Posts from ‘Convertibles’
Note: This article is reprinted from the June 2013 issue of Collectible Automobile.
Nineteen sixty-six was a facelift year for the full-size Mercury, which had been completely redesigned from the frame up in 1965 and dressed in new styling that was advertised as being “in the Lincoln Continental tradition.” Still, there was enough new to give prospective customers plenty to think about.
Naturally, as was the custom in those days, appearances were freshened while still keeping within the basic styling direction selected for ’65. The grille, hood, and fenders were changed, and wraparound taillights replaced the enveloped style used previously. Reshaped bumpers actually led to a 2-inch gain in overall vehicle length on non-station wagon models.
Inside, gauge faces were changed to white from black. This being the year that federally mandated safety equipment started showing up in abundance, Mercurys now sported a padded dashboard and sun visors, front and rear seatbelts, four-way hazard flashers, and back-up lights.
Other new engineering advancements included larger-diameter standard drum brakes, optional front disc brakes, minor suspension tuning, and adoption of a larger 25-gallon fuel tank. Station wagons came with Ford Motor Company’s new two-way tailgate that could be dropped down in the customary way for cargo loading or opened from the side for easier passenger access.
Here in Chicago, at least, we’re finally seeing signs of spring. And every year about this time, I start thinking about convertibles.
Since ragtops aren’t really practical as daily transportation in these parts (especially where I live in the city, where anyone with a pocketknife can cut their way into your car), I always think of a convertible as being a “weekend” ride. Trouble is, it’s really tough to justify the expense of insurance and license plates for a car you only drive occasionally—and even then, only half the year.
But get one old enough, and that’s not so much of an issue. When a car turns 25 years old, it’s considered a “classic” by some insurance companies and state licensing agencies, meaning both insurance and license-plate fees can be cut tremendously. So whenever I start thinking of convertibles, I also start thinking about any that just turned that “classic” corner.
This year, it’s the 1988 models. However, not many new ragtops appeared that year, so I’m also including a trio of one-year-olds I missed on last year’s list (partly because some were late-year additions), all of which were also offered in ’88.
Drop the top and drink in that raspy exhaust note. The fun-to-drive nature and great sounds of the Fiat 500 Abarth will soon be available without a roof. Get ready for the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio (meaning cabriolet; i.e., convertible). The 500 Abarth Cabrio, also known as the 500c Abarth, will go on sale in the second quarter of 2013. Meanwhile, here it is in pictures.
Click here to listen to the snarky exhaust note of the 500 Abarth.
Note: This article is reprinted from the February 2013 issue of Collectible Automobile.
Longtime Collectible Automobile readers may recall the 1952 Packard Pan American from an October 1986 story and from an October 1992 Personality Profile on its designer, Richard Arbib. So why this encore? Well, aside from the pleasure of seeing an old friend still hale and hearty, this Pan American is the first of only six built—and the only one built without its intended folding top.
As noted historian George Hamlin recounted in the Arbib profile, the Pan American was one of several “sports car” ideas that the styling consultant doodled up for the Henney Body Company of Freeport, Illinois, long a supplier of Packard-based hearses, ambulances, and other professional cars. A successful industrial designer since the late 1930s, Arbib had also worked for General Motors and, after the war, the Harley Earl Corporation. When a falling out with Earl prompted him to go freelance in 1949, Arbib contacted a previous employer, industrialist Charles Russell Feldmann. As it happened, Feldmann had just purchased Henney (for a second time) and needed help with redesigning its professional coachwork to match Packard’s new 1951 “high pockets” styling. Arbib duly signed on as a Henney consultant and de facto one-man styling staff.
At the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, I was fortunate to talk with Andy Goss, president of Jaguar Land Rover North America. Jaguar has a stronger lineup this year, as all-wheel drive and fuel-efficient V6 engines are newly available on its sedans. The addition of the 2014 F-Type roadster later this year will strengthen Jaguar’s line even further. The F-Type is Jaguar’s first true 2-seater sports car since the legendary E-Type of the 1960s and ’70s. (The XJ220 supercar was too expensive and rare to count as a regular production car.) The E-Type spearheaded Jaguar’s U.S. sales in the ’60s, and Jaguar officials hope that the F-Type will repeat that role.
Here is what Andy Goss had to say:
On the F-Type’s importance to the Jaguar line today and to the E-Type heritage: “The F-Type will be the emotional fulcrum of the Jaguar brand. Not in numbers, but in passion and emotion. The E-type will be featured in F-Type promotion, but Jaguar will not overplay the E-Type heritage. The F-Type is more modern and can stand on its own merits. Jaguar was rejuvenated when Ian Callum became design director. Callum acknowledges Jaguar’s bloodlines, but does not mimic past models.”
At the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, Bentley showed off its 2014 Continental GTC Speed, the high-performance version of its popular Continental GTC exotic convertible.
