Merced County Times Newspaper
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Despite some concerns, there’s no doubt: Convertibles are fun!

Imagine whizzing along your favorite country lane, the sun shining on your face, the wind gently blowing your hair and the birds are chirping. These are the experiences people who own convertibles regularly enjoy.

For almost a century foreign and domestic automakers have manufactured convertibles and open-air motoring adds a whole new dimension to the driving experience.

A couple of years ago I rode from Atwater to Hilmar for lunch at the Hot Rod Cafe in the backseat of a vintage Studebaker Lark convertible. It was a hot summer day and the wind buffeted me all the way up and back.

But I was struck by the proximity of all the outside elements which you are shielded from in a conventional closed car.

That convertible ride in the Lark was a different experience, for sure, but not necessarily the most pleasant. There are ways to minimize the wind somewhat and it’s good to bring along some suntan lotion to protect you from sunburn.

Years ago I briefly rode in a high-performance 1957 Corvette convertible roadster and that was as close to a thrill ride as I would want to get. I wasn’t worried about a messed-up hairdo, just getting out alive. Another time I rode in a 1963 Chevy II Nova convertible that also slammed me back on the seat with its high-powered V-8 engine. This time the hair was already gray.

Keep in mind there is not much protection in the event of a rollover. A roll bar would add a measure of protection but you would lose style points. Needless to say, seat belts are an absolute must for anyone riding in a convertible.

A friend of mine has just purchased a convertible and he reports riding around in an open car is relaxing, even soothing. Which brings up a good point to keep in mind about our driving experiences.

Riding in a car or truck always should be fun. Most of the time it’s just a means to get from one point to another. With a vacation or long-distance excursion, the element of fun automatically goes way up.

However, depending on where you are, driving may be anything but enjoyable. So a convertible definitely ups the enjoyment factor many levels. Even going to work in a convertible has to boost your mood.

One of the cars my wife and I owned for a number of years was a sport-utility vehicle which had a moon roof. We hardly ever used that feature and I am not sure why. I think we are conditioned not to like riding in the wind and getting our hair messed up. I have never been able to find a comfortable hat that would make things bearable during top-down motoring.

Convertibles have some mechanical distinctions from all the others. They either have an extra crossmember on the frame or special reinforced door posts, or both, to compensate for the lack of upper body structure. A friend who had a 1940s Ford convertible said there was a quivering body shake or vibration on rough or wavy washboard roads which almost all convertibles do.

Another consideration about owning a convertible is keeping the top fabric, its folding mechanism and the rear window plastic or glass in good shape for many years. I would think a prerequisite to owning a convertible would be to have a garage or carport to keep it protected from the weather. Water leakage around where the tops are attached can seep in and cause rust problems later on. Later-model convertibles seem to have most of these issues worked out.

If money were no object, some luxury convertibles had mechanisms where the whole top folded up in the trunk. The 1957-59 Ford Skyliners had a retractable top which was a mechanical marvel. Convertible tops can either be stowed mechanically or with power-operated features which are obviously more convenient.

Let’s not forget convertibles are nice to ride around in with the tops down and are sort of status symbols, attention-getters, and definitely cool-looking. Especially with convertibles from the 1940s through the 1960s, you are sure going to get the looks and some waves or attaboys from other motorists or pedestrians. And your friends and relatives will be eager to go with you for a cruise or trip to the drive-in restaurant even if you have bad breath.

Convertibles are made in lesser numbers and cost more to manufacture in the first place, so their prices are higher than hardtops or sedans. The old adage is when the top goes down, the price goes up. But if one just has to have a convertible, then you have to be willing to pay a higher price.

Despite some reservations, you’ve just got to admit that convertibles are fun — and that should be part of the enjoyment of cars today. I would be especially glad to ride in another convertible if the opportunity arises.

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