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Just Can't Top This: Spotlight on Convertibles

The Bottom Line on Drop-Tops

June 25, 1998|JOHN O'DELL

After ignoring the convertible for nearly two decades, the auto industry is making up for lost time with topless versions of just about every coupe on the market.

Defining a convertible can get tricky. Some would argue that cars like the Acura NSX or the Dodge Viper--vehicles with removable steel slabs bridging the windshield and the rear window--are convertibles.

But to a purist, a convertible is a car that doesn't have a rear window when the top is down--and it is a car whose top folds away into a neat little package, not a coupe with a hole where the roof goes.

By our count, auto makers in the U.S., Japan, Germany, Italy, Britain and Sweden now produce 24 convertibles--several with multiple versions. (The Ford Mustang convertible, for example, comes in three power and trim levels.

FOR THE RECORD - Dings and Scratches
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 30, 1998 Home Edition Highway 1 Part W Page 15 Financial Desk 2 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Missing Miata--The chart listing the top-selling convertibles in Southern California was based on model sales during the first four months of the year. In compiling the data, we neglected the Mazda Miata, which failed to show up in our survey because we asked our sources for '98 models. New '97 and '99 Miatas sold during the period (there is no '98 Miata) would have put the roadster in the No. 3 spot, slightly behind the BMW Z3.

And you'd lose your shirt if you bet that there soon won't be more. Ford already has said it will build the new Thunderbird as a convertible, Cadillac is toying with a Corvette-based roadster, and if Volkswagen doesn't have a to topless Bug on the market within a few years, a lot of crow is going to be served up for lunch in the eateries that auto industry pundits frequent.

Following is a chart of all the 1998 and 1999 convertible models now available in California. We've limited our list to mass-production cars, so we don't include kit cars and specialty vehicles like the Panoz roadster that is built in Georgia. We've also eliminated canvas-topped trucks--like the Jeep Wrangler and the Land Rover Defenderon the theory that while they indeed are topless, so is a John Deere tractor. The defining characteristic of a convertible, after all, is that it is a sleek, sexy runabout, not just a vehicle with a top that comes down.

Ford Mustang

Seats: 2+2

Engine: V-6/V-8

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $21,000/$29,000

*

Jaguar XK8

Seats: 4

Engine: V-8

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $70,000

*

BMW 323

Seats: 4

Engine: 6 cyl

Power top: Opt

Glass window: N

Target price: $37,000

*

BMW 328

Seats: 4

Engine: 6

Power top: Y

Glass window: N

Target price: $44,000

*

BMW Z3 (Model shown)

Seats: 2

Engine: 4/6

Power top: Opt

Glass window: N

Target price: $31k/$38k

*

Mazda Miata

Seats: 2

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: N

Glass window: Y

Target price: $22,000

*

Porsche Boxster

Seats: 2

Engine: 6 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: N

Target price: $42,000

*

Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet (Model Shown)

Seats: 2

Engine: 6 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: N

Target price: $73,000

(911 comes with hard and soft tops; hardtop shown)

*

Bentley Azure (Limited production)

Seats: 4

Engine: V-8

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $350,000

*

Mercedes SL500

Seats: 2

Engine: V-8

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $80k

*

Mercedes SL600

Seats: 2

Engine: V-12

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $125k

*

Mercedes SLK230 (Model shown)

Seats: 2

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $40k

(SLK230 has retractable hardtop)

*

Saab 900 S/SE

Seats: 4

Engine: 4 cyl/turbo

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $39,000/$45,000

*

Chevrolet Camaro (Twins)

Seats: 2+2

Engine: V-6/V-8

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $25k/$29k

*

Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 (Twins)

Seats: 4

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $21k

*

Chevrolet Corvette (Model shown)

Seats: 2

Engine: V-8

Power top: N

Glass window: Y

Target price: $49k

*

Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder

Seats: 2+2

Engine: 4 cyl/turbo

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $22,000/$25,000

*

Toyota Celica

Seats: 2+2

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $25,000

*

Chrysler Sebring JX/JXi

Seats: 4

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $23,000/$28,000

*

Plymouth Prowler (Limited Production)

Seats: 2

Engine: V-6

Power top: N

Glass window: N

Target price: $65,000

*

Volvo C70 (Available mid-July)

Seats: 4

Engine: 5 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $45,000

*

Ferrari F355 Spyder

Seats: 2

Engine: V-8

Power top: Y

Glass window: N

Target price: $139,000

*

Pontiac Firebird (Twins; Model shown)

Seats: 2+2

Engine: V-6/V-8

Power top: Y

Glass window: N

Target price: $25k/$30k

*

Pontiac Sunfire SE (Twins)

Seats: 4

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $20,000

*

VW Cabrio GL

Seats: 4

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: N

Glass window: Y

Target price: $19,500

*

VW Cabrio GLS

Seats: 4

Engine: 4 cyl

Power top: Y

Glass window: Y

Target price: $24,000

*

Sources: IntelliChoice, manufacturers and Southern California auto dealers

Photos courtesy of respective manufacturers except:

Bentley Azure, GERALDINE WILKINS- KASINGA / Los Angeles Times

Plymouth Prowler, Associated Press

Researched by JOHN O'DELL / Los Angeles Times

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