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Going Topless for the Summer

Classic Cabrios Published: 17th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
Going Topless for the Summer
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Tired of long nights, cold mornings and rainy days? Cheer up, summer’s coming. And with the first days of sunshine, Britain’s convertibles flood back out on to the roads to be enjoyed by the lucky few and envied by anyone stuck in a tin-top, says Chris Rees who picks his top 20 buys

You don’t have to be selfish to enjoy an open topped car – you can buy a classic convertible with enough seats for the whole family. The choice available to you now is wider and more diverse than it’s ever been – from stylish 1950s family cars to practical and luxurious choices from the 1990s. And because we in Britain have always bought more convertibles than our continental cousins (despite our inclement weather), there are huge numbers of droptops out there to suit all tastes and pockets. Prices can be very affordable. Don’t worry about the spring ‘price boom’ that you may have been warned about. Yes, demand does rise as the weather getsbetter, but prices don’t suddenly go up by thousands of pounds as some pundits would have you believe. Classic cars aren’t like that plus if you get in there early, you’ll enjoy the full length of summer and come out of it smiling if you want to get rid of your rag top before the sun goes down. Here’s our choice classic cabrio picks for the whole family to enjoy this summer – there’s bound to be one to suit you!

Morris Minor

This classic British convertible is as muchloved today as it was when John Noakes drove one round Britain, and will always attract a strong following.The standard Minor’s body was so strong that it hardly needed any modification to turn into the Tourer convertible. Early ones had removable rear side curtains, but from 1951 a glass window with a fixed frame improved matters. Early MM Tourers (1948-53) are now extremely rare, especially the ones with headlamps incorporated into the grille, so expect to pay extra for these. Later ones are much better to drive and, as with all Minors, you can still buy just about every part brand new. Choose from some great restorations out there.
What to pay £1500-£6000

Jaguar XJ-S

Jaguar stopped making convertibles when the E-Type died in 1975 but revived the idea in 1983 with the XJ-S Cabriolet 3.6. This was actually made by an outside contractor chopping the roof off and adding stiffening, while the roof had rigid targa panels and a fold-down rear section. A proper, more stylish, Convertible two-seater replaced it in 1988 featuring a electric mohair roof and V12 engine. Princess Diana needed rear seats for William and Harry so Jaguar offered them from 1993, alongside a facelifted body and a new 6.0 V12 engine option. XJ-S drop-tops always looked better than coupes and have more cachet now. Some rough ones out there – and never underestimate running costs.
What to pay £3000-£15,000

VW Beetle

German coachbuilder Karmann made the convertible Beetle from as early as 1949. It was a particularly attractive conversion, with one caveat: in an effort to maintain rear seat space, the roof stacks up high behind the passengers. Ugly when folded, elegant when raised, it always had a glass rear window. Over 330,000 were built in more than 30 years, so you have plenty of choice. The Beetle Cabriolet has a following that far exceeds its raw abilities and therefore it’s a rather expensive soft-top option – but at least you’ll have plenty of buyers when you come to sell it on. Also you have absolutely no problems with parts or specialist support.
What to pay £2000-£12,000

Lancia Beta Spider

Contemporary road testers recognised the Beta was a great driver’s car and, as the Beta Spider with a shorter wheelbase and convertible roof, it was even better. Actually the term ‘convertible’ is a half-truth: there was a fixed roll-over bar splitting a removable targa top and a fold-down rear section. It was launched in 1975 with a 1600 engine, with a 2000 unit available from ‘76 but sadly never a Volumex supercharged version. All Spiders off sharp front-drive handling and flexible performance. Superbly stylish, great value, decent space for 2+2 people but challenges include keeping on top of rustproofing, fragile twin cam engines and dwindling stocks of spares.
What to pay£800-£3500

Saab 900

Sweden’s number two car maker had built its reputation on making quirky cars and the 900 Convertible launched in 1986 just boosted that feeling. Launch model had 16-valve turbo engine, electric roof and heated leather seats, though from 1990 there were lesser 8v LPT (light pressure turbo) and non-turbo 16v versions as well. Plenty of space inside and lots of standard gear, plus a certain idiosyncratic charm. Downsides are extreme scuttle shake, flimsy trim and quite steep running costs. Later 1993-98 new-shape 900 Convertible is a much better bet: smarter looking, less scuttle shake, smarter cabin – although still no sports car to drive. Early shape £800-£4500, later shape £4500-£9000.
What to pay£800-£90000

