We take six cabriolets from £5000 to £58,000 on a tour of the North York Moors driving nirvana. Words Andrew Noakes. Photography Jonathan Jacob.
Top cabrios for summer 2019 Plus Chris Bangle’s provocative style verdict. Our market-cheating tips from £5k-£58k.
‘It makes a wonderfully cultured noise and oozes class from every angle – none can match its panache’
Moor fun for four – which of our six cabriolets cuts the best dash through Yorkshire? We take to the North York Moors in 2019’s hottest classic cabriolet buys: Jensen Interceptor, Ferrari Mondial, Alvis TD21, Mercedes-Benz 320CE A124, Saab 900 Turbo 16S and Volkswagen Golf GTI. Plus design guru Chris Bangle on the challenges of styling drop-tops.
The Big Test – Top Cabrios
Leaden grey clouds fill the early morning skies over the North York Moors, and there are drops of rain in the wind that cuts straight through us on its way down to the valley at Farndale. I’ve arrived early to meet six classic cabrios and their owners for a day of roof-down touring amid some of the finest scenery in the north of England but right now the weather is against us. Just as I’m pulling on a second coat to keep the wind at bay a thin, bright edge appears on the western horizon. Gradually the angry clouds slide away towards the North Sea and soon there’s a flurry of activity with clips and latches as six convertible roofs are dropped. The sun’s out, and we’re ready for the road.
1983 Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet MkI
I’m starting with the 1983 Volkswagen Golf GTI MkI Cabriolet, the soft-roof version of the car that started the hot-hatch craze in the late Seventies. All the Golf cabrios were built by Karmann in Osnabruck, and there are Karmann badges on the front wings to make the point. To my eyes some of the simplicity and elegance of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ‘folded paper’ design for the hatchback Golf has been lost in the cabrio, though it retains a masterful blend of purpose and character. The shape of the hood mimics the roofline of the hatchback car but there are smaller rear side windows leading to big blind spots when the roof is raised, and when lowered it perches pram-style around the rear cabin’s perimeter.
Inside, the four-spoke steering wheel with its curious quartet of horn buttons is familiar, but I’m expecting seat cloth with stripes or tartan and instead I’m surprised by a homely beige tweed. Behind the wheel there’s a binnacle with an LCD digital clock in the middle flanked by two big, square, VDO dials with rather fussy graphics, a 120mph speedo on the left and a matching 7000rpm tacho on the right. The transverse four-cylinder motor thrums busily in the nose as we tackle the switchback tarmac of the moorland roads, but my efforts to keep the revs in the mid-range where the engine gives its best are hampered by the vague gearchange. The mushy brake pedal doesn’t inspire much confidence, either. It’s a fault common to all right-hand-drive Golfs because of a more complex brake pedal linkage, but thankfully the disc/drum brakes seem to do their job well enough.
The Golf’s trump card is its enormously forgiving handling. Barrel into a corner carrying too much speed and the nose just runs gently wide on its 175-section Avons until the car scrubs away enough momentum to get round. There’s a fair bit of body roll, but these Yorkshire roads have no shortage of S-bends that demonstrate just how well the Golf can switch direction without any nasty wobbling or lurching on its springs. Karmann reinforced the lower half of the bodyshell so the cabriolet ended up a heavier car than the hatchback it’s based on, but even so it has enough performance and deftness to be a thrilling B-road partner. If this sounds like your sort of car, you’ll be glad to know that good ones start around £5000; immaculate low-mileage examples are around £15,000. But mileage isn’t a big issue because the engines are strong, and any niggles are likely to be with ancillaries.
Hot start problems are quite common but can be resolved by careful set up of the fuel injection. A bigger concern is corrosion in the rear valance, sills, wings and wheel arches, which can rust underneath the plastic arch extensions. Another hotspot is the lip around the cabin where the hood attaches. Most body panels are available and genuine front wings are still available new, though trim pieces for brown dashboards like this one can be hard to find. Early cabrios with the injection engine were badged GLi and true GTI cabriolets did not appear until 1983, just as the hatchback was being replaced by the Golf MkII. From 1988 the cars were given the Clipper bodykit, and the final cars in 1991 were two special edition models – the green or blue Rivage with luxury trim and the red or black Sportline with Recaro seats and BBS wheels. All of them are fun to drive and offer painless ownership, so it surely can’t be long before the market wakes up to them.
