While some invoke feelings of glamour and sun-soaked adventures, others carry a little more baggage. Here’s our light-hearted look at those drop-tops you might not want to be spotted in this summer, listed in alphabetical order:
The Cadillac Allanté only really ever had one problem when it was new: the Mercedes SL. Wealthy Americans prior to 1987 only really had the German roadster as a way of expressing taste and buying power. Cadillac wanted a bit of this action and sought the help of Pininfarina to get some Euro chic. On the face of it, the Allante was a success.
Then the real problems set in, notably a leaky roof, and the reputational damage was done even if Cadillac rapidly improved its roadster. Another factor in the Allanté’s downfall and lack of sales was price, which started at $50,000 in 1987. This was due to a grandiose production routine that required each car to cross the Atlantic twice on purpose-designed Boeing 747s, known as the Allanté Air Bridge, between Italy and Detroit. As a result of all this, surviving Allantés have a whiff of failure about them even though they now offer a decent drive and V8 motor at reasonable prices.
On paper, the Chevrolet SSR was everything buyers wanted from the Super Sport Roadster concept shown at the Detroit motorshow in 2000. The looks survived almost intact from concept to reality, the drop-top roof was there, along with the curvy retro styling. Yet, the rush of customers stumbled when they found out the two tonne-plus pick-up was powered by a mere 300bhp 5.3-litre V8 instead of the original concept’s 6.0-litre V8.
The shortage of power meant the SSR was more cruiser than bruiser, and even replacing the engine with a 390bhp 6.0-litre V8 in 2005 couldn’t save the SSR. Ignore the doubters, however, and the later versions with six-speed manual gearbox crack 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds, so very few people will see who’s at the wheel.
Chrysler PT Cruiser
A convertible is supposed to confer a bit of glamour, a certain joie de vivre. The Chrysler PT Cruiser looked more like you’d given up on life. The hunched styling of this two-door drop top wasn’t as dramatic as its hatchback sister model and wasn’t helped by the hood jutting up above the body line when it was lowered.
However, the PT Cruiser Convertible offered decent cabin space for four at a time when affordable cabrios were thin on the ground. The hood itself was electrically operated, taking 20 seconds to go up or down, and it left the interior well insulated when raised.
Chrysler Sebring Cabriolet
Chrysler had been peddling its Sebring Cabriolet in the US since 1996, but it took a little longer to reach Europe. When it did, it was met with a tidal wave of indifference in a market saturated with premium four-seat drop-tops from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. This doomed the Sebring to sales you could count without taking off your flip-flops.
Even the later arrival of the third generation Sebring Cabriolet with folding metal roof wasn’t enough to save the Chrysler. The good things now are it’s very affordable, offers four seats, and hardly anyone will know what car you are driving.
Citroën C3 Pluriel
Citroën claimed the C3 Pluriel was five cars in one and a car for all seasons, though we’re not sure if that means there is a mysterious fifth season only the French know about. Regardless of this, the Pluriel could be configured in hatch, full-length sunroof, open-top, complete convertible, and even as a pick-up. Formidable, non?
Well, no, not really, as changing the Pluriel’s body from one style to another often involved the sort of work even a scaffolder would shy away from. Then there was the issue of where to stow the roof spars if you removed them as there was nowhere to put them in the car. Even if you could countenance all of this, there was still the problem of leaks to contend with – a recurring theme in this feature.
Fiat Punto Convertible
The Fiat Punto Convertible is firmly in the ‘I don’t care what you think’ section of cabrios. While some might scoff at the Italian’s less than harmonious styling, bulky hood, limited rear seat space, and tiny boot, you’ll be too busy enjoying the drive.
Like most drop-tops converted from hatches in the 1990s, the Punto suffers from a dollop of scuttle shake, yet it still offers a buzzy, entertaining drive. It helps the 1.2- and 1.6-litre engines fitted had only just enough power to be fun rather than challenge the chassis, while the triple layer hood offers fine insulation.
Ford Focus CC
Much of the Ford Focus CC was shared with the Volvo C70, yet the Ford has not enjoyed the same plaudits as its Swedish counterpart. Some of this is down the Ford’s plainer looks, but a lot more was to do with poor weather seals when the car was new. Word got out and buyers stayed away.
Ford did fix the weather sealing issues under warranty and the Focus CC remains one of the better cabrios of its type to drive. The bigger issue was it just didn’t drive anywhere near as well as the Focus hatch that was much cheaper and more practical.
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
‘The world’s first and only all-wheel drive crossover convertible’ was how Nissan introduced the Murano CrossCabriolet at its launch in the US in late 2010. Riding high on sales of its SUVs, Nissan reckoned it could broaden the theme’s appeal with a drop-top in sunnier parts of America.
