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What's the Best Convertible of All Time?
Forbes ^ | Michael Frank

Posted on 07/18/2002 7:54:37 AM PDT by wallcrawlr


The 1957 Cadillac Convertible Shown Is A Part Of The Imperial Palace Collection Of Antique And Historic Cars Featured At The Imperial Palace Hotel In Las Vegas Nevada.

There's almost nothing as enjoyable as top-down motoring.

Sure, it can also be a drag: It's always a bummer when you have an electronic cloth-top, it starts to rain and only then do you discover that a fuse has blown and the lid won't close. That's a relatively rare thing, but, unfortunately, we have firsthand knowledge. And, most of the time, topless cars remind us of what has always been cool about motoring: You're just cruising, wind in your hair, not going particularly fast, not going anywhere important, just driving in the moment and grinning at life. What could be finer?

What's the Best Convertible of All Time?
1967 Mercedes-Benz 220 SL
1967 Corvette Stingray
1955 Ford Thunderbird
1957 Cadillac Eldorado
1965 MGB
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Still, there are good convertibles and even top-notch ones--and then there's the dreck. We'd say the Mustang and the soon-to-be-discontinued Camaro convertibles are the latter. And we'd say the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is a pretty sweet deal by comparison, but not really the same breathtaking drive as the Miata or the Honda S2000 that made the cut.

So we're skipping the merely good and cutting straight to the winners, which we've arranged neatly, not in terms of performance, really, or photon-gathering capabilities, but in slightly more subjective ways that, well, actually matter. Also, we've given you two price options in nearly every category, so budget-minded, SPF-loaded-sunblock appliers can still get the convertible they want.

Four Seats A Must

What kind of person would buy a four-seat convertible in the first place? Well, lots of people. For years, many of the world's finest, most expensive cars were convertibles like Bugatti, Duesenberg, Rolls-Royce and others. Moreover, many cars that were originally conceived as coupes or sedans often made great open cars because of their superior stability.

But as we said in our intro, some four-seat convertibles can be lame road cars, so it's important that your family convertible backs its accommodating innards with decent manners. Herewith, our picks.

2003 Audi A4 Cabrio $35,000-$40,000 (est.)

Alright, we're sort of cheating here. This car isn't for sale yet and won't be until leaves are falling off trees up north. That won't matter in San Diego or Palm Beach, but no matter where you live, the thing that was great about the previous Audi Cabrio and the Saab (below) is that no matter what the weather, these cars work fine as just plain sedans. Then if the weather is nice enough, their well-insulated-against-sound-and-elements tops fold away, and there you are in your four-seater with your bald spot exposed to the sun. Nice.

The new A4 promises to raise the ante on the previous Cabrio by being stiffer and much quicker. (Convertibles can exhibit all sorts of nasty shakes and rattles, because when you cut the top off of a box and then start leaning on it, naturally it isn't going to be as rigid as before.) It gets the standard 3.0-liter V-6, the one to be found in the new A4, but will also be available come next year with the sweet 1.8T. However, this car is heavy--nearly 4,000 pounds, so the lower torque of the smaller, four-cylinder engine probably isn't going to be quite enough oomph to set the proper motoring mood.

No matter the motor, the newest A4 Cabrio will get one-touch opening and closing, a bigger backseat space than in the 9-3 Saab and will be available with a sports suspension. However it doesn't get a manual-shift option or quattro all-wheel drive. Too bad, but such toys would make the little Audi a bit too pricey, so we get the logic.

Saab 9-3 SE Convertible $40,750

This car has seen younger days, and with a new 9-3 coming by 2003, you can bet this convertible will be reworked. In the meantime, we think the 9-3 convertible is a car to work out a deal on, especially come July or so, when dealers will be trying harder to move the metal before the double whammy of summer ending and pending new model arrivals smack them with expensive inventory-carrying costs.