‘The Golf Cabriolet has enough performance and deftness to be a thrilling B-road partner’
Owning a VW Golf GTI MkI Cabriolet
Dan Perkins acquired the Golf from another member of the family, thinking it needed little more than a good clean. ‘I opened the curtains the following day and thought, what have I done? This needs more than a T-cut.
‘Refitting the engine earth strap, replacing the seized alternator and fitting a new oil pump got the car running. In 2011 I fixed some emerging rust and gave the car a proper respray in the original Mars red. With a cream hood and brown interior it had to be from the Eighties. It’s one of the few standard ones left in the country because many were modified, but the number of true standard ones is growing again now. There’s a bit of a following and people have started remanufacturing standard parts.
‘I cured a hot start problem with a new fuel pump and careful setting up of the warm-up regulator. A bolt-on wind deflector makes a big reduction in buffeting, and keeps the heat in when the roof is down. They’re well worth it’.
1983 VW Golf GTI Cabriolet MkI
Engine Iron block/alloy head 1781cc transverse in-line four-cylinder, ohc, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection
Max Power 110bhp @ 5800rpm
Max Torque 109lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: twist beam, coil springs.
Steering Cam and roller, power assisted
Brakes Disc front, drum rear, servo-assisted
Weight 960kg (2116lb)
Performance Top speed: 125mph;
Cost new £6500 CC
Price Guide £5000-£16,500
1990 Saab 900 Turbo 16S Convertible
It’s easy to like the Saab 900 Turbo 16S Convertible on first acquaintance. It has endearingly individual quirks like the forward-opening clamshell bonnet and the big doors that extend right down and wrap underneath the sills. Saloon 900s have flat floors for easy entry and exit, but sill beams were added to the Convertibles to restore some of rigidity lost by removing the roof. Another curiosity is the ignition switch located on the floor, behind the gear selector and between shapely leather seats which are as comfortable as they look. The three-spoke steering wheel is set very close to a dashboard which wraps around, cockpit-style, to bring ancillary controls like the lighting and heating knobs closer to the driver’s hands. Apparently the layout was designed with the most commonly used controls nearest the centre, to minimise the time the driver spent with their hands off the wheel, though to me it lacks the calm logic of a contemporary BMW. The bold, multi-coloured instrumentation is more successful and includes a turbo boost gauge, a reminder of the technology that makes the Saab unique in this company.
Saab introduced its first turbo engine, based on the Triumph slant-four, in the 99 of 1978. The engine was redesigned for 1981, then in 1982 Saab introduced the Automatic Performance Control (APC) system that reduced boost if it sensed knock. This improved reliability while at the same time allowing the use of a higher compression ratio (up from 7.2:1 to an eventual 9.0:1) that improved off-boost response and raised the engine’s overall efficiency. In 1984 the engine gained a 16-valve cylinder head with double chain-driven overhead camshafts and maintenance-free hydraulic lifters, and in Turbo 16S form it developed 173bhp. Four-pots often have a roughness stemming from their lack of perfect balance, but Saab clearly put a lot of effort into minimising vibration in an effort to compete with rivals powered by six- and eight-cylinder engines, and the 2.0-litre four spins smoothly.
On this 1990 example there’s decent throttle response for a blown engine and thanks to that Garrett turbo there’s breathtaking mid-range punch, accompanied by a distinctive exhaust growl. At low revs it’s less impressive, but this car has automatic transmission (an old-fashioned Borg Warner three-speed) and the torque converter helps to bolster the low-speed response. The result is a surprisingly flexible power delivery for a car with Turbo in its title. A manual car might not be quite so easy-going.
