'Carson Top' has become the generic name for a
custom-built, removable, non-folding, padded, chopped top most often
found on custom automobiles constructed during the early Post-War era,
almost exclusively on the West coast. Named after the man who
owned the firm that originated it, Amos Carson, by the early 1950s a
number of Californian upholstery shops were producing nearly identical
tops, all of which should more appropriately be called 'Carson-style
Carson was clearly the first American to adopt
the style, which was loosely based upon the padded tops found on
coachbuilt convertibles seen at the Paris Salons of the 1930s, a style
he originally referred to as a 'French Top'.
Amos Carson was born in August of 1871 in
Spanish Fork, Utah
Territory to British parents, Amos & Mary Carson, his father being
accomplished harness and saddle maker. The 1880 US Census lists him in
Ford, Utah living with his mother Mary (35yo) and sister Mary (6yo,
England). The junior Amos learned the
trade of his father, the 1890 Salt Lake City directory listing him as a
maker. The directory also lists his mother Mary ‘widow of Amos’ and
Carson, saddler, all at 59 E. Third South, Salt Lake City.
The 1892-1896 Salt Lake City directories
list him as an
employee of F. Platt Co., Retail Harness, Saddlery, Hardware Etc.,
State St. He married Annie Jane (b. May 1870 in England), and to the
union was born a daughter, Susan, who was born in March of 1892.
The 1900 US Census reveals he and his family
residents of Sacramento, California, his profession, harness maker, his
employer A. A. Van Voorhies & Co., 322-324 J St., Sacramento.
By the time of the 1920 US Census, Carson
and family had
relocated to San Francisco, California where he had opened a cigar
subsequently operated a pool hall in Salinas, California and by
relocated further south to Los Angeles, California, where he returned
‘carriage trade’ establishing the Vermont Auto Works at 4910 S. Vermont
The 1930 US Census lists Carson as a
resident of Los Angeles,
California, (wife, Annie J.) his profession; auto top repairs. An
picture of the shop circa 1935 shows a banner advertising ‘French Tops’
front window. A French Top was a more substantial lined and padded
top, a style which was currently all the rage with Continental
Carson’s right hand man was Glenn G. Houser
the man credited with constructing the first non-folding padded, smooth
top in 1935 for a customer’s 1930 Ford Model A convertible.
By early 1936 Houser had constructed a
streamlined, chopped padded top for the Southern California Plating
truck’ built by George DuVall and Frank Kurtis from a ’35 Ford Phaeton,
also wore the first DuVall V-windshield. Carson’s next-door neighbor,
Metal Works, would often chop the windshields and side windows to fit
A Carson top’s framework was constructed
using parts salvaged
from the existing convertible top to which additional steel stock would
added to strengthen the superstructure. Larger tops included additional
hand-formed conduit that would form the frames for the side windows.
wire and stretched burlap (jute) strips were added to form a sturdy
which the padding and cotton batting were affixed. Once the cotton was
to shape the top fabric, generally a fine pebble-grain Haartz cloth, or
fabric was draped over the structure, cut to fit and the seams sewn on
using an industrial sewing machine. The completed top was then
the framework and permanently attached to it using integral snaps and
strips (aka hide-ems). The top was then securely fastened to the
using the original top header bow and attached at the rear using two
Houser’s signature ‘Carson Tops’ were an
in-demand item in metropolitan
Los Angeles in the years leading up to Second World War and after Amos
passed away in 1942, Houser took over the business in the style of
Glenn G. Houser (aka Glen G. Houser) was
born on December 7,
1907 in Lexington, Dawson County, Nebraska to Joseph M. and Edith
had an older brother named Milford B. Houser, born in 1903. He’s listed
his family in the 1910 and 1920 US Census, but by 1930 had relocated to
Angeles, where he’s listed in the 1930 Los Angeles voter registration
1940 US Census lists him as Glen Houser-32yo
-29yo, born in Nebraska, son Robert -10yo, born in California)
occupation Auto Trimmer
at Top & Body Shop, h. 8942 Menlo Ave.
its peak in the late 1940s Houser
average of 15 tops per week, so a total production of 5,000 convertible
(including fixed Carson and standard folding units) during that time
reasonable. The firm advertised in the very first issue of Hot Rod
Magazine, and their ads can be found in early issues of Car Craft,
Motor Trend and Rod and Custom.
