The ultimate expression of the sports car has no roof, and there’s no hiding from that.
Good days with the top down are unforgettable. I could tell you about half a dozen right off the top of my head that stick in my mind like glue. I wasn’t worried about getting wet, extra weight, or chassis rigidity because none of it mattered. I had my foot to the floor, spinning an M3 to eight grand in a tunnel blowing my ears out because why the hell wouldn’t I be doing that?
If you don’t have memories like this, you should start making some.
Almost every excuse for not wanting a convertible or open-top car is silly. I’ve owned two convertibles and heard all the complaints – and all of them amount to nothing. “Convertibles aren’t stiff enough!” Please, put away the calculator. “I’ll get sunburned!” The best time for convertibles is at night. “The roof leaks!” Wear a bathing suit. It’s all a bunch of nonsense spouted by often negative and overanalytical people who just don’t get it. They don’t buy sports cars to have fun – if they do at all – they buy them because they want to be taken seriously. The default configuration of the enthusiast’s car is one without a roof.
Cars like the Miata and S2000 were both designed to be convertibles. The last several generations of Corvette have a removable targa top. Even the Lotus Elise, widely considered one of the greatest sports cars of all time, is designed to have no fixed roof. The Ariel Atom takes it even further. The windshield is optional. I could go on. Renault Sport Spider, Caterham Seven, BAC Mono… you get the point.
Like other simple roadsters, a windshield was only added to the Renault Sport Spider after customers requested it.
Having an open top doesn’t compromise fun. Lightweight roadsters don’t have four seats because they don’t need them. They don’t have big heavy engines because they don’t need them. They don’t have a fixed roof because they don’t need them. If you don’t understand convertibles and roadsters, you’re missing the point of sports cars entirely. Less is always more.
Unless you’re building a race car out of a vehicle never intended to be so, body stiffness is largely irrelevant to spirited driving. Claiming it affects street performance in any meaningful way is the result of reading too many brochures. If you think it matters so much, look at the body structure of an original Mini Cooper, or an MGB, or any early Porsche. Those cars are all made out of stamped and welded Reynolds Wrap, but they’re icons of back-to-basics performance.
Let’s return to the Lotus Elise. There’s a great documentary about its development that I’ve covered in the past. The team behind it just barely scraps a prototype together for a test on the company’s frozen test track on Christmas Eve. It’s a nearly bare chassis with no fenders and no body. The car only had headlights because it was dark out.
Doors were only added to the Lotus Elise after regulations forced the company’s hand.
None of this mattered because it was all about what the Elise was like to drive. Purity. Open-top sports cars are all chasing that truly special impracticality. A machine that was meant to do little more than be enjoyed.
As convertible and roadster sales dwindle today, I struggle to understand why more enthusiasts are still hesitant to embrace that purity. Cars that are an expression of the joy of the automobile—not their function as transportation—are what matter. The low fat, ranch dressing, app-enabled crossoverization of everything around us demands an extreme response.
The sports car needs your help. Won’t you lend it a hand?
Image Credit: Renault, Lotus