Soft-top cars are often rarer and more expensive than their saloon or coupé counterparts.
Yet that hasn’t stopped many from selling in huge numbers. Here’s our list of the best-selling soft-tops in ascending order:
Jaguar E-type (33,992 sold in total)
For a car whose influence is still being felt today, the Jaguar E-type roadster sold in surprisingly small numbers. This is doubly intriguing when it was also a smash hit in the US thanks to its glamorous lines and much-touted 150mph performance, at a price that drastically undercut contemporary Ferraris and Maseratis.
Even more curious is the best year for E-type roadster sales was 1969, when 4287 of the Series 2 model found buyers even though many considered it much less pretty than the Series 1. Regardless of the numbers, the Jaguar stands as the archetypal high-speed soft-top, even if it was outsold by its fixed roof coupé sister model.
Toyota MR2 (60,000)
The third generation of Toyota MR2 was even more focusedon driving fun than its predecessors. The simple formula of a mid-mounted engine, two seats and low weight resulted in a cracking compact roadster, even if some thought this was at the expense of practicality.
The simple fold-down soft-top doubled as its own tonneau cover and plenty of buyers flocked to the car. Exact sales figures are not available, but around 28,000 were sold in the US and 14,000 in Europe, plus strong initial sales in Japan, Australia and elsewhere. However, by the end of the third MR2’s life sales had dwindled in key markets and production ceased in 2007.
VW Karmann-Ghia (80,899)
After the runaway success of the Beetle-in-a-party-frock coupé, Volkswagen’s next logical step was to launch the Karmann-Ghia Convertible. The first drop-top Karmann arrived in 1958 as a nominal four-seater, and it remained in production until 1974.
Glacially slow performance did nothing to deter buyers from enjoying the good looks of the Karmann, particularly in the US. However, extra strengthening to compensate for the lack of a fixed roof made it heavier than the coupé and, consequently, even more slothful. 0-60mph took the thick end of 30 seconds. None of that has affected interest or values as the Convertible and its coupé sibling are now treasured classics.
Audi TT Roadster (110,319)
Audi found itself with an instant hit on its hands with the TT Mk1 in 1998 and the Roadster followed a year later. There was no pretence the drop-top was anything other than a two-seater and it gave Audi a solid rival to the PorscheBoxster. During its seven-year lifespan, the first-generation TT Roadster found 110,319 eager buyers and it’s just as keenly prized today.
Audi broadened the Roadster’s appeal with a front-wheel drive version and the option of a 150bhp engine where the coupé could only be had with more potent motors. Subsequent generations of TT have failed to match the sales success of the Mk1.
Honda S2000 (112,631)
In true mid-lifecrisis fashion, Honda treated itself to a sports car for its 50th birthday. In true Honda style, the S2000 had nothing to do with middle-age spread. Instead, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine offered the most power per litre of any normally aspirated road car at the time thanks to 240bhp. This was enough to see the S2000 from 0-62mph in 6.2sec and put the Japanese soft-top in contention with the Porsche Boxster and Mercedes SLK.
Some buyers of those German rivals would find the S2000 a little too hardcore as the Honda’s engine thrived on revs, but the sales figures over a 10-year life show plenty relished this hard-charging birthday gift.
The MGF brilliantly updated the formula for affordable roadsters used by MG dating back to the 1920s. A mainstream engine fitted into a slinky body with low weight and agile handling proved just as good in 1995 when the F was launched. Even in the face of the Lotus Elise and Mazda MX-5, the F sold well and gained praise, even if the Rover K-Series engine earned an unenviable rep for blowing its head gasket.
The TF update was a mixed bag, bringing more power but doing away with the excellent Hydragas suspension. It soldiered on until the demise of Rover and then re-emerged under the revived MG banner with Chinese owners, but only 906 TFs were made in this final phase of the car’s life.
Fiat 850 Spider (124,660)
Achingly pretty, the Fiat 850 Spider’s looks were so well judged it was almost impossible to tell how small this roadster was until you were sat in it. Its neat lines were ensured thanks to the roof folding under a panel behind the cockpit, while the engine mounted at the back, as per the standard 850 saloon.
The 850 Spider was a hit in the US and the original 47bhp 843cc engine was upgraded to 903cc and a giddy 49bhp. Then again, few worried about the performance of this roadster when it looked so gorgeous.
Porsche Boxster (160,578)
The importance of the first 986 generation of Porsche Boxster can never be understated. It really is the car that saved Porsche from being swallowed whole and allowed it to continue with its independent thinking. Sharing everything from the windscreen forward with the 996-gen 911 cut costs and delivered a brilliant two-seat roadster at a price few thought possible for a Porsche in 1996.
