Back in the early 1960s, famed designer Raymond Leowy locked himself and his team in a rented house for five weeks with the intent of designing an exciting new sports coupe for Studebaker. The result was the Avanti, which would go on to become one of the most enduring shapes in automotive history. How so?
After Studebaker closed down, a couple of ex-dealers for the automaker got together and purchased all the original tooling and molds for the fiberglass-bodied coupe and relaunched the car under the name Avanti II. Up until the late '80s, the Avanti II used leftover bits from the original Studebaker operation, though the body shell was later grafted onto the underpinnings of both GM G-Bodys, F-Bodys and eventually the Mustang. Throughout most of its later years, the Avanti II was offered as a convertible and was sold in extremely limited numbers.
Back in 1988, Jim Krause, Buick's Chicago zone manager, had this to say regarding the new Buick Reatta coupe: "It's not a hot rod; it's not a door buster; it's not a rocketship; it's not a car for a family with three kids." Fine then, what is it? Unfortunately, the car suffered from a major identity crisis, as its 165-horsepower 3800 V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission teamed up with a front-wheel drive architecture and a "comfortable and quiet Buick ride" to sap any semblance of sportiness promised by the car's attractive looks. For 1990 and 1991, the Reatta was offered as a convertible, with a total of 2,437 droptops sold. These days, the Reatta convertible is rarer than hen's teeth.
1983 Chrysler Town and Country
Although most people will undoubtedly remember the Chrysler Town and Country as the automaker's upscale version of the Dodge Caravan, the model name actually got its start way back in 1941 as a woodie wagon. From 1951 until 1977, the Town and Country moniker was a station wagon based on Chrysler's full-size rear-wheel drive platform, and from 1978-1981, the nameplate was used on Chrysler's version of the compact Dodge Aspen wagon.
After Chrysler's wholesale adoption of the K-car platform in the early '80s, the Town and Country name was once again dredged up and relegated to a station wagon based on the front-wheel-drive LeBaron platform. Finally, in 1983, the automaker glued a bunch of woodgrain vinyl siding to the side of a K-car convertible and called it the Town and Country, resulting in the hideous monstrosity you see above.
In 1989, Dodge introduced what was widely considered the first factory convertible pickup truck since the Ford Model T. The actual removal of the top and the installation of the fixed roll bar was performed by ASC, which at the time stood for American Sunroof Company. Dodge offered a 125-hp 3.9-liter V6 mated up with either a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.
In its first year on the market, Dodge managed to sell 2,842 soft top Dakotas. The truck was once again available in 1990, though only 909 units were sold, and rumor has it that another either convertible Dakotas were sold in '91. In other words, this is one rare convertible.
When Nissan launched its upmarket Infiniti brand in 1990, the main headline-grabber was the Q45 luxury sedan, and with good reason. Like its main rivals, the Acura Legend and Lexus LS400, the rear-wheel drive model competed on mostly equal footing with established luxury players from Germany for significantly less money. Many seem to forget, however, that the Q45 was joined in Infiniti's inaugural year by the M30, which was available in both coupe and convertible bodystyles.
(Under)powered by a 3.0L V6 engine with 162 horsepower, the front-engine, rear-drive M30 droptop weighed a substantial 3,500 pounds and was offered with a four-speed automatic transmission as the only option. We'll charitably put it this way: if you want a sporty Infiniti convertible, we'd imagine you'd be better served by the brand new G37.
From 1962 until 1975, legendary British sportscar manufacturer Lotus offered an elegant two-seat sportscar called the Elan. Importantly, that original Elan used a front-engine, rear-drive architecture. In 1989, Lotus decided to resurrect the Elan nameplate with a new car that was controversial in just about every conceivable way. For instance, the revived Elan was powered by a 1.6-liter four cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission sourced from (gasp!) Isuzu, albeit in heavily modified and turbocharged form. Even worse, the new Elan used a front-wheel drive chassis. Sacrilege! As a final nail in the Elan's coffin, potential buyers could purchase two complete Mazda Miatas, also new for the 1989 model year, for the $40,000 asking price of the Lotus.
ASC McLaren Mercury Capri
After parent company Ford decided to upsize the Mercury Cougar in 1974, the interplanetary automaker had precious little to offer fans of classic American performance. All that changed in 1979 when Mercury launched the new Capri, which was based on the same Fox platform as the classic 5.0-liter Ford Mustang from the same era.
For reasons unknown to most industry analysts, when Mercury decided it needed a convertible version of the Capri, it outsourced the project to American Sunroof Corporation instead of sharing the readily available convertible Mustang architecture. Whatever the reasoning, these cars were equipped with a slew of modifications that included a custom rear decklid, convertible top, tonneau cover and a windshield that was swept back an additional ten-degrees from the standard Capri and Mustang. Between 1984 and 1986, just 552 of the two-seater ASC McLaren Capri convertibles were produced.
Plenty of people probably remember the Renault Alliance. Brought in during the early '80s by the partnership between American Motors and the French automaker (hmmm, that sounding familiar), the Alliance, in its base form, was a small economy car that was available in sedan, hatchback and seldom-seen convertible bodystyles, and with its miserly 1.4-liter engine, the Alliance was able to return impressive fuel economy. For its final year in 1987, Renault offered the little runabout in the sportier GTA trim that you see here. Underhood was an enlarged, fuel-injected 2.0-liter engine that offered a whopping 95 horsepower.
Chrysler TC by Maserati
Granted, it's often hard to tell the difference at first glance, but the car you see above is not a run-of-the-mill 1980-spec Chrysler LeBaron convertible. No, this is the far rarer Chrysler TC by Maserati. As you might have guessed, both models were styled by the same designer.
In reality, the TC by Maserati and the LeBaron were entirely different cars, though both used the classically '80s Chrysler 2.2-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine and a 3.0-liter V6 engine sourced from Mitsubishi. The car was well equipped and included a standard detachable hardtop complete with opera windows in addition to the standard soft top. Amazingly, especially since the car cost well over $30,000 in each of its three years on the market, Chrysler managed to sell 7,300 TCs between 1989 and 1991.
Back in 1991, Toyota decided it would create a new coupe called the Paseo that would be based on the guts of the lowly Tercel economy car. A second-generation model was made available in 1996 and the Japanese automaker saw fit to offer the car as a convertible. Powered by a 93-horsepower 1.5-liter four cylinder engine mated up with either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission, the Paseo was cheap, reliable and frugal. It was also supposed to be sporty. It wasn't.