The GT Speed Convertible is powered by a turbocharged 616-horsepower W12 hooked to an 8-speed automatic transmission. (Non-Speed Continentals with the W12 engine have 567 horsepower). The Speed treatment includes a lowered suspension, a unique black intake manifold, retuned steering, 21-inch wheels (available in silver or dark-tinted), dark-chrome front grilles, and the “Mulliner Driving Specification,” which includes drilled accelerator and brake pedals, diamond-quilted upholstery on the seats and door panels, a knurled gear lever, and optional embroidered emblems in the seat backs. Options include carbon-fiber or wood interior trim, dark-colored machine-turned aluminum panels on the dashboard, and a high-end “Naim for Bentley” audio system.
The transmission shifter is equipped with a Sport mode gate, and it conjures up quicker throttle response, higher-rpm shifts, and faster kick-down shifts. Just like all other Bentley Continentals, the 2014 GT Speed Convertible is all-wheel drive.
All told, this droptop reaches 60 mph from a stop in 4.1 seconds and peaks at 202 mph. Not that Bentley buyers typically care, but the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible is rated to get 12 mpg city/20 mpg highway.
Mercedes-Benz was busy at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. Headlining the German luxury brand’s exhibit was its family of revamped E-Class cars.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class returns in 2-door coupe and convertible as well as 4-door sedan and wagon body styles. All versions receive updated interior and exterior styling as well as a host of new convenience and safety features.
Under the hood, the E-Class sedan will reprise E350 and E550 variants. The former uses a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine while the latter has a turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 with 402 horsepower. New for 2014 is the E250 BlueTEC, which employs a 190-horsepower 2.1-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder. Similarly new is the E400 HYBRID, which uses the E350’s V6 engine paired with a 27-horsepower electric motor. The E250, E350, and E400 have rear-wheel drive. Available on the 350 and standard on the E550 is Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The wagon comes only in E350 form with standard all-wheel drive.
Coupes and convertibles similarly come in E350 and E550 variants, each with rear-wheel drive. An AWD E350 4MATIC coupe is part of the roster, too. The 350’s engine mirrors that of its sedan counterpart, while the 550s get a 402-horsepower 4.6-liter turbocharged V8.
Note: This report supplements Consumer Guide Automotive’s full report on the 2012 Lexus IS C, a premium-compact car that starts at $41,190.
Test car came equipped with: F-Sport Package, HID headlamps with LED running lights, headlamp washers, front/rear obstacle detection, navigation system with premium audio, trunk mat, cargo net. Total MSRP with $895 destination = $55,399.
Powertrain: 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive.
Acceleration: The tester felt quite lively on takeoff and in passing sprints. I’d guess it does 0-60 mph in the mid-5-second area versus 8.4 claimed for the 2.5 V6 IS 250C. Typical of Lexus, the 3.5 engine and 6-speed automatic partner like Fred and Ginger. Each is responsive and refined on its own; together, they’re a treat. Acceleration is linear, hiccup-free, and strong, aided by smooth, progressive throttle action. In fact, power delivery is so satisfying that I never felt inclined to use the standard steering-wheel shift paddles.
Fuel Economy: Circumstances prevented logging as many miles as I’d have liked, but for the record this IS C averaged 17.1 mpg in mostly city driving (Phoenix), a fair bit of which was gas-eating, cold-start, short-hop, errand-type work. The EPA city/highway figures are 19/27 mpg.
Back in 1950, Nash—later one of the building blocks of American Motors—introduced the Rambler, a cute, little (for the time) 4/5-passenger convertible with a top that folded back on rails. It wasn’t the first time somebody would use this trick to make a sedan into ragtop, nor would it be the last. In fact, today’s Fiat 500 Cabrio is just such a car.
Weirdly enough, despite being decades apart, the Rambler and the 500 share something more than a little-used construction technique. The former Chrysler Corporation bought American Motors in 1987. Chrysler’s main aim was to get its hands on AMC’s profitable Jeep lineup, but it also became the holder of the history of its former carmaking rival, including the model names. Then, when Chrysler LLC found itself in bankruptcy in 2009, Italy’s Fiat stepped in to take over control—and get a renewed foothold for its own products in the U.S. That’s where opportunity comes knocking. With “global platforms” being all the rage at multinational car companies like the Fiat/Chrysler combine, it seems to me that the time is right to reintroduce the Rambler by using the 500 Cabrio as a starting point.
Today’s small cars—particularly the European imports—are like coffee. You can’t just order a cup of black joe anymore. As at Starbucks, the options seem unlimited. At Fiat, the 500 Pop, Sport, Lounge, Turbo, and Abarth (not to mention the Gucci edition) were not enough. They recently introduced wagon, electric, and high-performance convertible models. Meanwhile, Mini offers its cars in “10 million” variations, due to all the available options and color schemes. And at the recent LA Auto Show, Volkswagen introduced its new line of Beetle Convertibles, which includes a whopping 11 trim levels.
The tastiest Beetle Convertible flavors are the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s editions, which we showcase below. Surprisingly, the differences between the three are not just cosmetic. Witness:
Powertrain: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, automatic
Special Features (compared to base model): leather upholstery, center console, unique interior and exterior trim
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, automated manual (dual clutch)
Special Features (compared to base model): unique interior and exterior trim, center console, keyless access and starting, Fender sound system, satellite radio, high-definition radio, steering-wheel radio controls, navigation system, leather upholstery, fog lights, sport suspension, 18-inch tires
Color: Denim Blue