Did you know that the UK consumes more convertibles than any other country in Europe? Nope, nor did I. Strange when the unique selling point of an old fashioned convertible can only be fully utilised three months of the year (if you’re lucky!). I suppose that’s why the metal folding roof has become the choice for all manufacturers and you barely see the old-style canvass roof anymore.
The Met Office has predicted that the summer of 2009 will be one of the hottest on record, yet last summer was a complete washout, literally. With that in mind this weeks’ BOTW is all about convertibles. Yes, I know, it’s only March but this is a great time to strike while the iron is hot (pardon the pun). Sales of rag-tops are abysmal from September right the way through to June and prices fall by the waist side until the weather men get closer to their predictions of the British summertime. The trouble is, with so many convertibles or Coupe Convertibles to choose from, how on earth do you wade your way through the pages of topless models – see what I did there? Already having purchased my very own BOTW, once again I brave the listings, rack up the miles and start my search.
Over the next few editions of BOTW I’m going to sniff out the very best convertibles but all at rock bottom prices showing that you can find a bargain and perhaps consider a convertible for the first time. Certainly there’s the obvious; Mercedes or BMW, but less we forget that other car makers have also been in on the act for some time, and one in particular has always impressed me: Vauxhall. OK, so the Griffin badge is no might in the company of its German rivals, but, the trusty Astra has been around for eight years and has suddenly become a real steal for us bargain hunters. Following on from the popular Astra rag-top, the Astra convertible is a very stylish consideration and unlike some other abominations still cuts it in the styling department. Put it this way, I wouldn’t be put off owning an early example, today.
My search, as always, starts in the local rags but with a lonesome, rusty, £400 Ford Escort convertible to choose from its back onto the internet nursing my trusty cuppa for companionship. Ten minutes in and I’ve already uncovered a contender. Bookmarked, I scan the other twelve pages but with nothing to get my teeth into it’s back to the only interesting offer of the day. I’ve found a one owner 2002 Astra convertible (canvas roof) with 38,000 miles. It’s the 2.2-litre 16 valve, but with a list of standard toys; Air conditioning, electric roof option and heated leather seats, I find myself at the owner’s house wondering if it’ll live happily alongside my Impreza. Wesley, the current owner, has had it from new but with a variety of company cars over the years he doesn’t really use it as a daily commuter. It only comes out when it’s dry but with a job-posting to the States, as he reluctantly says, “it’s gotta go”.
It’s an absolute minter and with rare leather upholstery (most were sold with cloth trim) he’s maintained it to a very high standard even though it only comes out a few months of the year. It’s a nice combo too: Metallic blue and black leather. Add in the un-scuffed alloys and rust free bodywork, even the canvass roof hasn’t faded over time. The 2.2-litre Vauxhall lump pulls well and feels spritely through the gears. It’s not pokey by any means but convertibles of this stature aren’t out-and-out sports cars. It handles neatly even though the A pillars have been strengthened for roofless -safety reasons and the sporty seats finish off what is a great all round package. With a twenty minute test drive under my belt Wes is happy to show off all the Vauxhall main dealer service stamps and a neat pile of clean MOT’s. Any scuffs or scratches have been swiftly rectified and he’s also has it valeted twice a year for good measure.
I must admit, even though I’m only here for researching purposes it’s a tempting offer. Wes is asking £3500 but with boxes packed he’ll take £3000. OK, so after considering my limited options having to explain why I’ve just bought another car to her indoors, I reluctantly go away empty handed. Even so, most of the other Astra convertibles for sale didn’t have the same level of equipment and finding one with leather and the electric roof option is pure luck.
Most would be put off with leather seats and the combination of the roof down with a hot summers day, but with the air con keeping things in check the cabin can be a cool place to be – pardon the pun again. Even in the winter months, with the heated seats this can be an all-year-round car, all for £3000. If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is.