Hillman Minx Sunbeam Rapier SInger Gazelle

American style meets compact British economy in the Rootes Group’s appealing convertible. Hillman Minx was first to market in 1956, alongside overhead cam-powered Singer Gazelle, with plush Sunbeam Rapier following in ‘58. The last Rapier MkIII convertibles were made in 1963 (there were no MkIV or V drop-tops) but Rootes did make the expanded Hillman Super Minx in convertible form from 1962 to 1964, with its longer wheelbase and tail fins. Don’t expect anything remotely sporty but if you like the style, this is one of the best value drop-tops out there.
What to pay £1200-£550

Ford Escort

Ford persisted with the idea of a convertible version of its Escort long after most other major players had abandoned theirs. From promising beginnings – the mid-1980s XR3 Cabriolet had some redeeming features – the Escort plunged into a quagmire of fashionvictim style over substance. This is particularly true of the 1991 vintage MkIV, which
was sloppy, crude, unrefined and poorly built. Most common engine is the 1.6, which has too little power for any fun. Power softtop was always optional and even when folded, left an ugly roll-bar in place. The drop-top Escort finally bowed out in 1999 and even late-model ones can be found quite cheaply.
What to pay £500-£4500

Mercedes 200/300

One of the all-time classic convertibles is the glorious W111-shape Mercedes built between 1961 and 1971. Early 220SE has a 2.2-litre fuelinjected six-cylinder engine, joined in 1962 by the wonderful 3.0-litre 300SE that was vastly expensive new and is very rare, so highly sought after today. Improved 250SE from 1965 and 280SE from 1968 get extra power but the undoubted pinnacle is the 280SE 3.5 from 1969-71 with its 200bhp engine, power steering, standard automatic and effortless cruising ability. Great sense of presence and the best ones in pristine nick will always attract top money. Expensive to keep going and to restore properly however.
What to pay £12,000-£32,000

Ford Consul/Zephyr Zodiac MK1/MKII

In the midst of post-war gloom, Ford brought a smile to Britain with its convertible Consul and Zephyr, launched in 1951. These were dumpy two-door conversions built by Carbodies. Four-cylinder Consul had manual roof, six-cylinder Zephyr an electro-hydraulic one with ‘coupe de ville’ position. MkII from 1956 had sharper style and again manual roof for Consul, electric for Zephyr and luxury Zodiac. Only 7797 MkIs and 16,309 MkIIs built, so rarity has boosted values. Great slice of 1950s style, masses of space inside for five adults and reasonably practical to run too, although beware rampaging rust and some parts problems. Pure class.
What to pay £3000-£10,000

BMW 3 Series

Like the 2002 Cabriolet before it, the droptop version of the first BMW 3 Series was converted by coachbuilders Baur. There was a fixed targa bar and folding rear roof section but the early E21 version is rare – only 4595 were made between 1978 and 1982. Nextshape E30 3 Series sold from 1986 is much more common and has a full soft-top with a completely hidden roof when folded. Far more satisfying to drive too. Most soughtafter E30 of all is the M3 convertible with its 200bhp engine and electric soft top. Nextgeneration E36 Cabriolet is the one to go for if you can afford to (prices start at £6000 for the earliest 1993 examples).
What to pay £1200-£14,000

Audi Cabriolet

Audi really started something with its understated Cabriolet in 1991. Based on the Coupe, itself derived from the front-wheel drive Audi 80, it may not be the last word in sharp handling but it does boast superlative build quality and a high desire factor. Now that new-shape A4 Convertible is out, values have softened considerably on the 1991- 2001 Cabriolet. Smaller engines feel a bit weedy in such a heavy car, so better to go for 2.6 or 2.8 V6 versions. Hardtop a distinct advantage, electric roof definitelypreferred, buyers like leather too. High-spec Final Edition models from 1999 look good value now, even though dynamically the car feels firmly rooted in the 1980s.
What to pay £4000-£15,000 £1200-£14,000

Porsche 944

Whatever you may think of Porsche’s decision to produce the VW cast-off 924, with the 1988 944 S2, Porsche justified its actions. Here was a car with decent power (211bhp) from a 3.0-litre fourcylinder engine, a superb-handling chassis and, for the first time, a convertible body option with a standard electric roof. Even better was the limited-production Turbo Cabriolet from 1991 with its 250bhp engine and astonishing acceleration. Enthusiast market prefers the sharper-handling coupe so there are some convertible bargain soft tops around if you look. But as with any Porsche, you need a thick history file to stave off big bills in the future.
What to pay £4500-£12,000

Triumph Stag

With the Stag, Triumph set a trend that stuck: the idea of a four-seater GT convertible. Michelotti designed the attractive unitary body, while Triumph joined two of its four-cylinder engines together to make a 3.0-litre V8. Early reliability problems have long since been solved and proper maintenance should see the lump last decent mileages before needing a rebuild. Stags were never particularly well built, although most have been restored now. Adequate space for four, T-bar targa roof boosts safety, hardtop roof offered alongside soft top. Quite fun to drive (great engine note) although it’s not powerful or sharp handling enough to be called truly fast.
What to pay £2500-£9500


