Continentals have long considered the Brits the dirtiest people in Europe ever since the shock and bemusement we showed towards the bidet in the 19th century revealed our ignorance of hygiene. So they are not surprised to find that a race that suffers some of the worst weather in the world is so addicted to open-top cars. They see it as an aberration that makes us quaintly different from nations with higher standards of hygiene. They are right about our dirtiness: British roads, like anywhere, are filthy with dust, grime and grit. Petrol fumes hang in the air. Fast-moving motorway traffic and slow-moving city jams mean that anybody not protected by a roof and windows is being covered with a layer of dirt all the time they are driving. If you don’t believe me, ask a biker to take off his goggles after a full day’s riding and you will see what I mean.
Imagine putting your hands in the gutter, then rubbing them over your face and hair, and it becomes clear how irrational convertibles actually are.
So why are they so popular? I blame Grace Kelly and all those classy film goddesses, who, in the 1950s and 1960s, always seemed to be driving immaculate sports cars up and down the Grand Corniche, looking the epitome of glamour. But what is usually overlooked is the fact that their hair was protected by a tight scarf, and they wore huge sunglasses to minimise the amount of skin actually exposed to the elements. Add the fact that the roads were cleaner then, with a lot less traffic, and you can see why open-top driving worked – at least in California or the south of France. It’s not quite the same, you will agree, driving with the top down through the Blackwall Tunnel behind a beaten-up builder’s lorry. Our roads are so overcrowded, and so rarely cleaned, that an open-top car becomes one of the dafter fashion statements. This is why I feel that soft-top refers less to the model of the car than to the mental state of its driver.
(First published August 2006)
Picture source. Sunday Time Style. Getty.