Saturday, 26 June 2010

Open to Learning

Everyone who drives should spend time in an open-topped car.

There are the positive reasons for it, of course - principally that is is more fun. Yes, you will need more sunscreen, but the morning breeze will wake you up and the sunlight will kill any trace of SADness that might be lingering from the winter. Oddly, the thing I like least of the classic reasons for an open car is the "wind in your hair" feeling - I can't stand the feeling that a little demon is flying just above me, grabbing clumps of hair and yanking them this way and that. But regular trimming and a nondescript cap puts paid to that.

My reason for recommending it, though, is a different one. Most modern cars hide the reality of driving from the driver and the passengers. Mercedes' range of plain saloons are the worst for this; with soft suspension, a muffled engine, plenty of soundproofing, comfy seats, and powerful aircon & heaters the aim is clearly to re-create a pleasant living-room in which you can be wafted gently between A and B (or, for a Mercedes driver, between M & S).

Now, this is not a bad thing (as such). We don't want to suffer in order to travel; we want to arrive fresh and ready to enjoy whatever varied delights B is able to offer. It is to the credit of the car manufacturers that they have made great advances over the decades in making their wares both easier to operate and more comfortable to use. However, it has an adverse effect; people simply do not realise what is going on underneath them. They prod and poke the levers, pedals, switches and buttons and, magically, things happen which propel them toward their chosen destination. The car tells them which way to go, and will happily intervene to keep them on the tarmac. Everything is easy, everything is safe.

Driving an open sports car reveals that things are not so simple. Merge onto a busy motorway, and the juggernaut's wheelnuts are spinning past your head at an alarming speed, alarmingly close. Go under a motorway bridge and there is a bang as the airflow is disrupted and the sound of the other cars is reflected. That bridge support looks much closer without a roof, too.

Leave the motorway for a country road, and you will start to hear the tyres holding on in the bends. You will hear the tyre noise change as the road surface changes and the rubber finds it harder to maintain its purchase.

Finally, try an emergency stop - a real one, the sort where you worry you're going to break the brake pedal and dent the cabin floor. While you do that, listen out - the tyres will be audibly doing their utmost to stop you, and the hard suspension will echo the strenuousness of their task.

This is not to say that open cars do not cosset the driver; my own has the full complement of ABS, stability control, multiple airbags, roll-over protection, side impact bars, and so on. There is even a wind deflector, offered in a vain attempt to reduce the cabin noise. The difference is that it is possible to see just how cosseted you are.

And if you can't get an open car, then at least wind the windows down once in a while!


  1. I've got to admit, I'm one of those drivers that prefers to shut the door, turn up the radio and the aircon and revel in being sealed off from everyone and every thing. Probably because I take public transport to work five days a week ;)

    But that's a superb post about what open-topped motoring can give a driver...

  2. I was allowed a quick spin in the old TVR this morning. I know exactly what you mean!!

  3. The design of convertibles has improved greatly over the last two decades; less noise, less leaks and easier to erect. They are such fun. Yes, everyone should have one. Er, hang on, that's not pc these days. Everyone should work hard to have one?

  4. I'm on my third convertible and couldn't agree more.

    I would offer one piece of advice to prospective owners, though: Get a convertible that was built to be a convertible (MX5, MR2, S2000, SLK, Z4), not a tin-box with the roof chopped off (207, Megane, BMW 3 series, Saab, Mini).

  5. Good point, Al.

    (I am assured that the 996 was designed as a convertible from the beginning...)

  6. I avoided that potentially thorny issue ;o)

    Something I should never have forgotten to mention is the absurd concept of diesel convertibles.

    Especially, I presume, for those with no hearing or sense of smell, and a complete lack of enthusiasm for driving. Penny pinching berkinalds.

  7. So if we all drove open top cars, we would be more aware drivers, and therefore more careful drivers, and therefore safer drivers, and there would be fewer accidents, and fewer deaths on the road?

    Just as well that Labour isn't still in government, or I could see a ban on cars with roofs getting onto the statute books.