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A convertible or cabriolet (/ˌkæbriˈl/) is a passenger car that can be driven with or without a roof in place. The methods of retracting and storing the roof vary between models. A convertible allows an open-air driving experience, with the ability to provide a roof when required. Potential drawbacks of convertibles are reduced structural rigidity (requiring significant engineering and modification to counteract the effects of removing a car's roof)[1] and cargo space.[2]

The majority of convertible roofs are covered with a folding, textile-based fabric. Other types of roofs include retractable hardtops (often constructed from metal or plastic) and detachable hardtops (where a metal or plastic roof is manually removed and often stored in the trunk).


Other terms for convertibles include cabriolet, cabrio, drop top, open two-seater, rag top, soft top, spider, and spyder. Consistency is rare about the current use of cabriolet in preference to convertible.[3] The term cabriolet originated from "a light, two-wheeled, one-horse carriage with a folding top, capable of seating two persons", however the term is also used to describe other convertibles these days.[4]

In the United Kingdom, fully enclosed convertibles with two doors have been referred to as drophead coupés, while four-door cars have been referred to as all-weather tourers.[5]


1897 Daimler Grafton Phaeton
1929 Ford Model A cabriolet

Most of the early automobiles were open-air vehicles without any roof or sides.[6][7][8][9] As car engines became more powerful by the end of the 19th century, folding textile or leather roofs (as had been used on victoria or landau carriages) began to appear on cars.[10][11] Examples of early cars with roofs include the phaeton (a two-seat car with a temporary roof), the brougham or a coupé de ville (having an enclosed passenger compartment at the rear, while the driver sat in front either in the open) or the landaulet (where the driver has a fixed roof and the passenger compartment has a folding roof. Less expensive cars, such as the runabouts, sporting roadsters or sturdy touring cars, remained either completely open air or were fitted with a rudimentary folding top and detachable side curtains.

In the 1920s, when steel bodies began to be mass-produced, closed cars became available to the average buyer and fully open cars began their disappearance from the mainstream market.[12] By the mid 1930s, the remaining small number of convertibles sold were high priced luxury models.[11]

In 1939, Plymouth introduced the first mechanically operated convertible roof.[13]

Demand for convertibles increased as a result of American soldiers in France and the United Kingdom during World War 2 experiencing the small roadster cars which were not available in the United States at the time.[12] These roadsters included the MG Midget and Triumph Roadster. United States automakers manufactured a broad range of models during the 1950s and 1960s – from economical compact-sized models such as the Rambler American[14] and the Studebaker Lark, to the more expensive models such as the Packard Caribbean, Oldsmobile 98, and Imperial by Chrysler.

During the 1970s, popularity of convertibles was severely reduced by the increased travel speeds on roads (resulting in more wind and noise for occupants) and proposed vehicle crash safety standards in the United States.[12][15] suggested during the mid-1970s for the 1980 model year included a 50-mile-per-hour (80 km/h) crash to the front, at 25 mph (40 km/h) on the sides, as well as a rollover at 30 miles per hour (48 km/h), a test that open-top convertibles would unlikely be able to pass. Automobile air conditioning systems and sunroofs were also becoming popular, reducing the demand for convertibles.

In 1989, Mazda released the first generation Mazda MX-5 (called "Miata" in North America), which has become the best selling convertible with over 1 million cars sold.[16]

Also in 1989, Toyota released the Toyota Soarer Aerocabin, which uses an electrically operated retractable hardtop roof.[17] Only 500 were produced,[18] however the retractable hardtop design has become increasingly popular in the 21st century.

Currently, models dedicated to the convertible body style include the Mazda MX-5, Porsche Boxster and Audi TT. Many other models also include a convertible body style in the model range.

Roof types[edit]


1967 AMC Ambassador convertible with its fabric top folded

A "soft top" is made form a flexible textile material. Common materials for soft tops are:

  • Early convertibles used canvas. However, automakers had problems in securing raw materials to fulfill orders after World War II, including canvas in various shades for convertible tops and limiting their manufacture.[19]
  • A cloth-based material has become more common in recent years.[20]

Other materials are also used in the convertible top. By 1955, the most popular materials were latex and butyl rubber fabrics that each accounted for around 35% of the convertible top weight, with others included vinyl (12%), jute (8%), and rayon and acrylic fibers (Orlon), amounting to about 1% each in the compositions.[21] Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material was used for many convertible tops. The material consists of two layers: a top layer made of PVC, which has a specific structure depending on the vehicle model, and a lower layer made of fabric (usually cotton).