Like the Golf, the Saab feels keen to carry speed into corners. The steering is quite low geared and the wheel is big, so on these cursive country roads I need lots of arm movement to keep the Saab on line. The power steering is light but lacking in feedback, and there’s a curious feeling that the 900 rotates around its front end into a bend. No doubt that reflects its nose-heavy weight distribution, in the same way that a hammer tossed into the air rotates about a point close to its head because that’s where the weight lies. But on fat Goodyear Eagle NCTs the 900 grips well, and it rides the lumpier sections of the Yorkshire tarmac with only the merest shimmy from the body. It feels tough and together.
Toughness has always been a Saab virtue. The engines are strong, easily reaching 250,000 miles or more without major work. The Garrett turbos are reliable, too, and if rebuilds are needed they are usually simple. But the 900’s transmissions can give trouble – manuals become noisy and jump out of gear, while automatics can have difficulty engaging ratios. Rust is rarely a major problem because Saab built the bodies from thick, high quality steel, but look out for signs of corrosion on the bottoms of the doors, the front wings and the front chassis rails. Heated seats were standard and are useful in a convertible, so check that they operate correctly. New hoods can cost £750 but fitting is not difficult.
A good Turbo 16S starts at around £6k, going up to £10k for the best. Because they’re so durable, higher-mileage cars rarely fetch much less, meaning you can afford to enjoy one without worrying about the effect on its value. Add their appealing, individual character and it’s a wonder they’re not worth twice as much.
‘Surprisingly flexible power delivery for a car with Turbo in its title, and keen to carry speed into corners’
Owning a Saab 900 Turbo 16S Convertible
‘My wife and I wanted a four-seater convertible that was practical and had a bit of character,’ says Stewart Trotter. ‘We had a new hood put on it just after we got it, because the original was ripped. But it’s never been sprayed or welded. We’ve had it 13 years and used it quite a lot, and it’s never gone wrong. We’ve been all over France in it. The first time I took it to Griffin Autotechniks they made up a package of spare parts that we might need, without being asked.’
Stewart likes the quirky nature of the Saab, and its reliability – he also has a three-door Turbo and previously owned one of the Light Pressure Turbo cars. ‘We do 3000 miles a year in it. Its biggest disadvantage for touring is that it’s quite low-geared in top. But you can rely on it,’ he says. ‘It’s a car I won’t be selling willingly.’
1990 Saab 900 Turbo 16S Convertible
Engine Iron block/alloy head 1985cc in-line four-cylinder, dohc, 16-valve, Bosch LH fuel injection, Garrett T3 turbo
Max Power 173bhp @ 5300rpm
Max Torque 201lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, three-speed automatic optional, front-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: dead axle, trailing links, coil springs, Panhard rod, anti-roll bar.
Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted
Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted
Weight 1350kg approx
Top speed: 128mph approx;
0-60mph: 8.0sec approx
Cost new £13,490
CC Price Guide £2k-£8k (standard Turbo Convertible)
‘Surprisingly flexible power delivery for a car with Turbo in its title, and keen to carry speed into corners’
Light, vague steering does the Saab’s deft handling a disservice The four-pot had some pioneering technology, yet is reassuringly tough. Substantial stiffening means the Convertible feels almost as robust as its coupé counterpart.
1993 Mercedes-Benz E320 Convertible A124
Our convoy turns off the main road to head down into Farndale on some narrow, twisty valley-side roads. I’ve been eyeing the elegance of line the 1993 Mercedes-Benz E320 convertible has with its roof folded down, and now it’s time to get behind the wheel – an airbag-equipped four-spoker that’s on the large side but nowhere near as vast as the helms on earlier Mercs. As always with an Untertürkheim product the interior is beautifully constructed, if clearly still mass-produced rather than the result of skilled work by a seasoned craftsman. Supple cream leather swathes the interior of this car, a mixture of plain and perforated hide covering the wide, flat seats and ruched panels trimming the doors. Rear seat passengers would need to be friendly because the cabin narrows to make space for the hood to retract all the way down to the window line, but at least there’s a reasonable amount of legroom. Highly-polished walnut panels on the doors and dash provide a tasteful contrast of tone and texture.
