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For the currency reference, see convertibility. For the stock trading reference, see convertible security. For the carriage, see Cabriolet

A convertible is a type of automobile in which the roof can retract and fold away, converting it from an enclosed to an open-air vehicle. Many different automobile body style are manufactured and marketed in convertible form.

Roof designs vary widely, but a few characteristics are common to all convertibles. Roofs are affixed to the body of the vehicle and are usually not detachable. Instead the roof is hinged and folds away, either into a recess behind the rear seats or into the boot or trunk of the vehicle. The roof may operate either manually or automatically via hydraulic or electrical actuators, and the roof itself may be constructed of soft or rigid material. Soft-tops are made of vinyl, canvas or other textile material, while hard-tops are made of steel, aluminum, plastic or other rigid materials.

Contemporary convertibles are known and marketed under several different terms due to the convergence of body styles over the years. A soft-top convertible may also be referred to as a cabriolet or cabrio, although two-seater soft tops often retain the name roadster, referring to their body style. Hard-tops are marketed under the terms coupé cabriolet, coupé convertible or simply retractable hardtop, while two-seaters more commonly use coupé roadster/roadster coupé.

Folding textile roof

The collapsible textile roof section (of cloth or vinyl) over an articulated folding frame may include linings such as a sound-deadening layer or interior cosmetic headliner (to hide the frame)  — or both — and may have electrical or electro-hydraulic mechanisms for raising the roof. The erected top secures to the windshield frame header with manual latches, semi-manual latches, or fully automatic latches. The folded convertible top is called the stack.

Pros and cons

Convertibles offer the flexibility of an open top in trade for:
  • potentially reduced safety
  • poor break-in protection
  • deterioration and shrinkage of the sun-exposed textile fabric over time
  • diminished rear visibility, from a large roof structure, small rear window, or obstructed rear window — or all of these: e.g.,MINI convertible.
  • generally poor structural rigidity.
  • Contemporary engineering goes to great length to counteract the effects of removal of a car's roof.
  • For example, a 2007 article in the New York Times, referring to the Volkswagen Eos, reported:

  • specifically poor structural rigidity, such as pronounced scuttle shake, a characteristic whereby the structural design of the bulkhead between engine and passenger compartment of a convertible suffers sufficiently poor rigidity to negatively impact ride or handling — or allow noticeable vibration, shudder or chassis-flexing into the passenger compartment.

Tonneau covers

Folding textile convertible tops often do not hide completely the mechanism of the folded top or can expose the vulnerable underside of the folded top to sun exposure and fading — in which case tonneau covers of various designs snap or secure into place to protect the folded roof and hide the mechanicals. Detachable foldable, rigid or semi-rigid covers require space-consuming storage inside the vehicle — and sometimes complicated installation from outside the stationary vehicle. Foldable vinyl and cloth covers can be prone to shrinkage, further complicating installation.

Evolution of the tonneau cover

  • The MKI (first generation) MGB (1964) roadster featured a manually-assembled convertible frame which required the driver to install the separate vinyl or cloth convertible top — from outside the car. Likewise, a similar detachable frame installed to support a foldable vinyl tonneau cover with a series of twenty press fit snaps.

  • Convertibles such as the Chrysler LeBaron (c. 1988) used sleeve and groove systems to anchor foldable vinyl tonneau cover, again installed manually from outside the car. Later textile convertibles used semi-rigid plastic tonneau covers, e.g., the first generation Audi TT and Cadillac Allanté.

  • Convertibles such as the fifth generation of the Cadillac Eldorado featured a detachable two-part, fully rigid, manually installed tonneau sufficiently strong to support a seated person — also known as a parade boot.

  • Convertibles such as the second generation Mercedes SL popularized the integral manually operated self-storing rigid tonneau cover -- in its case accompanied by a separate removable hardtop. In either case, the design required manual operation from outside the stationary vehicle.

  • Convertibles such as first Porsche Boxster, Toyota MR2 and third generation Mazda MX5 featured Z-fold (aka zig-zag fold) tops, whereby the exterior of the neatly retracted fabric roof also protected the remaining roof from sun exposure — eliminating the aesthetic or protective need for a tonneau cover.

  • Convertibles such as the second generation Ford Thunderbird (1958) convertible and the fourth generation Mercedes SL popularized the complex electro-hydraulic roof mechanism that automatically secured the folded top under a rigid tonneau — button activated by a seated driver — and later more routinely available on convertibles such as the Volvo C70, Chrysler Sebring and Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder.