Crayford Engineering was Britain’s foremost converter of saloons to convertibles in the 1960s and 1970s. All have an enviable reputation and are today very sought after. A huge range of cars were converted, from the sublime (Audi 100) to the baffling (Austin Allegro). The most popular were undoubtedly the Ford Cortinas, starting with the MkII but also plenty of the MkIII and MkIV/V – values as below. Other desirable Crayford convertibles include the Capri,Viva HB, Mini and Austin 1100. Crayfords generally are not brilliantly engineered – quality, fit and finish of the hood left a lot to be desired – and the original company has long gone out of business, so replacing a damaged roof is an expensive bespoke exercise.
What to pay £1200-£5000

Peugeot 306

In an age when four-seater convertibles were still out of fashion, Peugeot injected life back into it in 1994 with its super-smart 306 Convertible. Its electric soft-top folds right away out of sight and it actually has space for four people (unlike the later 206CC). Fully-lined detachable hardtop is a distinct bonus, as is air con. Facelifted in 1997, when the 2.0- litre model got a much-needed power boost (avoid the underpowered late-plate 1.8). Great image, many cars are one-lady-owner buys, lots with high-spec trim(leather is preferred). Keeps value pretty well, though the recent arrival of talented newcomers and the 206CC has made the 306 better value and a certain future classic.
What to pay £4000-£9000

VW Golf

Like the Golf MkI GTI, the first Golf convertible has achieved iconic status. This is partly down to how long the design lasted – from 1979 right up until 1993 – but also because it’s such a good car. You can even buy the MkI drop-top in GTI form, with its cracking engine, decent handling and relatively light weight. No MkII cabrio but MkIII version arrived in 1993 and continued until 2002 – much bigger, heavier, less fun to drive, and the roll-over bar remains in place. All Golfs have stack-up hoods which are a matter of taste. Being a VW Golf Convertibles are fairly reliable, keeps their value and are easy to sell on.
What to pay £700-£12,500

Triumph Herald/Vitesse

If you want a starter convertible, look no further than Triumph’s perennial Herald. It’s cheap to buy, simple to run, has space for family and friends and retains an irresistible 1960s style. Launched in 1960, the Herald convertible got twin carbs as standard but even so was never a quick car. If you want to go faster, buy a Vitesse with its six-cylinder engine and potential 100mph performance – best one is the post-1968 MkII with Triumph 2000 power. Watch out for rust in the chassis legs, doors and sills but the good news is that Triumph parts are plentiful and cheap and there’s an army of specialist help out there.
What to pay £1200-£5500


Mini Cabriolet

Rover cottoned on to the big independent movement converting Minis to soft-tops when, in 1991, it offered a limited run of just 75 Minis converted by German specialist Lamm. That led to a rather better regular production model made by Karmann (1993- 96) and it’s a little jewel. Based on the Mini Cooper, it has a simple manual-fold roof that stacks up behind the rear seats plus a luxury interior with walnut facings and leather steering wheel. Space is tight inside but you’ll be having so much fun you’ll hardly notice. Finding one is your hardest challenge – only 1081 were ever made.
What to pay £4000-£10,000

Sunbeam Alpine

The Alpine always had one up on competition like the MGB convertible: it had ample 2+2 seating, even if the rear seats were strictly for small kids and even these perches were dropped after 1964 (MkI/II/III only). Hillman Husky underpinnings are unpromising but the Alpine featured sharp styling, a rorty 1500 twin-carb engine (1.6 from 1960 MkII) and front disc brakes, so it was a pretty decent drive. Simple soft top could be supplemented by an optional hardtop. Strong following for Alpines so parts supplies better than many cars of this age. Rust is a perennial problem though.
What to pay £2000-£7500



Reliant Scimitar GTC

Reliant created its own niche with the GTE sports estate back in 1968 but by 1980 its day had really come and gone. Realising that there was still demand for a car like the Triumph Stag (now defunct remember), Reliant cleverly adapted the capable plastic-bodied GTE to become a four-seater convertible. Very much in the same vein as the Stag, it had a fixed roll-over bar, folding roof and even individually folding rear seats (taken from the GTE). Powered by the 2.8-litre Ford Cologne (not Essex) V6, it makes a solid and reliable cruiser. Only 443 GTCs were made but their rust-free glassfibre bodywork has ensured a high survival rate, added to which parts supplies are no problem. Not a bad car at all, but it rather lacks the Stag’s charm.
What to pay Sun rating £3000-£8000

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