The Open Road

Drop the Top and Go

Larry Jewett - August 01, 2013 10:00 AM


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Each of the cars featured in this Auto Enthusiast happen to be convertibles.

There’s a reason for it. You can make a case that a convertible offers more of the fun factor that goes along with the driving experience.

Topless driving is as old as the automobile itself. The first cars didn’t have tops … or windshields or side glass or even doors in some cases. There really wasn’t anything to “convert”, but the nature of no restriction was a further statement of the freedom felt when behind the wheel of a newfangled horseless carriage. When the roof did come about, it was usually like something you would see on a surrey wagon. Early folding tops were cumbersome and not very attractive.

As the use for the auto grew, the desire to be able to use it more frequently emphasized the practicality of a roof. Even with the onset of the closed cockpit automobile, the idea of letting the air in remained popular. The problems were many. The convertibles were drafty, they leaked and some were concerned that a temporary top would fall down upon them. At a time when a car was stature, no one really wanted to deal with issues.

The retractable hardtop that appeared first in Europe (then on the Skyliner of the ’50s) was a way to enjoy the best of both worlds. Plymouth was credited with introducing the first power-operated top in 1939. Considering the idea that Plymouth was thought to be an economy car, many felt the idea should have been used on luxury cars.

If you’ve seen a Fiat 500C today, you know the convertible system is a bit different than the standard. The top rolls back, leaving the roof rails and door pillars in place. The idea is actually more than 60 years old, having been used by Nash at one time. Obviously, some engineer did a little historical research to bring back a truly workable plan at a time when it is more readily received by the buying public.

The same history lesson will show how consumers lost interest in convertibles once air conditioning became a common occurrence. The development of the sunroof served some consumers who had to let the air in without giving up the whole lid. Factory sunroofs starting appearing and shops started making money installing sunroofs as aftermarket add-ons.

Then, along comes the government. Rumor got around that rollover regulations were going to be used and convertibles didn’t stand a chance. Manufacturers were placed at a crossroads and though stringent safety measures really never came to life, the carmakers didn’t take the chance. Convertibles completely disappeared, only to have a resurgence that has not stopped. Along the way, T-tops and Targa tops helped keep the spirit.

The convertible experience is unmatched in the sensation of freedom. Within seconds, convertible owners drop the top and enjoy the sunny days made available to them. There is just something extra in travelling with the feeling of one fewer restriction.

It’s a message that convertible owners clearly understand and a big reason why convertibles are high on the list of dream cars. A few years ago, AOL Autos put together a list of 10 reasons to drive a convertible. The list included the elimination of blind spots, enhancement of attraction of the opposite gender and the fact that you will never lock yourself out. Many were tongue-in-cheek, but the benefit lies in the idea of opening the “Open Road”.

If cruising is your way to enjoy the automobile, cruising with the top down can be the cherry atop the sundae. Just look at all the stars.