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Driven to the (Pop)Top

Posted: September 25, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: September 25, 2011 1:30 a.m.

John Allen poses with his invention, the California PopTop, installed on a Hyundai Sonata.

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In 2004, dreamer John Allen began fulfilling his childhood dream.

 “One of my goals in life, ever since I was a kid, was that I wanted to get a patent,” said this former engineer, IT person and teacher.


“I’d think about Thomas Edison and think that it would be neat to get a patent and know that I invented something.”

Allen designed and manufactured a product that pops onto a car top in under a minute. And it comes off just as fast.

Deflecting 99.8 percent of the sun’s UV rays by using DuPont’s Tyvek high-tech fabric, the Valencia-based California PopTop significantly reduces heat build-up in a car or truck.


With a background in engineering, IT and teaching, Allen, 62, said he has spent his entire life as a problem-solver.
“I see a problem, and my brain starts working to see if I can come up with a solution,” Allen said.

Years ago, Allen used to drive up to Bakersfield with a buddy every Sunday to go sky diving and along the way the two would think of things to invent.

“But then we’d go into a store and find the product,” he said.

The dream for the California PopTop got started in the 80s when Allen bought an ’86 Camaro, he said.

“I’d park it at work for eight to 10 hours and watch the interior fade on my brand new car,” he said. “I bought sun shades, car covers. Nothing worked.”

Finding nothing on the market that solved his problem, he started dreaming of a solution, but life got in the way and he put his ideas on the shelf.

Patented
In 2004, Allen got back to his dream of inventions, patents and finding a solution to overheated car interiors designing the California PopTop.


Allen incorporated his new business and spent the next three years securing a patent.

“Everyone has a good idea or two in their lifetime, but most people don’t follow through with it,” Allen said of protecting his design with a patent.

The California PopTop has a fastening band that runs across the windshield, under the outside mirrors and is pulled tightly in place around the vehicle by a draw cord attached to each rear corner of the cover.

Covering the cab of a car and all windows and weighing less than a pound, the PopTop rolls up into a football-size storage package when not in use.

And the PopTop is not just a hot-weather blocker; it protects windows in cold weather too, eliminating the need to scrape ice and snow off the windows, Allen said.

All Vehicles
Initially, Allen designed the PopTop for small, medium and large cars. Eventually he went on to design the covers for all makes and models of cars and trucks, visiting Santa Clarita auto dealerships to measure the vehicles.

“All of the auto dealers have been very nice to me, Allen said. “They’re very nice people and let me measure all their cars.”


In 2006, Allen travelled to a SEMA, or Specialty Equipment Market Association, trade show featuring automotive products. The PopTop won an award for outstanding new product, which Allen said was a big deal for him because it opened new doors.

 “I love the challenge of putting myself in these situations where I’ll make something,” he said. “It’s fun creating something and seeing a demand for it.”

Of course, once the demand started rolling in, Allen realized he had created all this extra work for himself, he laughed. But he was also excited to learn that people were willing to pay for his PopTops, which begin selling at $59.95.

Helicopters
“A few years ago, I was invited to see what I could do for helicopters,” Allen said.

Derek Bell owns a PopTop for his car. He also flies a helicopter as a reporter for two Los Angeles broadcast news stations, KCBS and KCAL.

Bell wanted to know if Allen could design a PopTop for Angel City Air’s helicopters used in aerial production and TV news shows.

He went to the owner of Angel City Air, Larry Welk, who’s also the grandson of legendary American musician Lawrence Welk, to have the PopTops designed for their fleet of helicopters.

“I was skeptical at first,” Welk said.

The pilots needed the cockpit covers to be easy to put on and take off in under a minute by one person, Allen said. They told me they might get a call to cover a car chase, accident or other news event and need to be able to take off immediately.

Allen worked with the pilots from Angel City Air to measure the helicopters and design a PopTop to meet their criteria.

“They’re super easy to get on and off,” Welk said.

Welk described the PopTops as super lightweight and said the biggest value is temperature control in the cockpit.

“We were having equipment failure on really hot days and couldn’t transmit the TV pictures,” Welk said.

The company’s helicopters are equipped with sensitive, digital camera and electronics equipment to shoot aerial shots for news stations.

“We started covering the helicopters and saw a 20- to 30-degree reduction in temperature inside the cockpit,” Welk said.
“The heat inside the helicopter was dramatically reduced.

“Now, we have two covers for every helicopter, so if one rips, we have a backup,” he said.

The Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department lined up next to buy the covers.

They ordered 12 PopTops confirmed Sgt. John Haughe.

California PopTop has sold the covers to companies in Germany and Peru.

Allen said he also received an order of eight covers from Air Methods Air Corporation, one of the nation’s largest providers of air medical emergency transport services and systems.

The summer of 2009 was one of the hottest and most challenging fire seasons, pilot Bell said. It would take an hour to cool down the heat-soaked cabins of the helicopters he said. Now the cockpits stay eerily comfortable even on the hottest days.

Sales up 30 percent
Selling his PopTops online, Allen has the covers made locally, custom sewn for each order.

“I’ve sold the PopTop in 37 different countries, including the Middle East, Dubai and South Africa,” Allen said.

Sales run between $100,000 to $200,000 annually now.

“I’m having my best year,” Allen said. “Sales are up 30 percent this year, despite this economy.”

 Asking when he’ll slow down and take time to relax, Allen tells his wife as long as he can still move around like a 20-year-old. he’ll still be running his operation. He said he still really enjoys his job.

“I was driving by the Pitchess (Detention Center) prison the other day and saw a Sheriff’s helicopter sitting there with my cover on it,” Allen said. “It felt good to see it there.”

California PopTop is located at 24307 Magic Mountain Parkway, Suite 531 in Valencia. PopTops can be ordered online at http://www.capoptop.com/ or by calling (866) 461-2141 or (661) 257-7830.

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