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The Original Hardtop Convertible...A Bit of HT Convertible History

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Old 03-29-10, 09:20 AM   #1
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Default The Original Hardtop Convertible...A Bit of HT Convertible History

Well, I started off up late last night channel surfing and saw the below WORK OF ART on the Mitchum Auction in AZ for sale for a cool $1.5M in bright green so I started to just post pictures of this car, but then went into a little lesson myself with the history of the hardtop convertible and wanted to get some thoughts from you all on some of the hits/misses with the offerings for a candyshell drop top instead of a soft top. While there have been plenty of hard top removable convertibles, I'd like to focus our discussion/report on mechanical hard top convertibles only.

For most non-car history buffs, perhaps you thought the first modern-era hardtop convertible in production was the Mercedes SLK from 1996? Or maybe if you sort-of know cars you might remember the 1995 Mitsubishi 3000 GT Spyder? Seems like hard top convertibles, just like any car option/style has gone from in vogue to extinct and back again like gold packages, spoilers and chrome wheels. I will start with the oldest and take us up to 2002+ era which we are all familar with and hopefully do not need a history lesson in!

I THOUGHT I knew of the first hardtop convertible...thought it was a 57 Ford Fairlane Skyliner which I had actually seen at an auto show at one time and I knew they actually produced/sold this car.

So here goes a little walk down memory lane via the internet on the history of the hardtop convertible, some pics along the way and some of my thoughts and insight into the BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!

Of course, like any discussion on CL SC430 forum, we need to have some tie-in to the SC. IMHO and biased opinion, the SC will for SURE be a classic due to the limited production, Lexus reputation, dependability, styling, luxury and uniqueness. Additionally, the engineering and the powerplant LENDS itself towards classic automobiles, which some HT convertibles I will discuss below obviously do not and probably will not become classics.

So, we start with the old timers...

Since CL and majority of us are U.S. based, but we are an international forum with some international members, I will briefly mention some of the overseas cars but MAINLY focus on the U.S. marketed cars that we can relate to more.

So...internationally, the first HT marketed hard top convertible was the 1935 Peugot 402 Eclipse Decapotable, which loosely means removable top.

The Peugot 402 had a lineup of different cars, however a Parisian dentist actually patented this extremely innovative hard top design that later produced less than 500 units in France and Europe and today it is estimated that about 15 of these rare cars still survive.

Note: Pebble Beach red interior owners-look at the red!!!!

So...let's head back to the US and see what we had to offer a long five years later! Yes, the French out-hussled us on innovation!

First up...1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt (concept car, five produced)

1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt was never produced for the masses, although the car has a huge following even today at auctions like the Mitchum in AZ which sold for $1.5M red/silver combination this beautifully designed, futuristic hard top convertible featured a V8 engine, pop out headlights, wheel covers for all four wheels, no recognizable grill...air intakes below the bumper. 143hp, 3speed semi-auto tranny. The aluminum body was laced over wood panels! Four push buttons for the doors and a push button electric hard top! Also the five cars produced each were a different color, interior and top.

Some combinations look like the Eternal Jewel!

So...another HT convertible in the US was not made again till the 1957 Ford Fairlane Skyliner from 57-59 and almost 50k units were produced. They had terrible dependability, seven electric motors to run the top and offered a 250hp v8 powerplant and limited productions of a supercharged (yes in 1957) model boasting 300hp.

IMHO the looks of this car are predictable, typical of other cars during its time and perhaps that's why (along with almost 50k units produced) this is a realitively CHEAP classic, selling from $25k-$50k at most auctions. Barrett Jackson just sold one for right at $20k. 40 seconds to drop the top.

There was a concept car at the Paris auto show called the Gaylord 1955-1957...picture below. Very cool. Only one produced...two brothers invented it, but never went into production. It originally had a chrysler hemi and then a cadillac engine. Three were built, there is one lone survivor at the auto history museum in FL. A ton of people ordered them, and one really unique feature for the time was the completely open wheels as well as one motor to retract the power top.

Okay, so power hardtops on cars didn't seem to really hit in the 50's, so I guess auto manufacturers decided to ditch them nearly 40 years later until the 90's!

Believe it or not-Nissan COULD have been the first of the Japanese auto MFG's to produce a hardtop convertible as they debuted their 1991 300ZX hard top convertible at the Paris Auto show (shown below) but decided to forego it and do their manual softop version from 93-95 instead.

