Saturday, July 24, 2010


The only vehicle I ever wanted was a Jeep. Not a gussied-up, citified version, but your basic 2 seat Wrangler. So when the time came to buy a car a while back, I went and took a test drive. Loud? Yes. Bouncy? Big time. Unsuitable for long drives? No doubt about it. So as usual in my life, the practical side took charge: I just didn't see how that particular vehicle made any sense considering we lived in the suburbs with kids as opposed to the deserts of Iraq.
And so I wound up with the closest things, a succession of jeep-esque conveyances. SUV's all, they did have room to haul stuff (Wranglers can be cramped), better gas mileage (Jeeps in general were known as gas guzzlers) and the ability to schlep kids and friends safely (true, Wranglers could fit little ones in the back, as long as you didn't mind them bouncing out onto the road, something many parents seemed to frown upon).
Then a couple of years later the line was retooled, and many of those concerns were addressed. So I went and took another test drive. Indeed, they had made it quieter, more efficient and smoother. True, there was no mistaking that it didn't have the ride of a passenger car, but that was kind of the point. Complaining that a Jeep doesn't feel like a Volvo is kind of like saying that a hot dog isn't a steak. No will argue with you, but if you're in the mood, you'll take the dog over the filet in a heartbeat.
And I was in the mood. Our kids were basically out of the house, so our days of using the car to multitask were gone. It was just me and my wife most times. And since the price and fuel usage were about the same as anything else I was looking at, I decided to take the plunge. I looked around, and eventually I found one a few towns over equipped pretty much as I wanted. But it carried one thing I wasn't looking for: a ragtop.
I had never had a convertible, and had no particular hankering for one. But both a hard and soft roof were part of the package, and so I went for it. That first year, the convertible version sat in a box in the basement, a bit intimidating with its latches and cautions and instructions. Fully a year went by where I thoroughly enjoyed the car with its hardtop, never once thinking about the softer alternative.

Then summer came. I walked past the unopened box and decided that it was then or never. It took a few hours of wrestling the hard roof off, figuring out how to hang it in garage, then finally installing the soft version and tightening all the right screws. By the time I was done and ready to take it for a test drive, the skies had turned gray and it had started to rain. So with the top in the fully upright and locked position, I took it for a spin to make sure it was watertight, which it was. It also demonstrated some of those other qualities that I had heard about, mainly noise and whistles.

But then the sun came out and I put the top down.

Like a kid in a candy store, I was smitten. It was fun and cool and breezy, and did I mention fun? I was happy to run errands, driving to the store for milk or bread. My wife was a good sport, as I forced her to take almost every outing sans top (the car, not her). I drove home at midnight under the stars from the city, and took it to Maine and back the same way. And I suddenly understood the attraction of the classic '57 Chevy Convertible, and it wasn't the year nor the make.

Let's be honest: whether it's an Aston Martin DBS, whose 13-speaker Bang and Olufsen system recalibrates for the extra ambient noise when the top is down for a cool $286,500, or a MINI Cooper Convertible that has enough room for you and your significant other as long as neither of you has anything is your pockets for a tenth of that, they're not meant to be the most practical cars. As such sales are just a fraction of total vehicles sold. But no matter: they're fun, pure and simple, and speaking at least for me, I can use a bit more of that.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves his Jeep with and without the top, but especially without. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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