So what can your topless Swede do? Well, it's a pretty quick car, with a 0-60mph time of under seven seconds, and yet one that averages over 20mpg. Not bad. However, we wouldn't opt for the 9-3 Viggen covertible. Not only is it $45,000, which is up there with the BMW 330Ci convertible, against which the Saab can't compete, but the more torque and horsepower you drive through this circa-early-1990s chassis, the more it starts to wobble and bend. Better to keep the going supple, which it will be if you stay down around 200hp with the SE. But just don't bring any big friends--the Audi's got a much roomier back seat.

Red, White And Blue

If to you a convertible is also quintessentially American (we do buy more of them than any other nation, no matter how you total it up), then you're in luck, because we in the U.S.A. do make some darn fine drop-tops. So why prattle on about it? Here are our favorites.

2003 Corvette Convertible $48,175

You've got to hand it to General Motors; it managed to screw a lot of things up over the years, but somehow it's managed to make the Corvette better and better.

True, it's not the Stingray we'd like to see again, but the 2003 cars will get an active dampening system on both convertibles and coupes, a mechanism that will smooth out some of the Corvette's more jarring reactions to the road without compromising performance. As usual, we think this will only improve one of our favorite cars. Why do we like the 'Vette so much? Well, even though you cannot get the convertible with the Z06 package (this gives you 55 more horsepower and brings the total up from 350 to 405 hp), it's still a car that will rip to 60mph in about five seconds--meaning it will run easily with most Porsches and almost anything else on the road. It will also easily go 160mph, should you want to scare the daylights out of your date.

But what we really think makes the Corvette special is that the engine makes big V-8 noises the way only an American power plant can; it still looks great, and, given the performance (Corvettes can still outcorner almost any car on the road, including some Ferraris), it's a rock-bottom bargain. One that can do all that and doesn't even need a roof? Go for it!

Ford Thunderbird $38,995

We give you the price for the T-Bird with the optional hardtop because we know we'd get it this way. It looks beautiful, but also makes the Thunderbird a very practical car for year-round cruising.

And that's what the T-Bird is, by the way, a cruiser. It's not the 'Vette and isn't meant to be. Oh, sure, it'll corner well, and scoots to 60mph in seven seconds flat, but what you have here is a perfectly executed throwback, a car that will make you happy in the right lane, not just the left, because it feels secure, solid, confident and sexy--like we'd all like to be!

There are things we aren't nuts about--the yellow interior is downright obnoxious for instance. But a black T-bird with black interior and turquoise accents is just about as pretty as any car gets these days. So what if it's not a screamer; its Lincoln LS-derived transmission is plenty crisp; the 252chp V-8 it also gets from the LS is likewise potent enough; and the steering and handling are all about as faultless as you'd want from a big American GT. Sure, a Maserati Spyder would be more fun, but you could have two T-Birds and change left over for that Italian speedster.

Just Like The Old Days

Oh, certainly there's an MG or Austin Healy or Alfa Romeo hidden in your past, right? And you've got the scars to prove it now doubt, hence the reason you can't get a new one of those today in America--too many romances gone south.

But you can have the imitations of those cars, and, in fact, one of those fakers is on our top-five list of all-around favorite automobiles ever. Yes, ever! That'd be the Mazda Miata, a little tossable sportster that proves once and for all that you just don't keep adding horsepower to make something fun; occasionally you hold back when you know that balance is everything.

The other car? A total sleeper, a car that nobody ever even thinks about when they think convertibles. It's the sort of bad boy in disguise, the Honda S2000. A road-scorcher that doesn't cost like one. And by the way, there never was one of those in the good old days.

Mazda Miata $21,660

Sure, sure, go ahead and sneer. Go blazing by in a smoky haze of burnt rubber. We couldn't car less. It doesn't matter that it takes a full eight seconds to zip a 138 hp Miata to 60mph. It doesn't matter that a cute little Mazda won't keep up with a blasting Porsche Boxster in a slalom test.

