Convertibles: Magically Terrible

I was obsessed with the Miata back in the 90s, spending my lunch breaks in the high school computer lab perusing, fantasizing over what it would be like to carve through mountain roads with a full, wide view of the road and sky.

Really, that’s what owning and driving a convertible boils down to: fantasy.

Knife-wielding vandals and hail storms threaten to pierce the top while structural wobbles can shake the body like a jello mold in a California quake. It’s less thrilling than a motorcycle without the comfort and security benefits of a fixed metal roof.

And that’s just fine.

I’ve learned to deal with a certain level of risk. With my Miata, Saab 900, and E46 BMW 3-series, all equipped with fabric tops, I never bothered locking the car. If someone wanted in, I’d prefer they opened the door and looked around rather than taking a blade to my $1500 roof. On nice days at work I park with the top wide open. There’s a free-wheeling action film indulgence about hopping into a readily open car and taking off.

My old Saab quivered and shook the way my dog does when he hears thunder, and the firmer suspension on the turbo 900 only exaggerated the problem. For a convertible to feel as rigid and stiff as its fixed-roof counterpart, engineers have to reinforce the floors, sides, and A-pillar with metal bracing.

Added weight then detracts from the feeling of lightness and sensation of performance. With the exception of small roadsters like the Boxster and Miata, most topless cars are relegated to boulevard cruiser status, emphasizing style over performance. And again, that’s just fine.

My E93 BMW 3-series cabriolet, at over 4000lbs before adding my fat ass and a tank of premium, rests on the pavement like a brick at the bottom of a swimming pool. It behaves similarly to my equally hefty Cadillac Seville, gliding over bumps with a muted thud as the crust of the earth writhes in agony. It’s sporty looking, yes, but in practice it’s a cruise ship in a cycling suit.

And then there’s the safety issue. Without roll hoops (pop-up or fixed) combined with a reinforced A-pillar, your skull is a water balloon in a rollover. Without a roof and B-pillar to reinforce the sides, the burden is placed entirely on door beams to provide protection.

As for scenery, metro Detroit offers a plethora of exotic sights, sounds, and experiences including burned down buildings, dank weed, carjackings, unburnt hydrocarbons (cars missing their catalysts), and flicked cigarette butts bouncing down I-75. Opening the top amplifies all of it. With the exception of scenic Grosse Pointe along Lakeshore Drive, you have to leave town to enjoy Michigan’s aesthetically pleasing lakes, forests, cliffs, beaches, and sand dunes.

I claim to be a reasonable person who makes choices based on facts and unquestionably, these negatives vastly outweigh the positives. But emotion, the reason I love cars, isn’t quantifiable.

The notion of freedom, the daring confidence of exposure, and the longer, lower styling make up for all of it. Topless motoring may be the antithesis of pure performance but it is itself a form of pure joy. I’d have it no other way.

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