Detachable hardtops

Convertibles such as both the first and eleventh generation of the Ford Thunderbird and the second and third generations of the Mercedes SL featured as standard or optional equipment fully rigid, manually installable hardtops — later examples including heatable rear windows. These hardtops provided acoustic insulation but also required space-consuming off-season storage — and a cumbersome two-person installation. The optional aluminum (i.e., lightweight) detachable hardtop for a Porsche Boxster weighed 51 lbs. A current-day example of a detachable hardtop is the Jeep Wrangler.

Convertible windows

Convertible side windows have evolved from non-existent in the earliest models, to detachable side screens and manually or power operated glass side windows. Rear-windows have evolved similarly, with plastic rear-windows appearing as late as the first generation Porsche Boxster. Contemporary convertibles and retractable hardtops feature heatable glass rear windows to maximize visibility — though rear windows often can compromise visibility by their size, as with the case of the very small rear window and restricted visibility of the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spider. Plastic windows can degrade, fade, yellow and crack over time, diminishing visibility.


Windblockers, also known as wind screens, wind deflectors, or wind shields, minimize noise and rushing air from reaching the occupants — specifically cold air (and the noise that comes with it) rushing from behind the passengers having been forced over the windshield then returning to the natural lower-pressure zone where the passengers sit.

Mazda pioneered the windblocker with its Mazda RX7 convertible featuring an integral rigid opaque panel that folded up from behind the two seats. Current convertibles feature windblockers of various designs including detachable fold-up designs (e.g.,Toyota Solara), vertically retractable glass (e.g.,Audi TT), carefully designed minimal flaps (e.g.,Mazda Miata) — or other integrated wind controlling systems.

Mercedes currently offers a feature that routes a heating duct to the neck area of the seat on SLK and SL models, marketed as the "Air Scarf".

According to the chief engineer for the 2008 Chrysler Sebring, Jim Issner, the windblocker for the Sebring reduces "wind noise by approximately 11 to 12 decibels".


Contemporary convertible design may include such features as electrically-heated glass rear window (for improved visibility), seat belt pre-tensioners, boron steel reinforced A-pillars, front and side airbags, safety cage construction — a horseshoe like structure around the passenger compartment — and roll over protection structures or with pyrotechnically charged roll hoops hidden behind the rear seats that deploy under roll-over conditions whether the roof is retracted or not.

Notably, the Volvo C70 retractable hardtop includes a door-mounted side impact protection inflatable curtain which inflates upward from the interior belt-line — vs. downward like the typical curtain airbag. The curtain has an extra stiff construction with double rows of slats that are slightly offset from each other. This allows them to remain upright and offer effective head protection even an open window. The curtain also deflates slowly to provide protection should the car roll over.

As an example of current convertible safety, the Citroën C3 Pluriel received the following European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) ratings:
  • Adult Occupant: , score 31
  • Pedestrian: , score 13

View: Citroën C3 Pluriel Encap crash testing


Convertibles have offered numerous iterations that fall between the first mechanically-simple but attention-demanding fabric tops to the highly complex modern retractable hardtops:

Roadster: Originally the term roadster suggested a minimal convertible, possibly with a frame that required actual assembly (i.e., not retracting) and separately installable soft "window" panels — offering little protection from inclement weather and requiring a time-consuming, complicated installation. A contemporary roadster is a two-seater convertible.

Landau & Rigid Door: Citroën's early Citroën 2CV featured a roof that rolled back on itself leaving rigidly framed side doors in place — followed in concept by such cars as the 1950 Nash Rambler Convertible Coupe.

Citroën currently markets the C3 Pluriel (Pluriel is a cognate with the English plural), which can be configured into five iterations, hence the name:
  • a hatchback with a multi-layer insulated top.
  • a full-length "landau" sedan, operable partially or to the back window or any stage in between, with a buffet-minimizing wind deflector over the windshield.
  • a semi-convertible, with the roof open to the back window, the roof assembly folds into a well in the trunk floor.
  • a full convertible, whereby roof side rails are unlatched and removed.
  • a roadster pick-up, where the back seats fold to a pickup-like bed with a drop-down tailgate.

View: Citroën C3 Pluriel diagram

The Four Door: A four door convertible is referred to as a phaeton, while a two-door is referred to as a cabriolet. Modern 4-door models, e.g., the Lincoln Continental, c.1960. A current example of a 4-door convertible is the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

Peugeot presented the a concept four-door retractable hardtop convertible, the Peugeot 407 Macarena in 2006. Produced by French coachbuilding specialist Heuliez, the Macarena's top can be folded in 60 seconds, with a steel reinforcing beam behind the front seats incorporating LCD screens for the rear passengers into the crossmember.

View: Peugeot 407 Macarena, in action.