The CrossCabriolet came with a fully powered roof complete with glass rear screen and upper skylights to prevent rear passengers from feeling claustrophobic. It didn’t stop the CrossCabriolet being a niche too far and Nissan dropped it in 2014. Land Rover revived the idea with the Range Rover Evoque Convertible in 2015 and Volkswagen most recently with the T-Roc Cabriolet, though critics were not any kinder to those two than to the Murano.
When it was launched in 1995, the Pontiac Sunfire was a very decent stab at an affordable, sporty convertible. The initial 120bhp 2.2-litre engine wasn’t the most exciting, but that improved with the addition of the 150bhp 2.3-litre motor. Sadly, the handling suffered from too much body lean and the Sunfire didn’t fare well in crash tests.
When new, this didn’t deter some buyers, but the heavily colour-matched cabins that looked so good in the showroom quickly took on a garish visage. Very much of its time, the unexceptional Sunfire is more ironic classic than iron-clad investment.
The prospect of a convertible based on a Renaultsport Clio should have been a dead cert for sportscar buyers. Then the covers came off the dumpy Wind. Apart from the flatulent name, the Wind certainly drove well with either 1.2- or 1.6-litre engines and a chassis that ducked and darted as you’d hope for.
Even the convertible top, which flipped up or down under the rear canopy in very little time provided novelty value. If only Renault had given the Wind the looks to match its driving talents.
Rover 100 Cabriolet
Rover cleverly prolonged the life of the Metro in 1990 by fitting interconnected Hydragas suspension and its brilliant K-Series engines. However, the Cabriolet didn’t arrive until four years after this surprisingly effective update of the Metro. Not long after that, the Metro became the Rover 100, but still nobody was buying the drop-top Metro.
The huge hood loomed over the rear cabin and lopping off the roof did nothing for the Metro/100’s dynamics. The real sales killer, though, was the high list price that meant only most determined sun worshipping Metro fan would choose the Cabriolet.
The Suzuki Vitara was a huge success in the 1990s, and so was the tiny Cappuccino roadster. What better guarantee of runaway sales than combining the two into a new model, the X90? Sadly, the guarantee in this case wasn’t worth the rice paper it was written on and the 1995 to 1997 X90 was a sales dud.
It may have conjoined the worst elements of an SUV and roadster rather than the best bits, but the niche X90 has found a suitably eccentric following. In the world of classic trials competition, its compact size, rugged drivetrain and excellent ground clearance make it a sought-after machine.
Toyota Camry Solara
The Toyota Celica convertible might not have been the most gainly drop-top, but it had genuine sporting credentials thanks to World Rally Championship-winning pedigree. The Camry Solara Convertible intended to take over as Toyota’s mid-range open-top offering in the US had no such genetics. Instead, it was based on the unerringly reliable but uninspiring Camry hatch.
A quickly introduced facelift in 2001 and then a new model in 2003 could not tempt buyers into this four-seat cabrio. When you could have an Audi, BMW, Ford Mustang or Mercedes convertible, the Camry was about as stylish and alluring as your parents’ dinner party chat.
Vauxhall wanted a slice of the BMW 3 Series Convertible’s sales action and, in 1986, it launched the Cavalier Convertible. It was thoroughly engineered by German coachbuilding firm Hammond and Thiede, complete with hefty structural roof box for the hood to fold into. Unfortunately, this meant very little boot space, but at least the two-door body didn’t flex much.
Sawing off the roof resulted in a reasonably handsome soft-top car, but with only a 115bhp 1.8-litre engine, it was no ball of fire next to the more potent 3 Series models. In the end, only 1265 Cavalier Convertibles were sold, so it’s now much rarer than the BMW it tried to pinch sales from. One celebrity owner was comedian Harry Enfield, and it even featured in the video for his song Loadsamoney (Doin' Up the House).
You can’t fault Volkswagen for the effort it put into making the Eos look and feel like a cut above a drop-top Golf. Everything from the name and folding metal roof spoke of a more bespoke, classy convertible that was more rival to the BMW 3 Series. Yet, underneath it had the same engines found in almost every other VW, as well as the switches, clocks and infotainment. Not a bad thing in itself, but it made it hard to justify the prices.
When Volkswagen customers were faced with the choice of cabriolet versions of the Beetle and Golf alongside the Eos, the more familiar models won out. On the upside, the Eos offered more space than either sibling for rear-seat passengers, though no more luggage room with the hefty metal roof folded down, but that roof had a nasty habit of letting water in after the seals got knackered.
Zimmer Golden Spirit
Anyone who buys a Zimmer doesn’t care what people think about them. After all, choosing a huge slab of retro-styled kitsch as your preferred mode of transport requires a personality not upset by the occasional pointed finger. Rather, this could well be the point of owning a Zimmer Golden Spirit.
Built by Paul Zimmer and then Art Zimmer, who was no relation, the cars were billed as neo-classically styled luxury cars based on a Ford Mustang chassis. The two-door convertible was a surprise hit in the US’s sunnier states, while the outlandishly long saloon model dwarfed most other stretch limos.