Top Down on the
If you've never owned a convertible, you owe
it to yourself to try one. Sure, they're not the most practical things. You
can't carry much in them. The wind seeps in and whistles around you with the
top up, and at times you'll get tired of hearing all the racket
through the thin fabric. Rollover protection on most models is by nature
quite poor. The tops need replacing every few years, and they’re not
We could go on, of course, about all the
reasons not to buy one. But on a warm summer evening with the top down and
the stereo playing your favorite music, somehow the stresses and hassles of
life melt away. Irrational? Perhaps. Still, why not find out for yourself?
You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a pretty nice convertible.
We've selected what we think are the 10 great
values in older convertibles. Buy these as an affordable, fun weekend
car. The criteria? Value, reliability, performance, and the
all-important fun factor. Remember, we're not buying family sedans here!
Miata, 1991-94. The cute little Miata is everything a sports car
should be. It's completely tossable, reasonably quick, makes great
sounds and looks and feels just right. Being a "proper" sports car,
it only seats two, so it's not everyone's cup of tea. Bonus: it's
very reliable, and there are thousands available that have been used
Toyota Celica GT, 1991-92. Possessing typical Toyota quality and
reliability with a dose of everyday usability, this one can
serve as your only car. Truth be told, the Celica is not terribly
exciting. It is however, a very nice car.
900, 1991-92. Saabs are hip. Another car on the list that can be
used every day in all seasons, the Saab's fully lined and
tight-fitting roof is wonderful. Probably because these things are
made in Sweden, where much of the country resides in sub-arctic
conditions. When, exactly, do they actually put the top down up
there? Service costs can be on the expensive side. Buy the nicest,
lowest-mileage example you can.
Volkswagen Cabriolet, 1991-93. A neat little car. Seats four,
but limited luggage space. Stiff chassis and a nice, though not
powerful motor add up to a pleasant driving experience. Like the
Saab, a comfortable, upright driving position.
Mustang 5.0, 1991-93. If this thing didn't rate so high on the
fun meter, it probably wouldn't make the list. The ride is stiff,
the car rattles, chassis flex is a constant companion, and most of
them have had hard lives. The burble of the V8 and the feel of the
endless torque against your back negates all the bad stuff, though.
Absolutely, positively take the time to find a good, unmolested
example owned by an adult.
318i, 1991-92. So, you need an image boost for little coin? Here
you go. The 318, with its 4-cylinder motor is kind of a slug,
really, but it's well built, looks good and will help with your
social life -- a key requirement of any convertible! Take your time
looking for this one, too. There seems to be an equal number of
poorly, and lovingly, maintained examples. Parts and service are
Cavalier/Pontiac Sunbird, 1996. If the Celica isn't terribly
exciting, these are downright boring. Cute in there own way, they
made this list mainly because of their modern design and the fact
that they are the newest convertibles available at our price
cut-off. The engines are buzzy, but the top is first-rate. The
interior, while saddled with somewhat cheap looking materials, is
Wrangler 1991-94. Totally impractical. Known to give spinal
injuries to its owners because of its stiff, bouncy ride. Loud. Not
very comfortable. And way cool with the top down and the doors off.
A simple, reliable vehicle that makes a great toy. The top is
manually operated and a pain in the neck to raise and lower. A big,
thick, full roll cage makes rolling over less of an event than other
convertibles. And unlike many of today's slick SUVs, this one will
handle tough outback stuff with ease. Like the Mustang, the Wrangler
has dozens of aftermarket suppliers ready to sell you everything
from suspension lifts to refrigerated consoles. Get the 6-cylinder
engine and avoid examples that have seen heavy off-road use.
Chrysler LeBaron 1991-95. Introduced in 1987, the attractive
styling of the LeBaron held up nicely right into the nineties.
Headlamps went from retractable to exposed in 1993. The Achilles
heel of these vehicles is their 4-speed overdrive transmission (on
the 6-cyl). They have improved over the years, but are just not all
that durable. Still, the cars are attractively priced, and you might
even find a manual transmission model mated to one of Chrysler's
respectable later turbo motors (dropped after ‘93). You can get one
in great shape for very little money.
Alfa-Romeo Spider, 1991-93. Yeah, we know this one's risky. If
it breaks you'll be spending your grocery money to fix it. But it's
loaded with character and so unlike anything else on the list that
we had to include it. An ancient design (remember The Graduate?)
that still looks great, it also possesses a measure of exclusivity.
It's best to think of this one as a sunny day toy. Like the Saab,
buy the nicest one you can afford.
Looking for a Toy? Consider One of These
The cars above not unique enough?
If all you want is a fair weather weekend toy, you might want to
consider something really distinctive -- an old sports car.
These two popular models are modern enough to be easy to drive
while still retaining the charms of yesteryear. Both have
all their parts still available, and they probably will even
appreciate a little in value over the next few years. Be
prepared, though, for frequent maintenance.
1964-74. Simple and handsome cars that return a
lot of bang for the buck. Very susceptible to rust,
so make sure someone who knows these cars checks it
out before you buy. Avoid the later models with
rubber bumpers -- they're ugly, don't perform as
well and they will be tougher to resell. See our
TR6, 1970-76. A bit more sophisticated and
upscale than the MG, these feature a torquey inline
6-cylinder engine and independent rear suspension.
Another ruster, though, so be careful! See our
profile at Collector Car Market Review
(C) Copyright 2000, VMR International.
This article first appeared in the Summer 00 issue of Used Cars.
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