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Classic American Convertibles

Published: 20th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Classic American ConvertiblesThis 1966 Mustang convertible has all the most desirable options like styled steel wheels, grille mounted driving lamps, 289ci V8 engine, and woodrim steering wheel to name but a few
1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air, with ‘eggcrate’ front grille, two-tone paintwork, rear fender skirts and continental kit. Highly revered, sought after and very collectable 1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air, with ‘eggcrate’ front grille, two-tone paintwork, rear fender skirts and continental kit. Highly revered, sought after and very collectable
Rare Mopar Muscle, the Dodge Challenger convertible was available in numerous eye catching colours! Rare Mopar Muscle, the Dodge Challenger convertible was available in numerous eye catching colours!
The LeBaron convertible is a good looker from any angle, not as glam as the Bel-Air, but comes at a fraction of the price and is easy to run The LeBaron convertible is a good looker from any angle, not as glam as the Bel-Air, but comes at a fraction of the price and is easy to run
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American cars are just made to be classic convertibles. And there’s one to suit all pockets

With summer just around the corner and thoughts turn to long hot heady days and balmy evenings, now is the time to consider purchasing your dream Yank convertible, otherwise referred to in American speak as ragtops. The very essence of open top motoring conjures up thoughts of romance, excitement, freedom, the wind blowing through your hair, the sun beating down, and all is well with the world, it’s a great feeling even this side of the pond! Ostensibly convertibles and summer go together, but even in winter, with the heater full on and you’re well wrapped up and protected against the elements, on gin clear blue sky cold sunny days, open top motoring is still very exhilarating on short journeys.

Chevrolet Bel-Air

Unquestionably a class act of the 1950’s with the Tri-Chevy Bel-Airs of 1955, ’56 and ’57 reaching the zenith of their genre. The Bel- Air was fi rst introduced as a top of the range Styleline Deluxe model in 1950 as America’s fi rst low priced hardtop coupe at $1741 and about $100 extra for the convertible. In 1955 the Bel-Air was completely restyled and incorporated a new tubular chassis, lighter, but more rigid and stronger than before, and with a new ball joint front suspension arrangement. Up until now Chevrolet’s venerable straight-six engine had soldiered on, but largely due to the work of division Chief Engineer Edward N. Cole, a V8 engine became available. The styling of the 1955 model was distinctive, boxier than its predecessor and sported an ‘eggcrate’ front grille. Engine options ranged from the 235ci straight-six to 283ci V8. Sales of Bel-Air convertibles amounted to 41,292 for 1955. The Bel-Air body styling lent itself particularly well to two-tone colour schemes, very in vogue during the period. Chevrolet were defi nitely fl ying high with sales of the Bel-Air topping 770,955, of which 42,292 were convertibles. For 1956 there was a frontal restyling exercise that now included a full width grille. A novel feature was the petrol fi ller cap which was concealed behind the left taillight which fl ipped down for access. A new option was a 283ci fuel injected V8 engine. The last of the Tri-Chevy’s was the restyled 1957 Bel-Air, complete with fi ns and even more chrome. The convertible sold at $2,511, an awful lot of car for your money that exuded bucketloads of style and if you couldn’t afford a Cadillac convertible, it was the next best thing! The rear wings sported a distinctive anodised ribbed panel and on the bonnet were twin ‘bomb sight’ style ornaments!

Ford Mustang

On April 17th 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, a motoring icon was born, the Ford Mustang was launched and suddenly car sales took on a whole new dimension. On the fi rst day some 22,000 orders were placed, and between 1964- 1965 over 680,000 Mustangs were produced, 101,945 of them were conver tibles. The Mustang was the brainchild of Lee Iaccoca, Ford’s youngest ever General Manager in 1960, and what started as a dinner conversation piece at the Fairlane Inn, Dearborn, turned into an unprecedented success story. The car was a four seater (2+2 really) about the same length of the original T-Bird and aimed at the youth market. Penned by Joe Oros and talented assistant Dave Ash, the Mustang was based upon the Falcon fl oorpan. The long bonnet and short rear deck defi ned the so called ‘Pony car’ image, that really set the ball rolling at the start of the ‘muscle car’ wars era. The base model was a very inexpensive $2300, with the convertible a little more at $2614. However, most buyers purchased cars with a whole host of options that would increase the price to over $3000. Indeed it was things like Pony interior trim, wood rim steering wheel, dashboard appliqués, Rally Pac gauges, grille mounted driving lights, styled steel wheels, etc, that made the car. Engine options ranged from the base 170ci straight-six, up to the most powerful K-code 289ci V8 rated at 271bhp. The styling of the convertible worked beautifully, with the hood when folded almost fl ush with the rear decking. Models produced between 1964 – 1966 remain the purest in form, there was a makeover for the 1967 model, but thereafter Ford’s Pony cars received an injection of steroids, and got larger, heavier, as well as more powerful. The last of the convertible genre was with the Mach 1, and after 1973, no more ragtops for more than a decade.