Drophead Coupe, Cabriolet or Cabrio:A type of convertible with only two doors and thereby recalling the cabriolet carriage. With its Mazda RX7 convertible, Mazda introduced a two-seater convertible with a removable rigid section over the passengers, removable independently of power operated textile section behind with heatable glass rear window. During the 1980s, Jaguar produced an XJ-SC with two removable panels over the front seats and a partial fold-down convertible section in the back. It retained the rear side windows of the coupe and had fixed cant rails above these and the door glass. This allowed an almost full convertible with roll over safety.

History in the United States

Until the 1910 introduction by Cadillac of the first closed-body car, the convertible was the primary body style. US automakers manufactured a broad range of models during the 1950s and 1960s — from economical compact-sized models such as the Rambler American and the Studebaker Lark to the more expensive models such as the Packard Caribbean, Oldsmobile 98, and Imperial by Chrysler.

Threatened rollover safety regulations in the mid-1970s led to diminished popularity by the 1970s. In 1976 Cadillac marketed the Eldorado as "The last convertible in America". During this period of very low convertible production, T-tops became a popular alternative.

Elsewhere globally, convertible production continued throughout this era with models such as the Mercedes SL, the VW Beetle Cabriolet, the VW Golf Cabriolet, and the Jaguar E-type.

In the 1980s convertibles such as the Chrysler LeBaron and Saab 900 revived the body style in the United States — followed by models such as the Mazda Miata, Porsche Boxster, Audi TT and later retractable hardtop models.

Retractable hardtop roof

A retractable hardtop, also known as coupé convertible or coupé cabriolet, is a type of convertible that forgoes a folding textile roof in favor of an automatically operated, multi-part, self-storing hardtop where the rigid roof sections are opaque, translucent or independently operable.

The retractable hardtop solves some issues with the convertible, but has its own compromises, namely mechanical complexity, expense and more often than not, reduced luggage capacity. A 2006 New York Times article suggested the retractable hardtop may herald the demise of the textile-roofed convertible, and a 2007 Wall Street Journal article suggested "more and more convertibles are eschewing soft cloth tops in favor of sophisticated folding metal roofs, making them practical in all climates, year-round."


Retractable hardtops can vary in material (steel, plastic or aluminum), can vary from two to five in the number of rigid sections and often rely on complex dual-hinged trunk (British: boot) lids that enable the trunk lid to both receive the retracting top from the front and also receive parcels or luggage from the rear — along with complex trunk divider mechanisms to prevent loading of luggage that would conflict with the operation of the hardtop.

Construction variations

  • The Volkswagen Eos features a five-segment retractable roof where one section is itself an independently sliding transparent sunroof.
  • The Cadillac XLR features a retractable hardtop of aluminum (i.e.,lightweight) requiring 6'-10½" of vertical clearance during retraction, and manufactured by a supplier joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
  • The Mercedes SL hardtop features a glass section that rotates during retraction to provide a more compact "stack."
  • The Mazda MX-5 retractable hardtop is manufactured by the German firm Webasto and is marketed alongside a largely identical folding-textile convertible, with an increase of and no reduction in cargo capacity — the hardtop is constructed of polycarbonate.

  • Daihatsu marketed the Copen in the ultra-compact Japanese Kei class.
  • The Chrysler Sebring's retractable hardtop is marketed also alongside a softtop. According to development engineer Dave Lauzun, during construction, the Karmann-mademarker tops are dropped into a body that is largely identical: both softtop and retractable feature the same automatic tonneau cover, luggage divider and luggage space. The retractable does feature an underbody cross-brace not included in the softtop.
  • The Volvo C70, its retractable hardtop manufactured by Webasto includes a global window switch that allows simultaneous raising or lowering of all windows, and a button to power-activate the raising of the folded top stack within the trunk to access cargo below.
  • The Opel Astra TwinTop, its three-piece retractable hardtop manufactured by Webasto includes a global window switch that allows simultaneous raising or lowering of all windows, an easy load where you raise boot lid vertically by 10 cm to allow an easy access to the boot while roof is down, and a button to power-activate the raising of the folded top stack within the trunk to access cargo below.
View: Photo of Cadillac XLR roof during retraction

Pros and cons

The retractable hardtop convertible trades higher initial cost, mechanical complexity and, with rare exception, diminished trunk space — for increased acoustic insulation, durability and break-in protection similar to that of a fixed roof coupe.

