An ode to the open-air ride

Got a soft spot for a soft top? I sure do.

My wife was chagrined several years back - it was a Memorial Day weekend, in fact - when I sold a reliable Honda Civic and picked up an 18-year-old Fiat Spider in need of a transmission, a clutch, and some body work.

Hey, our other car is a minivan.

In that Spider, I've since logged miles of pure joy rides. Dog loves the tiny back seat. Daughter (age 5) rides smiling broadly in hat and sunglasses - Sophia Loren in miniature. Son (13) harbors plans to convert it to a low rider so he can one day "cruise the strip."

He may get his chance. As my mechanic, Nino, says whenever I doubt my sporty Italian's prospects for another season: "She runna for-evah."

My wife's even sold. Almost.

Convertibles win converts. They touch many a car buyer's core.

A Chicago friend drives an open Audi and vows never to be boxed in again. My sister plays Beach Boys tunes in her Sebring. My father, who scoffed back when conventional wisdom held that ragtops were "over," pilots a Miata, flagbearer of the comeback.

Eric Evarts, writer of today's lead story, wheels around in a new press loaner every week. Given that kind of automotive exposure, what did he just acquire? A 1970 Volkswagen Beetle drop top.

American car buyers now have access to more than 30 models of convertibles sold new by dealers.

When a hardtop showstopper like Chrysler's PT Cruiser or VW's New Beetle rolls out, consumer clamoring for an open-air version begins. (Chrysler has answered the call. So far, only after-market shops are peeling the lids off the Beetle. But just wait.)

The sky's the limit, and the road is clear. Happy summer.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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