The collapsible textile roof section over an articulated folding frame may include linings such as a sound-deadening layer and/or an interior cosmetic lining, to hide the frame.

The folded convertible top is called the stack.

Detachable hardtop[edit]

A 1959 Daimler SP250 with detachable hardtop

Rigid removable hardtops, many of which store in a car's trunk, have been around at least since the 1950s.[22][23] These normally provide superior weatherproofing, soundproofing, and durability compared to fabric-based tops, some with integrated rear-window defrosters and windscreens.

Examples include the Ford Thunderbird (1st-generation and 11th-generation), Mercedes SL (2nd-generation and 3rd-generation), Porsche Boxster, Jeep Wrangler, and Mazda MX-5.

Retractable hardtop[edit]

A Volvo C70 with retractable hardtop

A retractable hardtop — also known as "coupé convertible" or "coupé cabriolet" — is a car with an automatically operated, self-storing hardtop (as opposed to the textile-based roof used by traditional convertibles).

The benefits of improved climate control and security are traded off against increased mechanical complexity, cost, weight and often reduced luggage capacity.

Other design features[edit]

Tonneau cover[edit]

MG TD open two-seater with tonneau cover over passenger seat and luggage well

Folding textile convertible tops often fail to completely hide their internal mechanism or can expose their vulnerable underside to sun exposure and fading. A tonneau cover provides a solution.


Side windows were not existent in open cars, which may have detachable side screens, or manually or power-operated glass side windows as in a saloon or sedan. Rear windows have evolved similarly, with plastic rear windows appearing as late as the first-generation Porsche Boxster. Contemporary convertibles and retractable hardtops feature heatable glass rear windows to maximize visibility – though rear windows often can compromise visibility by their size, as with the case of the very small rear window and restricted visibility of the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. Plastic windows can degrade, fade, yellow, and crack over time, diminishing visibility.


A windblocker or wind deflector minimizes noise and rushing air reaching the occupants. Mazda pioneered a version on the RX7 convertible which featured an integral rigid opaque panel that folded up from behind the front seats. Current convertibles feature windblockers of various designs including detachable fold-up designs (e.g., Toyota Solara), vertically retractable glass (e.g., Audi TT), minimal flaps (e.g., Mazda Miata) – or other integrated wind controlling systems.

According to the engineer responsible for the 2008 Chrysler Sebring, its windblocker reduces wind noise by roughly 11 to 12 dB.[24]

Mercedes and Audi currently offer a heating duct to the neck area of the seat on SLK, SL, and A5/S5 models marketed as an "Air Scarf".

Windblockers are also available on the aftermarket for use on convertibles that do not have them.


Contemporary convertible design may include such features as electrically heated glass rear window (for improved visibility), seat belt tensioners, boron steel-reinforced A-pillars, front and side airbags, safety cage construction – a horseshoe like structure around the passenger compartment – and rollover protection structures (ROPS) with pyrotechnically charged roll hoops hidden behind the rear seats that deploy under rollover conditions whether the roof is retracted or not.

The Volvo C70 retractable hardtop includes a door-mounted side-impact protection inflatable curtain which inflates upward from the interior belt-line – vs. downward like the typical curtain airbag.[25] The curtain has an extra stiff construction with double rows of slats that are slightly offset from each other. This allows them to remain upright and offer effective head protection even with an open window. The curtain also deflates slowly to provide protection should the car roll over.


Convertibles have offered numerous iterations that fall between the first mechanically simple but attention-demanding fabric tops to highly complex modern retractable hardtops:

Roadster: A roadster was an open two-seater possibly with a frame that required actual assembly (i.e., not retracting) and separately installable soft side "window" panels – offering little protection from inclement weather and often requiring time-consuming, apparently complicated installation. Examples range from the first cars to the vintage Porsche Speedster introduced in 1955, and the Jaguar XK120 Roadster unveiled in 1948 right up to the most recent Porsche Spyders. For most in the U.S., a contemporary roadster is a two-seater convertible such as the Jaguar F-Type, BMW Z8, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and Dodge Viper.

