Never once have I seen an advert for a cabriolet that involved a fat balding gent driving his part frozen wife through Peckham high street. Cabriolet commercials seem to be about beautiful people smiling as the wind ruffles their perfect hair. Under a blazing summer sky they drive through some Mediterranean paradise. We imagine that it is us pulling up outside that expensive second home. This is the dream that car manufactures use to entice us to buy cars with no roofs and every year massive throngs of British citizens do just that.
We forget that we live in a country where it rains for all but one week a year and, because we are not politicians, we don’t have a second home to drive to.
Cabriolets are useless to the average Englishman, but still we insist on buying them.
So, today I am presenting you with some of the runners and riders in the second hand cabriolet market. Here, in no particular order, is my selection of 5 summer drop-tops as spotted on Ebay this morning, along-side 5 alternatives that you may not have even considered.
The Peugeot 306 Cabriolet
When Peugeot wanted to replace the out-going 305 everyone expected great things from the 306. Unfortunately for Peugeot, the status quo was unbalanced by an anarchist in the numbering department. The world stood back in amazement when Peugeot broke from conformity and released the 309. Heads were scratched, beards were stroked, and nobody could understand the numerical curve ball Peugeot had unleashed. The car was good, but that number wouldn’t do. The number anarchist was fired and replaced with Count Von Count from Sesame Street who put Peugeot’s model line back on track and released the then long-awaited 306.
Peugeot examined the Citroen ZX as the basis of their new mid-size-car-to-fit-every-market. They scrutinised the Citroen carefully from the floor up and decided that the only thing worth keeping was the floor. On this floor they asked Mr Pininfarina to design something that looked more like the mega successful 205 and less like Citroen’s box based ZX.
The Cabriolet came with an excellent 2 litre engine for those that like driving and a wheezy 1.6 engines for those that don’t. The car is still as good looking today as it was at its creation and, if I ever get the urge to take my top off, the 306 Cabriolet will probably be my first stop.
You Should Also Consider… The Renault 19
Following Peugeot’s complete disregard for chronological numbering Renault replaced the 9 and the 11 with the 19. With the initial styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro and the cabriolet added by Karmann, the 19’s understated looks hid a fabulous car. Only available with the bigger engine options, the 19 cab didn’t cater for the non-driver and the 137 bhp model was more fun than any of the 306 cabs I have driven over the years. But people do not drive cabriolets to go fast and that is why this is in the also consider box.
I can’t count the number of times I have told someone not to buy an MGF and they have gone and done it anyway. To say the MGF is a bad car is like saying Goebbels was a bit naughty. In an attempt to complete this assignment without my biased view of the MGF making its way onto the page, I have looked for inspiration from the MG Cars Enthusiasts Club website.
The website boasts that the MGF was a “completely new design from MG with no input from BMW or Honda.” Given Rover’s track record, I’m surprised they feel this is something to boast about. It continues, “the MGF is a thoroughly modern sportster bristling with the latest in auto technology.” I assume this refers to the front and rear sub-frames and suspension from a Metro. Or maybe the K series engine that was designed in 1988.
“Rover have described it as a "candid camera car - nobody is sure where the engine is", this is because the bonnet appears long and high compared to other mid-engined cars, yet remains too short for a front-engined car.” Fortunately MG made sure you could always find the engine by simply following the trail of water and oil left by its notoriously unreliable head gasket.
Despite MG’s insistence that the “almost fixed” seating position makes the MGF “roomy”, it doesn’t. They are an uncomfortable unpleasant driving experience unless you happen to be upgrading from an MG Midget or you have a bed made out of rusty nails and broken glass.
According to the MG bumph, the Mazda MX5 was its main rival so here is a top tip, buy an MX5. Or an MR2. Or this from my also consider list:
You Should Also Consider… A shopping Trolley.
Released at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket back in the 30s, The shopping trolley out performs the MGF on almost every front. Swivel wheels provide more precise steering and high-speed stability whilst the trolley’s lower centre of gravity improves handling. The shopping trolley’s safety record is not as good as the MGF’s but it is certainly a winner in the reliability stakes. For open top motoring the shopping trolley beats the MGF hands down every time.