The German firm maintained interest and sales throughout the 986’s eight-year life with subtle styling upgrades and expanding the engine range. The original 2.5-litre flat-six was replaced by a much better 2.7-litre motor in 2000, while the 3.2-litre BoxsterS variant arrived in 1999 with 249bhp. It says a lot that Porsche’s two-seat roadster outsold the Audi TT Roadster Mk1 by around 50,000 units over a similar on-sale period. We don't have definite figures for the 986 successor model, the 987, which would doubtless make the Boxster number look substantially larger.
Alfa Romeo Spider (175,467)
This sales total is for all Alfa Romer Spider models, from the very first in 1966 up to the last in 2011. Even on its own, the original Spider that ran in four generations from ’66 to 1993 would still make it into this list of best-sellers with 124,104 sold.
The mid-90s 916 Spider was also a good seller alongside its GTV coupé sister and Alfa produced 39,000 of the open-top model. The last of the line Type 939 was a harder sell and only 12,363 rolled off the production line between 2007 and 2011.
Fiat 124 Spider (178,439)
It may not have sold in quite the same numbers as some of its rivals, but the Fiat 124 Spider enjoyed a longevity few can match. It was launched in 1966 and was still on sale in 1985 in largely unchanged form. It’s a testament to how right the car was straight out of the factory.
Fiat kept it simple for the 124 Spider, using simple four-cylinder engine, rear-drive and clean-cut looks. It found a lot of favour in the US and even did well in rallying. However, the 124 Spider could have sold even more if Fiat had offered the car with right-hand drive (opening up the large UK, Japan and Australian markets to name but three) rather than selling it as a left-hooker only.
BMW Z4 (180,856)
Now into its third generation, the first of the breed BMW Z4 was the best-seller out of them all. Known as the E85 in BMW-ese, the original Z4 was a much more driver-focused car than its Z3 predecessor. It kicked off with BMW’s soulfuland supple 2.5- and 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines, later gaining a cheaper-to-buy 2.2-litre four-cylinder motor.
There was also the Z4M Roadster, and its coupé sibling, along with the Si coupé. However, it was the soft-top that dominated Z4 production at the Spartanburg factory in the US across its six-year life.
MG Midget (226,427)
The MG Midget is an enduringly appealing small sports car and just as much an inspiration for the Mazda MX-5 as the Lotus Elan. MG knew exactly who wanted this car in 1961 and built it to precisely the right specification and price so it was affordable and just nippy enough. It started life with a meagre 948cc A-series motor, but this was upped to 1098cc and then 1275cc before a final fling with a Triumph-sourced 1500cc engine.
Whichever period you look at, the Midget was a keen seller, helped by its frugal economy thanks to an all-up weight of between 695- and 780kg depending model. This saw the Midget weather the early 1970s fuel crisis and continue on sale until 1979.
Mercedes-Benz SL (237,287)
The R107 generation of Mercedes SL introduced in 1971 went on to sell almost five times as many cars as the previous ‘Pagoda’ model. It helped the R107 enjoy a near 20-year production life compared to eight years for the earlier model. However, it also says the R107 was just the right blend of luxury, style and handling for the times.
Just as happy barrelling down the autobahn as it was as an accoutrement of the jet set, this SL lasted from 1971 to 1989 with subtle updates and engine improvements. It has never gone out of favour, like so many of its contemporaries suffered, before finding classic status so a large number survive.
BMW Z3 (279,273)
For a car that many felt was too contrived and not that great to drive, the BMW Z3 sure found plenty of willing buyers during its six years on sale. At the lower end of the scale, the 1.9-litre cars gave the Mazda MX-5 and MGF a run for their money. At the higher reaches of the Z3 range, the 3.0-litre model was a competent alternative to a Porsche Boxster.
There was even the Z3M Roadster, and its unusual and now very collectable coupé sister, for those wanting to go much quicker. However, it’s the bread and butter Z3 models that generated sales volume that exceeded the subsequent Z4 by 50 per cent.
Ford Mustang (291,079)
The first-generation Ford Mustang was a runaway success, yet the convertible was a much slower seller than its Hardtop and Fastback sister models. 1965 was the peak year for this Mustang soft-top, with 73,149 going to new owners, while 1971 was the nadir of convertible sales for the original Mustang with only 6121 sold.