Depending on the options and material, a post-war
top was priced
between $125-$175 and although most Carson tops where white a handful
in other colors such as cream, tan, black and blue. The firm’s most
customer was Clark Gable who ordered a Carson top for one of his three
Houser’s 18-yo son Robert joined his
father’s business in
1948 where he started off welding the frames used to construct the
of the multilayered Carson tops.
By 1950 several California top and
upholstery shops were offering
custom-built, non-folding padded tops for both standard and chopped
convertibles. In Los Angeles Carson was the best-known with Gaylord
Runyan third with Oakland’s C.A. Hall taking care of the Bay area’s
Motor Trend’s Robert L. Behme interviewed
Glen Houser in
early 1953 for his series of on-the-spot interviews of men in the
custom car field.
The following appeared in the magazine’s
Shop, Los Angeles, California. Bob Behme has just entered, and Glen
workbench, wiping his hands on his coveralls, as he greets Bob.
GLEN: Hello, Bob. What brings you here
BOB: Glen, I'm here today, because MOTOR
TREND is running a
series of interviews with the men in the custom automobile field. Along
Dale Runyan, you are one of the leaders in the custom top and
field. I'd like to ask you a few questions which I hope will give some
readers enough information to know what to expect both in price and
when they order custom upholstery.
GLEN: That's' fine with me. Fire away.
BOB: A good beginning would probably be seat
first thing I think of when upholstery is mentioned is seat covers. Are
ready-made seat covers a good deal?
GLEN: That's' hardly the right way to ask
the question, Bob.
Ready-made seat covers fill a definite need, but they are like anything
ready-made. They are made for a normal car - and no car is normal. Each
different. Because of this, ready-made seat covers are bound to have a
discrepancies. Another thing - there are only a few fabrics to choose
there are only a few designs to buy. That is why guys like me are in
We create something just a little more nearly perfect – something just
different. We are not catering to the man who wants to save a few
can't do that and stay in business. Instead, we are making upholstery
covers for the man who wants the best, and who wants something original.
BOB: I see your point, Glen, and I stand
I change my tack and ask you about fabrics best suited to custom seat
GLEN: These are a good many, Bob, but to
name a few - Saran,
Lederan, and Firestone's Velon are all good. Fabrics for custom seat
come in any color, and in many
and designs. They'd cost about $35 or $45 installed.
BOB: Okay. Let's switch to a discussion of
tops. Take that
beat-up hard top of mine that's lounging outside. Can that be covered
GLEN: Yes, and as you probably know, a lot
of car owners are
doing that very thing. A hardtop can be covered with the same material
convertible tops. It comes in blue, green, tan, maroon, and white. If
is a late model, the fabric can go on right over the metal top without
BOB: How do you do this?
GLEN: The chrome moldings around the windows
and doors are
removed, and after the material is sewn together, it is stretched over
and tucked under these areas. Once it fits snugly, the molding is put
place. This holds the top in place. On the earlier cars, the '36, '37,
models, there often is no such molding, and we must drill a few holes
the fabric on with metal screws. On a late car, the fabric could be
without a mark, but with the earlier cars, the screw holes must be
lead if the top is ever removed. The cost for a fabric top would run
$125 and $175, depending upon the car.
BOB: You just can't talk about tops very
long until the
conversation naturally seems to drift to the Carson Top. They are now
all cars, aren't they?
GLEN: Yes, they are. Carson Tops are now
available for many
of the foreign cars, including the Jaguar and the MG, - as well as for
BOB: When you make a Carson Top you use all
new parts, don't
GLEN: Almost all new, Bob. Everything is new
front bow. The top is fastened to the body by two bolts in the rear,
and by the
original convertible bow on the windshield. The Carson Top is formed
framework of metal bows and the bows are welded to the convertible bow
front. The framework is covered with several layers of jute, fabric,
and stuffing. The outside material is normally of a convertible top
material. We cover all buttons with a flap and roll.
