Rev up, top down: Here come the cars of summer

Car Crazy


Nicole Yucht stands next to her convertible BMW.

Published: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.

Summer. It’s time for drivers to roll up the windows in favor of air conditioning and stick the sun shade across the front window after parking, hopefully easing the Hades-like heat that infiltrates any closed space.

Heat and cars twin so nicely in northern climes, where Beach Boys songs fete the season and tourism councils tout leisurely drives in places that are frozen tundras most of the year.

Record labels used to time certain songs for summer release, aware that cruisers would be rolling windows down, blaring the radio, a four-wheel advertisement for whatever was topping the charts.

But even in the excessive Florida temps of June through November, there are vehicles that make livin’ as easy as a “Happy Days” promo. (And that was set in chilly Milwaukee.)

It’s all about the convertible, an American institution.

While the softer, canvas drop top is a cool notion, like too many ideas, it has holes. Literally. Really, think of all the leaky “good” ideas.

This may be one of the reasons convertibles make up just 1.1 percent of U.S. car sales. In Florida, convertibles are 2.1 percent of sales, although in Gainesville — is it the rain? — that rate is .92, lower than the rest of the U.S.

I favor the solid feel of a hardtop convertible as opposed to the looser canvas drop top, something that doesn’t feel like a pitched tent over my head.

Volvo claims its C70 “is the only hard-top convertible that looks good when it rains,” and that’s no lie. I went to Hawaii a few years back for a Volvo-sponsored test drive, and it looked good all the time. There was, of course, rain similar to what we have here, and the hardtop extended and retracted in a rapid 15 seconds. Which is good when a summer drizzle turns into a flooding downpour.

A hardtop with a quicker up/down — 12 seconds — is the Lexus IS 350C, a smaller car with a heavy-duty stereo for blasting your favorite summer tunes.

Gainesville resident Nicole Yucht has never owned a car that wasn’t a convertible. Really. The devotion of Yucht, a marketing manager for Health Management Associates, moved most recently into a BMW 335 hardtop convertible.

“In the summer, I have the top down pretty much all the time,” Yucht says. “I even cut my hair short so I don’t have to worry about the wind.”

For those who want some Detroit muscle — but also a luxury brand — under their open top, Chevy has brought back the convertible version of its Corvette, beloved by so many an aging Boomer. The seventh-generation version of the car that was sold exclusively as a convertible in its first 10 years of existence hits later this year. The top of the new Corvette is fully automatic and no longer requires one to manually unlatch the top from the windshield.

Yes, the luxury models traditionally rule the convertible roost, with the blend of high comfort and smooth driving. But top-down driving is not just for the higher end.

More affordable open sky can be bought with the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a reliable favorite since the late ’80s. The two-seater is a blast to drive and looks great. And no, red is not the only color it comes in, although it may seem that way.

At Gainesville Regional Airport recently, I watched a woman express vehement disappointment about not getting the Mustang she reserved. When the clerk told her they could get one, but she would have to wait while it was delivered from another location and, oh yeah, it’s a convertible, the customer reacted as if she had won the lottery.

Like the ’vette, the Mustang’s status as an icon of Motor City muscle is still intact. With the ragtop down, it still hums summer.

As does a 1929 Model A Ford Roadster.

Gainesville residents have seen it before with the top down, Larry Reimer, minister emeritus of the United Church of Gainesville, behind the wheel.

“There are times in the summer that people in Florida keep the top up, but otherwise, I take it out about once a week,” says Reimer, 68, who has had the classic car since he was 14.

It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of summer nights, tropical breezy drives that you can feel and the cars that make such things happen.

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