What does matter is that, like the Ford Thunderbird, this car is flat-out fun, even when you're just puttering along. It doesn't break (more than a million have been sold by the way, making the Miata the most successful sports car in history); it corners as handily as anything even remotely close, price-wise; it's a very simple design that's pleasing to the eye, if not as altogether gorgeous as some other, more costly sheetmetal; and it has about the best combination of brakes, transmission, throttle and steering interplay you might ever find. Get the feeling we like this car? We really do. We also fear that Mazda is about to screw up the formula, adding more power by 2004. So don't delay, get a Miata while it's still all grins and no growls. And have a nice day!

Honda S2000 $32,400

It will nearly match the 0-60mph times of a $52,365 Porsche Boxster S (around 5.2 seconds for the Porsche; around 5.5 seconds for the S2000). It also comes near to cornering as sharply. And yet it gives up 10 horsepower to the Porsche and also the more balanced ride of that mid-engined German machine, so you do give up something for your $20,000 saved. Trust us, though, for most people the Honda S2000 is a boatload of fun for a lot less dough.

We do wish it had a more distinctive nose, and the cockpit really could use some slickening, but there's nothing wrong with a motor that will rev to just shy of 9000 rpm, and the car also steers and corners beautifully. Engine noise (did you say something?) is also omnipresent, as you need to keep revving and revving to get results, but the six-speed manual does make it possible to keep the roar at least to a din while at 65mph on the freeway.

But what makes this baby a great summer fun machine: how it stays glued to the pavement (just don't shift at 8,900 rpm mid-turn, or you'll get a not-so-jolly surprise), how nobody knows what it is but always thinks you paid double what you did, and how you can sneak up on anyone who thinks he's faster than you and blow his doors off. A little muscle with your tanning machine, in other words.

Faster Blow Drying

There are some cars, like the Corvette, that are really way more than merely sedans or coupes sans fixed roofs. They are exceedingly high-performance automobiles made even more fun by their ability to shed some layers and reveal you to the wind and sky.

And although the M3 Convertible and the SL500 are actually very different cars (the M3 is about as close to Ferrari thrills (if not precisely the same numbers) as you can get this side of $100,000. But the SL 500 is a GT in a nearly American sense; it's big, it's fast, it can be loud, and it's bold. It makes you look. And boy is it thrilling for all of that.

Mercedes-Benz SL500 $86,655

As we said in our test drive of the SL500, this isn't really what you expect it to be. Like the gullwings that dominated the motorsports scene in the 1950s and later came to consumers, the latest SL500 is a muscle car with smooth edges. It's seriously sexy, but fire up its 302hp V-8, and it doesn't purr quietly in the background--it growls. Then put your foot in it, and the beast wakes fully, roaring around with plenty of bluster and lots of real fight as well.

Handling is pretty tight considering this car is no lightweight at over 4,000 pounds. What you see is a grand tourer in a really retro sense, a car that loves long, sweeping turns, but dislikes flawed blacktop because it upsets its mellow-riding disposition. By the way, it also doesn't like super twisty roads. We took an SL up a course we know, which always seems to us like it was scribbled on the map by some child without enough Ritalin (i.e. it twists a heck of a lot), and the tail of the car could be pushed out at will and sometimes not at all at will.

Still, if you do want a big cruiser, one with a folding metal top that hushes out the whole world when snapped to (and therefore as practical as any closed coupe) and feel that something more exotic like a BMW Z8 or a Maserati Spyder just isn't you, well then get in line for an SL. You won't be disappointed.

BMW M3 Convertible $54,565

This car could just as easily poke its head into the must-have-a-backseat category, but in a way, that'd be too easy. Thing is, it's really expensive, really very fast, and despite being reasonably practical (more than, say, a 911 that has nominal backseats), it's a little too rigid and aggressive to meet family-car requirements.

But if its failing is that it isn't all warm and cuddly, the M3 Convertible will more than win you over with its dazzling performance. It's rocking 333 hp in-line six-cylinder engine (note that this is 31 hp more propulsion than the SL gets out of its larger-by-nearly-two-liters V-8) can be mated to a six-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG for short). This works like similar clutchless manuals from other makers. You shift via two paddles that bracket the wheel, never having to remove your right hand to throw around a stick. Fun stuff.

