The winners and losers in the great battle of the retro-inspired convertibles
As winter inches closer, all we can do is hold on to the few memories of summer we still have left before frigid temperatures and unpredictable weather make driving a nightmare in many parts of the country. We may have a few months of getting up early to let the car heat up before hitting the road ahead of us, but the weather is still pleasant enough outside to recall cruising with the top down en route to the beach.
Whether you are a speed demon or simply working on your tan, nothing is more fun than sitting in a convertible with the wind in your hair. Even if your car isn’t a hot rod, having no roof over your head can be liberating as the restrictions of the cabin are literally removed.
However, not all convertibles are created equal, as some rides offer a sporty adventure but fall way short of what they promise. Sometimes, automakers sell their cars as performance vehicles but equip them with engines that barely get the bloated boats out of the driveway. In other situations, a luxury mark may promise a convertible that stings the competition but turns out to just be given the “lipstick-on-a-pig” treatment. Whatever the flaw, here are a couple of the worst throwback convertibles to ever grace the market and competitors that actually got the formula right.
Loser: Chrysler Pt Cruiser Convertible
The Chrysler PT Cruiser, on its own, isn’t a terrible car. In fact, it gave the bland Chrysler marque a little bit of identity when it was originally introduced back in 2000 as a retro-throwback that actually worked as a mainstream seller instead of a kitschy gimmick. However, when Chrysler figured they would squeeze every last dollar they could out of this mild little wagon by turning it into a convertible, any credibility the PT Cruiser mark held went right out the window.
The proportions on the thing are all wrong, as it is too tall and not long enough, making it feel like you are driving around a bucket. It’s retro in all of the wrong ways in that it looks like a cheap cartoon version of a model-T at some angles with the soft-top in place. Where the four-door version of this model is cute but realistic, the convertible is a complete caricature.
Winner: Plymouth Prowler
Now this car was another throwback that promised way more than it actually delivered. But unlike the SSR, it didn’t try and promise the world. This thing definitely looked faster and more badass than it actually was, as it only came equipped with a V6 and an automatic out of the factory. However, aside from a lack of true performance it gets aces on all fronts.
Despite featuring the same LS2 V8 that made the Corvette and GTO speed demons, the SSR simply weighed too much to be any kind of performer. Between the truck chassis and the ridiculous weight added by the hardtop, the thing dragged. The Prowler, on the other hand, was light enough that it still had a little pep, even with its smaller engine. It only came as a soft top convertible, which actually makes it look pretty slick. And best of all, the SSR suffered from the same problem with its cartoonish mug that made it hard to take seriously. The Prowler, however, looked mean, and didn’t grin at you like the SSR.
Loser: Chevrolet SSR
This goofy convertible has a lot more to apologize for than the PT Cruiser. This car, arguably one of the many failures that brought the General down the road to bankruptcy, was introduced in response to a wave of retro-inspired niche models that Chrysler and Ford started pumping out at the turn of the new Millenium. The problem here was that it was hard to pin down where GM got the inspiration.
In the fender flares, grill and front fascia, the car takes cues from the original batch of pickups Chevy produced in the ’30s and ’40s, though this clearly wasn’t a traditional pick-up. It appeared to be a lowrider and may have at first fooled people into thinking it was the second coming of the El Camino, but this chunky monster wasn’t even actually built on a car-based platform. To top off the confusion, Chevy threw a hardtop convertible onto this potpourri of misplaced features that made this car unclassifiable and debilitatingly heavy. Instead of winning as a truck, coupe, convertible and hot rod, it failed on all parts.
Winner: Mini Cooper Convertible
It’s true that the design of the Mini Cooper is a throwback to older cars, but unlike the PT Cruiser Convertible, the Mini’s style is cohesive and modern. Instead of looking clunky, the Mini is completely proportional as a convertible as the designers looked at the car as a whole. Instead of the sloppy pastiche that is the botched Chrysler, the Mini doesn’t look like someone took a saw to the hardtop it was derived from.
As well, the shortened platform of the PT Cruiser, along with its blatantly non-aerodynamic design, make this car incredibly hard to handle as a compact convertible. All of the pieces of the Mini fit together wonderfully, making it a sub-compact that punches way above its weight class.
Which of these retro convertibles would you want to cruise in next summer? Leave your comments below: