Last week I exchanged a couple of email messages with Rick Beattie. Rick is a former chairman of the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Road Rally Board and writes a monthly column about rallying the SCCA monthly magazine. The discussion included a mention of a family-owned Chevrolet convertible which reminded me of some thoughts that I had last summer about why there appears to be fewer convertibles on the road today.
I began to think about this last summer when I was driving from my home in Franklin, Massachusetts to a car show in central Massachusetts. Rather than drive out to the show using the Mass Turnpike, I decided to take some secondary roads as I had lots of time to get to the show. It was a lovely warm, sunny, summer day, so I put the top down on the car to enjoy the weather.
It was a great leisurely drive at speeds that were as fast as the law and the traffic would allow. As I was driving, I was thinking to myself that I was very fortunate to have a convertible car and being such an enjoyable drive. Then I began to wonder why more people didn’t drive convertibles. As I pondered this issue while driving to the show, I eventually concluded that there were two reasons for the apparent demise of convertibles:
- Interstate highways
- Air conditioning in cars
The interstate highway system greatly increased the mobility of Americans. Also the highway interstate system increased the speeds that cars traveled at. For example, on the roads in Massachusetts that I was traveling on as I went to that car show, the actual speed rarely got above 50 mph and usually was around 40 to 45 mph and got slower as I passed through the numerous small towns. On the interstate highways the current speeds are a minimum of 65 mph. Many cars cruise at speeds around 75 mph on the interstate roads. Speeds that high cause significant winds and buffeting in the interior of a convertible car. Occupants in convertibles, and women in particular, would find these winds very uncomfortable and very disruptive, especially to their hair. And if women don’t like the top down, then the top won’t be down on the car. And if women don’t like riding or driving around in a convertible, then the demand for convertibles will be reduced. Obviously, these wind-related issues are not as significant if the car’s speed is not as fast.
Up To The 1960s Everybody Built Convertibles
On hot days the breeze caused by having the top down is a great way to keep cool while in the car. Up until the late 1960s air conditioning in cars was relatively rare or of questionable effectiveness and reliability. However since then, the capability of car air conditioning has improved greatly. It is no longer necessary to have the top down in a car to keep cool. Side vent windows have disappeared. In fact, now it is unusual in the summer to see a car that even has a window rolled down! Thus air conditioning has also reduced the demand for convertibles in order to keep cool while driving.
These were the two conclusions that I came to that have caused fewer convertibles to be seen on the road these days as compared to the time up to the 1950s. Note that the interstate highway system was established in the 1950s and that good air conditioning systems really came along in the 1960s.
I would be interested to see what others think about my conclusions.