Pro: The retractable hardtop eliminates:
  • the need for a storage-consuming, manually-from-outside-the-vehicle-installable, separate or integral, rigid or foldable, tonneau cover to conceal the mechanicals of a folded textile top.
  • the need to protect the vulnerable underside of a folded textile top from UV fading.
  • the need for a separate rigid hardtop requiring space-consuming off-season storage and a cumbersome twice-yearly, two-person manual installation and removal — a system popularized, for example, by the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class of 1963 to 1988.

Con:In addition to higher initial cost, diminished trunk space, and increased mechanical complexity — and thereby potentially higher repair cost:
  • The retractable hardtop may lift the articulating sections of the roof during retraction, requiring increased vertical clearance. For example, the Volvo C70 requires of clearance during operation. The Cadillac XLR requires 6'-10½" of vertical clearance.
  • The retractable hardtop may, such as in the case of the Mercedes SLK, require additional rear clearance behind the car during operation of the top, the trunklid extending rearward while retracting or raising the top.

  • The retractable hardtop relies on battery power, and in the event of battery failure, can leave a retracted roof vulnerable to a downpour. Volvo includes an emergency roof cover with each Volvo C70. The Cadillac XLR owners manual contains seven pages of detailed instructions on how to manually raise the top. This problem is not unique to retractable hardtops since some softtops rely on battery power as well.

  • With numerous articulated sections, each joint or seal is an opportunity for water leakage.

  • Failure of hydraulics or electrical systems may result in substantial repair bills.


1922 An American named Ben P. Ellerbeck conceived the first practical retractable hardtop system in 1922 — a manually operated system on a Hudson coupe that allowed unimpeded use of the rumble seat even with the top down — but never saw production.

1935 Peugeot introduced the first production, power-operated retractable hardtop in 1935, the 402 Éclipse Décapotable, designed and patented by Georges Paulin, a Parisian, Jewish dentist and part-time car designer who later died in the Holocaust. The French coachbuilder, Marcel Pourtout, custom-built other examples of Paulins designs on a larger Peugeot chassis as well. The first Eclipse 402s offered a power-retractable top, but in 1936, that was replaced by a manually operated version on a stretched chassis, built in limited numbers until World War II.

1941 Chrysler presents the retractable hardtop concept, the Thunderbolt "dream car."

1953 Ford Motor Company next spent an estimated US$2 million to engineer a Continental Mark II with a servo-operated retractable roof — the project having been headed in 1953 by a 30-year-old draftsman named Ben Smith. Though successful, the concept was rejected for marketing reasons.

1955 Brothers Ed and Jim Gaylord showed their first prototype at the 1955 Paris motor show, but the car failed to reach production.

1957 Shortly thereafter, Ford marketed the Skyliner in the United States beginning in 1957. Noted for its complexity and only intermittent reliability, 48,394 were built from 1957 to 1959. In the pre-transistor era, its mechanism with 10 power relays, 10 limit switches, four lock motors, three drive motors, eight circuit breakers, and of electrical wire could raise the or lower the top in about 40 seconds — when functioning. The Skyliner was a halo vehicle with little luggage space (i.e., practicality), costing twice that of a baseline Ford sedan — to be withdrawn from the market after three years.

1995 The era of the modern retractable hardtop began with the 1995 Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder, sold in the US only (ASC did the conversion. — and further popularized by such cars as the 1998 Mercedes-Benz SLK and 2001 Peugeot 206 CC.

Notably, Peugeot presented the a concept four-door retractable hardtop convertible, the Peugeot 407 Macarena in 2006. Produced by French coachbuilding specialist Heuliez, the Macarena's top can be folded in about 30 seconds, and to incorporated a steel reinforcing beam behind the front seats, incorporates LCD screens for the rear passengers into the crossmember.

: View: 1957 TV ad for the Ford Skyliner featuring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
: View: Peugeot 407 Macarena, with top retracting.
: View: Photographs of a 1938 Peugeot 402 Éclipse Décapotable
: View: time lapse photograph of Mercedes SLK, with top retracting
: View: Sales brochure of the 1995 Mitsubishi Spyder

