sportwagen Dehli. While there are definitely many questions about why this was done and what’s the point of this conversion when E36 3-Series cabriolets exist in itself, lets just however for a moment take a look first at how the dropping-of-the-top on this BMW was actually performed.

From the pictures that have been shared online documenting the conversion process, it would appear that the first step of this cabriolet conversion of this 3-Series involved the hacking off of the rear section of the roof as well as the removal of both the rear doors. 

The B-pillars of the sedan then came off, and bespoke hand-beaten metal rear panels that replaced the rear doors went on. 

Jumping forward in time a bit, the window frame of the front doors were soon lopped off too, as with the rest of the roof. Leaving the once saloon E36 with a convertible silhouette, complete with a cabriolet-esque rear deck where the tonneau cover would sit. 

Speaking of that rear tonneau cover, the boot section of the E36 was extensively modified to accommodate this addition. This included not only the welding on of the rear deck panel, but the rear quarter panels and the boot lid was also massaged somewhat in order to create that more swoopy rear profile of the convertible as opposed to the stubbier one as seen on the sedan. 

After all that metalwork and fabrication was complete, it was then a case of sanding, filling, blasting it with primer and then shooting it with a couple of coats red paint. Refit the interior and the exterior trim pieces and voila, a converted E36 3-Series convertible!

Now getting back to the rationale behind this backyard conversion, the main driver behind going to the trouble of hacking up a sedan into a convertible instead of buying factory-built cabriolet in the first place was simply due to cost. See in India (and to an extent the rest of the world really) the rarer, drop-top variant of the 3-series is significantly more expensive as compared to its more commonplace saloon counterpart. 

In fact, according to Harshit’s Facebook post, the 3-series saloon over there typically sells for (the equivalent) of £3,000 (RM 17,000) while a convertible was nearly 5x that at £15,000 (RM 85,000). Furthermore, since Harshit is running his own workshop, the conversion supposedly only cost him £2,000 (RM 11,000), with the whole car setting him back less than £5,000 (RM 28,500) to date.

Now at this point, there are perhaps some who will (reasonably) question the structural integrity of this home-made drop-top. Harshit however has stated that chassis, doors, frames, rubbing boards, quarter panels have all been braced and reinforced with ‘heavy metal’ during the convertible conversion as to prevent excessive flexing and any other associated problems that could come of the weakened sedan body shell due to the lack of a solid metal roof in its current state. 

As for things like the side windows and the soft top meanwhile, there has been no photos of the car thus far that exhibits either of these components. Judging by the complexity of installing the frameless windows and attaching a stock E36 cabriolet soft-top onto the shallower 3-Series sedan windscreen however, these two items on the list could still either be a work in progress, or more likely the case that this converted convertible is meant to be a sunshine-only machine. 

Aside from these ‘minor’ drawbacks, there are also the substantial legal regulatory hurdles to consider if anyone else is deciding on dropping the top on their sedans themselves and driving it on public roads. In short therefore, while it may seem like a good deal initially, these headaches that will be encountered means that it could perhaps a wiser decision to buy a factory cabriolet (seen below) instead. 

Moreover, touching again on the topic of finances, though the initial investment on a genuine 3-er convertible would be significantly higher than the total cost of this conversion, bear in mind that there will also most likely be a higher return on investment at the other end with a pucker BMW drop-top. This is especially considering that these cars are somewhat of an appreciating retro classic after all. 

Nevertheless, while perhaps still ill-advised for anyone else to follow in the footsteps of what has been done to this red E36 here, this backyard cabriolet conversion should at least deserve some commendation, in part due to the sheer effort and ingenuity that has been put into dropping the top of this 3-Series. 

Joshua Chin

Automotive journalist. Professional work on and Personal writing found at Instagram: @driveeveryday

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