The first car on the road I remember seeing and many of you Gen-X'ers or Gen Y'ers may remember too is the 1995 Mitsubishi 300GT Spyder. They made them only from 1995-1996 and perhaps sales were affected by the same reasons that also made the Rx-7, Supra and 300ZX extinct at that time-price. Mitsu also introduced their much less expensive Eclipse Spyder right after that, so it definitely affected the future of the 3000GT. The 3000GT was a remarkable car...offered in two powerplants and trims: The SL V6 DOHC same as the SL in the hard top 3000GT which had about 225hp front wheel drive and automatic only. The more desirable, rarer 3000GT VR-4 spyder boasted their BEAST 320hp AWD supercharged engine which was also shared in the other VR-4 Dodge Stealths and 3000GT cars. They made this car in a beautiful pearl yellow, red, white and black only. I have driven one and actually almost bought one. They hold their value tremendously...they were originally offered for $55k for the SL and $64k for the twin turbo VR4. There was much to-do about the lackluster sales of the 3000GT spyder after 1995 and Mitsu dealers were actually being charged $2500 each for not opting to take one on their showroom floor by Mitsu. Designed in Van Nuys CA, this car was truly remarkable and had a full Infiniti sounds system. I remember my dealer in Dallas that had one, Don Herring. It was Dec 96 and they still had a 1995 model on their NEW showroom floor!!! LOL If Japanese auto MFG's had a hard time selling the $40k sports cars, how about a $64k car??? They offered a $10k rebate on them but eventually they died in 97.

In 1995 the 3000GT Spyder was available in:

•Caracas Red with Gray Leather Interior
•Sable Black with Ivory Leather Interior
•Glacier White Pearl with Gray Leather Interior
•Martinique Yellow Pearl with Ivory Leather Interior

In 96, delete the yellow and add: Panama Green Pearl with Tan Leather Interior. Obviously the yellow and green spyders are VERY rare!!!

In 1997 I remember getting a Car and Driver Magazine debuting the three new sports cars that would dominate most of the rest of the 90's and early 2000's...the boxster, audi tt and of course everyone's favorite little hardtop the Mercedes SLK. Offered in 1998, the SLK came in a few models...The 230 compressor 193 hp 2.3 L supercharged I4 engine and automatic transmission was underpowered especially in the automatic model due to the cars weight. 0-60 in just under 7 seconds. At $40k this was a relatively nice upgrade from other foreign luxury sports cars and offers entry level MB hard top convertible dual-purpose ride!

Clearly this MB was different...very attractive, modern interior, 17 piece cup holder LOL and some fun sporty colors like yellow, blue and green. The 320 offered a v-6 and 218 HP and a half a second faster. Some of the unique features of the SLK offered early was the "manumatic" transmission, in-dash cd changer, ***The GEM of all SLK's in my opinion was the SLK 32 AMG - 3.2 L (3199 cc) 354 hp V6 engine, 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds!!! Wow!!!! Clearly this is the SLK to have! The engines were hand built and only 2,000 units were exported to the US. The Crysler Crossfire was based on this car and shared lots of the same parts. Some of the major issues of the SLK were dependability, cup holders, handling, air conditioning, transmission.

The 2nd Gen SLK continued in 2004 offering a more SL-ish front end slightly larger interior.

Peugot offered the 208cc back in 2001. I remember seeing it in France when I was there in 2000 and thinking, "WOW". Offered a 2.0l four cylinder boasting only 134 hp and was later updated with a v-5 model called the 307cc in 2003. Very cool car. Pics below. No exports to the US .

Obviously 2002-2003 created a resurgence in hardtop convertibles. The SC debuted in the Neiman Marcus Christmas Wish Book back in Oct 2001...the MBZ SL followed one year later in 2003. Many more hardtop convertibles followed...full list below, but I wanted to spotlight a couple of hits and misses throughout the hardtop convertible BOOM:

A truly unique hardtop convertible and first of its kind was the Chevrolet SSR. A throwback to the Chevy C100 pickups from the 50's and certainly was aimed at cashing in on the throwback era started by the prowler, pt cruiser, etc. The hard top convertible TRUCK was made from 2003-2005. The 2003 and 2004 models used General Motors' Vortec 5300 engine, a 5.3 L 300 hp V8. Performance was not spectacular at 7.7 s to 60 mph (97 km/h) with a 15.9 s/86.4 mph quarter mile run. The 2005 SSR used the 390 hp (291 kW) LS2 V8 also found in the C6 Corvette and Pontiac GTO, and also offered a manual transmission (the six-speed Tremec) for the first time, as an option. For the 2006 model year, the LS2 engine featured minor modifications that boosted its output to 395 hp (automatic transmission) and 400 hp (manual transmission), respectively.

