By Maurice Hardy
It may be cold outside but that’s exactly the right reason to be thinking of buying a convertible car.
After all, driving with the roof down is all about warm and balmy summer days, although you may have seen some barmy, hardy (not me!) types driving round with the hood down on cold, but sunny, days this winter.
In the beginning, all cars were open, of course, and it took a bit of time for coachbuilders to stick a proper roof on. Drafty driving was the order of the day but convertibles are mostly better built now although a trip in recent times in a Morgan, hand-built in Malvern, showed that the vintage experience allied to modern mechanicals is still on offer at hefty prices!
For many people, the idea of owning a classic car appeals and there’s no shortage of them in the market. Perhaps the most obvious choice is the ubiquitous MG B, of which around half a million were made during the 60s and 70s.
For the past 30 years, replacement body shells for them have been available and we drove the first, known as Taxi because of its TAX 192G registration number, back in 1989. Manufacturers of even quite mundane cars included convertibles in their ranges, so a Hillman Minx or Super Minx drop top was not too unusual while the separate-chassis Triumph Herald easily allowed roof removal, and these days such cars can be worth a considerable amount.
But with so many proper sports cars in the market, not normally fast but open and low enough to make them feel like it, getting an affordable MG, Austin-Healey, or Triumph is not too difficult. Even some desirable Jags are still attainable.
Some people, of course, want more modernity and this year the Mazda MX-5 celebrates its 30th anniversary since it brought the sports car back to life.
Like the Datsun 240Z of the early 70s, it was inspired by the success of British sports cars.
In the case of the Datsun it was Austin Healey and the Jaguar E-Type, with the Mazda it was the MG B and 1960s Lotus Elan, to which it bore a remarkable similarity, even sporting pop-up headlamps. MG itself had a go at reviving the B as the RV8 with a Rover V8 engine but the 90s project was short-lived.
With a huge number of MX-5s available in the UK, new and used, there’s a very wide choice and the car is too good to ignore. It can be upgraded with BBR and other mechanical conversions but even in standard form is very enjoyable.
A folding hard top has been an MX-5 feature for some time; it’s not a new invention but has been improved in more recent times. A word of warning, though, when looking at used examples.
Some of the folding hard top versions of popular family cars from makers such as Ford, Peugeot, Renault, Vauxhall, and Volkswagen have been prone to leaks.
The tops are very complicated, with several sections joined by rubber seals that can fail, allowing water ingress.
While a soft top may seem less secure or appealing it is easier to replace – less expensive, too, as well as better looking because some folding hard top cars have rear decks of exaggerated length to accommodate the roof sections which then swallow much of the boot space.
If you are looking at a used convertible, no matter whether it has a folding metal or canvas roof, signs of interior and boot space water damage are the most obvious things to look for because this can be where the serious corrosion starts.
Don’t just feel the carpets but lift them and inspect the metalwork underneath.
Many older and classic cars can have been “restored” but this is an overworked word often used in place of “bodged”. Bodywork is more important than mechanical aspects – an engine, gearbox, or suspension system can be replaced whereas body integrity is irreplaceable unless new bodyshells are available as the basis of a rebuild.
There’s no doubt that open top motoring is great fun and an appealing way to enjoy summer.
But there’s a lot to be said to looking at purchase now, especially if it’s going to be your daily driver. You need to be sure you can live with the drafts, potential leaks, and greater interior condensation on miserable, commuting days. If you can, then go for it.
Driving should be fun rather and a chore, and this is one way to ensure it is!