BOB: Don't such tops offer a choice of rear
GLEN: Yes, they do. They can be purchased
with either the
standard opening type of window in either plastic or glass, or in the
Coupe de Ville in heavy or light-weight plastic..
BOB: Hey, just a minute. By Coupe de Ville,
do you mean the
GLEN: That's just the style I mean. It is
known by many
names -Riviera, Coupe de Ville, or wrap-around. The price of a Carson
depends on the style of windows and the style of interior upholstery. A
with the open style windows and a plain interior starts at $200 for
over a '42 with the exception of the foreign cars. American autos older
'42's usually run about $175. '36 and '37 coupes are smaller and cost
BOB: I know the Carson Top is not a folding
top. Is it
difficult to remove?
GLEN: No. It's almost as easy to deal with
as a folding top.
You can install a hoist in the garage rafters and lift the top, or two
can easily pick it off the car and store it against the garage wall.
BOB: Folding tops are still pretty popular. I
remarks you made about the ready-made seat covers applies to a
GLEN: Yes, they do. A fellow can save money
by purchasing a
ready-made top for about $40, but he can never get the fit of a custom
After a convertible has been driven for a few months, the bows begin to
top has to be made for the bows to fit snugly and to look really good.
BOB: Attractiveness is not the only advantage
of a custom top
GLEN: No The customer is usually a craftsman.
He takes pride
in putting on extras which make his product last longer, as well as
better. All fasteners would be covered with a flap and the
edges would be rolled. Wearing points would probably
covered with extra layers of
fabric. Prices start at $65, and given proper care such a top should
good long time.
BOB: Ah, there you've come up with a moot
point! Just what is
GLEN: First of all, a convertible should be
kept in a garage,
out of the sun at all times when it is not in use. If the-top is moist
should be dried thoroughly before it is folded. When it is washed it
never be washed with anything stronger than white Ivory soap. The top
brushed regularly, and after one year it should be coated.
BOB: What sort of coating do you recommend?
GLEN: There are many good products The one we
use here is
called Seal-it. We like it because it is a dye which can be used to
top fabric any shade the owner chooses It is water repellent yet it
to make the fabric hard or shiny.
BOB: The folding top is not upholstered but
both the hard
tops and the Carson Tops have upholstered head linings don't they?
GLEN: Yes they are usually upholstered in
either a welting or
BOB: Hold on a minute Glen. Set me straight,
will you? I know
that welting is the small fold that goes along the creases, but tell me
GLEN: Pipings are large tucks on the seats
and side panels
and head lining which are stuffed to give a series of half-circle
of the time, head linings are piped in a two-tone effect - say an
white fabric with a few rolls of green for accent. This is really a
effect, but it seems to look best on customs. It doesn't come off on a
A stock looks best with either a single tone piping or the more sedate
BOB: Just how much work does an upholsterer
get into when he
installs a new head lining?
GLEN: He gets into quite a lot of work. It
is a very
difficult task to perform properly. The standard lining is removed and
3/8-inch steel bows are installed across the inside of the roof. The
upholsterer then makes a pattern of the inside of the roof and begins
the lining on his bench. Wires are put through each of the folds or
the back. When the top is completed on the bench, it is taken to the
the wires are strung through the bows. This is important because the
use of the
bows and wires keeps the lining tight and snug. The job should cost
if welting is used and about $125 if the top is piped.
BOB: It seems as if the pipe and roll on
seats and tops are
becoming very popular. What is the most popular size of piping?
GLEN: At the moment - here in the West,
anyway - the small
two-inch pipe with a fairly large 'horseshoe' roll coming around the
edges of the seats down to the floor is most popular. The small piping
look best and because it is tightly sewn, it seems to wear better than
BOB: When upholstering the seats, you
completely rebuild them,
GLEN: That's right. We remove the upholstery
and restyle it
along the customer's designs. The exterior is sewn on a bench, then,
the seat frame and padded to give roundness and softness. Prices should
about $250 if side panels and kick panels are included.