I slide into the driver’s seat and a robot arm soon extends from the back of the cabin over my right shoulder to hand me my seat belt. The ignition key slots into the dash to the left of the wheel and on the right there’s the single column stalk, controlling the indicators. The parking brake is the curious arrangement Mercedes was wedded to at the time, set using a small pedal on the left of the footwell and released with a pull handle on the right of the dashboard. There are Mercedes’ usual ultra-clear instruments, with a 160mph speedo in the centre flanked on the left by a cluster containing water temperature, oil pressure and fuel gauges, and on the right by a rev counter with an inset analogue clock.
The danger zone starts at 6400rpm and the straight-six engine will happily spin smoothly right up to the end of the red paint at 7000rpm. It takes on a purposeful snarl if you keep the accelerator planted beyond 3000rpm. But performance is brisk rather than blistering, and the character of the W124 cabriolet doesn’t encourage you to drive it like that. It’ll rush if you want to, and the meaty weighting of the power steering and well-damped suspension hint at hidden depths of ability. But tackle twisty, bumpy roads and you’ll find the body squirming and vibrating in a most un-Mercedes-like way, the windscreen frame shimmying in sympathy as the suspension deals with the worst of the lumps and ruts in the road surface. Really it’s a car for wafting effortlessly along highway or byway with the roof stowed so that a gentle breeze eddies around the cabin, transmission in D and the straight six murmuring softly up front, with a few summery tunes in the air courtesy of the Blaupunkt CD head unit.
The cabriolet W124 arrived in 1990, six years after the saloon. It was the first four-seat drophead Mercedes since the demise of the W111 in 1971. Early cabrios, badged 300CE-24, were among the first Mercedes models to use the new M104 24-valve six. In 1993 a four-cylinder 220CE was introduced and the six-cylinder model was upgraded to a 3.2-litre M104 engine and badged 320CE.
When Mercedes rejigged all its model designations in 1994 the six-cylinder cabrio acquired the E320 badge.
The M104 is a durable engine that can achieve a high mileage before a rebuild is required. Cylinder-head gaskets often start to give trouble around 100,000 miles, so check for signs of coolant leaks or water in the oil. Water pumps can fail and cost around £750 to fix. Electrical faults can occur as engine wiring harnesses get tired; fitting a new loom costs about £1500. Most cars are automatics, and the transmissions are usually trouble-free. Suspension ball joints fail and though parts are cheap, some need special tools to remove. Rust isn’t the problem it can be on other classics but the W124s can rot out their wheelarches and floors. It pays to buy the best you can find, because restoration costs will quickly exceed the car’s value. Cabrios are worth more than W124 saloons or coupés but even so good six-cylinder cars can be found for £4500 and even the best struggle to get far beyond £15,000. That’s a lot of elegance and smoothness for your money.
‘It’s a car for wafting effortlessly along while a gentle breeze eddies around the cabin’
The large wheel hints at the driver to adopt a loper’s mindset. The 3.2-litre six-pot will happily rev out to 7000rpm. The Mercedes has a particular gait that it doesn’t appreciate being hurried out of.
Owning a Mercedes-Benz W124 E320
Mel Percival is a serial Mercedes enthusiast – he also has two SLs, an R107 and an R129. ‘Cars are not interesting to me if they’re not convertibles,’ he says. He went looking for an E320 Cabriolet a year ago, and found exactly the car he was after. ‘It’s an immaculate example with a full service history, in the colours I was looking for. It’s all original and a really nice car, and has needed no major attention since I bought it.’
Mel confirms that the W124s are strong cars and last well, provided they are cared for. ‘When they’re not looked after they often have some rust issues around the wings,’ he says. ‘For me the appeal of the W124 cabriolet is a combination of its elegant design, quirky features like the robotic seatbelt arms, and performance that makes it exceptionally usable. It has no trouble keeping up with modern traffic.’
1993 Mercedes-Benz E320 Cabriolet A124
Engine Iron block/alloy head 3199cc in-line six cylinder, 24-valve, fuel injection
Power and torque 231bhp @ 5500rpm;
Max Torque 2259b ft @ 3750rpm
Transmission Four-speed automatic (five-speed manual and automatic also available), rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar.
Rear: multi-link, coil springs
Steering Recirculating ball, power-assisted Brakes
Disc front and rear, servo-assisted
Weight 1710kg approx (3770lb)
Top speed: 140mph;
Cost new £30,950
Classic Cars Price Guide £4500-£14,000
‘Out here on the moors I can slide the gear-hold control towards its ‘max’ setting to savour the straight-six music’
1961 Alvis TD21 Drophead
It’s hard to find a bad angle on the 1961 Alvis TD21 Drophead. After years of elegant but very conservative designs culminating in the Mulliner-bodied TC21, Alvis adopted a far more modern style created by Swiss coachbuilder Graber for the 1956 TC108G. Bodies were built by Willowbrook in Loughborough until 1958, when Alvis switched to Park Ward and the styling was further refined to create the handsome TD21. The front is a confluence of wonderful curves, highlighted with chrome trim. The side is neatly punctuated by reminders of an old-fashioned separate wing, and from the back it looks suave and stately. It’s the same story inside.
Installed in the driver’s seat I’m faced by a big Bakelite-rimmed steering wheel with wire spokes, and a hub bearing the Alvis eagle and red triangle motifs. Behind it there’s a timber dashboard faced in fine latte-hued Walnut, split into three sections. The passenger gets a lockable glovebox, while directly in front of me there’s an open cubby hole, and below that the ignition switch, choke, and an Alvis-badged cigarette lighter. In the centre, a fine collection of white-on-black Smiths dials – 6000rpm rev counter nearest the passenger, 120mph speedo close to the driver, with fuel, amps, temperature and oil pressure in the four corners of the panel. Heater controls and the radio sit in the middle.
Underneath there’s horizontal control which at first glance looks like it might be something to do with the ventilation system, but it’s actually the gear selector for the four-speed automatic transmission – a conventional PRND321 selector laid on its side. A ‘Hold’ lever underneath provides a Sixties equivalent of a modern automatic’s driving modes. Push the lever left to the ‘Min’ position and the transmission changes up early for minimum noise and fuss, but with the lever pushed right to the ‘Max’ position gears are held longer for maximum performance – and the accelerator pedal weighting is reduced for speedier response. It’s infinitely variable, so you can choose the position that perfectly matches your driving style or your mood.
The TD21 carried over the 3.0-litre six from the TC108G, itself a development of the engine Alvis had relied on since 1950’s TA21. It produced just 83bhp in its original form, but by the time the TD21 appeared better-quality fuel was available and the compression ratio had been raised to 8.5:1, which together with an improved cylinder head design and the adoption of twin carburettors liberated 115bhp. Maximum power is at 4000rpm so it never needs to rev very hard, but it spins with a silken smoothness assured by its seven-bearing design and there’s a cultured timbre to the exhaust note that suits the suave style of the Alvis perfectly.
The engine is flexible and while the TD21 is no performance car it is brisk enough not to be an embarrassment in today’s traffic. Out here on the moors traffic isn’t a problem, and I can slide the gear-hold control towards its ‘max’ setting to hang on to lower gears and savour the straight-six music. This is a Fifties design riding on tall, narrow tyres so the cornering limits aren’t high, but the Alvis feels well-balanced and cossets with a composed ride.
Worn suspension can take the shine of the TD21’s road manners, but refurbishment is easy and inexpensive. The engines are robust units and all the major parts are available new from specialists like Red Triangle, but a full rebuild will be £10,000 or more. Overheating can be caused by debris collecting in cooling passages in the cylinder block and head, necessitating a head-off flush and inspection. The chassis is strong but can suffer from rot around the front and rear suspension mountings. Corrosion in the bodywork is likely to be expensive to rectify (£30,000 or more in the worst case) because it is a hand-built structure of alloy and steel with some ash framing. Replacing a hood can cost £4500. TD21 dropheads are worth about 50 per cent more than saloons, with good examples starting around £35,000 and the very best selling for £75,000 or more. For that you get a stylish, graceful machine with genuine class.
