Mechanisms with Jan Coomans: Love and Hate of Convertibles

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Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 f23

For pretty much as long as cars have been around,

some people have been hell bent on chopping their roofs off.

It only takes a leasurly stroll along the Croisette in Cannes to see what i mean. Convertible cars, all over the place. Of course the Côte d’Azur is a rather obvious place, but you don’t have to look hard to find them elsewhere either. Even in Moscow they have been popping up left and right. So should you get one, too?

Bentley Continental Supersports

Let’s look at the details. Bad news first: convertible cars will be slower than those with a metal roof. The difference is not always huge, certainly not if you’re looking to buy something like a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder for example.

But convertible cars weigh more. That might seem odd to you considering that they are missing a roof. Essentially the problem is that the chassis of a car needs to be stiff. It cannot bend and flex too much. Because the roof is missing, all the stiffness has to come from the floor of the car. In order to achieve this, car manufacturers must use so much more material in the floor that the car becomes considerably heavier than the regular version. Weight is bad. More weight means less performance, both in a straight line and for cornering.

And it doesn’t stop there. Even with a reinforced floor, convertible cars are still usually lacking in stiffness. I will admit that in modern convertibles this problem has been nearly completely solved, but you can still tell the difference. You might wonder why that’s a bad thing, well, chassis stiffness is important for the handling of the car. More is better.

My mother used to have a 90s Saab 9-3 convertible. Lovely car in any case but driving it felt remarkably like they had built the car not out of steel but pasta instead. Linguini I think. You would turn it into a corner and there seemed to be a considerable delay before the backside of the car would follow the front. Much like a freight train or 2 guys wearing a zebra costume.

So if you want to go driving down a winding mountain road, from a technical point of view a convertible does not at first seem to be the most desirable option. But wait. People who enjoy driving cars know that a great car is always more than the sum of its parts. It is the experience that counts. And when you add this into the mix, convertibles gain quite a bit of appeal.

Alfa Romeo 8C Spider

First of all, in a convertible, the only thing above you is the sky. This is a very good thing when the sky is blue. When it turns gray or black, it’s probably time to pull over and put up the “roof” which feels not unlike camping in a tent. Hard-top cars that have a folding solid roof are a bit nicer to be in when it rains, but in any case the whole point of having a convertible is to have it open whenever the weather allows. Back to the blue sky then, it truely is a special experience to drive through a great scenery in an open car.

ИAnd it doesn’t just stop with the scenery. If you do buy something like the Lamborghini I mentioned earlier, you will be treated to a glorious engine sound that you just don’t get if you’re under a roof. Imagine yourself driving up an Alp in the Gallardo spyder. The sound of the mighty V10 engine reflecting off the mountain walls straight back into your ears. The noise of the engine as you downshift into a hairpin corner, some unburnt fuel being sent popping through the exhaust like a T-rex clearing its throat. Wish you were there yet? I’m there right now, in my mind, and it’s seriously hurting my progress writing this article.

Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570 4 Spyder Performante

Of course a regular Gallardo would be a ton of fun as well on the same road, but there is simply an extra dimension to going roofless. It’s an attack on your senses, in a good way. Not that you need an Italian supercar to enjoy going roofless of course. Slightly more modest cars can be great fun as well in that situation.

Mazda MX-5

But there are other reasons I can think of that make a convertible worthwhile to people. If you do happen to be driving the Croisette, odds are you will want people to see you. In that case, not having a roof helps. At least that appears to be the main reason why some people drive convertibles there, going in endless circles not unlike cakes on display behind a French bakery’s window. Or maybe they are just really bad at finding a place to park.

A convertible then is probably not something you will be using every day. Not unless you live in southern California anyway. If you want to drive one in Moscow, you’ll probably be storing it far away from rain and snow for 6 to 8 months out of the year. But for those warm summer evenings, those trips that serve no purpose except to enjoy the drive itself, a convertible will make you smile like no regular car can. With the top down, you can be on top of the world.

Jaguar XKR-S




21 августа 2012
Jan Coomans для раздела Механизмы