Where Have all the Ragtops Gone?

Published by Naseem Muaddi on November 21st, 2011

Decades ago, American convertibles ruled the roads. But lately it seems that fewer ragtops are rolling through my shop; and the ones that do are all made overseas. Curious as to why, I did a little research and was shocked by what I found.

In 1968, the “Big Three” produced 53 convertible models. In 2011, they combined to produce a total of six. That’s a whopping 89% decrease.

While an increase in the number of foreign-made convertibles sold in the US has helped softened the blow, it hasn’t made up the difference.

In fact, today there are only 23 different models of domestic and foreign convertibles sold in the US (not including exotics) – a far cry from the 53 America produced on its own in 1968.

Sure, automakers are probably producing more of each model than they did 40 years ago, but convertibles – as a whole – are still at risk of extinction.

So why the decline?

There’s no official answer. But a December 1973 issue of Road & Track magazine suggests that demand for ragtops began to decline as air conditioning became more affordable.

Other reasons cited include the improved styling of hardtops, the need for speed and the higher selling price of convertible models.

Some gear heads who’ve studied the history of convertibles have even suggested that the waning demand for ragtops is directly related to the rise in acceptance of men with long hair. In other words, men stopped buying convertibles because all the wind was messing up their hairdos.

The fact that not a single American automaker produced a convertible car between 1977 and 1982, when long hairstyles on men were at their peek, seems to corroborate this claim.

How does this affect trim shops?

Simply put: the fewer convertibles there are on the road, the fewer there are in need of repair – which affects our bottom line.

And with retractable hard tops becoming more affordable, the situation only seems to be worsening.

With the convertible era quickly coming to its end, there doesn’t appear to be much we can do to reverse the trend. Unless, of course, we lobby real hard for buzz cuts.

Short of that, the best thing we can do is brush up on our knowledge of foreign convertible tops and hope today’s models become tomorrow’s valued classics.

We want to hear from you: Has your auto trim shop experienced a decline in convertible-top repairs? Why do you think that is?

2 Responses

  1. Nadeem says:

    Great post Naseem. I hadn’t realized how much of an endangered species American convertibles – or all convertibles for that matter – had become. It’s sad…

    Big John left the following comment about this article on another upholstery forum:

    The uni-body has made the roof a necessary integral part of the construction of the car. Even the type of adhesive used to install the windshield is an important factor in the strength/ rigidity of the car. Not that it can’t be built but it takes a lot more engineering than just cutting the roof off and installing a rag top! Then comes the liability/ safety factor of building this inherently less safe design.

  2. Patrick Huckels says:

    Naseem, In regards to the Road & Track article in the December 1973 issue, do you this article still? I am trying to find the US District Court ruling in 1973 in favor of the Automotive makers to continue producing the rag top cars. Any help there. Thanks, Patrick

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