It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that it’s a tad chilly out there this morning, unless of course you’re one of those Retropower followers blessed with an address located somewhere markedly warmer than our own, East Midlands location! Proving that the Retropower mindset is seldom anything but illogical, the cold snap we’re presently in has caused us to ponder that most seasonal of cars, the convertible.
The drop-top is a body style that seldom makes sense in the UK yet one us Brits seem drawn to, perhaps out of some sadistic obsession with making the most out of our invariably disappointing, always overcast summer weather. Indeed the British buy more converibles than the French, Spanish or Italians, nations notable for having markedly greater opportunity to get the most from roof-less cars…go figure.
Either way there’s no doubting that a convertible, when done correctly and with a keen eye for stylistic detail, can be one of the motoring world’s true gems, and these are some of our favourites.
BMW E30 M3
Lopping the top off of a BMW, a car famed for its chassis brilliance and handling poise, has always been an exercise fraught with risk, but as the roofless E30 proves rather neatly, it can have wonderful ramifications in terms of appearances. The M3 version of the E30 drop-top (a model itself offered in both Bauer and factory versions) is undoubtedly the rarest of the lot, with just 800 having been produced at the tail end of the M3 production cycle.
We’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not chopping the roof off of one of the best handling sporting saloons of the 20th century is genius or sacrilege.
Jaguar XJS V12
Not all convertibles are about cheeky, low budget fun; some are a means of flaunting your status, wafting by while burning fuel at an insouciant rate and looking mighty cool in the process…and the ‘rag top’ Jaaaaag XJS delivers on all counts. Of course there are a number of downsides to purchasing a big, elderly Jaguar of this vintage, particularly one as thisty as the range-topping V12 variant, but then surely that’s a trifling matter for your valet or butler to worry about?
Jag a bit too common for you, Sir? Fancy something a little classier and a whole lot more expensive than that uncouth lout from Coventry? Step right this way, Sir, and get your staff to bring the big chequebook – you’re going to need it if you want to buy a Bentley S1. Few cars are as imposing or as imperious as the big, Edwardian Bentley S1, a car dating from an era when Britain still insisted in sticking its nose in the business of most other nations on earth, which isn’t something you could ever say of the 306.
Mercedes SL Pagoda
The Mercedes SL might be best known for its drooped roof (hence the ‘Pagoda’ nickname) but all of these cars were drop-tops, and there’s little doubt that they look so, so much better topless. The Pagoda roof Merc is now very much fully paid up classic in the traditional mould, which in turn means that the chances of us mere mortals getting to actually drive one are slim at best. But don’t worry, we’ll be sure to let you know how the pair currently being given the Retropower treatment perform once they’ve been built.
You could argue that the Americans do big drop-tops better than any other nation on earth, which makes a good deal of sense when you consider how vast America – and its sky – is. Few yank classics look better or more imposing in roofless guise than the late sixties Lincoln Continental, a car with all the latent, pent-up malice of a sawn-off shotgun. Just don’t drive (or agree to be driven in) one if your second name is Kennedy.
Ferrari F40 LM Barchetta
Some of you may have seen this car before, and if you have you’ll no doubt be well aware that it divides opinion more sharply than pretty much any other car. First up, yes – it is a real F40. Not only that, it’s an F40 LM, one of the super rare race modified versions of the F40 made by Michelotti to contest the IMSA series, making it just about as rarefied an F40 as you’re likely to find anywhere on the planet.
Ferrari didn’t make a convertible version of the F40 of course, meaning this car is the work of a very brave, very single-minded and very, very wealthy. The man in question was Jean Blaton, a Belgian billionaire with the deepest of pockets, deep enough to countenance chopping the roof off of one of the most exotic supercars ever built. Blaton did at least approach the operation with a degree of caution, even going so far as to rope Michelotti in for the project and commission him to undertake a strengthening programme.
The resulting car instantly became one of the most talked about supercars of them all, polarising opinion left and right, which was probably part of the reason it was built!
Alfa Romeo Spider
There’s a strong case to be made that the Alfa Romeo Spider is the archetypical convertible; the soft top the average, non-car obsessed man or woman in the street calls to mind whenever they’re asked to picture a classic drop-top, and much of this is down to the sheer success and longevity of Alfa’s basic formula. After all, this was a car originally launched back in 1966 and withdrawn from sale in 1993, a vast gulf of time by anyone’s standards and positively eons in terms of car development.
Mercedes drop-tops have long been among the most sought after, and the drop-top version of the W111 – a coupe variant of which we currently have in Retropower, is no exception. These cars ooze opulence from each and every panel, a look well and truly turned up to eleven with the roof folded down. No metal folding roof here, just a beautifully stitched and finished, carefully folded leather; timeless doesn’t even begin cover either the roof or the car it bolted to.
There aren’t many examples of a car looking demonstrably better with its roof lopped off, but the Jaguar E-Type is most definitely one of them. The car supposedly described by Enzo Ferrari as the most beautiful ever pinned – and he knew a thing or two about pretty cars – was always at its most graceful sans roof, the sharply tapered ‘rump’ of the hardtop replaced by an elegant, boat-like deck.
If the E-type represents the drop-top at its most beautiful and dainty, the Shelby Cobra is at the other end of the scale, offering as it does little but pure, undiluted brawn. OK so you could say that we’re cheating, what with all Cobras leaving the line sans roof, but the fact remains that it’s a drop-top of sorts – and one with more than a touch of steroid abuse about its swollen haunches!
Bonus Entry: Peugeot 306
Peugeot’s run of form from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties saw it produce some of the finest handling cars of its, and while the 306 never attained quite the same cult following as its old, smaller brother, the 205 (yet), it was nevertheless a deeply entertaining ‘steer.’ This even applied to the roofless version, though the loss of structural rigidity brought about by the loss of a roof couldn’t help but blunt the 306’s ultimate concerning ability.
What you lost in outright cornering you gained in looks however, the drop-top 306 benefitting from Pininfarina’s styling efforts. The result was one of the finest hatchback-based convertibles ever, and one which retains the ability to draw admiring glances now, twenty years on from launch.