Classic British Convertibles: The Hits & Misses

We are a nation of convertible car lovers. We don’t let wind or rain or freezing temperatures deter us from buying cars without roofs. This dogged commitment in the face of the weather has one upside – it’s made Britain the King, the undisputed Numero Uno, of classic convertible sports cars. Our heyday, of course, was in the 60s and we haven’t offered up much of any important since the MGF of 1995.  But here, for dispute and rancour, are our our 5 hits and 5 misses of British sports cars. Enjoy.

THE HITS

1. MGB

It’s the daddy, the constant in an ever-changing world.  The venerable B lumbered on in production for over 20 years, through three decades and infinitely changing fashions.  The hairstyles may have changed but our love affair with the very simplest of convertibles remains. It’s not that easy to see why.  Yes, the MGB looks good, but it’s not as gorgeous as an Alfa Duetto, and it’s powered by a Morris van engine. The boot is small, the handling ponderous and the steering heavy.  But somehow none of this matters.  Unlike any of its peers the MGB is simple to fix, reliable, cheap to run and few cars have such exemplary parts supply. And despite hardly changing throughout its life, there is a B for most people – 1.8 or V8, coupe or convertible, chrome or rubber bumper and that’s before you begin to think about upgrades. It may be ubiquitous and, for some, a classic car cliche, but the B is perennially popular for a good reason – it’s easy, hassle-free fun.

2. Jaguar E Type

Other cars may handle better, be more practical and more comfortable but we’d argue that no mass produced car has ever looked as good. The E Type is all about presence and the drop top version sends out so many wordless messages that it is almost mesmerising.  It stands for freedom, escape, joy and speed, all the things that we want from our classic drop top cars.

3. Triumph TR6

Triumph’s TR series began as delicate play things for American troops and ended up as hairy-chested speed weapons for Dick Dastardly types. The Karmann-tweaked TR6 brought together sharper styling with Triumph’s innovative fuel injected straight six engine. That meant decent handling and 150 bhp, a compelling combination that helped eek out a few more years from the aging separate chassis design. The TR6 is on this list because it managed to achieve what few drop top cars can – practical, sharp-handling and with proper grunt.

4. Austin Healey 

The Austin Healey made the TR6 possible, combining E Type-level beauty with great performance.  Where the E Type was delicate and pretty, the Healey was handsome and brutal – a car for blasting down Highway 1 or careering round a rally course. The Healey had a reputation as a ‘proper’ driver’s car, one that needed skill and effort. At the time, it had precious little competition and yet Austin threw away the opportunity by failing to replace it.

5. Morris Minor Tourer

In the 1950s motoring was fun.  It mobilised people and cars were suddenly attainable by the masses.  Into this bright, multi-coloured future came the Morris Minor Tourer, a four door convertible that perfectly suited the optimistic, care-free times. Today the idea of a mass-produced, four seat family open top car is an odd one – but the Tourer sold and sold, even causing many owners to chop the roofs off their saloons and make their own convertibles. The Moggy is simple, slow and wobbly, none of which matters on a sunny day in the Cotswolds with a picnic warming in the boot.

THE MISSES

1. Triumph TR7

The infamous TR7 was Triumph’s difficult second album.  After years of making essentially the same convertible sports car but with subtle changes to the body and engines, Triumph dropped the ball. It’s not hard to understand why.  The TR7 was meant to replace all of British Leyland’s broad sports car range, from the Spitfire and Midget to the MGB and TR6.  It was an impossible task. The result is a car that tries to be everything to everyone, but ends up not really pleasing anyone.  Almost all TR7s, inexplicably, had 2 litre engines – without the Dolomite Sprint’s 16v head – and that alienated the TR6 and MGB V8 buyers. It was quite big, which didn’t suit the Spitfire and Midget customers, and it was fairly soft to drive, and that put off everyone else. Beyond the flawed concept, the drop top Triumph was unreliable and poorly built.  From the nation that popularised inexpensive sports cars, it could have been so different.