‘The engine spins with a silken smoothness and there’s a timbre to the exhaust note that suits the Alvis’ suave style’
Owning an Alvis TD21 Drophead
‘It was originally purchased by a Harley Street doctor in 1961, then bought by Al Ruddy – a Hollywood movie producer – and exported to Los Angeles in 1970,’ says Brian O’Donnell. ‘It had four more owners in the USA then after 37 years it returned to England and underwent a full restoration.’ Although it was largely rust-free, Brian had the body stripped and repainted in VW Arctic Blue – a close match for the original Alice Blue – and had all the chrome re-plated. ‘The engine ran sweetly so I’ve not made any major changes. I had a four-speed ZF gearbox reconditioned and fitted, along with a custom propshaft.
I also had the electrics converted to negative earth, fitted electric power steering and overhauled the suspension and brakes.’ The extensive work is to make the Alvis ready for use as part of a new classic car hire fleet, Memory Lane Classic Motor Cars (classiccarsatmemorylane.com).
1961 Alvis TD21 Drophead
Engine 2993cc in-line six cylinder, 12-valve, two SU HS6 carburettors
Max Power 115bhp @ 4000rpm
Max Torque 152lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs.
Rear: live axle, leaf springs Steering Recirculating ball Brakes Disc front, drum rear (Series II: disc rear), servo-assisted
Weight 1588kg (3501lb)
Performance Top speed: 105mph;
Cost new £2827
Classic Cars Price Guide £32,500-£80,000
The Alvis has all the grace of a Rolls of the era, but with all of the pomp shrugged off Modest power at 115bhp, but the six is sonorous and flexible. Gear-hold sensitivity lever transforms the character of the Alvis at the slide of a lever.
1974 Jensen Interceptor Convertible
I’ve been itching to get behind the wheel of the 1974 Jensen Interceptor convertible all day, and now the chance has come. Jensen didn’t develop a convertible Interceptor until 1974, eight years after the saloon made its first appearance, because new US safety laws had been expected to ban open cars. By the time the convertible came along the Interceptor had seen two major revisions and numerous small improvements. Sitting in the soft leather driver’s seat of this immaculate example the obvious change from the early cars is to the dashboard, a big textured plastic moulding replacing the individual main instruments and tall centre stack of the first Interceptors. The Jaeger speedo and tacho are sunk into the dash directly ahead, and in the centre of the panel there’s a row of smaller instruments for water temperature, oil pressure, fuel and volts, all angled towards the driver.
The centre console carries the radio, heating controls and transmission selector and is finished with polished walnut panels, while virtually every other surface is covered in cream hide. I’m gripping a handsome Moto-Lita steering wheel, a recent addition, and looking out over a bonnet covered in louvres. It’s a common modification, inspired by the high-performance Jensen SP of 1971-1973 and intended to help manage underbonnet temperatures. Underneath the bonnet the source of all that heat is 7.2-litres of all-iron Chrysler V8 churning out around 280bhp.
Cruising along an A-road I’m always aware of the big-block V8 sucking through its four-barrel carb and growling through the big twin tailpipes, and a flex of my right toe is all it takes to pass most dawdling traffic. To find out what the Interceptor is really made of, just squash the accelerator into the carpet so the transmission kicks down into second gear – the growl becomes a guttural roar, the nose of the Interceptor perceptibly rises and the big GT leaps forward with real pace. It’s a hefty machine, but there’s enough power here to make it a rapid one, too.
The Interceptor convertible is at home sweeping along the main roads across the moors, but its sheer size counts against it once we venture onto the narrower lanes. The steering is well-weighted, direct and beautifully precise, so it’s easy to place the big machine exactly where I want it. But I can feel the live axle squirming around under the back of the car as the Jensen is disturbed by mid-corner bumps. This car is on bigger, 17-inch replicas of the original five-spoke alloy wheels, fitted with lower-profile tyres, and that probably makes it more sensitive to a poor road surface than an Interceptor on standard wheels and tyres.