Dodge Challenger

The third generation Challenger and its cousin the Plymouth Barracuda utilised the E-Body platform, though the Challenger was two-inches longer than the ‘Cuda and none of the exterior panels were interchangeable. The Challenger could be deemed to be the last of the eras musclecars, entering the scene in 1970 and too late to be any serious competition to the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet’s Camaro. The Challenger convertible was only produced for two years between 1970 – 1971. However, it did offer the very best of performance and musclecar drivetrain with a ragtop image. The choice of engine options was bewildering, with 10 available ranging from a lowly 225ci slant-six to a 426ci Hemi, though the much preferred choice for many enthusiasts was either the 383ci V8 or 440ci Six-pack. This coupled to a TorqueFlite automatic transmission and heavy duty Dana 60 rear axle made for a fairly bulletproof combination. Penned by Carl Cameron, the classic defi nitive Pony car image of a long bonnet and short rear decking lived on. The R/T (Road Track) performance model could also be supplied with the SE luxury packages that included leather trimmed interiors. Cars fi tted with a $97 option Shaker hood are very sought after.  The Shaker option was a fully functional hood attached to the base of the carburettor and protruded through a hole in the bonnet, and literally shook when the engine was running! Manual transmission options came with a pistol grip Hurst shifter. Chr ysler were synonymous for their wild rainbow colour paint choices of the time, which included the brightest such as Sublime Green, Plum Crazy, Top Banana, Go Mango and Pink Panther to name but a few. The Challenger convertible is something of a rare beast with only 4243 produced in 1970 and 2,165 in 1971 before they were discontinued, though the hardtop coupe lived on for a few more years. Hemi powered Challenger convertibles are extremely rare with only nine built!

Chrysler LeBaron

The fi rst series LeBaron of the early 1980s was endowed with a rather uninspiring boxy styling. Between 1983-1986 a convertible coupe was available in Town & Country guise with plastic woodie side panels, and a Mark Cross edition that was effectively a leather interior trim option. The second series front wheel drive LeBaron GTC was launched in 1987 and the J-Bodied convertible was a huge improvement on its predecessor. An adequate if not electrifying performer, the LeBaron was powered by a 2.2 litre fourcylinder turbocharged engine rated at 146bhp, coupled to a fi ve-speed manual transmission with automatic being an option. More power was available from the 2.2-litre engine from 1989 and output rose to 174bhp. All round disc brakes ensured the utmost effi ciency in the retardation department. The droop snoot styled frontal aspect included concealed headlamps and at the rear was a full width light panel. While the LeBaron may look more European than USA from the outside, the interior was fully loaded and featured a good many bells and whistles normally associated with much more upmarket luxury cars, while the laceyspoke alloy wheels completed the excellent all round exterior aesthetic appeal. There was also a GTC limited edition convertible offered in 1988 with 2754 produced. It was a derivative of the J-Bodied coupe and all cars were fi nished in white, including the wheelsand most of the body trim. The LeBaron continued in production asa convertible up until 1993 but by now was powered by a Mitsubishi V6 engine. Though low on kudos, nevertheless the LeBaron represents a good performing and handling compact rag top with economy in mind too.


Chevrolet Bel-Air convertibles 1955 – 1957 can command £35,000-£50,000 depending on condition and history. It may be possible to pick up a straight-six Mustang convertible for less than £20,000, but any V8 model will be £20,000-£30,000. Dodge Challengers range from £20,000-£30,000 depending on condition and engine option, though a Hemi would easily top $1 million! The least expensive convertible in our quartet is the LeBaron at £2500-£4000.


For maximum kudos and desirability the Tri-Chevy Bel-Air convertible remains at the top of most enthusiasts list of must have cars, hence the high price they can command. One of the most collectable of all classic Chevrolets. For aesthetic appeal and purity in design and styling, then the 1964-1966 Mustang convertible scores high with followers of all that’s best from the Blue Oval stable. Also a very practical car to own, with excellent replacement parts backup, club support and ease of garaging at home. For devotees of Mopar Muscle who like wind in the hair motoring, what could be fi ner than the Dodge Challenger convertible? Low production fi gures mean exclusivity, and good club support from the Mopar Muscle Association. While the LeBaron convertible maybe the least collectable of our quartet, it’s also the most affordable and makes for a fi ne example of a ‘cooking’ starter Yank, perhaps to test the water in American car ownership, or maybe even as a second car?

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