Likewise fun is the one-touch, up-or-down soft-top. It's very well insulated from outside noises (not like the SL's metal roof, of course), so highway cruising in the rain isn't as noisy as you'd expect. Still, more than for highway use, the M3 is meant for winding up the creamy-smooth engine toward redline and buzzing around hard bends all day long. Like sugar with children, they really shouldn't make cars this much fun for speed-loving adults. But thank heaven for capitalism, they do. And speaking of dollars, you might consider the M3 a bargain: Almost anything else as fast (even the convertible races to 60mph in about five seconds) costs more; only the Corvette is a better deal.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: autoshop; best; convertible
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This post compliments a previous post American Cars We Wish They Still Made
1 posted on 07/18/2002 7:54:37 AM PDT by wallcrawlr
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To: wallcrawlr
I'll cast a vote for the one I lost my inocence in those many years ago. A '66 Impala.
2 posted on 07/18/2002 7:56:08 AM PDT by HalfIrish
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To: wallcrawlr
How about worst convertable? Jim Jeffords?

(Running away now...)
3 posted on 07/18/2002 7:57:22 AM PDT by Frank_Discussion
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To: wallcrawlr
For very practical war memories, I'll take the Jeep.
4 posted on 07/18/2002 8:00:40 AM PDT by ex-snook
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To: wallcrawlr
1967 MGB.
5 posted on 07/18/2002 8:01:19 AM PDT by bvw
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To: wallcrawlr
Jeep wrangler. not only open top, but 4WD.
6 posted on 07/18/2002 8:01:53 AM PDT by camle
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To: wallcrawlr
1965 MGB

OMIGOSH...that was my first car!!!! A white 65 MGB. It was sooooooooooooo fun...I LOVED driving with the top down. I loved driving Hwy 49 just for the fun of it.

Well, both days it worked, anyway ;-)

Dang, I miss having a convertible. Now that my daugther is older...

7 posted on 07/18/2002 8:03:13 AM PDT by BornOnTheFourth
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To: wallcrawlr
Lime Green mid-70's Cadillac Eldorado. You could drive the whole fraternity to the beach in that car.
8 posted on 07/18/2002 8:03:48 AM PDT by AppyPappy
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To: wallcrawlr
My very first car, a 1960 Triumph Herald 1200, I paid $60 for it in 1968.

Mine looked like this when I got it. It looked much worse 2 years later.

9 posted on 07/18/2002 8:04:59 AM PDT by TC Rider
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To: wallcrawlr
American? I have always loved the VW Cabriolet


10 posted on 07/18/2002 8:05:16 AM PDT by Texaggie79
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To: camle
I saw a beautiful wrangler on my way in to work this morning and it was enough to make me want to trade my my Grand Cherokee. How do you like your wrangler?
11 posted on 07/18/2002 8:08:07 AM PDT by BornOnTheFourth
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To: TC Rider
When the Herald debuted, a U.K. car magazine extolled "Hark The Herald's Axles Swing"(swing axle design).
12 posted on 07/18/2002 8:08:12 AM PDT by sheik yerbouty
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To: wallcrawlr
What's the Best Convertible of All Time?

I'll go with the Castro Convertible.

13 posted on 07/18/2002 8:09:12 AM PDT by The G Man
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To: wallcrawlr