Fixed-profile: In contrast to convertibles where the entire bodywork above the beltline (doors, roof, side pillars, side bodywork) is replaced with a folding or retractable roof, the fixed profile convertible retain portions of fixed bodywork including the doors, side pillars, and side elements of the roof — while a center fabric portion slides back and accordions at the rear. As an example, Citroën's 1948 Citroën 2CV featured rigid bodysides and two doors on each side, along with a sunroof that rolled back on itself and extended to the rear bumper in place of a separate boot/trunk lid. Other fixed-profile convertibles include the 1950 Nash Rambler Landau Convertible Coupe, the Nissan Figaro (1991), and the 1957 Fiat 500 and its 2007 Fiat 500 successor. The 1984 Heuliez-designed Citroen Visa Decapotable used elements of a fixed-profile convertible.

Four-door: Buick advertised a Series 60 "Convertible Phaeton" body style in the 1934 model year, which was actually a four-door convertible, [26] 1938-39 Roadmaster, and 1940-41 Super. Oldsmobile in the 98 Series 1941-47, and Cadillac in 1939 Series 61, and 1940-41 Series 62 models. The Lincoln Continental was available as a four-door convertible in model years 1961 to 1967.[27] Current production four-door convertibles include the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.[citation needed]

Peugeot presented a concept four-door retractable hardtop convertible, the Peugeot 407 Macarena in 2006.[28] Produced by French coachbuilding specialist Heuliez, the Macarena's top can be folded in 60 seconds,[28] with a steel reinforcing beam behind the front seats incorporating LCD screens for the rear passengers into the crossmember.[28]

Drophead coupe, coupé cabriolet or coupé cabrio: A type of convertible with only two doors,[29] and thereby recalling the cabriolet carriage. With its Mazda RX-7 convertible, Mazda introduced a two-seater convertible with a removable rigid section over the passengers, removable independently of power-operated textile section behind with heatable glass rear window. During the 1980s, Jaguar produced an XJ-SC with two removable panels over the front seats and a partial fold-down convertible section in the back. It retained the rear side windows of the coupe and had fixed cant rails above these and the door glass. This allowed an almost full convertible with rollover safety. Going back in Jaguar history, during the 1950s, the XK 120 Drophead Coupe and later variants provided open-air motoring with quite civilized, fully lined, insulated tops with the weather protection of the hardtop models.

Off-road: Another type of convertibles is the off-road vehicles with removable soft tops such as Jeep Wrangler, Suzuki Escudo, Suzuki Samurai, Ford Bronco, Land Rover Defender, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, early models of Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Defender, etc. All these models are available with various types of soft tops that attach to the roll cage or to the installation points on the vehicle's body.

Soft tops with glass, plastic or flexible vinyl windows are used. The common off-road soft top types are: full soft top (covers the interior, doors, and includes windows), halftops (cover the space above the front seats, doors with windows, backdrop behind the front seats and stretch over the rear seats and cargo area), bikini tops (cover the roof area above the interior and cargo compartment, or just the space above the front seats).

Other: Citroën marketed the C3 Pluriel (2003-2010), configurable into five open-top variations, hence the name.[30] Pluriel is a cognate with the English "plural". The Pluriel can be configured as a hatchback with a multilayer insulated top;[31] a full-length landaulet, operable partially or to the back window or any stage in between, with a buffet-minimizing wind deflector over the windshield;[31] a fixed-profile convertible, with the roof open to the back window, the roof assembly folds into a well in the trunk floor;[31] a full convertible where roof side rails are unlatched and removed,[31] and as a roadster pick-up, where the back seats fold to a pickup-like bed with a drop-down tailgate.[31]

Cabrio coach: A cabrio coach (also known as semiconvertible) has a retractable or removable top which retains fully framed windows on its doors and side glass.

Landaulet: A landaulet is a semienclosed convertible with a fully enclosed front cabin and an open rear, typically with a folding fabric top and roll-down glass all round.


