Hold on to your hats, it's time to think topless
Convertibles are the epitome of cool and confer instant sex appeal on the person behind the wheel soaking up the sunshine, writes Geraldine Herbert
On a sunny day, nothing comes closer to instant glamour and sex appeal than driving an open-topped car. When a curvaceous, red convertible nudges up to you in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the appeal is instant.
Convertibles are the very epitome of cool. Whether petite, practical, old or new, they are certainly one of the most glamorous ways to beat the summer heat, and more of us are opting for style rather than boot space.
"I just love the feeling of the very rare Irish sun on your face," says Suzanne Sheridan, the proud owner of a 2007 BMW 630i. "I have to admit that the roof only comes down in good weather, but it is nice driving into work on those cold but sunny autumn mornings. You just need to put on your heated seats."
Suzanne is not alone this summer. People all over the country will be hitting the roads with their tops down.
"I'd always loved the look of the SLKs and I made it my goal to work hard enough to be able to afford one," says PR manager Charlotte Ashton, who last year bought a 2004 Mercedes Benz SLK – her first convertible.
"My father had a BMW Z3 and I still remember the feeling of being thrown back in the red-leather bucket seats as he accelerated away. It certainly made the drive to the supermarket more exciting."
After years of driving ordinary cars, Charlotte is now a devout disciple of the convertible and has no plans of going back. She says: "At the first glimpse of some rays, the roof is down."
Like many Irish convertible owners, Charlotte and Suzanne fall within the largest convertible-buying demographic. Females are a third more likely to drive convertibles than men and are the target of many clever marketing ploys in a bid to win their affections.
Melanie Morris, editor of Image Magazine, admits to being a marketer's dream, and only chose her BMW Z4 "having been loaned a similar model by BMW's canny PR department as a trial".
Despite the allure, the reality of convertible driving may be more Bridget Jones than Grace Kelly, with "birds-nest hair, watering mascara eyes, sunburn on the forehead and nose", says Melanie.
But for Mags Reynolds, a solicitor from Dublin, "it's just fun." She continues: "I picked a convertible because my previous car had been a Peugeot 205cc with a hard top."
Mags drives a 2007 sapphire blue MX5 with metal folding roof.
"I adored it and was hooked and just could not contemplate going back to a regular car, even one with a sun roof," she says.
"The best thing about driving a convertible is the absolute joy of having the open sky above. Even being stopped under trees draws the eyes upwards, and you feel much more connected with your surroundings."
These days, almost every car maker has one in the family, ranging from tiny two-seat roadsters to the larger and more practical four-seaters. Inside, convertibles are also safer places to be now, thanks to fixed or pop-up roll bars and front and side airbags.
Hard-top convertibles offer the best of both worlds, with the solid roof of a coupe that can be folded away into the boot. The only compromise is added weight and sometimes even less boot space than with a soft top.
Still, it does not stop convertibles being used for a host of activities.
"There are very few limitations with my car, and I do a lot of adventure sports – diving, biking, climbing in remote locations and in all sorts of crazy weather," says Michelle Clarke, an IT professional with a Beetle convertible.
"I can put diving tanks in the back and I have an external bicycle mount that works great. The one thing I can't do is attach a surfboard to the soft top."
It is not only women who are great optimists; men too are buyers of convertibles.
Ryan Burke drives an MGF VVC. "Apart from it being fantastic value, it's mid-engined and great to drive," he says.
"When you're stuck in traffic jams on a daily basis, driving can become more like a chore than anything else, so there's something great about being able to put the roof down and head off for a drive just for the fun of it."
For Brendan McCoy, an IT consultant, convertibles have been a lifelong passion. Brendan drives around Dublin in his Mazda MX5, with the roof down all year round.
"Once you have a wind blocker and a good heater, driving on a crisp winter night is great," he says.
Some convertibles are more hard-core than others. Will Baxter, a brand consultant with a background in transport design, drives a Toniq R, a kitcar powered by a 2-litre Ford Mondeo engine.
"It doesn't even have a windscreen, let alone a roof, so I have to wear a full-face motorcycle helmet to drive it," says Will.
But maybe the love of convertibles is all in the genes.
"My favourite co-driver is my 93-year-old grandmother, Eleanor Baxter, who was born in Derry in 1920," says Will.
"She's the only passenger who has refused to wear a helmet and is a fan of convertibles as well, having owned a Fiat Spider in the 1960s. So maybe risk-taking and convertibles are in the blood."
Everyone should own a convertible at least once. Nothing beats the feeling. Get out and have fun.