I do revel in the cliché that this is the right time of year to buy a convertible car for buttons. There is always some truth in it, as car buying thoughts haven’t quite turned to spring just yet. However, if you’ve ever owned an open-top, you will know that it must be enjoyed all year round. There is a compromise, though: the folding tin-top. Snug when shut, it is fresh-air fun at the touch of a button. Trouble is, some are better engineered than others, and you really need to be careful. So which ones are the bargain folders?
The Mercedes-Benz SLK was the first of the modern-era examples and it is possible to find quite old ones that are rusty and have blown head gaskets. Walk far away from these, even if the roof still works. Better to focus on ones that will get to different open-air locations without drama.
For £995, it is possible to buy a privately sold P-plated SLK 230 from 1997 with a year’s MOT and history. Mysteriously, there is “work to be done”, but nothing specific. If you don’t want that hassle, then spend £5000 and you can pick up a Mk2 model from 2005. One that caught my eye was an SLK 200 with just over 70,000 miles and a fresh service. It had all the proper extras, including a wind deflector. There’s a simple enough 1.8 engine so it’s likely to be much less worry than a several-owner Merc SL for similar money.
I do have a soft spot for a Vauxhall Tigra, though. In a half-light, it is a slightly less focused VX220 but easier and cheaper to live with. And buy. Although you can find some with non-closure issues. Nevertheless, I was rather taken by a 2008 one finished in ‘Panther’ black with leather inside, never the best material for an open car but this is a part-timer anyway. This 1.4 Exclusiv had done under 70,000 miles and was on offer from a dealer for a smidge under £1900. It looked very tidy, with a full history. Better than the Peugeot CCs, which do seem prone to roof issues a few years down the line.
One of the smartest – and it’s actually quite difficult to tell that it is a folder – is the BMW 3 Series. There are plenty to choose from, and although the diesel does not seem to be the best long-term buy, they are great value. If you are doing a decent commute or work miles, this is the stylish way to do it. A 2008 325d with under 100,000 miles is £5500 and will return more than 40mpg overall. Plus you can get four bodies inside very comfortably indeed.
So don’t overlook a folder. It’s probably a doomed product line for new cars, but it’s worth considering when you want a bit of fun and need your dose of vitamin D.