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Are Convertibles Running Out of Gas?

Once viewed as the future for automotive development and progression, convertibles have seen various iterations – in fact, by definition, some of the first vehicles seen by the motoring world were classed as convertibles. But with sales numbers on the slide, and manufacturers now turning their attention towards other motoring initiatives, is the humble convertible running out of gas?

In theory, there are meant to be several benefits to the convertible: additional sunshine and wind-flow through the car; greater visibility; access to carry tall objects; not to mention the serene feeling that accompanies driving without a hood and having the wind blow through your hair on a sunny day.

In practice however, while convertibles have come a long way, they generally suffer from an array of hindrances. This includes: less noise protection (unless a ‘hard top’); less privacy at traffic lights; a lack of immediate protection against the weather or from objects above; safety issues in the event of a rollover; design shortcomings as a result of the roof’s storage; some loss in performance and fuel economy due to additional strengthening of the chassis to minimise ‘scuttle shake’; security concerns with a ‘soft top’; and functionality aspects like having to remain stationary to fold up the ‘top’.

With the sale of 4WD and luxury vehicles having increased considerably over recent years, convertibles have taken a back seat. Whereas manufacturers once offered many popular models in a convertible format, that trend has subsided for some time. Since the early 2000’s, worldwide sales for convertibles have dropped over 40% – in 2013 they were at a level of only 465,800.

In the biggest markets of the US and Europe, motorists have opted for cars that are more facilitating of their daily commute and the desire for other features, while in the Middle East and Asia, motorists have adopted to vehicles that shelter out their external environment – something BMW has noted. Locally, Australia’s attitude has also reflected an adjustment towards embracing cars more suited for outback driving, while the increasing affordability of compact cars, popular sedans and particular luxury cars remain tough competition.

The above would seem to suggest doom and gloom is abound. However, there are many notable exceptions to the rule. Most recently, the Mazda MX-5 took out awards for the Australian, and World Car of the Year, and has long been a favourite amongst motoring enthusiasts. Abroad, the likes of the Lotus Elise, Porsche 911 & Boxster, MGB Roadster, Aston Martin Vantage, and Mercedes Benz SL are popular, while in the early 2000’s the Honda S2000 had a cult following. And with the latest Ford Mustang now in hot demand, manufacturers haven’t entirely abandoned the convertible concept.

Although the image of a sports convertible looks a little more out of place today than in eras gone by, and the vehicles are perhaps not as practical as others, they’re not meant to be – they’re a fun driving experience, and best enjoyed by those who appreciate the rush of adrenaline from driving.


  1. Keith says:

    Time for 4×4

    April 26th, 2016 at 2:27 pm

  2. Bill says:

    I’ve enjoyed driving a Volvo C70 convertible for five years. No regrets. Believe everyone should at some stage in their lives own a convertible. Its a special experience no sedan or SUV can provide.

    April 26th, 2016 at 3:04 pm

  3. David says:

    I’ve always had a soft spot for convertibles, and progressed from classic 60’s ragtops, and the odd soft top 4WD even, Capris, an Eos, and through to my current SLK350. When younger I wished for an electric top, and vowed if I had one, I would drop the top whenever, even for a trip down to the local corner store, rather than struggle with the manual top, and putting tonneau cover on, etc. I vowed I would drive topless everywhere. Sadly, this is incompatible with the hectic nature of life today, even though its now available at the push of a button. I have to contend with my wifes coiffure blowing into disarray and her complaining its too hot, and sunburn. I also have to contend with forgetting to close the luggage cover so I cant just drop it at a whim, and drop top motoring is completely incompatible with audiophiles. Still, there is nothing that compares with driving on a nice road balmy night or crisp morning with the top down. Sadly theyre rarely encountered, and the destination is often too close.

    April 27th, 2016 at 10:27 am

  4. David Malone says:

    You left the VW EOS out of your list. Although no longer manufactured I have seen it featured in a recent TV series “Here come the Abibs’ and in the current ‘Challenger Super’ TV and movie theatre adverts..
    My VW EOS is for special driving days. I find a convertible does not have to be a Porsche or Maserati (convertibles) as the joy is in having the top down (like Mazda MX5). My EOS has the same mechanics as a Golf GTI and does not need any more performance because I just want to look around – see, breath and listen. It is my Sunday car – Royal National Park, Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands, Kangaroo Valley and the beautiful Snowy Mountains – driving can be soooo good!

    April 27th, 2016 at 3:08 pm

  5. Garry says:

    I feel a lot of the reduced interest in convertibles has to do with the increased rake of windscreens in modern vehicles.

    The windscreen rake in some vehicles, particularly european or North American models which are sedan based, is so acute that even with the roof off the front of your head is still partially covered by the windscreen frame, thus destroying the pleasure of driving “roofless” (or “topless” if you are of the fairer persuasion).

    The best way round this is to buy a convertible that is designed as a convertible from the ground up, with an upright screen.

    I spent almost 16 years driving my S2000 as it had the most “convertible experience” of the modern cars. I subsequently replaced it with a Boxster but the S2000 was, and is, a better roof-off experience.

    Over the years I have owned many other convertibles including the extremes of a Triumph Spitfire, Suzuki Sierra, Pontiac Firebird and Chysler LeBaron, and when I’m not driving a convertible (year round with the roof down of course) my other transport is one of my motorcycles, so I’m always out there enjoying whatever mother nature throws at me. 🙂

    April 27th, 2016 at 5:35 pm

  6. Neil Hurst says:

    I’m glad that you refer to Convertibles rather than Sports Cars. In the mid 1940’s I was loitering outside a toy shop in our village in northern England when, accompanied by a great clattering, a three wheeled Morgan with an outside motor cycle engine hove into view. Leaving the engine running. the driver climbed out and disappeared into the shop to return a few minutes later, remounted his steed and roared off.

    This episode made such an impression on me that I swore I would buy a Morgan once I grew up. The opportunity didn’t arise until I retired out of the Army in 1987 when I located a 1967 Morgan +4 which was fitted with a Triumph 2liter engine as is usual for that model. My Wife and I, raced her, rallied her rather enjoyed the comments of other motorists and rebuilt her when she got tired thanking the Lord that the engine is quite similar to that used in the little grey fergie tractor and the Morgan factory can help with other parts.

    By 2013 I was really getting too old for her and passed her on the my youngest son Timothy who already has a Plus 8.

    Oh, we hardly put up the hood, finding we missed most of the raindrops by driving faster.

    May 2nd, 2016 at 1:35 pm

  7. Charles says:

    My Saab Conv is great to drive Love it,

    May 3rd, 2016 at 3:29 pm