Sunday, August 19, 2012

There Are No Good Convertibles Anymore

In high school, I fell in love with literature through a book I thought was about a car.  Titled "The Last Convertible" it is an epic story, spanning more than thirty five years, from the innocence of the pre-war years, lost youth and lives interrupted by the war, to coming home, settling down and raising kids, dealing with love and loss, the scare of polio, JFK, to Vietnam.  All of it told through the eyes of George Virdon, a nostalgic, steady, every-man, who is the keeper of the flame for the friends of his youth and caretaker of a magnificent, emerald green, 1938 Packard Convertible.

I can't do Anton Myrer's prose justice, and I won't even try.  I will just say it is a great read and easily my favorite book of all time.  I've come back to it several times since high school, when I was a young man fresh out of college, and again recently, almost twenty years later.  Each time I read it, I see the book and its characters in a different light, relating to them in a new way.

The title comes from the opening of the book, when GM announces the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado will be the last convertible.  To which George mutters, "You are wrong. All of you are wrong.  This is the last convertible." This came to light again for me recently, when in my own fit of nostalgia, it occurred to me George was on to something.  There have been many convertibles since the book.  Six years after GM stopped production of convertibles, the auto industry began making them again.  But somewhere between that '38 Packard and today, the car industry stopped making true convertibles.

I'm not talking about roadsters like the Miata, or cabriolets like the ones made in Germany.  There are a number of drop-top cars.  It's just no one makes a big luxury land yacht like the old Packards, Cadillac Eldorados, Chrysler/Imperials or the Lincoln Continental.  Or a cruiser like a Chevy Impala, Ford Galaxy, Buick, Pontiac or Oldsmobile.  A car you can ride in with four or five of your friends on the last warm fall days, or the first days of spring and glide in comfort to a football game or a drive-in movie.

A good convertible prompts adventure and spontaneity.  The summer after college, I owned a LeBaron convertible.  It wasn't a particularly great car, but it was a memorable one because it led to many nights cruising the back roads under open skies and top down runs halfway across the state of Missouri, to see a Cardinals game or eat at White Castle.  It was easy to pack three friends and just go.  You might be able to do the same thing in a modern Mustang or Camaro, but it would be a tight fit.

The closest thing made to a big convertible today is a Toyota Camry Solara.  That's a shame.

There are no good convertibles anymore.  Nothing like an Oldsmobile Cutlass or Pontiac Bonneville or Tempest, Plymouth Satellite or Dodge Coronet.  I know it's not a question of how to make a one, it's why.  The demand isn't there to justify it.  For now, the big convertible has gone away.  If I sound nostalgic like old George Virdon, so be it.  Like George, I try to live in the present.  But if what comes around goes around, I hope the big drop top has its moment again.

No comments:

Post a Comment