List of retractable hardtop models

Early Models

Later Models

Convertible Gallery

Image:Late model Ford Model T.jpg|Ford Model T c. 1925, with minimal weather protectionImage:1950 Jaguar XK120 34.jpg|Jaguar XK120 Roadster c.1950, with a very light weight canvas top and removable side curtains screwed to the doors — with no external door handles (shown: top stored)Image:1950-nash-001.jpg|Nash Rambler Convertible "Landau" Coupe c. 1950, with retracting roof and rigid doors, featured car of Lois Lane of 1950s television series Adventures of SupermanImage:Austin A40 Roadster ca 1951.jpg|Austin A40 Sports, c.1951, a four passenger, aluminum bodied convertible designed by Eric Neal and manufactured by Austin of England in conjunction with Jensen|MG TD c.1953, with manual soft top and manually detachable sidescreens with clear plastic windows and Perspex rear windowImage:Cadillac Eldorado 2.JPG|Cadillac Eldorado c.1959, with zipper operable clear plastic rear windowImage:Mercedes-Benz 230 SL 1965.jpg|Mercedes SL c. 1963, with detachable hardtop, requiring twice-annual manual removal and installation — and space-consuming off-season storage of the hardtopImage:Lincoln Continental Convertible.jpg|Lincoln Continental c. 1966, 4-door with integral automatically operating, self-storing tonneauImage:Rolls 501523 fh000007.jpg|Rolls Royce Corniche c. 1986, a high-end prestige marque with a manually installed tonneau coverImage:Jaguar E-Type offen01.jpg|Jaguar E-type c. 1970, with vinyl foldable tonneau installed and snap-securedImage:c900conv.jpg|Saab 900 c. 1990, with manually installed semi-rigid tonneauImage:Cadillac Eldorado Convertible.jpg|Cadillac Eldorado c. 1971, with detachable, two-part, fully rigid "parade boot" tonneau coverImage:2cv pinkdylan frome.jpg|Citroen 2CV c. 1975, with roll-back roof and rigid doorsImage:89 chrysler lebaron premium 25i.jpg|Chrysler LeBaron c. 1989, with manually installed "metallic" vinyl tonneau cover, color-matching to the car body, secured with a 'sleeve and groove' systemImage:Allante.jpg|Cadillac Allanté c. 1993, with detachable, rigid plastic tonneau cover. Built in Italy by Pininfarina, completed bodies were flown to the U.S. 56 at a time in specially equipped Boeing 747 with final assembly at Hamtramck, Michigan.Image:Porsche Boxster hr silver.jpg|Porsche Boxster c. 2004, with detachable clear plastic windblocker and a Z-fold top, automatically raisable in 12 seconds and optional detachable aluminum hardtop (not shown)Image:Mitsubishi Eclipse Międzyzdroje2.JPG|Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder c. 2004, with heatable glass rear window and restricted visibilityImage:Mini Cooper Convertible Heck.jpg|MINI Cooper, c. 2006, with large blindspots from the top itself, small rear window, and interior rear roll hoops severely obscuring the driver's rear viewImage:Citroen C3 Pluriel rear 20071104.jpg|Citroën C3 Pluriel c. 2007, a multi-configurable convertible with roll-back textile roof and removable rigid sidebarsImage:Volkswagen New Beetle Cabriolet Red IAA 2003.jpg|Volkswagen New Beetle c. 2008, with raised textile (cloth) convertible top featuring interior headliner, an acoustic insulation layer, and heatable glass rear windowImage:Jaguar XK8 Cabriolet rear 20070520.jpg|Jaguar XK8 c. 2008, with heatable glass rear window and fully automatic cloth top with integral top-concealing rigid tonneau

Retractable Hardtop Gallery

Image:Peugeot402DSE 2.JPG|Background: the Georges Paulin patented automatic folding roof in action.Image:Mazda MX-5 hardtop.jpg|Mazda Miata Power Retractable Hard Top c. 2007, the hardtop constructed of polycarbonate, shown raised, adding and providing identical cargo capacity to the soft top version.Image:Cadillac XLR 2006.jpg|Cadillac XLR c. 2007, with fully retracted aluminum (i.e., lightweight) hardtop concealed by self-storing tonneau cover, the hardtop manufactured by a supplier joint venture of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.Image:Daihatsu.copen.arp.750pix.jpg|Daihatsu c. 2001 with retracted hardtop, qualifying for the ultra-compact Japanese Kei class.Image:1958 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner.JPG|Ford Skyliner c. 1958 retracting its roofImage:Paris 2006 - Ford Focus CC.JPG|Ford Focus CC c. 2006 with its roof retracted, its final assembly performed by PininfarinaImage:Chevrolet SSR.jpg|Chevrolet SSR c. 2004, a retractable hardtop convertible pickup truck, its top engineered by ASC.Image:Volkswagen Eos Front-view.JPG|Volkswagen Eos c. 2007, the five-segment top features an independently sliding sunroof, the roof designed and built by OASys, a subsidiary of Webasto Germany.Image:VOLVO C70(in transforming).JPG|Volvo C70 c. 2007, retractable hardtop in action, the first production 3-segment retractable, which required of vertical clearance during retraction and featuring the first convertible side curtain airbags.Image:Peugeot 601 C Eclipse 1934 Pourtout.jpg|c. 1936, Peugeot 601 Eclipse

See also



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