Driving on the open road can be calm and soothing or wild and exhilarating, depending on how heavy your right foot is. But fast or slow, if you want the most fun for your buck, there’s really only one answer: a convertible. Impractical? Absolutely. But that indescribable feeling of wind in your hair and sun on your face has inspired countless childlike grins in generation after generation of auto enthusiasts. Architectural Digest puts the top down on a selection of ten classic rides that represent that sense of rebellion, escape, and a chance to leave your cares behind, even if just for a few hours.
When Enzo Ferrari declares a car that’s not a Ferrari to be “the most beautiful car ever made,” it gives you some perspective on just how iconic this rolling work of art truly is. The roadster version gives even greater visual emphasis to the already exaggerated hood and sweeping curves. Designer Malcolm Sayer incorporated aeronautically inspired design elements to produce this masterpiece, which even today tops many published lists of most beautiful cars and holds a permanent place at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
A true American icon, the Ford Mustang gave birth to the Pony-car class of vehicles with long hoods, rear-wheel drive, and ever-increasing horsepower totals. The convertible is etched in American popular culture, starting with the original “1964 ½” examples that are still so favored by collectors today.
While the prancing horse has graced the hoods of many gorgeous convertibles, few have aged quite as gracefully as the 250 GT California Spyder LWB. Revered by car lovers and known to fetch millions at auction, this rare piece of automotive history reminds us that even the best designs can be improved upon by subtracting the roof.
Designed to dominate on the racetrack, the 550 Spyder was an adrenaline junkie’s dream, with a low-slung curvaceous body to match. Handmade in very low numbers, this open-air rocket begged to be driven hard, and sadly it’s forever linked to the untimely death of James Dean in his own 550.
For decades the Chevrolet Corvette has been the quintessential American sports car, embodying the essence of rebellion and individuality. So it’s no wonder that the first model was a convertible. With each ensuing rendition, the topless variant has continued to capture the imagination of drivers everywhere. And while modern Corvettes have become borderline supercars with dizzying performance, the humble original still shines brightly.
While one could use many words to describe the Eldorado, “subtle” isn’t one of them. A study in excess, this behemoth sported enormous tail fins, an array of luxurious power options, and chrome just about everywhere. The classic vehicle eschewed breakneck performance for a smooth, conspicuous ride—this car was about being seen.
A grand tourer in every sense, the Vanquish Volante exudes refinement and elegance while delivering performance befitting its significant price tag. A sculpted body married to plenty of power, the GT is more than the sum of its parts. And the ability to lower the roof offers the extra benefit of hearing the melodious exhaust note of the V-12 all the more clearly. As with so many Aston Martins before it, the Vanquish Volante looks just as mesmerizing standing still.
Not all memorable convertibles are sleek, sporty two-door affairs. The Lincoln Continental convertible was a design marvel that dropped the roof on the large four-door sedan—and not just any doors at that: The rear-hinged “suicide doors” added to the already elevated cool factor. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more stylish way to move a bunch of your friends around.
The Bugatti Veyron has long held the automotive world crown for top speed, acceleration, and price tag. And for those few brave souls willing to push its limits and still find they require a bit more excitement, there’s an option: the open-top Grand Sport Vitesse. If hurtling along at speeds over 250 m.p.h. without a roof over your head doesn’t get your pulse racing, maybe nothing will.
What happens when you take a small, light British roadster and wedge the largest, most powerful American engine you can possibly fit into it? Automotive legend Carroll Shelby decided to find out, and the AC Cobra was born. A force of nature on wheels, this powerful beast won races and hearts with its uncompromising performance and muscular good looks. While not a financial success initially, original models now command millions at auction.