Everybody should own a convertible at least once in their life. Only now, they're getting harder and harder to come by, despite being more convenient, comfortable and secure than ever before. There are just 26 2016 model year convertibles in the market for less than $85,000, and their numbers seem to fall every year. At no point since the 1970s have convertibles been more rare.
If you're a one-percenter, fear not: There are just as many convertibles for sale for $85,000 and up as there are under $85,000, so you'll never have to suffer the indignity of riding in a Mustang, like the unwashed masses.
For the sake of this post, we're limiting "convertibles" to cars that have roofs that don't need to be assembled. For example the Miata MX-5 has a manually operated convertible top, but the Jeep Wrangler has a canvas top that you can't raise and lower from the driver's seat.
The Early Days
It used to be that if you owned a car, you drove it in the open air whether you wanted to or not. You also wore a hat the size of a large waterfowl.
Cars had been around 20 years before Essex came along and introduced the first fully closed cabin, and for years after that most cars would be of the "open touring car" variety, with some kind of foldable top to keep the weather out.
The Golden Era
After World War II, car production began in earnest again. Convertibles -- generally with power-operated tops that went up or down at the touch of a button on the dash -- were a significant part of the product mix for any auto manufacturer. By the mid-1960s, it was rare for a car company to offer a model that didn't come in convertible form. How else would your friends with the sailor cap and the yellow vest see you and your girl if you had a roof over your head all the time?
Almost the End
Convertibles were nearly legislated out of business in the 1970s. When Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards were enacted in 1968, the prevailing wisdom was that they would be revised to include stringent rollover standards. It not only meant the end of the line for convertibles, but for hardtop coupes, as well. Those cars -- with giant window openings like you'd find on the 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle -- would give way to "Colonnade" style bodies with massive C-pillars meant to help strengthen the roof.
Those rollover standards never materialized, though. Unfortunately for the convertible buyer, manufacturers found it a lot easier to start offering moon roofs that let the sun shine in, and as this ad depicts, lets the bullets rain out.
The "Last Convertible"
GM was so convinced that convertibles were going to be extinct that it billed the 1975 Cadillac Eldorado as "the only American-built luxury convertible" and the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado as "the last American convertible." The behemoth Eldorado was two years from being downsized, but the idea that it would become a collector's item got a bunch of enterprising flim-flam artists...er..."collectors" excited to make a buck. Cadillac ended up selling a staggering 14,000 Eldorados that year, and literally tons of them were tucked away, in the hopes that they could be dragged out in a few years when they matured, like a savings bond.
Fast forward six years, and GM introduced an all-new Cadillac Eldorado Convertible. Those who spent lavishly on 1976 Eldorados launched an unsuccessful class action lawsuit.
By the time Ford introduced the Fox-bodied Mustang in 1979, plans were afoot to start offering convertibles again. The Mustang convertible appeared in 1982, the Chevrolet Camaro followed suit in 1987, and convertibles started reappearing from Oldsmobile, Mercury, Cadillac, and Dodge throughout the 1980s. In reality, only a select few manufacturers were actually building convertibles. Most were sending the cars out to ASC (American Sunroof Company) to have the roofs hacked off with a Sawzall, and a canvas top put in its place. As you can imagine, removing the roof offered the structural rigidity of lasagna.
The Hardtop Convertible
Ford came up with the idea for a fully retractable hardtop on the 1957 Fairlane 500 Skyliner, but its network of pumps, screws and motors made it impossible to live with. In 1995, Mitsubishi reintroduced the concept in the 3000GT Spyder. Mitsubishi and ASC only built about 2,700 over two model years, but it proved that the concept of a folding hardtop could work. Between the 1995 and the mid-2000s, folding hardtops appeared poised to completely eradicate the canvas top.
The Return of the Canvas Top
Canvas certainly had its problems in the early days. Usually, just a single layer of material formed the top, so they were noisy, they leaked and you could break into the car with nothing other than a pen knife. Suppliers to the automotive industry like Haartz began to develop better top materials, though, that had a nicer appearance, came in a range of colors and shook off water easily.
Triple-layer tops provided cars with headliners just as nice as you'd find in a hardtop, and security netting sandwiched between the top canvas and the headliner kept theives at bay. Better engineered tops can be lowered by unfastening a single latch, and pressing a single button, so you can get to open air in the time it takes a traffic light to change.
Despite the vast improvements, convertibles are getting harder and harder to come by. They're usually more expensive, and harder to find on a dealer's lot than a hardtop, but the pleasure they offer on a warm summer night makes the added search worth it.
Here's what's left of the convertible market for the 2015 and 2016 model years. If we've missed any, let us know and we'll get them added.
$15,000 to $25,000
$25,000 to $35,000
$35,000 to $45,000
$45,000 to $55,000
$55,000 to $85,000
Coming Soon in 2017