1966 Shelby Cobra Convertible (sigh)
14 posted on 07/18/2002 8:11:05 AM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: TC Rider
That you waving behind the wheel? :-)
15 posted on 07/18/2002 8:12:19 AM PDT by COBOL2Java
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To: wallcrawlr
I restored a '73 MGB in 1984 and about cried when I sold it in '91.
16 posted on 07/18/2002 8:13:53 AM PDT by mhking
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To: Rebelbase
Beautiful. But the '61 Vette is my fave.
17 posted on 07/18/2002 8:16:27 AM PDT by Desdemona
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To: wallcrawlr
Any Jeep with a rag or fiberglass removeable top!
18 posted on 07/18/2002 8:16:32 AM PDT by chilepepper
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To: Rebelbase
I thought that was a pure roadster?
19 posted on 07/18/2002 8:18:14 AM PDT by StriperSniper
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To: wallcrawlr
The Plymouth Prowler. For sheer head-turning appeal and technical innovation (amazing body/chassis design), it's got to be considered for "best" honors, even if it isn't a "classic".
20 posted on 07/18/2002 8:18:46 AM PDT by arm958
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To: mhking
i had a love/hate relationship with my red fiat spyder. the car was adorable but emotional...too high maintenance. now that i've grown up i've settled down with a sweet little BMW Z3. it's dependable and sexy, like a good man.
21 posted on 07/18/2002 8:19:30 AM PDT by contessa machiaveli
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To: COBOL2Java
That you waving behind the wheel? :-)

No, that's just a pic I borrowed.

We did ride mine in our High School homecoming parade. We had the seats full and another 3 kids sitting on the back. after about 2 blocks the clutch started smoking and we threw them out.

Mine was somewhat funkier, that the one above. It was 8 years old when I got it and had a few rust spots on the body. I covered the rust spots with those big stick on flowers used as grippies on bathtubs. (It was the time of Flower Power). If I can find my old snaps, I may have to scan it in.

22 posted on 07/18/2002 8:23:05 AM PDT by TC Rider
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To: wallcrawlr
Clearly, the 55? T-Bird. Everything else is just a pale imitation.
23 posted on 07/18/2002 8:24:01 AM PDT by Freedom4US
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To: contessa machiaveli
I really like my 96 LT4 Corvette convertible, but I get a headache after a while when I drive with the top down.

It's caused by the stupid grin I can't wipe off my face.

24 posted on 07/18/2002 8:25:30 AM PDT by hopespringseternal
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To: wallcrawlr

It is not on the list, but I choose the ’87 Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio in my garage, least I can drive it.

25 posted on 07/18/2002 8:28:59 AM PDT by TightSqueeze
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To: Freedom4US

the best? Zoom Zoom...no wait that should be Putt Putt...

26 posted on 07/18/2002 8:32:02 AM PDT by CJ Wolf
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To: wallcrawlr
MG-TC
27 posted on 07/18/2002 8:34:09 AM PDT by 68 grunt
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To: Rebelbase
1966 Shelby Cobra Convertible (sigh)

No doubt, it would be the best "convertible" of all time, if only it had a top of some kind.

Mazda Miata. Hands down.

28 posted on 07/18/2002 8:36:34 AM PDT by Palmetto
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To: hopespringseternal
my car is like a party on wheels. it could be love.......
29 posted on 07/18/2002 8:41:58 AM PDT by contessa machiaveli
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To: Palmetto

P O R S C H E
B O X S T E R


30 posted on 07/18/2002 8:42:46 AM PDT by Enduring Freedom
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To: wallcrawlr; *Auto Shop
Beep!

FR Topic Bump List Register (Scroll down)

31 posted on 07/18/2002 8:47:45 AM PDT by American Preservative
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To: wallcrawlr
1. International Harvester Scout II

2. Any CJ

32 posted on 07/18/2002 8:53:04 AM PDT by FreedomFarmer
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To: wallcrawlr

1963 Corvair Monza

33 posted on 07/18/2002 9:02:03 AM PDT by monkeyshine
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To: wallcrawlr
My favorite convertible is the USX 7 3/8% coupon maturing in 2007 with call protection until 2005.
34 posted on 07/18/2002 9:04:17 AM PDT by Koblenz
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To: Palmetto
You're right, the 427 Cobra did not come with a convertible top as standard equipment. There was one available as an accessory, though.

I'll conceed that the Miata is certainly the most successful drop-top to come along in a long, long time. I think it falls a big short in the "All-time Best" ratings, though - and that may be more due to nostalgia than anything else.