Another truly remarkable invention was The Renault "407 Macarena" is a four-door coupé convertible produced by Heuliez and presented at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show. It never made production...but perhaps begs the question: "What's next for the hardtop convertible"? Will we see a four door sedan hard top convertible? Will we see an SUV hardtop convertible? I'd love to see a Range Rover or Infiniti FX in a hardtop convertible!

Enjoy the pics...please feel free to add/correct as you see fit. I just compiled all this from various sources on the net after being inspired by the 1941 thunderbolt.

Here are a list of all hardtop convertibles:

List of retractable hardtop models
Early Models
Hudson 1922
Peugeot 402 Éclipse Décapotable (1935)
Chrysler Thunderbolt concept car 1941
Continental Mark II concept car c.1953
Ford Skyliner (1957-1959)
Gaylord (1956)

Later Models
BMW Z4 (2010)
BMW M3 (2008)
BMW 328i/335i Cabrio (2007)
Cadillac XLR (2004)
Chevrolet SSR (2003)
Chrysler Sebring (2008)
Daihatsu Copen (2002)
Ferrari California (2009)
Ford Focus CC (2007)
Infiniti G Convertible (2009)
Lexus SC 430 / Toyota Soarer (2001)
Lexus IS 250/350 C (2009)
Mazda MX-5 Power Retractable Hard Top (2007)
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class (1998-2009)
Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2003-2009)
Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder Mk.2 (1995-1996)
Mitsubishi Colt CZC (2006)
Nissan Micra C+C (2005)
Nissan Silvia Varietta (2000)
Opel Astra TwinTop / Vauxhall Astra TwinTop (2006)
Opel Tigra TwinTop / Vauxhall Tigra TwinTop (2005)
Peugeot 206 CC (2001)
Peugeot 307 CC (2003)
Peugeot 207 CC (2007)
Peugeot 308 CC (2008)
Pontiac G6 (2006)
Renault Mégane CC (2003)
Volvo C70 Mk.2 (2006)
Volkswagen Eos (2006)
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Old 03-29-10, 09:23 AM   #2
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some more pics...
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Old 03-29-10, 09:29 AM   #3
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now some pics of the more modern era...pre-2002...

The OG (original gangsta) of the modern era hard top convertibles...3000GT Spyder. I love the pearl yellow color. I almost bought one twice.

If you think about it, we owe A LOT of praise to the SLK for being that little engine who said "I CAN" and selling enough units to allow for Lexus to have confidence to bring the SC to market.

If the SLK had not been successful, perhaps Lexus would have looked at the failure of the 3000GT and decided NOT to make a convertible and just done a coupe? MMMMM interesting to ponder. Anyway, thanks SLK!
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Old 03-29-10, 09:31 AM   #4
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SLK...love the SLK32 AMG wow...4.5 second 0-60!!! Pebble Beach owners-note the red leather!!
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Old 03-29-10, 09:36 AM   #5
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Some other pioneers, 90's Z concept car, 2000's creative projects:

1991 Z hardtop convertible at Geneva Auto Show (was in Paris too)

Peugot 200 and 300cc's
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Old 03-29-10, 09:38 AM   #6
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finally some early pioneers and creative projects that ended in the early 2000 hardtop BOOM that may have paved the way for future innovative creations:

Chevy SSR and the Renault 407
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Old 03-29-10, 09:56 AM   #7
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some misses in my opinion during the hardtop boom...

Extinct Already:

chrysler sebring-The 1st and 2nd gen sebring weren't THAT bad...oh God this is FUGLY!!! May get the winner of all hardtop convertibles as the ugly betty

pontiac g6 RIP Pontiac-shoulda stayed sedan only or coupe

Volvo C70...I believe Volvo was just bought today I read by Geely. Perhaps the better looking of this "misses" list.

Other misses...IMO

VW Eos-very expensive, underpowered, lackluster design...shoulda bought A4...hubcaps on a $35k convertible?

How about the Z4 hardtop...is it even selling? Did BMW oversaturate their convertible line up with a 1 series soft and hard, 3 series soft and hard and now a Z soft and hard?? Oh yeah don't forget about the M series too!

And perhaps a controversal statement by me...the Lexus IS250/350c. No way replaces the SC430, underpowered 250, too expensive 350, ugly rear decklid too predictable...four year old IS design now with a drop top. Shoulda stayed with the sedan only! The IS-C should have been more unique from the sedans...or waited until the next IS refresher.
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Old 03-29-10, 10:09 AM   #8
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Finally, the HIT list!!!

5 of the top hardtop convertibles still made (as of right now) and the best in my opinion...

I'm a little biased

SC430...of course I'd pick my fav...2007 PB Edition...WINNER!!!

