Summer Cruising: A Brief History of the Convertible
By: Good2GoPublished: June 23, 2014
Cruising down the highway with the top down and the wind in your hair is an American summer pastime, one that can be traced back as early as the late 1800s. And while the convertible has gone through many redesigns and mechanical refinements, it remains a timeless piece of automobile history. Here is a brief look at the history of the convertible and all its glory.
If you think back to the days of Henry Ford, the man who revolutionized the production and manufacturing of automobiles, you’ll recall that all cars at the time were topless. That meant no roof, no windshield and no doors. These vehicles were designed after horse-drawn carriages, the main mode of transportation during this period. Ford’s 1896 Quadricyle (pictured above) is a prime example of an open top vehicle long before it was cool.
Soon after Ford’s invention, Cadillac began offering fully closed cars as an alternative. The 1905 Osceola grew in popularity as the closed cover helped drivers avoid the dust and debris that came with driving on the open road. By 1910, Cadillac’s newest design became standard, as other auto manufacturers adopted hard covers.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that convertibles – as we think of them today – began to emerge. Early models tended to be drafty, leaky, and unstable. In addition, the roofs were difficult to operate. The 1934 Peugeot’s 601 Eclipse (pictured below) revolutionized all that with its electrical folding roof that retracted into a space behind the vehicle.
Photo Credit: Kevin Pourtout/Wikipedia
The 1939 Plymouth Deluxe Convertible Coupe – while stylish in its own right – followed in the 601’s tire tracks with its motor powered roof. This technology removed the difficulty of raising and lowering the top which had previously been done manually. Only 387 were manufactured before the rooftop compartment was transformed into what is now the trunk.
Fast forward to the 1950s, car makers saw a need to not only make convertibles more affordable, but more stable, as issues arose with rattling and sealing windows. Full-frame doors and fabric tops helped reduce these problems. The most notable car with this feature was the 1950 Nash Rambler (pictured below) which used rail tracks to raise the soft top over the structured doorframes and pillars.
Photo Credit: DougW/Wikipedia
In the late 1950s, Ford developed the Fairlane 500 Skyliner. Inspired by the technology of the 601, the Skyliner also featured a retractable hard top roof. However, sales suffered as the large roof took up a sizable amount of trunk space.
While the 60s gave birth to a few more convertibles like the 1961 Lincoln Continental and the 1968 Mercury Cougar (which popularized the sunroof), proposed government regulations about rollover standards damaged the reputation of convertibles, resulting in historically low sales for the decade.
However, government regulations on rollover standards never materialized, and American drivers longed to have the wind in their hair once again. Auto manufacturers in the U.S. began to reintroduce soft top convertibles to the public with models like the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron (1989 model pictured below). Other convertible models that were released during this time included: Camaros, Cavaliers, Mustangs, Sunbirds, and the Thunderbird.
Photo Credit: Ruben de Rijcke/Wikipedia
Convertibles of today
Today’s convertibles look like images out of a foreign spy novel – which is probably the look the auto industry is going for. With modern interior designs, enhanced performance, and high-tech features, today’s convertibles like the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray handle like a dream without sacrificing power. In addition, auto manufacturers have been able to produce drop tops that appeal to both the low-end and high-end consumer. If you’re in the market for a brand new convertible that you want to test out this summer, check out the Cars.com convertible buying guide.
No matter what catches your eye, it’s safe to say that convertibles are here to stay.
Find out how you can protect yourself affordably with Good2Go.com auto insurance. Get a cheap car insurance quote today.