BOB: Can a fellow get this done for less if
he has only the
GLEN: Sure, he could have the seats
upholstered for about
$175, but he wouldn't really be saving money. Sooner or later he will
door panels and the kick panels covered, and it will be another $90 to
he has this done along with the seats, the upholsterer can cut all the
from one bolt with a greater saving in fabric and labor, and he can
saving along to the customer.
BOB: Is there much demand for padded dashes
GLEN: There is not as much demand for them
as there was. It
seems to be going out of style slowly, although we have recently done
several 'Kaiser', type crash rolls. The upper half of the dash is
a heavy, soft 'crash roll,' while the lower area is chromed. This is
quite striking. Some sports-type cars look good with a completely
dash. A partial dash would cost about $35. Chroming shouldn't run over
BOB: Is a completely upholstered dash
limited only to
GLEN: No, but it's a tricky thing to design.
It should be
limited to cars with a rather plain dash design. The late model Fords
Chevys take to it rather well. Most foreign cars look good. The
of padding a foreign car is the work involved in removing and replacing
instruments. On either the American or foreign cars, it would run
BOB: Many fellows like the advantage of an
arm rest in
either the front or rear seat. Do you recommend a fixed or removable
GLEN: I recommend the removable arm rest for
Bob. First, it is easier to construct, and thus is less expensive, and
the removable arm rest can be upholstered without causing bulges and
The arm rests are built of wood and upholstered in fabric. The fabric
matches the seats—if the seats are a pipe and roll, then the arm is
This would cost about $25 or $30 plain.
BOB: What do you mean by 'plain'?
GLEN: All arm rests are hollow. They can be
storage, but many fellows are converting their arm rests into a bar. To
this, the top is hinged and inside padded. A bar arm rest costs about
the arm rest extends down to the floor, as many do, it would probably
about $75. Rear seat arm rests cost the same as those for the front.
BOB: Are tire covers limited to older
American cars and
popular foreign makes?
GLEN: Oh, no. Many owners who have installed
kits are changing from the metal tire cover to sports fabric because it
more sporty look. The cover should cost about $12.
BOB: At this point it seems natural to turn
covers. They are very adaptable, aren't they? I wouldn't consider them
to smaller sports cars.
GLEN: Tonneau covers improve the looks of
convertible. But more than that, they offer protection against the
when the top is down. There are many variations of the tonneau cover.
there is the 'full' tonneau. This fits from the back, the rear seat,
up over the windshield and down, to snap around the sides. It protects
upholstery from the sun and moisture. The second design — perhaps the
popular — starts at the back seat and ends at the windshield. With the
rolled up, it offers good protection from the dew, and with the
the open windshield, it is excellent protection from the sun's rays.
design is a half tonneau. It merely covers' the rear seat. The full
costs about $50. The second type, ending at the windshield, costs about
and the half-tonneau should cost about $27.
BOB: This should sum up the upholstery
well, shouldn't it, Glen?
GLEN: I think so. This should be enough
information so that
anyone can know how to get his money's worth. One important point,
that custom upholstery and top work result in a handmade product. The
and taste of that product depend upon the man who does the work. Before
seats, tops, or any work, it is best that the prospective purchaser
upholsterer's past work. There are many top-notch men in the business,
there are also a few 'rag pickers' who do not care about quality. If
the car owner will pick his workman with care, the upholstery or top
nothing to be desired in appearance, and should last a long, long time."
By 1954 demand for the firm’s signature tops
had been in
decline for several years and the firm relocated to a new, slightly
building at 4717 South Crenshaw where they could concentrate on
expanding custom upholstery business. The firm’s very last ‘Carson
was constructed in 1965 for a Barris-built Ford Galaxie show car. By
the firm was installing vinyl tops for local car dealers and four years
Glen Houser passed away leaving the business to his son Robert, who
going until 1976 when he withdrew from business.