TOP FIVE CLOSEST COMPETITORS:

MBZ SL...of course the best...SL550 AMG

MBZ SLK...gotta go with the new SLK55 AMG

Since the Caddy is no longer made, the Miata Makes the top five...a lot of fun, but underpowered compared to these competitors...some may say the SC is underpowered (compared to the AMG's LOL)...

Infiniti G37...Arrest-me RED!!! May be the closest competitor to the SC I've seen...some say it copies it, I say it does a good job!

BMW 3 Series-I'd prefer the M3 convertible, obviously but 335CI twin turbo will work too!

RIP Cadillac XLR...must have the elektra blue color with the supercharged 443hp...new CTS Coupe replaces it?
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Old 03-29-10, 10:21 AM   #9
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forgot some pics of the miata, is-c and xlr my some of my fav colors

Gotta go with the blue or red in the IS-C

Red grand touring Miata for sure...! This guy driving has a smile on his face after redlining the little go-cart around those corners for sure!

Love the aggressive front fascia of the new SL550 WOW!!! GRRRRRR
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Old 03-29-10, 10:30 AM   #10
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love the red m3 convertible
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Old 03-29-10, 11:16 AM   #11
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Wow.....this is quite a presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time!
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Old 03-29-10, 01:25 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scdroptop View Post
some misses in my opinion during the hardtop boom...

Extinct Already:

chrysler sebring-The 1st and 2nd gen sebring weren't THAT bad...oh God this is FUGLY!!! May get the winner of all hardtop convertibles as the ugly betty

pontiac g6 RIP Pontiac-shoulda stayed sedan only or coupe

Volvo C70...I believe Volvo was just bought today I read by Geely. Perhaps the better looking of this "misses" list.

Other misses...IMO

VW Eos-very expensive, underpowered, lackluster design...shoulda bought A4...hubcaps on a $35k convertible?

How about the Z4 hardtop...is it even selling? Did BMW oversaturate their convertible line up with a 1 series soft and hard, 3 series soft and hard and now a Z soft and hard?? Oh yeah don't forget about the M series too!

And perhaps a controversal statement by me...the Lexus IS250/350c. No way replaces the SC430, underpowered 250, too expensive 350, ugly rear decklid too predictable...four year old IS design now with a drop top. Shoulda stayed with the sedan only! The IS-C should have been more unique from the sedans...or waited until the next IS refresher.
I am considering hard top convertible options and the SC is certainly one, but I am also looking seriously at the Eos. You state the price for the basic model is high but am considering CPO on both and prices for the Eos are somewhat beter than the SC. The sunroof is a really nice piece; something I'd miss in the non-top down days up here. And as others have posted, FWD works quite a bit better in the snow than rear drive, even with the right tires. However, there are some issues with the VW; gaskets around the top, DSG transmissions and oil consumption on pre TSI models of the 2L engine. Was wondering if anyone else has done some sniffng around on this comparrison? I know the SC and VW are quite possibly at different levels on the ladder, but that really isn't important to me. This will be my daily commuter (10 minutes each way) and the weekend wine counrty cruiser. We have an RX for the other ride, hogged by the wife, unfortunately!
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Old 03-29-10, 02:15 PM   #13
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My point on the EOS is for about the same price you could get a A4...probably a V6 A4 and have a much more luxurious cruiser with a lot more panache and certainly a bigger bang for your buck! For a scooter-engine VW, the EOS IS expensive. You don't get much...very basic on the inside, exterior has lackluster styling. Cool concept by VW, but they should have styled it differently IMO.

You don't have many options for a FWD/AWD HT convertible. The Sebring? LOL My dad lives in KS and went through this a few years ago and got the A4. He loves it. We drove the EOS and it was pretty low budget compared to a similarly priced A4. No HT though...

Have you considered an older Porsche Carrera 4S? 1999-2001 they had hard tops (removable) and the 4S gives you the AWD. About $30k now. What's your price range?

Just using a $20k range base...you can get this 2005 A4 V6 loaded...

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/Leath...item20b024706b

or this in an EOS...2.0T...very basic on the inside...wheels? couple of years newer...cool panoramic top though...

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/EOS-H...item3efe3584a9
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Old 03-29-10, 03:06 PM   #14
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great pictures and very informative thread yet another achievement by SCdroptop
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Old 03-29-10, 04:06 PM   #15
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this report/opinion piece by scdroptop is why club lexus is always fun, informative and a daily good read. well done and keep'em coming.
and I thought the sc430 was the first contemporary ht convert.
I've been schooled!
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Old 03-29-10, 04:06 PM
 
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2004, 2008, 300zx, bmw, c70, concept, convertible, hardtop, ht, hubcaps, lexus, original, price, retail, retractable

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