A convertible or cabriolet (//) 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) and cargo space.
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. 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.
Most of the early automobiles were open-air vehicles without any roof or sides. 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. 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. By the mid 1930s, the remaining small number of convertibles sold were high priced luxury models.
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. 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 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. 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.
Also in 1989, Toyota released the Toyota Soarer Aerocabin, which uses an electrically operated retractable hardtop roof. Only 500 were produced, however the retractable hardtop design has become increasingly popular in the 21st century.
A "soft top" is made form a flexible textile material. Common materials for soft tops are:
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. 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.
Rigid removable hardtops, many of which store in a car's trunk, have been around at least since the 1950s. These normally provide superior weatherproofing, soundproofing, and durability compared to fabric-based tops, some with integrated rear-window defrosters and windscreens.
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.
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.
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. 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,  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. Current production four-door convertibles include the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.
Peugeot presented a concept four-door retractable hardtop convertible, the Peugeot 407 Macarena in 2006. Produced by French coachbuilding specialist Heuliez, the Macarena's top can be folded in 60 seconds, with a steel reinforcing beam behind the front seats incorporating LCD screens for the rear passengers into the crossmember.
Drophead coupe, coupé cabriolet or coupé cabrio: A type of convertible with only two doors, 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. Pluriel is a cognate with the English "plural". The Pluriel can be configured as a hatchback with a multilayer insulated top; 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; a fixed-profile convertible, with the roof open to the back window, the roof assembly folds into a well in the trunk floor; a full convertible where roof side rails are unlatched and removed, and as a roadster pick-up, where the back seats fold to a pickup-like bed with a drop-down tailgate.
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.
fixed-profile Nash Rambler Convertible "Landau" Coupe circa 1950
Jaguar XK circa 2008, with heatable glass rear window and fully automatic cloth top with integral top-concealing rigid tonneau
Mercedes SL 1964, available with a detachable hardtop
Lincoln Continental circa 1966, four-door with integral automatically operating, self-storing tonneau
Jaguar E-type 1963, with vinyl foldable tonneau installed and snap-secured
Cadillac Eldorado 1972, with detachable, two-part, fully rigid "parade boot" tonneau cover
Citroen 2CV circa 1975, with roll-back roof and rigid doors
Rolls Royce Corniche circa 1986, a high-end prestige marque with a manually installed tonneau cover
Volkswagen New Beetle circa 2003, with raised textile (cloth) convertible top featuring interior headliner, an acoustic insulation layer, and heatable glass rear window
A Fiat 500 (2007) fixed-profile convertible
1966 Rolls-Royce Phantom V landaulet
Mercedes-Benz 300d landaulet in operation
Songs about convertibles include:
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