Open car and roadster[edit]


Retractable hardtop[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Songs about convertibles include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Garrett, Jerry (8 October 2006). "2007 Volkswagen Eos: In Praise of a Convertible Goddess". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2011. To neutralize the loss of torsional rigidity inherent in any convertible, VW engineers took the basket-handle roll bar of the VW Cabrio, inverted it and placed it under the rear seat pedestal. A beefed-up windshield frame of hot-stamped ultra-high-strength steel is connected directly to the floorpan’s reinforced frame rails. Steel tubing provides more stiffness behind the doors for an extra layer of safety. Partly as a consequence, rear seat passengers have about 10 inches less shoulder room than in the smaller Rabbit.
  2. ^ "What You Should Know Before Buying a Convertible". Edmunds. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  3. ^ "Convertible and Cabriolet what's the difference?". Convertible Car Magazine. February 29, 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Cabriolet". Random House. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  5. ^ Beattie, Ian (1977). The Complete Book of Automobile Body Design. Haynes Publishing Group. pp. 36, 42–43. ISBN 0-85429-217-9. 
  6. ^ "Beginnings of the automobile: the predecessor companies (1886-1920)". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  7. ^ "British Motor Manufacturers (1894-1960), Arnold". Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. 
  8. ^ "Early American Automobiles Pre 1900". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  9. ^ "Hurtu". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  10. ^ "The Evolution of the Convertible- slide 2". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  11. ^ a b "A brief history of the convertible". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  12. ^ a b c "The up-and-down history of the convertible". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  13. ^ "The Evolution of the Convertible- slide 5". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  14. ^ "All new (AMC advertisement)". Life. 50 (22). 2 June 1962. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  15. ^ "The Evolution of the Convertible- slide 8". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  16. ^ "Mazda builds 1 millionth MX-5". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  17. ^ "A Soarer Aerocabin Found In LA". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  18. ^ "This One Of 500 Toyota Soarer Aerocabin Can Be Yours". Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  19. ^ "The Last Roadster". Cars and Parts. 43: 42. 2000. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  20. ^ Stroll, Daniel (2009). "Muscle Car Interior Restoration Guide". CarTech. p. 120. ISBN 9781932494983. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  21. ^ Jacobs, Milton (1957). Fabrics and Fibers for Passenger Cars: Automobile Manufacturers' Views, 1955 Compared with 1950, Issue 152 of Marketing research report. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, Marketing Research Division. pp. 8, 40–41. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  22. ^ "A History of Hardtops". Retrieved 15 April 2018. 
  23. ^ "356 Porsche Removable Hardtops". Retrieved 15 April 2018. 
  24. ^ Chrysler Group (30 March 2007). "2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible's Solid Structure and Systems Deliver Smooth Driving, Tight Handling and a Quiet Ride" (Press release). Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  25. ^ "Volvo C70 - safety, the next generation". 
  26. ^ File:1934 Buick Series 60 Convertible Phaeton.JPG
  27. ^ Cars of the Sizzling '60s, by the auto editors of Consumer Guide (Publications International, Ltd., Lincolnwood, IL, 1997), pages 68 to 69, and 307.
  28. ^ a b c "¡Hey, Macarena! Heuliez Creates an Open-Top Peugeot 407". Edmunds. 28 January 2006. Archived from the original on 19 December 2006. 
  29. ^ "Cabriolet definition". Reverso Online Dictionary. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  30. ^ a b "Citroen C3 Pluriel (2003–) Review". Archived from the original on 5 November 2007. 
  31. ^ a b c d e "Citroen C3 Pluriel". 28 May 2003. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  32. ^ Schuon, Marshall (19 April 1987). "The few, the rich, Pininfarina". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  33. ^ "2007 Porsche Boxster news, pictures, and information". Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  34. ^ Vaughn, Mark (10 September 2006). "2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata Power Retractable Hardtop". Autoweek. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  35. ^ Keebler, Jack (August 2002). "2004 Cadillac XLR". Motor Trend. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Adler, Dennis (2011). Convertibles. First Gear series. Minneapolis, MN: Motorbooks. ISBN 9780760340202. 
  • Benson, Michael (1997). Convertibles: Sun, Wind & Speed. London: Tiger Books International. ISBN 1855019507. 
  • Georgano, Nick (2001). Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-57958-367-5. 
  • Hirsch, Jay; Weith, Warren (1979). The Last American Convertibles. New York: Collier Books; London: Collier Macmillan. ISBN 002080010X. 
  • Holmes, Mark (2007). Ultimate Convertibles: Roofless Beauty. London: Kandour. ISBN 978-1-905741-62-5. 
  • Langworth, Richard M (1988). The Great American Convertible. New York: Beekman House. ISBN 0517655810. 
  • Wieder, Robert; Hall, George (1977). The Great American Convertible: An Affectionate Guide. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 0385131232. 


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