Long Hot Summer? A Guide To Wind-In-Your-Hair Convertibles

Owain Wyn Evans
Latest posts by Owain Wyn Evans (see all)

It’s been a hard winter and questionable beginning to spring. But with British Summertime tantalisingly close, is now the right time to buy a second hand convertible car?

I first considered buying a soft top about three years ago. At the time, images of myself driving nonchalantly along a beach on a hot summer’s day, or passing crowds of onward gazing handsome men as my ginger hair flowed in the wind filled my mind’s eye. I would look irresistibly attractive, sophisticated and cool in my roof-less wagon, and the common folk would look on enviously as I parallel park my shiny sports-car outside only the trendiest bars in town before closing the roof and strutting on by.

The reality: It leaks, is noisy, is cold in the winter- and when we do get some nice weather worthy of retracting my canvas ceiling, I have to protect my ginger skin with copious amounts of sunscreen. Resulting in a shiny, red faced, windswept look. Far from the original music video-esque timeline I had in my mind. Unglamorous. But I do love my BMW Z3, and now is a great time to buy a used cabriolet, and I shall tell you why.

It’s been freezing, wet, and snowy. Therefore at the moment, most people just don’t want a vehicle which is essentially half-car-half-tent. As a result, the market for selling such cars picks up in the summer, and there’s more choice of vehicles for sale when the weather is grim. But we don’t have much time! So what’s around?

In this article we will look briefly at a few cheap and cheerful roadsters which are reasonable to buy (Under £3,000): MG-F, Mazda MX5 and Mercedes SLK. So let’s start at the lower end of that drop top price bracket.

Since the 1920s, MG Motors have been making British sports cars for wind-in-your-hair fun. The original ‘MG’ company ceased trading after MG Rover went into administration in 2005, but you can pick up a great little MG-F sports car for under a grand. Don’t get me wrong, these cars do have their problems, notably the cooling system and head gasket failure (when a mechanical seal in the engine fails, bad news darlings).

The MG-F looks great however, and if you can get hold of one that’s been looked after with minimal previous owners, you’re more likely to ride off into the sunset with the breeze in your weave without having to call for recovery. The engine of the MG-F actually sits just behind the two seats, a proper sports car set up some would say, so the boot is quite small and some bits and bobs like the squirty fluid (windscreen washers) and spare wheel occupy the bonnet. They handle well, are relatively cheap to run (1.8 engine is the most common) but as with any second hand car, it would need some level of care. There is a slightly newer version- the MG TF, which looks very similar to the MG-F with a few mainly cosmetic changes. These too can be picked up relatively cheaply now.

Then there’s the UK’s most popular (or common, depending on your view) roadster, the Mazda MX5. A great car, which is still available to buy new. The older model has motorised pop up headlights, which were later scrapped with a remodelled version- very similar to the brand new type you’ll see on Mazda forecourts today. Both models are well within reach if you have a £3k piggy bank.

Mazdas are notoriously reliable cars, it’s not the most exciting sports car, but again with a good service history it should have minimal problems providing you take care of it. Unlike the MG, the engine is in the front under a long, slinky bonnet, so it’s easier to get to if you need your cogs looking at. Like any convertible car, you must remember that it may leak. My wise mechanic brother once told me ‘The roof is a moving part Owain. Water will get in.’ And admittedly, I’ve experienced a drip or two on my fringe since owning my Z3. Like the MG-F they’re reasonable to run, if you think you’re going to get Ford Fiesta or Citroen C1 economy then take it easy on the laughing gas. But the MX5’s line up contains a strong 1.6 engine, and insurance isn’t too bad on them. Do look out for imports, which have the ‘Eunos’ badge on the back, these are best avoided… so stick to UK stock.

So then there’s the most expensive in our line-up, but by far the most prestigious. The Mercedes SLK revolutionised the convertible market when it hit the roads in 1997. It featured a clever mechanical roof which folds in half and then collapses into the boot area at the touch of a button. This system is now a common sight, it’s not as noisy as a soft top, feels like you’re inside an *actual* car, and leaks are less likely. Many SLKs will also be automatic, so forget about that clutch – you can tap your left foot away to your heart’s content! (Not advisable when driving).

Another consideration: automatic gearboxes are expensive when they break, so a low mileage car is less likely to present gearbox problems. On the upside, if it starts raining you simply pull over, press a button and like a set piece from Lady Gaga’s tour, your car’s complicated mechanical roof will protect you from precipitation. But unlike the MG-F and MX5, the SLK is expensive to run. They feature big, wide wheels- so tyre replacement will be pricey, larger engines and if you get an automatic expect less miles per gallon. This inevitably pushes the swish SLK into a high tax band, so you’ll be paying a couple of hundred quid a year for road tax.

There are other cars out there, like the BMW Z3 and Toyota MR2 which sit somewhere in-between the MX5 and the SLK with regards to looks and running costs. Sports cars are going to be more expensive to run, and since we are talking about older cars here, they will need a higher level of care, regular servicing and potentially more recovery call outs! Out of our three cars, the MX5 would probably be the best option as a summer run-around, mainly because it’s a tried and tested car which is built solidly and looks fab. The MG-F is cheap and cheerful, but beware of those problems. The SLK will look a little more luxurious, but it’s expensive to run and the motorised roof is very expensive to repair, as is the aforementioned automatic gearbox.

But get in one, drive it, see if it does it for you and most importantly, get your top off.

About Owain Wyn Evans

Ginger haired 20-something living in Cardiff. Fluent Welsh speaker and weatherman by trade. Car enthusiast, drummer and prosecco drinker. Also love seeing cats dressed as humans. Follow @owainwynevans