Yes I confess, I am but a simple man, and therefore – almost by default – I have a profound appreciation for pretty much all things topless. Ah! But this is of course ViaRETRO and the topic is classic cars. Well in that case, that changes everything…
Convertible. Cabriolet. Roadster. Drophead Coupé. Call it what you will; the end result is wind-in-hair motoring. And that’s a good thing, right? Well, many will tell you so, but personally I’m not entirely sure. And that’s where all the topless-motoring-diehards always attack me and claim that I only say such gibberish because I haven’t tried it. But the thing is, I have.
In fact, during my last year of high school in Denmark, my girlfriend owned a little red Triumph Spitfire mk3. If I must say so myself, she was a hot little number, and somehow even more so because she drove a Spitfire. Already at that time, I had my NullZwei, but we would often take her Spitfire out for a spin – sometimes with her at the wheel and sometimes with me at the wheel. I particularly remember going out for a topless (uhmmm… the car, not us) drive on Christmas Day. It was bloody freezing, but with the heater blowing on max, huge winter jackets and our beanies tucked down over our ears, it was also a truly invigorating experience. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive – top down. But she turned out to be even more temperamental than her Spitfire, so eventually she was swapped for another model.
This new girlfriend didn’t come with a car of her own. But conveniently, her father had a beautifully restored MG Midget mk2 in the garage, sitting next to an Opel GT1900 which was in a terrible state and in need of a very full restoration. Much to my pleasure, he was surprisingly generous with the keys to his Midget, so once again I had plenty of exposure to wind-in-hair-motoring. Along small backroads across central Zealand, the little Midget was a joy.
Later in life, while living in a significantly warmer climate than the one I currently reside in, I owned an early eighties Golf 1.8 GLi Karmann. In the seven or eight months that it was mine, I practically never had the top up. All in all, I found the Golf a little bit characterless, but I suppose the sun shining down on my face blew those worries away – to some extent anyway. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of borrowing various open cars from friends, and without fault, every time I find myself behind the wheel of an open car, I make the point of driving it al-fresco just like it was intended. So to all those topless-motoring diehards, I would argue that yes, I have in fact tried it. I even kind of get it. But I still choose the tin-top alternative.
As appealing as the whole wind-in-hair aspect of a convertible can be under the perfect weather conditions, there are just too many compromises. For starters, there’s the styling. I truly struggle to find a single classic car which I feel is genuinely prettier or more elegant as a droptop than it is as a coupé. Roof down, they all end up looking like long cigars with a small screen stuck on top. In stark contrast, the coupé versions instead have beautifully flowing rooflines which not just compliment the overall design, but in some cases almost epitomises it. Just think of the iconic E-type. Sure the Jaguar E-type roadster looks astonishing when you see it on its own. But park it next to an E-type coupé and it fades. Just look at that roofline and the way it melds into the rear haunches.
And the same can be said for pretty much every other classic car I can think of which was available from factory in both open and closed versions. Whether we look at the familiar evergreen MGB, American Pony cars, or real exotica from the likes of Aston Martin, Ferrari or Maserati, the elegantly flowing rooflines of those coupés invariably contribute significantly to the overall design. Even the Honda S800 where the roofline-into-rear-wing of the coupé is perhaps a little clumsily resolved, to my eye at least, it still looks better and much more characterful than the equivalent roadster.
Of course, some will now point out that it’s not all about style and elegance, but rather about driver satisfaction. Sure. I agree. And that’s where the coupés win again, as they inherently have a stiffer chassis because the roof adds to the rigidity of the body. So in your fixed-head coupé, you won’t have to put up with annoying scuttle shake while cruising your favourite backroads. As an added bonus, handling will also be sharper when you’re in the mood for a bit of spirited driving. The body of your coupé flexes less when you’re at nine/tenths through that sequence of beautifully flowing bends, which you always drop a gear for and power through with a huge grin on your face.
And then there’s all the times where the weather just isn’t on your side. Let’s be honest; is driving your beloved classic car really at that enjoyable when there’s a constant stream of rainwater from the top of the windscreen – where the softtop ought to be tightly in place – and straight into your lap? For me, it’s bad enough that we can’t drive our classics during the harsh winter months where they insist on spraying the roads with grit and salt, so I most certainly don’t want to take it a step further and end up with a classic car which I only drive on the driest of sunny days. With a tin-top and a pair of half decent windshield wipers, I can continue to enjoy my classic car even on the rainy summer days.
So if I were ever to relive those carefree and topless days of high school, first of all I would naturally do so with my wife, and secondly it would have to be in a Triumph GT6 rather than a Spitfire. What then if I wanted to relive those drives in the MG Midget, you ask? Well, I would frankly love to own a Midget, but from day one I would be on the lookout for an Ashley hardtop for it.
But what say you dear ViaRETRO reader? Are you all for topless motoring regardless of the required compromise? If so, please enlighten me as to why I should feel like this too. Or do you like me acknowledge, that while there might indeed be a time and place for going topless, there are also times when it’s better not to? Or maybe you simply swing both ways – so to speak…?