‘Compulsive obsessive’ is an understatement. ‘Addict’ is nearer the truth.

During the past 30 years I’ve owned more than 150 cars – from Bentleys to Bristols to BMW’s. As soon as I buy a car, I’m thinking of changing it for the next (best) thing. But there’s been a recurring theme. A fall back position that’s only got stronger… A car without a roof.

It doesn’t matter if you’re steaming through Slough in a Scimitar, or motoring through Monaco in a Morgan, the sensation remains the same. The wind. The noise. The smell. The looks. The attitude. Driving’s completely different when you’re topless.

As I’ve got older my tastes have matured. I now realise there’s more to life than spending Sunday mornings with a polishing cloth. I’ve relaxed my style. Now I like cars with patina. Older cars that have been lived in, like tired brown leather club chairs. Dings and dents only add to the charm.

I’ve also realised that there’s two types. One car is to get you around on a daily basis. So it’s got to work and never go wrong. The other’s purely for fun. Motor Traders use some entertaining phrases; “There’s a backside for every seat” is one. “When the roof comes down the price goes up” is another. Convertibles and cabriolets sell for more money than Coupes. The glamour and the statement.

It’s so much easier for people to look at people in a roofless car.


Last Summer I caught three trains and spent 6 hours getting to Hay-on-Wye from East Sussex. I went to collect a 1961 Bentley Continental Convertible. Perfect, this car would be worth nearly £500K, imperfect with the odd mark, scratch and blemish (like mine) it’s still worth around £150K. A good friend told me I could borrow the Bentley for 6 months as he wasn’t using it. This is a canal barge of a car. It’s huge, and with the volume of a mountain. This is probably why it returns 9mpg on a good day.

I stayed overnight and set off for London the next day. It was sunny so I pressed a button and the mohair soft top retracted. Somehow the electric motor that heaves the metal frame and multi-layered fabric roof back until it creases and neatly folds is still working. The drive back was an unforgettable experience. I cruised at sixty all the way from Hay-on-Wye to Rye with the roof down. The engine purred. I purred too.

I’ve been making a movie for the past few years and I arranged to meet two of the actors in a service station en route. Pulling up in 1960’s 19ft of fin-tailed convertible Bentley does wonders for one’s credibility.

It’s funny isn’t it? Driving a cool old convertible provokes smiles and lots of enthusiastic waves. Driving something nouveau, loud and flashy generates gesticulation of another kind.

My first soft top was a baby blue 1966 Sunbeam Alpine, the shape was pure swinging sixties. Its rear fins having more than a hint of Aston Martin DB5, not surprising as they shared the same designer. Sunbeam was a Rootes brand. Whatever happened to Rootes?


When I was 26 I managed to get my hands on a silver 1961 Mercedes 190SL; automotive art in action. A 190SL is the little brother (and poor relation) to Mercedes’ uber-cool 300SL Gullwing. Picasso used to drive a 300SL around Juan les Pins in the 50’s. Grace Kelly made the 190SL famous. This car’s a drop dead gorgeous drop head. Fabulous shape, but hugely under-powered.

I bought another 190SL a few years ago for £25K, nice examples sell for over £100K these days. Appreciation on this scale is far better than money in the bank. You’re looking good and making a healthy profit (tax free) at the same time.

I had a red 300SL a decade or so ago. These cars are the epitome of style. Watching Richard Gere manoeuvre his Mercedes soft top along the PCH in American Gigolo was as good as watching him manoeuvre his clients around the bedroom. He was selling sex and what better car to help with his sales pitch than a black SL?

Mercedes made – and continue to make – some of the world’s finest convertibles. I bought a 1963 220SE cabriolet in my twenties and gave it to a restorer as it was rusty. After two painful, expensive years I got her back and sold her immediately. She was simply too good to use. There are not many 5 seater convertibles, but this car took the biscuit. As glamourous and glorious as a cabriolet can be, it turned heads like no-one’s business.

My obsession with classic cars, and especially convertible classic cars, has moved on. These days I drive cars that have neither a roof NOR a front windscreen, which takes the term ‘convertible’ to a new level. Hurtling along in a car without a windscreen means you have to wear goggles. And a coat to keep warm.


Early ‘Series’ Land Rovers (‘Landys’) are like giant Meccano kits. They’re boxy and devoid of complication. They’re analogue in a digital world, with no ECU’s. They’re uncomfortable with no legroom or seat belts. They’re slow. They’re brilliant.

What they lack in creature comfort and performance is far outweighed by what a hoot it is to sit in and steer one. They have soft tops that can be removed with an adjustable spanner, doors that can be removed by simply lifting them off their hinges and a windscreen that can be folded forward. This is as basic and ‘Jeep-like’ as it gets. You don’t need much money to buy an early Landy, just a bit of imagination and a sense of adventure. Driving a car with no screen at 30mph is awesome. Every kamikaze fly and piece of grit whacks into your face and leaves its mark.

Every summer there’s a World War 2 military re-enactment weekend in Paddock Wood, Kent, not far from where I live. It’s called WAR & PEACE. The re-enactors take their hobby very seriously and pay meticulous attention to every detail of their uniforms and weapons, Russian branded cigarettes and, of course, their vehicles. There are tanks and armoured carriers and Jeeps. Hundreds of Jeeps. The military Jeep was the fore-runner to the Series Land Rover and, in many ways, inspired it. The shape of the Jeep is iconic. It does 45mph with a following wind and it’s very cramped.

I’m not sure how any war was won with the Jeep as a primary mode of transport, but with the screen folded forward and the soft top taken off, life gets no better.


A couple of years ago I found a very rare car: a Kougar Monza. Kougar is a relatively unknown British automotive brand.

The Monza looks like a cross between a Maserati Monza and a Ferrari Monza. But it’s neither. It’s a Kougar Monza. Sleek and svelte the Monza has no roof. Just a wrap around screen that deflects the wind. Every trip in this monster was an event. Drive a Kougar Monza and you look like a lottery winner.

It’s not a surprise psychologists have a multitude of theories about roofless drivers. Exhibitionists? Insecure? Maybe they just want to have fun?!


A while back I found a 1961 Hotchkiss with 22k kms on the clock. It’s like new. I love it and drive it whenever I get the chance. Their beauty is in being basic.

I’m not sure if I’ve got a favourite convertible I’ve owned, they’ve all hit the mark. They share the same spirit, throwing caution to the wind. But there is one from history that stands out…


In 1953, Duncan Hamilton won the Le Mans 24 hours in a Jaguar C-Type. His son, Adrian, still owns that car, Jaguar’s finest creation. Today it would sell for around £5m so it’s a little beyond the reach of most of us.

If you’re passionate about the shape and driving experience of a C-Type but you’re not a millionaire, don’t worry. Proteus makes aluminium replica C-Types that look and feel the part for around £100K. Still expensive. but these days lots of inferior cars cost well in excess of that. I’ve had three Proteus C-types and regret selling every one of them. If you have a bucket list put a C-Type replica at the top.

Convertible, cabriolet, soft-top, drop-head, rag-top, call it what you will. Take the top off. Let your hair down.

You know it makes sense.


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