The Nissan Figaro
Having a friend that raves about this little retro two-seater, I was quite keen to drive one when the opportunity presented itself. Outside it’s a cutesy white-over-whatevercolouryouhavechosen 50’s looking ride. Inside, the 50’s theme continues with the old style steering wheel and switches. Even the seats look deceptively uncomfortable. It is nice to know that Nissan can make an aesthetic interior when they want to. Sitting in the Figaro I cannot help but wonder why the flagship Skyline got an interior lifted straight from the leftover Nissan Sunny parts bin. The seats are comfortable and the bright interior gives the feeling of space. The Figaro is a pleasant car to sit in. And, because of its turbo, it is no slouch either. Of course it isn’t going to set your hair on fire and I expect a top speed of over 100mph is somewhat optimistic, but the Figaro is a fun car for a spirited drive despite its sluggish three speed auto box. In town the little car turns heads. Then it turns gawking into openly pointing and laughing. The little Nissan is, what my friends call “a girls car” and no amount of me harping on about how good it is will change their minds. I like the Figaro but my friends would stop inviting me to motoring related events if I insisted on repeatedly turning up in one, which is why I raise the point of considering the Honda Beat.
You Should Also Consider…
The Honda Beat
The Beat is the tiny little car that is in enormous amount of fun to drive. It has the looks of the unlikely offspring of a go-kart and a running shoe, but it feels like a race car as the tiny engine screams into your ear when you give it the beans. This car didn’t just make me smile when I drove it, it actually made me laugh out loud. I pulled out on to a dual carriageway and gave the pint sized Honda everything it had. It howled through crisp gear change after crisp gear change and felt like it was doing a million miles an hour, but when I looked down, we had barely touched 50, and it sounded like it would run out of puff at about 70. But the Honda was talking a good fight, revving at over 8,000, it reminded me of Scrappy-Doo trying to take on monsters 3 times his size. Despite the Beat’s attempt to be a race car, I couldn’t think of a single vehicle that the Beat would be able to, err, beat. If it is the gawking of strangers that you want though, the Beat has got you covered. Thanks to Pininfarina once again, the Beat even looks fast when it is standing still. Which is good because, as fun as it is to drive, you wouldn’t want to take it far.
The Fiat Punto Cabriolet.
Made by Bertone they were one of the cheapest cabs available back in the day. Find one now though and that Fiat build quality is starting to show through. Like the 306, the shape is timeless. The Fiat doesn’t look dated, it looks classic. Once again there is no planet tearing performance here. This car is heavy and it lets you know it is with every input you make on the controls. The Fiat, like all the cars we have looked at, is a fun car, not a fast car. And it is certainly all about the glamour over the go.
You Should Probably Not Consider…
The Fiat Cinquecento Soleil
If the Punto is too glam for you, then how about the lesser spotted Cinquecento Soleil? Nothing more than your basic Cinq with a rag top, this car feels light compared to the Punto. It feels light compared to my socks and is probably about as robust in the face of a road traffic accident. This car may have the aesthetics of a skip with a tarpaulin thrown over it. It may have the performance of a skip. But don’t think it will crash like one. This car wouldn’t survive a playground game of conkers, let alone any sort of traffic collision.
The Ford Escort Cabriolet
I used to own an Escort Cab. It was broken into more times than the medicine cabinet at a rehab clinic. The Escort was about as secure as a politicians grasp on reality. I think I drove it a handful of times until I decided the stress was too much and went back to my familiar k10 Nissan Micra. Nobody ever broke into that. My old ‘scort was about an 89 model and I see they still fetch up and over a grand for a nice one. I always loved the look of the Escort Cab. Other people liked the Golf and the 205 but I was a Ford man and the longer wheelbase Escort was just a more comfortable Cab than the other converted hot hatchs.
You Should Also Consider…
The Vauxhall Astra Cabriolet
The only thing that might have come close in the size stakes was the Vauxhall Ashtray. I had one of these too. Not a cab, it was a GTE. It was very fast which was handy because fast was its only redeeming feature. It had a digital speedo which was as useful as a fifth leg on a cat. Unfortunately the digital revolution did not make it as far as the clock, which was analogue and ticked so loudly that you couldn’t sit in the car with the engine off for more than 30 seconds without screaming. I couldn’t anyway. Like the Escort, it got broken into too. Although the thieves had the decency to take the whole thing away and not just the contents. The police later found it abandoned in Moulscomb (Part of Brighton that Brighton people don’t like to talk about) I can only assume the thieves had enough of that bloody clock too.
***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***