Currently reading: James Ruppert: folding tin-tops are perfect compromise cars
You don’t need a lot of folding money for a convertible you really can enjoy all year round

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.

9 Vauxhall tigra

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.

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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.

Tales from Ruppert's garage

8 Land rover series 3

Land Rover Series 3, mileage - 132,375: Well, that broken light cover didn’t affect the MOT outcome. But the lighting system did. I know I said I was ordering some parts, but a lot of real-life events conspired to stop me phoning up a Land Rover parts supplier. Well, that’s my excuse. Anyway, the weird electrical faults that have dogged the Lorry were traced to bad earths, after an hour’s worth of labour. The lights work but the radio doesn’t. Some minor advisories on the exhaust mounting, some play in the steering box and very slight pull to the left under braking are not too serious at all. I promised to have ordered the parts for my upcoming cack-handed service.

Reader's ride

7 Jaguar xk

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Jaguar XK: Thanks to Stuart Dixon yet again: “Here is my latest Jaguar XK. It is a 5.0-litre Portfolio edition with a black and ivory interior. I have used it during lockdown to raise funds for the NHS.

“I can’t tell you a lot about the car’s recent history as I only bought in January to add to my fleet of XKs, which I take around the country to shows to raise funds for a children’s hospice. It is in mint condition, having done only 36,000 miles. In under four years, my XKs have helped me raise over £168,000 for the children.”

If you want to help Stuart, you can do so here:

Readers' questions

6 Bmw 3 series

Question: I fancy trying some track days and have £8000 to buy a fun car that won’t cost the world to prepare. Any suggestions? Daniel Baker, Hampshire

Answer: Most venues will allow your car out on track if it’s roadworthy, so the key is to find something with a recent MOT. A clean E90-generation BMW 330i can be picked up for around £5000 and, with some performance tyre and brake upgrades, could have serious potential, with the added bonus that you could comfortably drive to and from the track. You could spend a lot of money kitting out a cheap sports coupé like a Toyota Celica or Audi TT, but day-to-day usability will take a hit. Whatever your choice, invest in performance oil and check the entire suspension system for wear and play. FP

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5 Potholes

Question: An especially large pothole has bent one of the wheels on my car. Is my local council liable for the cost of repair? Sarah Wood, London

Answer: Your priority – aside from replacing the wheel and tyre – is to get written testimony from a mechanic that the damage was caused by a pothole and that the damaged part was in working condition beforehand. Find out whether Highways England or your local council manages the road in question and contact them, giving them the time, date and exact location of the incident – and explain why you think they are responsible. In any case, you should report the road defect to the relevant authority to stop other road users meeting the same fate. FP


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DeS_649 2 December 2020

A tin-top appeals to me from an (admittedly paranoid) security perspective; you can't just take a pocketknife and slash the roof. Dad owned a 59-plate C70 for some years and quite enjoyed it, although road tax and servicing were costly. Wasn't the most entertaining steer either, if I recall, although it was a good looking car whichever way you chose to drive it.

A work colleague has a 430d as her daily drive, and I have to admit that it is also a very good-looking car - good enough for me to hunt for a 4-series convertible. Some months ago I found one which was ideal for me, but a moment's hesitation cost me that one - obviously someone else also thought it to be just the ticket!

si73 1 December 2020
My soft top is perfectly snug and warm in winter, the heater is excellent, for me, a folding hard top is only better if you value the different styling, ie a coupe with the roof up and convertible with it down. Soft tops seldom look like coupes. I think Volvo's C70 is one of the better looking of the breed.