Rent or Buy – Finding the Right Convertible 4U

Welcome to Classic Cars Driven – Finding the Right Classic Convertible 4U. Identical in principal to our other guide, Finding the Right Classic Car 4U , this one focuses purely on convertibles. As we review and rate more cars we will of course update it and so definitely worth bookmarking the page and referring back to periodically.

The second guide in our series is aimed at those wishing to rent or buy a classic open top car, because on a warm, dry day there is nothing quite like a convertible. They offer a unique wind in your hair, mostly coming from behind you oddly, driving experience. Weather permitting you are always going to want to put the roof down and when you do you are immediately put in touch with your surroundings as your senses get bombarded by all of the sights, sounds and smells around you. Nothing has been filtered out, you are totally connected and exposed. In a classic convertible that can also mean enjoying fantastic engine induction and exhaust notes, any excuse to blip the throttle just one more time.

Enjoy the guide, click on the highlighted text or images to link through to the full review of each car and, as always, feedback is very welcome through the comments section at the bottom of the page.

£5,000 to buy (£155pd to hire):

For us there is only one place to start when it comes to classic convertibles and no surprise to anyone who has read our sister Car Guide to find it is an MGB. There are even more usable chrome and later rubber bumper models than the GT that sit neatly within our first price bracket. If you manage to get one with a modified exhaust then you also benefit from a great aural soundtrack to accompany you on each trip out. Climbing aboard a chrome bumper MGB for the first time you are greeted with leather seats, sports steering wheel and Smiths dials. There is also a rather random array of switches for the lights, wipers and other ancillaries that aren’t all obvious as to what they do and how they work. Fret not though as they all soon become familiar and second nature after a couple of hours driving.

There are plenty of good MGB’s available, so important to find the right one 4U (Picture: Alex Nichols)

One thing that is truly great about the MGB is how you and your passenger can fully stretch your legs out in front of you. The only slight intrusion being the handbrake which for a right hand drive car presses firmly onto the drivers left leg once released. I’ve not experienced it personally but I can only assume the same is true for the passenger if the steering wheel is on the other side. If you had thoughts about getting a two seat sports car that is even smaller then I recommend at least sitting in an MGB first because they are not exactly massive themselves.

Driving is a joy with direct controls, optional overdrive on 3rd and 4th gears and an easy to judge balance on the road. This car makes perfect sense within every speed limit set; you will never feel bored or frustrated. Thankfully the roof is also easy to erect taking just a few seconds ensuring both occupants remain dry before completing the job of lining up and fastening the two main clips at the top of the windscreen. An MGB makes perfect sense as a first time classic providing you with enough traits to make it a genuine experience without the challenging histrionics of other cars.

Alternatively you could try a Morris Minor Convertible for a family outing in the sunshine, the roof this time needing more time and attention to put back up. At least one of you is going to get wet.

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£5,000 – £15,000 to buy (£155-£200pd to hire):

If a standard MGB doesn’t quite do it, with a bit more budget you can opt for an MGB fitted with a Rover V8 engine, providing quite a transformation. This is a car that seems to have much closer ties to TVR than BMC, particularly if the exhaust is less restrictive than normal allowing you, your passenger and anyone else within 100m radius to fully appreciate what sits under the bonnet. The brakes will need upgrading for added reassurance when pressing on a bit and some work on the suspension will enable the extra power and torque to be fully exploited. An MGB V8 is a serious contender though, made even more enticing by the tasty looking Sebring replicas that come onto the market every now and then.

After more style and a bit more space, with nothing pressing into either leg, then next up on your list should be the Alfa Romeo Spider. A car that looks a bit like something a hairdresser might drive before Mazda saturated the market with the MX5. This is a little misleading because the Alfa Romeo Spider is based on the same 105 series chassis as the competition inspired Alfa Romeo GTV and that means as many connecting rods underneath as a rally prepared MKI or MKII Escort.

 

Alfa Romeo Spider offers attractive Italian styling on the outside, but also a great drivers car within (Picture: Julia Nichols)

When you first drive an Alfa Romeo Spider you become instantly aware of that fact in feeling how the chassis is connected to the road with the heavy live back axle making its presence felt. The iron rods that connect it to the rear of the car push and pull at the underside of the bodywork over each and every road undulation. This when coupled with the experience of the high revving twin cam engine and 5 speed gearbox means there is a lot to like about an Alfa Romeo Spider. It is true it is a very pretty car, hence the unfortunate association with curlers and tongs, but don’t let that fool you because the Alfa Romeo Spider is as masculine as any Italian barber and a genuine drivers machine.

Also in this price bracket is the Triumph TR4A, a car that sits midway between the TR2 that started everything off and TR6 that ended it before production shifted to the radically different TR7. The TR4A is more upmarket than an MGB and far more old school than an Alfa Romeo Spider. Largely thanks to its period front end, sharp rear flanks and expansive wooden dashboard. The agricultural engine may not spin up quickly like the Alfa’s, but does literally pull like the tractor it would otherwise have been powering. Never has overdrive felt more at home whilst cruising around on the speed limit with just a few thousand rpm dialled in. An extremely heavy clutch and powerless steering also mean there is quite a lot of effort involved when manoeuvring a TR4A in car parks, at junctions and in slow moving traffic. This car is no pushover and in the end drives you as much as you drive it.