A mint Interceptor convertible is likely to cost around £75,000. Substantial as that sounds, it’s still good value compared to, say, an Aston Martin V8 Volante. The Aston has a bespoke engine and more sophisticated suspension, but the Jensen is probably easier and cheaper to maintain. They’re both handsome cars and it’s arguable which of the two looks better. But if you went for the Aston it would cost at least twice as much to buy, and while Astons will probably always be valued higher it’s hard to justify such a substantial gap between the two cars.
Interceptor bodies are all steel and they can rust, but by the time the convertibles were being built in the mid-Seventies the cars were better-protected than earlier examples. Check the sills, doors, valances and front wings for signs of corrosion. Replacing the structural sills can cost £2000. Interiors are hard-wearing but a full retrim using quality materials can cost in excess of £10k.
Drivetrains are generally strong and reliable though the emissions gear on the engines in the convertibles and other Seventies Interceptors can be troublesome. Check that quality belts and hoses have been fitted, because the hot underbonnet environment can cause cut-price items to fail prematurely. Worn suspension bushes can cause imprecise handling and though the parts are not expensive, replacement is a substantial job. The good news is that specialist and club support is excellent, so owning a good Interceptor convertible should be a pain-free experience.
‘There’s a guttural roar, the nose of the Interceptor rises perceptibly and the big GT leaps forward with real pace’
Despite its weighty prices the Jensen starts to look good value when compared to equivalent Astons. Moto-Lita steering wheel is a later addition. 7.2-litre V8 provides enough grunt to get this big cruiser going.
Owning a Jensen Interceptor Convertible
Bertie Morton bought his Interceptor partially restored with major work to the body, paint and mechanicals already completed. ‘I particularly liked the original colour scheme of this car being dark blue with light interior as opposed to the more common lighter blue,’ he says. ‘We completed the restoration adding new chromework and light units, seals, electrics and numerous detail items. Initial attempts to sort a few blemishes from a previous owner’s attempt at leather restoration turned into a complete stripdown of the interior, restoration and refit.’
For Bertie the appeal lies in the rarity of right-hand drive Interceptor convertibles, their handbuilt construction and effortless touring capability. ‘Look only for the best cars because the cost of a full restoration can be significant, stressful and time-consuming.’
1974 Jensen Interceptor Convertible
Engine Iron block/iron head 7212cc Chrysler V8, ohv, Carter AVS carburettor
Max Power 280bhp @ 4800rpm
Max Torque 380lb ft @ 3200rpm
Transmission Three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Front: double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers.
Rear: live axle, Panhard rod, leaf springs, telescopic dampers.
Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted
Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted
Weight 1815kg (3993lb) approx
Top speed: 135mph approx;
0-60mph: 7.5sec approx
Cost new £6744
Classic Cars Price Guide £30k-£75k
1984 Ferrari Mondial 3.0QV Cabriolet
When it was launched back in 1980 the Ferrari Mondial 3.0QV Cabriolet was criticised for being too slow and too compromised, but it doesn’t take much time behind the wheel for me to start thinking those period reviews missed the point. To be fair, this 1984 car is a QV – for quattrovalvole, four valve – and the addition of a 16-valve head on each bank of the V8 in 1982 boosted the Mondial’s performance by raising its power output from 211bhp to 240bhp, the same as a contemporary 308GTBi. I’m keen to find an opportunity to verify the Mondial’s potency but for the moment we’re boxed in behind a tour bus as it winds its way laboriously uphill towards Blakey Ridge, the highest point on the Moors. Ferrari engines of old are wont to splutter and threaten to stall if you snap open the throttles at very low revs in a high gear, but I’m struck by how flexible this engine is, thanks to the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. I can squeeze the accelerator to the floor in fifth at 1500rpm and theMondial pulls without a hiccup.
