Top-down weather doesn’t last all year, at least for many of us. Still, we can fantasize until spring of sunnier days and the convertibles that make those days that much more enjoyable. We’ve narrowed our list of dream drop-tops down to a high-but-realistic budget of $50,000. These five classic two-seaters can be had in #2 (excellent) condition for thousands less than the base price of a new Porsche 718 Boxster.
The first Vipers are raw but rudimentary cars with no external door handles, windows, or driver aids, and the top is little more than a strip of canvas that runs from the windshield to the roll bar. But what it lacks in creature comforts it makes up for in performance, and it was a heck of a lot of car for the money when it was introduced 25 years ago. It still is, too. There aren’t even many new cars that will outrun an RT/10 at this price point, and none of them look as cool or come close to the Viper’s test a of a driver’s mettle.
C2-generation Corvettes stretch past our $50,000 budget, as do many desirable 1968-70 C3 Corvettes. There is a sweet spot in 1968, though, when the Corvette was still available with the 327-cubic-inch, 350-hp L79 engine as well as the base 327-cu-in 300-hp engine that was carried over from the year before. The small-block grew to 350 cu in for 1969, and up went the price. The ’68 L79 still offers plenty of power and that sharp early C3 styling, but it can be had for well under 50 grand.
Sadly, most anything with a Ferrari or even a Maserati badge has become fairly expensive over the past few years, but you can still buy a Pininfarina-designed Italian sports car for less than 50 grand. The first generation Alfa Romeo Spider, made famous in the 1967 film The Graduate, is the most attractive version of Alfa’s long-running two-seater with its boattail rear. It’s alsothe most expensive. Even so, only the best concours-ready examples will touch our budget cap.
Of the first generation 1955-57 “Baby Birds,” it’s the 1957 model that is the most stylish – and the fastest. Naturally, it’s also the most expensive. The T-Birds of 1955 and 1956, meanwhile, offer most of the good looks at a much more appealing sub-50-grand price. They’re down on power compared to the 1957 models, but a T-Bird is more of a car to casually cruise around in, anyway.
The Viper may be the fastest car on this list, but the Elan is hands down the most fun per dollar. Weighing in at about 1,500 pounds and with up to 126 hp from its famous 1.6-liter Twin Cam engine, the Elan deceptively quick and handles like nothing else. It’s one of Gordon Murray’s favorite cars, which is high praise coming from the designer of the McLaren F1. Even though values have surged over the past few years, Elans can still be had for comfortably under 50 grand. So long as it’s not breaking down or shedding trim pieces, driving an Elan will be worth every penny.