With growing concern in the US about regulators banning open-top cars for safety reasons in the early 1970s, Ford didn’t offer a second-generation convertible Mustang. It took until 1983 before America’s pony car once again came with a fabric hood.
Triumph Spitfire (309,340)
Triumph’s riposte to the MG Midget was the Spitfire and it went on to outsell its key rival and remained on sale from 192 to 1980. Impressively, it was the final fifth incarnation of the Spitfire, the 1500, that sold in the greatest numbers and rung up 91,137 sales on the till.
Rarest of the Spitfire models is the Mk2, which was on sale between 1965 and 1967 with a sales tally of 37,409. It gained an extra 4bhp over the original Spitfire’s 67bhp, which was deemed plenty in a car weighing just 711kg. In addition, Triumph's TR series of sports cars notched up a total of 250,000 sales, many of them open-tops, over a period of nearly 30 years, ending in 1981.
VW Golf Cabrio Mk1 (400,871)
The Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is an unlikely entry at the upper end of this chart, but it underlines the enduring appeal of the Mk1 Golf. Introduced in 1979 as an addition to the standard range, it soon gained a GTI badge and all the power that went with that hot hatch.
When VW moved on to the Mk2 Golf, it proved too expensive to develop a convertible version. As a result, the Mk1 Convertible marched on and did the same again for a short period even when the Mk3 arrived in 1993. When it was finally replaced by the Mk3-based Convertible, the original Cabrio had notched up an impressive 400,871 sales.
Chevrolet Corvette (465,819)
Taken as a single model within the ever-evolving Corvette line-up, the Convertible accounts for 465,819 sales between 1953 and 2020. From 1953 until 1962, an open-top was the only choice for this American sports car, though many were ordered with a removable factory hard-top as an option.
After the introduction of the Corvette in 1953 when a mere 300 cars were built, the leanest year for convertible sales was 1955 with just 700 sold. The best year was 1969 when a total of 18,630 convertible versions were sold, which was almost double the number of coupé models that found buyers that year.
MGB Roadster (513,276)
For a long time, the MGB Roadster was the world’s best-selling open-top sports car until the Mazda MX-5 that so ably copied the formula stole its crown. Even so, more than half a million Roadsters shows just what a huge success this simple British car was when on sale between 1962 and 1980.
Roadster sales outstripped the coupé GT model’s, helped by the open-top car being on sale for three years before the GT was launched in 1965. The basic design didn’t change much in 18 years, which eventually is what saw the MGB die off as tastes moved to hot hatches and it looked like US legislation would outlaw open-top cars, as already mentioned.
BMW 3 Series Convertible (523,446)
The BMW 3 Series has always been a car to covet, so creating a soft-top version of this small exec was only going to add to its allure. BMW initially turned to German coachbuilder Baur to do this work and 19,021 of the first generation E21 3 Series were converted. This was not a full drop-top, but a Targa roof design. It was the same with the early second gen E30 Convertibles before BMW launched its in-house full convertible.
From that point, sales rocketed and BMW sold 143,425 E30 Convertibles, followed by around 165,000 of the third generation E36 model. Sales peaked with the following fourth gen E46 at around 196,000 during its production life. However, BMW then replaced this car with a folding hard-top for the E93 model in 2006.
Mazda MX-5 (1.05 million)
And the winner is… not quite the Mazda MX-5 that you probably expected. It’s certainly the best-selling soft-top roadster or sports car, but the Japanese car has to settle for second spot here. Still, sales of more than 1 million and counting mean the MX-5 is unlikely ever to be beaten by any two-seat rivals.
On sales alone, the Mk1 MX-5 would feature high up in this chart as it notched up an impressive 421,107 sales in eight years. It proves how right Mazda were with this car from the get-go, delivering MG-style fun but with Japanese dependability. It followed up with around 350,000 sales of the Mk2, and the Mk4 launched in 2015 carried the MX-5 over the million mark on 22 April 2016.
Citroën 2CV (3,872,583)
An astonishingly long life helped the Citroën 2CV chalk up almost 4 million sales of the standard car in its 42-year life. All came with the folding canvas roof that was intrinsic to the success of this car, designed to appeal to anyone who wanted budget motoring. The simplicity of the roof design meant you could enjoy fresh air driving in mere seconds. In 1953 Autocar acclaimed it as the most ingenious car design since the Ford Model T.
As well as the 3,872,583 2CVs made between 1948 and 1990, you could add the 1,443,583 slightly posher Dyane models with the same soft-top roof style. The Dyane was based on the 2CVs chassis and running gears, so was essentially a variation on the theme rather than the replacement model it was supposed to be.