Triumph TR4A is a proper old school British classic

Alternatively you could try a Triumph Stag for a glorious V8 soundtrack and laid back cruising capability along with a clever roof that bridges the gap between saloon car, coupe and convertible.

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£15,000 – £25,000 to buy (£250-£300pd to hire):

When viewed low down from the rear this Mustang 289 Convertible is without doubt the coolest looking car I have ever seen. Thanks largely to its dark blue colour scheme, understated rear lights and the vanes that sit in the twin exit exhausts. I have never seen vanes in an exhaust pipe before and when this car starts up the noise they transmit from the small block V8 motor is just awesome. They say you should never meet your hero’s and I guess that must be true, in this case the meeting only made it a whole lot cooler. Driving one though brought everything back down to earth.

1966 Ford Mustang 289 V8 Convertible looks Ice Cool in Blue (Picture: Chris Dymock)

Even though this car is as cool as it gets the Mustang 289 Convertible is not without its flaws. When it comes to piloting one around Great Britain for instance it feels far too wide and the steering unresponsive. I wanted a bigger and better Ford Capri, but that isn’t the Mustang 289 Convertible at all. This is a car designed to cruise around and look and sound just great. Something it does extremely well indeed. If justification to buy was required there is even rear seat belts fitted to ensure precious cargo is protected. The drum brakes should not be feared either, as work extremely well to leave just the physical size of the car, slight wooliness in the steering and quite how high revving the V8 engine is as the only key considerations.

On the newer classic sports car front, there are two that stand out. The first the totally bonkers and not for the feint hearted TVR Tuscan and second the almost unheard of these days, HMC Healey MKIV. The Tuscan feels and sounds amazing, just how you imagine a Le Mans endurance racer might, one clothed in an outfit more at home at a Gypsy wedding. A very odd combination that is so wrong to be totally right. These cars are serious bits of kit to drive and equally at home on road and track. Beware though because the Speed Six engine is a complete lottery with top end re-builds often required before 20,000 miles have been reached.

HMC Healey is a quality gem (Picture: Chris Dymock)

Conversely the HMC Healey MKIV looks every inch a classic being modelled on the Austin Healey 3000 MKIII, a car that ended production some thirty five years beforehand. Kit car I hear you cry, well in principle at least maybe, but that’s where it ends. Yes there is a GRP body sat on a bespoke chassis, TVR tuned Rover V8 and Ford Fiesta heater controls. But drive this car and there is a realisation it is a quality gem, heated seats, tight fitting hood, independently sprung rear end and no rattles or shakes anywhere. No wonder most ended up in Germany.

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£25,000 – £35,000 to buy (£250-£350pd to hire):

It might be difficult to buy anything other than a car requiring quite a lot of work within this price bracket, but you can still hire a Jaguar E-Type 4.2 Convertible for reasonable money. There is something about the shorter chassis of an early two seat E-Type that makes it feel very special indeed. Combined with the smaller 6 cylinder engine it equates to a lovely light deft feeling out on the road with an amazing ability to absorb most road imperfections. The bonnet is still long requiring care at junctions and brakes a bit wooden but those are the only real adjustments required. It is uncanny that you can slip into a forty something year old car and drive away at reasonable pace and feel quite at home.

Jaguar E-Type 4.2 Convertible, a car best appreciated when driven

Daimler’s SP250 ‘Dart’ is getting extremely rare with only 2,640 produced in the first place and no more than 700 left in the UK. The fact most can be found in one book, updated annually, along with owner details gives you some idea of the close nit community that is trying to keep car and club alive. The strong GRP body sits on a basic ladder chassis being very 1950’s in its design. The engine though is not. A 2,500cc bespoke V8 designed using knowledge gained from manufacturing high performance motorcycle engines that included ground breaking hemispherical heads, perform it most certainly does. Yes the chassis feels coarse by E-Type standards but it doggedly hangs on in the bends to deliver an engaging and rewarding driving experience.

Rare Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’ fills the gap between Triumph TR and Healey 3000

The engine propels the lightweight chassis along at real pace with huge amounts of grip available on dry tarmac. The brakes, steering and all controls are bang up to date requiring little adjustment by modern standards. Looks though are a matter of taste from the front at least, with a rear very similar to the TR4A sporting razor sharp fins. If you’re after something between a Triumph TR and Healey 3000, but not in the market for an E-Type then put yourself on the waiting list for a Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’.

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That completes our Finding the right Classic Convertible 4U guide for now, we’ll update it as we experience more classic cars. If you want to find out more then simply click on the images or highlighted text to link through to the full reviews, including in most cases video as well. We hope you have success in your own search for that perfect classic convertible companion. Remember if not quite ready to buy, then why not give hiring a try by visiting our Links page for access to quality hire car companies who’s cars we have driven and featured here and elsewhere on this site.

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