Get your tops off!


Author: Alastair ClementsPublished:

Apologies to Twitter followers who have already heard me rant on this subject, but after driving into the office, overheating in my tin-top, I am fuming. I am fully aware that my ire is entirely brought on by jealousy, but its focus is nonetheless valid, and it is this: convertibles.

Actually, that’s not fair: it isn’t all convertibles, but specifically drop-tops build within the past eight years (and therefore including a plethora of folding hard-top jobs).

Why is it that EVERY modern cabrio you see, from chopped Golfs and Peugeots to Boxsters, Beemers and the like, drives around with its top up, windows hermetically sealed and occupants basking in air-conditioned cool? How is that better than lifting the lid? For crying out loud, why did you pay all of that extra cash for a heavier, less structurally rigid car if you aren’t going to enjoy its one great plus point: wind in the hair and sun on the face? It’s certainly not for the style – even the neatest canvas top looks gawky up, and folding tin-tops tend to make cars look like they have a receding hairline.

As a former Fiat 124 Spider owner whose financial and family circumstances mean that another open two-seater is just not viable at the moment, I dream of the days when I can have a top-down commute. Maybe a top-down trip to the shops, or even a top-down transcontinental blast.

You get the picture: I like driving with the roof down. In fact, the Fiat’s roof didn’t really go up for most of the year it went into the garage each night with it stowed and came out the following morning like that, and unless the rain was really sheeting down it rarely came into the cabin if you kept the windows up.

I did wonder whether I – and Walsh with his Alfa Spider, for that matter – was spoiled by the brilliant one-handed roof operation of these Italian beauties. But of course that’s rubbish, because EVERY classic drop-top that ventures out on the commute is resolutely open, and on my daily run in recent days that has included a TR6, Beetle cabrio, MGB – even a Lotus Elan, whose Meccano-set hood makes Ikea’s toughest flat-pack project seem a doddle. And the other thing to bear in mind is that just about all modern cabrios have fully electrified soft-tops, that fold in a matter of seconds at the touch of a buttone – which just adds to my confusion.

My sulky conclusion is that modern buyers go for a convertible purely as a status symbol, and don’t really like the classic open-top feel at all – too many bugs in the teeth and it upsets your carefully styled coiffure. But I think retweeter @wimteriet might have hit the nail on the head with his comment: ‘In a modern cabrio the “open top driving” experience isn't what it used to be. Makes no difference driving top down.’ So is that it? Have convertibles become just so refined that there’s no point indulging any more? If so, surely there’s an easy solution: buy a classic one instead!


Martin Port

Don't forget that all of these modern convertibles also have ultra-efficient heaters which mean that there really is no excuse. I used to drive my MGB top-down all year round, and that had the heating output of a... (insert suitable simile here please). No stamina these modern car owners.

Art Editor, C&SC


You're absolutely right, and I can relate quite a lot to this, since my daily driver for the better part of 5 years now has been... a 124 Spider!

Mind you, mine is a very early one. I remember your reports on yours, but if I remember correctly yours was a late model with the rear load space instead of a seat, right? Mine is the 2+2 configuration, so my two kids still fit back there. it's getting tricky for the 8 year-old, but he can still manage when needs must. Still, I rarely do the school runs, and at most will have either one of them with me in the car, so it's no big issue so far.

But getting back on topic, it does seem kind of ridiculous to see all those "appliances" running around all sealed up. But then again, cars these days aren't bought for the "oneness" you experience with the machine, so I guess it's hard to relate to these raw thrills of being the driver of something mechanical and on top of that the sensations of the open cabin.

I'm a bit of a nutter myself, and living in sunny Portugal I often drive around with the top up more often in the summer than winter. But I'm an uncompromising bugger, and I remember leaving home in the winter having just removed the ice off the missus' windscreen and driving to work with the top down in below-freezing temperatures. The heater on the 124 is brilliant, and I wouldn't miss the thrill of doing it for the world anyway! Makes me feel alive, and saves me coffee too!

Cheers, Eddie Relvas


Hybrid?! Sure, I got a hybrid... it burns fuel and rubber!

Alastair Clements

So jealous Eddie, I miss my 124 so much... Mine was late-ish - an 1800 (much sweeter than the 2.0 I always thought) but with the big bumpers. It was a 2+2, but there is no way my littlest sprog's baby seat would have got in there.

Out of interest, does your hood rest on the rear seat-back? I was always paranoid of the rear window being damaged when people sat in the back!

Magazine editor, C&SC

Paul Sutton

Absolutely agree. I drive a 12 year old Mazda MX-5 as my daily commute car - ultra reliable, cheap but fun too (this after 8 years on 2 wheels riding a 1000cc Yamaha, so I do miss the performance) and I'm always amazed by the number of drop tops with their hoods up. As far as I'm concerned if it's dry then the hood should be down, otherwise why bother owning a convertible in the first place. I do get some pretty odd looks in the winter but then I was brought up surrounded by vintage cars and for a number of years as a child an Austin 7 'Chummy' was the only car the family had on the road, so I'm pretty used to strange looks. I also have fond memories of sharing the passenger well of my Dad's 'Ulster' with my sister - no hood, no screen and no seat belts either - unimaginable nowadays. So, yes Alastair, I concur wholeheartedly with the sentiment!


I just use a small booster seat, but only for the little one, the 8 year old would fall off the car if he used it. They're redundant anyway, given that the rear seats only have lap belts fitted, but so far the police have never given me any hard time over it, and I drive past them everyday.

The rear window is actually pretty strong, and will be hard to damage, since it's basically folded in between the canvas and the backrest. I've driven the socks off mine with the old top for 5 years (just replaced it with a new one this Xmas), and the screen was like new, no issues (I actually kept it when I got the old top off). And it was quite old to begin with, I have no idea how old but the canvas was turning grey... Using the top boot would help there too, as it's quite a good protection, but most Spiders have lost them long ago. I've just gotten an old one for my trimmer to replicate in matching vynil to my interior with all the fittings.


Hybrid?! Sure, I got a hybrid... it burns fuel and rubber!

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