OFF with their heads!

Droptops From The Time When Their Days Were Numbered

Remember the Twilight Zone and host Rod Serling’s distinctive voice? Let’s use our best inner Serling for the next few sentences: “Picture if you will, a world without convertibles. A world where the boring, the bland, the mundane are celebrated. Where adventuresome people drive minivans and where a warm breeze in your face comes only from the hairdryer in your hand…”

Okay, you can go back to your regular voice now. But as P.J. O’Rourke discusses on page 50, there really was a time in the 1970s when threatened legislation made the end of the convertible seem near. So it was that the ’76 Eldorado became something new in the world of collector cars — the instant collectible. “Investors” bought them and put them away thinking there would be enough future demand that people would pay a premium for the “final” production convertible.

Soon, dozens of converters stepped into the convertible abyss by taking cars produced in the late ’70s and lopping the tops off. Some were successful, many were not. When manufacturers saw the public was still willing to pay a premium price for a droptop, many contracted with companies such as American Sunroof Corporation (later ASC) to sell the conversions as part of their offerings. And then something absolutely amazing happened. Starting with cars like Mustang and Corvette, production convertibles returned. Here’s a sampling of cars from the end — and from the new beginning — of the convertible in America.

One of those conversions from the late 1970s was lot 318 at Barrett-Jackson’s annual Scottsdale sale. A 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V custom convertible in white, with a white convertible top and red and white leather interior, it sold for $13,200, showing a claimed 33,345 original miles. By the pound, it was cheap.

If you were waiting for one of those post-’76 Eldos, perhaps lot 328 of the same sale, a 1979 Cadillac custom Eldorado, would have been more to your liking. In the near-perfect 1980s colors of metallic brown over tan leather, this one featured a continental kit and — bonus! — was also shortened. This convertible has what is claimed to be a Mercedes convertible top. No notes were given about its ride quality as a “shorty,” but at $10,400 it looked quite new and also looked like it would be a lot of fun.

In 1983, after a 10-year hiatus, Mustang got back into the ragtop business with its GLX convertible for a $9,449 base price. In 1984, the convertible was available in LX configuration. A spectacular 1984 Ford Mustang GT 350 convertible, with just 101 miles from new, showed up at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale as lot 384. It hit the record books with a much talked-about sale at $71,500. Finished in Oxford White with a Canyon Red interior, this 20th Anniversary car also featured the four-barrel high-output V-8 and a five-speed manual transmission.

And remember those instantly collectible ’76 Cadillac Eldorados? Well, they haven’t gone anywhere, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find a new one still in the wrapper. The good news is that there are plenty of them out there with incredibly low mileage and incredibly low prices. Take, for example, lot 2517 at Leake’s Oklahoma City Auction in February. A triple black fuel-injected Eldorado optioned all the way — including a color-keyed parade boot — sold for $32,000. Its excellent condition reflected the odometer reading: just 18,281 miles.

If you are looking for a convertible from the era where they were about to end forever, you still have plenty of choices. In fact, you might say that the American convertible never died; it just went on a short vacation.