If you haven’t bought a convertible this year, it’s not too late. No need to wait until October, either, when people decide to sell to avoid the winter storage fees. There are plenty of convertible owners who are looking to sell right now.
In our imagination, old Uncle Leo recently gifted you $20,000, so let us help you spend it wisely. As an enthusiast, you’re likely looking for something older and simpler. Not that you want to work on it, but you could, right? Start by deciding what it is you’re looking for. Do you want a cruiser or a sports car? Once that’s decided, keep the following in mind:
Be wary of too few miles. Do not buy the world’s best-looking 1980 Triumph Spitfire with 2400 miles on the clock. First off, most of the liquid systems that supply coolant, brakes, and fuel will probably be gummed up from a car that’s seen so little use. Seals will be fragile and can be easily triggered into failure. Assuming you hope to make money—or break even—remember that every mile you drive will reduce its value. Also avoid restored trailer queens which “just need fine tuning.”
Do not buy the world’s cheapest exotic that “needs a bit of work.” You want to drive this car regularly. Stay in the mainstream and bear in mind English restorer Peter Price’s advice, as he looked up from a classically greasy engine bay… “Remember, the wrong Rolls-Royce can be a bad deal free.” Equally, why pay over the top for a modest car that may never appreciate much? You could buy a $20,000 MGB, but if your goal is to break even or make money, you will be waiting some time for the market to catch up.
Buy a good solid driver—preferably one owner—that’s been garaged, maintained, and driven. Find a #3 (Good) condition car; they usually disappear first when prices rise. Don’t pay restored prices (see trailer queens) and avoid basket cases. You’re looking for “the sweet spot”—and so is everybody else.
Study the Hagerty Price Guide. Educated sellers will, and if you can both refer to legitimate numbers, you can strike a deal.
Here are a half dozen suggestions to get you started, with pluses and minuses for each. We’ve chosen two English sports cars, three American convertibles, and a French drop-top.
Returning American servicemen imported thousands of inconvenient but charming MG TCs from 1946–49, along with a dream. That dream led to the U.S.-market, left-hand-drive TD of 1949, which had a wider body, coil-spring independent front suspension, and 15-inch steel wheels. Most of the 29,664 built were sold in the U.S. It was rugged open-air motoring with side-screens, but it had improved handling, better brakes, and a top speed of 80 mph. Plenty of spares are available, and they are easy to work on. Check that the wood-framed body is sound; gearbox is quiet, and tricky oil pressure/coolant temp gauge is functional. Specs: 54–57.5 hp, 1.25-liter OHV four-cylinder, four-speed manual transmission, 80-mph top speed.
Karmann’s brilliant redesign of Giovanni Michelotti’s TR4A used the same independent-rear-suspension chassis. Details were smoothed out on new front and rear fenders, hood, and trunk, while cowl and doors carried on unchanged. Gone was the TR5’s finicky Lucas injection, but the carbureted U.S. model had only 105 hp instead of 150 hp, but it can be tuned. It comes in many great colors, is long-legged and comfortable, and has an excellent hardtop and wire-wheel option (until 1973). Beware of rust and 1970s quality control (or the lack thereof). Engines are long-lived, electrics are questionable, rear suspension is tricky at the limit. Of the 91,850 built, 77,938 were sold in the U.S. Specs: 104 hp, 2.5-liter OHV six-cylinder, four-speed manual transmission, overdrive option, 108-mph top speed.
This Impala’s elegant design captured the muscle car spirit with its “Crouching Tiger” rear fenders (especially apparent with air shocks). Offered with a wide range of engines, from modest 327 V-8 to barking mad 396 and 409 big-blocks. Handsome and spacious, with bucket seat option and console floor shifts. Impalas have great colors, are eminently tuneable, easily modified (disc brakes, and quicker steering, please), fast, and bulletproof, with strong aftermarket and reproduction support. Usual convertible rust issues, but good ones were garaged. About 100,000 were built in two years. Look for a 300-hp 327-cubic-inch V-8, likely paired with a Powerglide automatic.
The overlooked Camaro twin has a more aggressive appearance and practical front bumper. Coke-bottle styling produced an elegant convertible, too. Almost 10 times as many coupes were built in 1967–68 (45,581 Camaro, 32,488 Firebird convertibles), but tuners prefer coupes, so you’re in luck. All the usual GM options: engines range from finicky 175-hp 250 OHC, six-cylinder to 326 and GTO 400 V-8s, up to 366 hp. Obvious change is the 1967-only vent windows and ’68 side markers. Improved multiple rear springs for ’68. Some rust issues (floors, rear quarters), but many Firebirds were garaged as second cars. Look for a 326 V-8 in 1967, and, in ’68, a 350 V-8 (HO if you can) and 250–265 hp 326/350-cubic-inch OHV V-8 with Turbo-Hydramatic.
You couldn’t buy a Cougar convertible until 1969, but the redesign with its downward side sweep was quite lovely. Despite hidden headlights and sequential tail lights, Mustangs outsold Cougars 3-to-1, and Cougar convertibles are a novelty. Only 9820 found buyers in 1969 and 7161 in ’70. The Cougar had horizontal grille bars in 1969 and vertical bars in 1970, with a “cat’s paw” center. Cougars offered base and luxury XR7 trim, plus GT package and Eliminator Coupes. Engines ranged from 250-hp 351-cubic-inch OHV V-8 through 390, 428, and even 429 V-8s, up to 360 hp. Affordable Cougar convertibles share virtues and vices of Mustangs at almost the same price, but Cougars are rarer, especially four-speeds. Look for a 250–290 hp 351-cubic-inch V-8, probably automatic.
1970–90 Citroen 2CV
Average #3 price $12,600 (You might find a #2 for less than $20,000)
Launched in 1948 to replace the horse and cart in rural France, this 1300-pound workhorse looks like a VW bug without compound curves. The two-cylinder, air-cooled, front-wheel drive, four-door convertible sedan was designed for 40 mpg and 40 mph. It could cross a plowed field, had a roll-top roof, detachable doors, hood, and trunk lid, and removable seats. By 1970 it had grown from 375 cc to 602 cc and 40 mph, to 602 cc and 72 mph, with front disc brakes. In all, 5,259,878 variations were sold worldwide in 42 years. The 2CV’s charm means these cars are cherished and often given a nickname. Beware of rust (the 2CV’s only weakness) and take an expert to check it out. If you can find the latest—29-hp, 602cc air-cooled flat-twin, four-speed, 72 mph—buy it.