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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…?

Note that even these two lovely topless ladies chose their sportscar with a fixed roof – surely there’s a moral in there somewhere…


8 Responses

  1. jakob356

    I can think of two perfect classic roadsters, that are absolutely beautiful and would not be better with roofs: The Spitfire mk1&2 (before they moved the bumper up and destoyed the good looks) and the 124 Spider. They both have distinct curves after the doors over the rear wheels, not making them seem like straight cigars.

    Otherwise I agree. On of the worst is the Citroën DS Decapotable. Yes, they made another rear end for it, but the windscreen much too tall and the wheelbase is just soooo long for a two-door. It is as horrible as the estate version ?

  2. Tony Wawryk

    Interesting….especially as it seems to me that the classic car world is one where financial values seem to (generally) favour convertibles over coupes over saloons over estates. Perceived glamour and production numbers are (again, generally) two of the main drivers for this.
    I would broadly agree with Anders’ and Jakob’s view that the coupe is usually a better looking car than the convertible, and the E-Type is a great example of that – gorgeous as the drophead is, the coupe is is even more beautiful.

    I might be dipping my toes into controversial waters here, but I wonder whether this is in part because the drophead lacks the muscular, and therefore more masculine, stance of the coupe – just look through all the photos above and you’ll see what I mean. Coupes just look faster, more purposeful, more powerful. Perhaps I’m over-thinking this…

    Exceptions? Well, for me, the entire Mercedes-Benz SL range look better top down than with hardtop in place. This applies particularly to the 190SL and Pagoda. You could argue that these are not strictly speaking coupe or roadster versions of saloons, so perhaps are a bad example. When it comes to drophead or coupe versions of MB saloons, it’s the coupes that do it for me – a 1968 280SE would absolutely be in my dream garage, but it would have to give way to a Pagoda…

  3. GTeglman

    Anders, I concur in every word, but what about the in between semi convertible targa models like eg. Ferrari Dino 246 GTS ? Does they combines the best from both worlds, or are many targa versions just to odd / dis harmonic ?

    You mention Opel GT, and owning one I might be biased, but compared to the Opel GT Aero concept (only two built) I’m not so sure I would choose the Coupé over the targa version, had the latter ever been put in to production.


  4. Dave Leadbetter

    Anders, I’m glad you’ve admitted to this because (and this doesn’t happen very often) I agree with every word. The core problem in my experience of convertibles is that the weather is never exactly right. Even on those rare crisp early mornings in winter, when a snug cabin and a woolly hat hold so much promise, the sun gets in my eyes and I can’t see where I’m going because the sun visors are naturally useless without a roof. Most of all though I feel so exposed and worry about introducing my head to the tarmac if it all goes wrong that I just crawl along on high alert. Couple that with the inevitable scuttle shake and I find myself longing for the coupe option, which often doesn’t exist. Convertibles are great… with a roll bar and a hardtop.

  5. Anders Bilidt

    Well isn’t that amusing. I figured there would be some who would agree with me, but on the whole I do sense that there is a very large portion of classic car enthusiasts who have devoted themselves to the convertible / roadster. Yet, of the four answers here so far, all of them seem to be of largely the same conviction as I. Surprising…

    @jakob356, I agree wholehearted with your view on the Fiat 124 Spider. That is indeed a fabulous looking droptop – and yes, largely due to the shapely rear end Tjaarda gave the little Fiat. I kind of agree with you on the Spitfire so far that yes, it’s actually a really good looking little roadster. But, I would personally still opt for a GT6 instead.

    @tony-wawryk, I don’t feel that comparing a SL with and without its hardtop in place is quite the same as comparing a coupé with a convertible. As it is though, I actually prefer the Pagoda with it characteristic hardtop in place.

    @gteglman, it’s interesting you bring up the targa option. I’m not sure whether they offer the best of both worlds or the worst of both worlds? Personally, I’m undecided on that one… Looking more specifically at your GT1900, I think you’re on a winning streak with the coupé version. The shape of the rear side window in conjunction with the sloping roofline looks great – something which the targa version totally lacks. Could it be that the targa somehow appears better than it actually is, just because of its rarity, and because we as humans always crave what we can’t have?

    @dave-leadbetter, considering how you drive your classics, it’s a given that you need a tin-top. The more metal you have protecting you, the better… ;-)

  6. GTeglman

    @anders-bilidt, You could easily have a point, and it wouldn’t be the first time a nearly topless rarity plays tricks with my mind ;-))

    @dave-leadbetter, I’m quite sure the outcome will be just as nasty whether you roll in a open top or tin top, as long as we are talking about + 50 year old classic cars.
    Full roll cage, nomex, neck brace and a helmet could give some peace of mind, but you’ll look like a knob unless you’re racing at Goodwood, but no doubt the roll cage saved Peter Chambers life this year. I stood right where the action happened…- a little too exciting.

  7. YrHmblHst

    Agree nearly completely with Mr Bilidt here, with a couple of caveats…

    There are a couple of examples that come quickly to mind where I prefer the ragtop version of a car…but WITH the top up or an auxiliary hardtop installed! The 68 to 72 Olds Cutlass / 442 looks best in the droptop form WITH the soft top up imnsho; I think the roofline is better than the sloping C pillar of the ‘coupe’. Of course, the best of the group is the formal roof Cutlass that came along in 70, but you couldnt get a 442 in that body, so Im going convertible on this one.
    68 Impalas too – prefer the ragtop WITH the top up for aesthetics. Those just popped into my mind.
    The roadster version of the 68 to 75 Corvette looks significantly better , WITH the hardtop in place. The liftoff top just makes the silhouette of that car; the ‘flying buttress ‘ “c-pillar” of the coupe makes it a tad tail heavy visually to me, and the greenhouse looks too small with just the softtop or with the rag down.
    Same thing with the Pagoda roof Benzes ; blah with no covering over the interior, but really pretty with that hardtop installed.
    But what of cars that come ONLY as a roadster? Well, most look better with the top erected most of the time. One that comes to mind is the TR6 ; that thing is dynamite with the optional hardtop, ok with the top up. Had those things come in a coupe version where the roofline followed the hardtops shape [or maybe just a touch more slope to the rear window allowing a bit more room behind the seats] I’d own 3 of em.
    Personally never saw a Targa topped car that I didnt greatly prefer the closed version.

    Ive owned a few convertibles over the years [including 442s, a TR6 and the Corvette] and found that I seldom if ever drove them with the top down. I have friends who are exactly opposite, but for me, I just never saw the huge attraction to convertibles. I dunno, maybe its just me. And Anders. [ i seldom if ever open sunroofs on the cars Ive owned equipped with em] And yes, I ride motorcycles, but thats different…

  8. Anders Bilidt

    @gteglman, it happens to the best of us… ;-)

    @yrhmblhst, I’m not too sure I share your feelings for convertibles with their softtops up. More often than not, they just appear cumbersome and flawed with those big and bulky canvas surfaces. However, I very much agree with you about convertibles often looking better with their hardtops in place. You mention the Pagoda and the TR6 – I very much agree. But how about the Stag then? Just how stylish does that look with the factory hardtop? Or, if you really insist on owning a dhc E-type, then please drive it with a factory hardtop in place! – looks fabulous! :-) But maybe the best of them all, the BMW 507 – with its factory hardtop, it’s simply perfection to my eyes…


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