That said, here's my favorite:

1968-1/2 Shelby GT-500 KR, viewed from the angle most familiar to everything else on the road.

35 posted on 07/18/2002 9:09:37 AM PDT by Charles Martel
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To: wallcrawlr
1963 Lincoln Continental. Black with red leather interior. No other convertible ever had the pizzaz of that behemoth. Cruising room for you and 10 or 15 friends and neighbors (and you could fill the trunk with water and swim laps).
36 posted on 07/18/2002 9:10:40 AM PDT by atlaw
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To: Charles Martel
Dang typographical errors! Look at the car, not the words! ;-)
37 posted on 07/18/2002 9:12:34 AM PDT by Charles Martel
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To: atlaw
Ya, the black Linc Cont...the kind Kennedy was shot in. I've owned a couple of them, they prone to rust along rear qtr panels and have some hellish electrical problems, but when they are good, they are VERY good!
38 posted on 07/18/2002 9:14:46 AM PDT by morjon
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To: morjon
They rust at the engine mounts too. Pretty scary if you don't keep an eye on it. And they had the road handling characteristics of a bag of marshmallows. But on the whole, one of the cleanest looking convertible sedans ever made.
39 posted on 07/18/2002 9:24:13 AM PDT by atlaw
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To: wallcrawlr
A convertible is not a car unless it has muscle. My vote has to go to the 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 with the W30 package. But your father should drive 1965-66 Lincoln Town Car convertible
40 posted on 07/18/2002 9:26:57 AM PDT by LandofLincoln
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To: CJ Wolf
I've owned two Geos like the one in the photo and loved them both. In fact, I'm looking to buy another one just like that if I can find one...
41 posted on 07/18/2002 9:28:22 AM PDT by Lamont Cranston
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To: Enduring Freedom
The altimate sexy convertible ever! BOSTER
42 posted on 07/18/2002 9:31:16 AM PDT by philosofy123
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To: wallcrawlr

43 posted on 07/18/2002 9:33:10 AM PDT by Bloody Sam Roberts
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To: wallcrawlr
I'm partial to the 1975 Cadillac El Dorado convertible. White with red leather interior. 25 ft long and a 500 cubic inch motor. What's not to love:)

Mike

44 posted on 07/18/2002 9:35:31 AM PDT by MichaelP
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To: HalfIrish
Close. Very close. '66 Malibu, bright yellow,
45 posted on 07/18/2002 9:38:38 AM PDT by RightWhale
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46 posted on 07/18/2002 9:53:02 AM PDT by Tony in Hawaii
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To: BornOnTheFourth
The short wheelbase takes a bit of adjusting - tends to side-to-side on the highway, but I love the quick turning radius. I'd buy it again, despite Chrysler's attitude toward customers.
47 posted on 07/18/2002 10:26:29 AM PDT by camle
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts
Ah yes, I owned one of those Birds. note there is no boot - the whole process was electric, the trunk opened, the top went up, folded itself, and stowed itself neatly in the trunk, then the trunk closed. Beautiful, but I still like the Jeep.
48 posted on 07/18/2002 10:30:31 AM PDT by camle
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To: wallcrawlr
My favorite was one I saw when I was very young:
A '58 DeSoto Fireflight.
I saw it a few times and it always stuck with me, especially the round tail lights on the high fins.
49 posted on 07/18/2002 10:42:00 AM PDT by Chi-townChief
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To: Charles Martel
I'll conceed that the Miata is certainly the most successful drop-top to come along in a long, long time. I think it falls a big short in the "All-time Best" ratings, though - and that may be more due to nostalgia than anything else.

Having owned one, it's nostalgic to me. :)

It really is a beautifully engineered car - outstanding, tight chassis (important in a drop-top), perfect steering, wonderful suspension, great exhaust note, and topless in 5 sec.

I only wished for about 50 more hp, but that would have been sort of like wishing your wife had breast implants - better in some ways, but not quite the same balance.

50 posted on 07/18/2002 10:42:58 AM PDT by Palmetto
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