Alfred Tennyson famously said “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” I think it’s equally the case that in the summer, a young – and often older – man’s fancy lightly turns to the idea of cruising around country lanes or along coastal roads in an open-topped classic, probably a sporty two-seater and preferably with his fancy from the Spring alongside, with the sun shining down and the rasp of the exhaust following on behind.
In the UK, this image often involves cars such as the MGA or B roadster, a big Healey, or one of the Triumph TR range, which are part of the bedrock of the classic car movement in this country.
With this in mind and the summer finally getting properly under way here in the UK (and threatening to boil over on mainland Europe) I thought I too would scour the classifieds to see if I could find a suitable candidate for those months when the opportunity to fulfil that summer fancy becomes a reality, even in the UK, where not even our reliably unreliable weather has prevented it from being one of the biggest markets in the world for convertibles, after the USA and Germany.
In motoring’s earliest days, all cars were open-topped – and often open-sided. As cars became more sophisticated and production techniques improved, closed cars became the norm, until convertibles became premium versions of hard-topped cars.
Of course, convertibles have moved on a long way over the last couple of decades, with electrically operated retractable hard and softtops that can be raised or lowered in seconds – sometimes even while on the move – now commonplace, and even with levels of sound, water and wind insulation that almost match conventional hard-tops. Retractable hard and soft tops actually go back as far as Lancia’s Belna Eclipse of 1934, but first became a more regularly seen feature with the introduction of Ford’s Fairlane 500 Skyliner in 1957 – to watch the Fairlane’s multi-part roof be raised or lowered is to watch a marvellous 40-second engineering ballet involving ten power relays, ten limit switches, four lock motors, three drive motors, eight circuit breakers, and 610 feet (190 m) of electrical wire.
The introduction of detachable hardtops à la Mercedes-Benz SL Pagoda was a compromise, but the driver would have to check the weather forecast before deciding whether or not to leave the hard-top at home, as it wouldn’t fit in the car.
However, for most drivers of convertibles up to and including the 1980’s, raising the canvas softtop would involve trying to stretch an often ill-fitting hood to manually clip it into place, not easy to do quickly especially when the heavens opened, while lowering it meant unclipping those same latches, popping a series of press studs along the sides and trying to fold the roof neatly down. These processes were even more challenging if the driver was unaccompanied. In many cases, rearwards vision would be impaired by the folded roof, no matter how neatly done – just look at the convertible versions of a VW Beetle Convertible or a Jensen Interceptor, for instance.
And yet… none of these issues put true open-top motoring enthusiasts off the idea of running a classic convertible.
There are of course numerous ways in which classic open-top motoring can be enjoyed besides driving a small, sporty two-seater convertible versions of big saloons. Upscale Expensive exotica or more achievable mid-sized family soft-tops are all available, and at this time of year there is usually a spike in the number of convertibles for sale, so it didn’t take long to find several excellent candidates for this week’s Prime Find. I wanted something a little less ubiquitous, a little more exclusive, and with two seats and eventually, while perusing the lots for the next Historics Auction at Brooklands – taking place on July 13th – I was left with a very tough choice of two; an extremely pretty 1972 Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce in my favourite yellow, and a gorgeous little 1962 FIAT 1200 Cabriolet in white – both by Pininfarina, of course.
The lure of the Alfa Romeo – in yellow! – was strong, but in the end, it was the FIAT’s exclusivity compared to the Alfa Romeo which swayed me to pick it, and hopefully, dear reader, you’ll forgive me for making that choice even if you disagree with it.
Introduced in 1959 as the successor to the FIAT 1200 TV Spider, the 1200 Cabriolet retained the same engine, generating a modest 54bhp providing for equally modest performance, with a top speed of just 90 mph or 145 km/h. But then, high-speed performance wasn’t really the point of this stylish little convertible.
The other feature it shared with its predecessor was the intriguing swivelling front seats, designed to make graceful entry and exit easier by rotating outwards – useful for the ladies and uhmmmm… older folk like me!
This particular FIAT 1200 Cabriolet was produced in April 1962 and comes in white with a black hood, black upholstery and green carpeting, all in “beautiful condition” according to the auctioneers. It lived in Italy until as recently as 2014, when it was brought into the UK and spent 18 months as an exhibit at the London Motor Museum before being acquired by its current owner in 2016. Since then, it has barely been used, though the odometer reading of 14,110 km is surely not genuine – and it’s also not claimed to be – unless it’s on its second time around.
There is no reference to any restoration work so without further information, one has to assume the car is original. It seems the history file might also be a bit thin, though the original Italian registration papers do come with the car. Here are a few pictures which we have borrowed from Historic Auction’s website:
As always, there is no substitute for seeing the car in the metal and giving it a thorough going over, but based on the photographs we have borrowed from the auctioneers’ website, the car does indeed look lovely and with an estimate of between just £12 – 15,000, seems potentially excellent value if there are no hidden horrors. It’s a very pretty car from the pen of Pininfarina, very rare (certainly in the UK), super-cool and not mad money – what’s not to like?
You can see its full auction entry here – 1962 FIAT 1200 Spider.
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org