Summer is drawing to a close and some of it was really rather lovely.
After spending it cooped up inside a tin can on your way to work, you might be thinking about saving up to buy yourself a nice convertible to make the daily grind a bit more enjoyable next summer.
But beware: just because the roof comes off, it doesn’t mean it’s a good car. Over the years there have been some shockingly bad open-toppers. Cars so fearsomely dreadful that even endless sunny days should never tempt you into buying one.
So, to help you avoid falling into the trap, here is the Only Motors top 5 worst convertibles.
Crayford-Spikins Austin Allegro
British coachbuilder Crayford kept the flame of top-down motoring alive during the Seventies, when the car manufacturers seemed to be abandoning the concept.
Twickenham-based British Leyland dealer Spikins commissioned Crayford to create this shiversome open-topped Austin Allegro, as a sort of spiritual successor to the Morris Minor convertible.
A huge amount of work went into making sure the roofless Allegro was strong enough to not collapse in on itself. So it was, in fact, half decent to drive. But the hood wasn’t brilliant, looking untidy down, and flapping about when it was up.
But that wasn’t its biggest problem. It was, at the end of the day, still an Allegro, a car as joyless as a wet bank holiday in Bognor. And at £2,099, it was pretty expensive, too.
Amazingly, a handful of people bought it anyway. And some have even survived.
Ford Escort Cabriolet
It wasn’t until 1983 that Ford got around to taking the roof off its best-selling Escort. The first one, based on the Mk.3, was actually quite a nice car that looked good and drove well, as did the closely-related Mk.4.
The Mk.5 that followed was utterly horrid has a hatchback and taking the roof off did precisely nothing to help. It steadily improved through several facelifts, but was never better than okay. The real problem with the open top Escort, though, wasn’t so much the car itself. It had more to do with the people that bought them.
The Escort Cabriolet became the archetypal Essex hairdresser’s car. And a favourite of the white sock-wearing tennis club brigade. People who were ripe for ridicule during the Eighties and Nineties and the car became a target itself.
Still, iffy image or not, the Escort sold in gigantic quantities for a drop-top and even has its fans today. But can you really get past the image of a tennis-playing Essex girl?
Saab 900 Convertible
The soft top Saab was always a very handsome thing. And it was, for many years, the UK’s best-selling convertible. But there was a fundamental problem with it.
You see, Saab made the closed 900 very safe by making the upper structure – the pillars and roof – incredibly strong. When Saab removed the roof, it didn’t really do anything to put some strength back into the bodyshell.
As a result, it was as rigid as a wet sponge cake and shook and shimmied like a belly dancer in an earthquake. Ask it to take a corner at speed and it just sort of couldn’t.
The Vauxhall Cavalier-based Mk.2 was no better. But it was still very handsome, the interior was a lovely place to be, and it could actually seat four adults, as it forebear could. So the floppiness didn’t really matter.
Rover Metro Cabriolet
As the Nineties dawned, Rover saw that convertibles were hugely popular and decided it wanted a piece of the action. Its 200 Cabriolet was easily better than the contemporary Escort and Astra, so Rover thought it could repeat the trick with the smaller Metro.
It couldn’t. It was actually pretty well engineered, but the Metro’s styling didn’t exactly lend itself to the roofless look. Nor did the car’s structure, which was as strong as wet cardboard even with a roof. And it was ludicrously expensive. So no-one bought it.
If the rust can be kept at bay, there are people out there who highly prize these wretched little things. We have literally no idea why. Even now, the Peugeot 205 CJ is so much better.
Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
At the turn of the Millennium, the world’s car manufacturers were going retro crazy, the Americans in particular. There was the hot rod-esque Plymouth Prowler, the Ford Thunderbird boulevardier and the Chrysler PT Cruiser.
The Cruiser, based on the distinctly not-good Neon, was meant to evoke the classic four-door saloons of the post-war years. In reality, it was a cruddy pseudo-MPV for anyone with a pathological need to ‘stand out’.
A convertible concept was shown early in the PT’s life, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Chrysler got around to actually building it. It was at least rather spacious, but it looked like a rhinoceros. Why on Earth anyone bought it we will never know.
Images: Aronline.co.uk (Allegro, Metro); Favcars.com (others)
By Graham King