The lovely leather-wrapped Momo wheel with its black alloy spokes is a long way away, and mounted at an angle that’s more Mini than Maserati. It needs a good heave at parking speeds because there’s no assistance, and even on the move there’s enough resistance at the rim to exercise your arms and shoulders. The pedals need assertive inputs, too, and that’s made more difficult because they’re offset towards the centre of the car and mounted so close together I wish I’d worn my racing boots. Before long a sinuous ribbon of tarmac opens out ahead of us and it’s time to put the bus in the rear-view mirror. A blip of the throttle has the V8 awake as I click the tall gear lever through its exposed doglegged gate into fourth, and another blip raises the engine note an octave as I pull the gear lever across and click it backwards into third. With a glorious four-cam snarl the Mondial flashes past the bus and suddenly the steering wheel is alive in my hands as the front Michelin TRXs react to the ripples in the tarmac. A tight corner looms and the brakes haul down the speed, the firm pedal providing a perfect fulcrum for a heel-and-toe downchange. The low nose turns crisply into the apex, and as the bend unwinds the Ferrari howls out of the corner and on to the next.
Given its head, the Mondial is a different car. Its great trick is doing such a good job of being a practical, usable car – thanks to the flexible engine, a good ride, and small but worthwhile rear seats – and yet it can still deliver genuine Ferrari thrills. All at a bargain price. You can pick up a usable car for less than £25,000 and even the best rarely nudge £50,000. Values of the best Mondials coincide with the cheapest examples of the 308GTS, which shares the V8 engine but has only two seats – and a fine GTS could set you back £200,000. Arguably the GTS is prettier, but even the more reserved lines of the Mondial turn heads.
The Mondial 8 was only available in fixed-roof form. The Cabriolet arrived in 1983, a year after the Mondial acquired the QV engine, and it continued in this form until 1985 when it was upgraded with a 3.2-litre 266bhp engine, body-coloured bumpers and a revised interior. For the 1989 Mondial T the engine was turned through 90 degrees and mounted lower, with a transverse gearbox – the engine has to come out every three years to change the timing belt, so maintenance costs are higher. But they’re said to handle better, the engine is a bigger 3.4-litre unit with 300bhp and these later cars also have power steering and ABS.
Inspect the door bottoms, front wings and A-pillars for rust, and check the hood for broken latches and a cloudy rear screen. Electrical faults can often be traced to a faulty fuseboard or dirty switch contacts. The metric Michelins used on early cars are pricey; many swap to later 16-inch rims and conventional rubber.
‘The low nose turns crisply into the apex, and as the bend unwinds the Ferrari howls out and on to the next corner’
Steering wheel is of a similar angle to that in the dithering coach Andrew has to pick off.
A 16v cylinder head on each bank of the V8 gained the QV a valuable 29bhp.
The Modial convertible is a rare phenomenon – a mid-engined drophead that can seat four at a push. Its coupé cousin was a two-seater.
Owning a Ferrari Mondial 3.0QV Cabrio
‘It was bought on a whim,’ Trevor Morley reveals. ‘We sold a boat and decided to buy a classic car instead. The Mondial Quattrovalvole seemed good in terms of maintenance, not being as expensive to look after as some of the other Ferraris and it’s quite rare – only 27 were made in right-hand drive.’
Trevor bought the car from Ferrari specialist Rardley Motors four years ago. ‘It had a full service history back to the original invoice. It’s serviced regularly at Rardley. A standard service could be £800-£900, or £1400 if the cam belt needs changing. It’s had a new battery, but nothing else has gone wrong – it’s run like a dream. It’s raw driving, exhilarating, and fantastic with the hood down. The amount of head-turning you see; the number of people who want to take a photo of it when you park up. It makes you proud.’
1984 Ferrari Mondial 3.0QV Cabriolet
Engine Alloy head/alloy block 2927cc V8, 32-valve, dohc, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection
Max Power 240bhp @ 7000rpm
Max Torque 192lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar.
Steering Rack and pinion
Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted
Weight 1477kg approx (3256lb)
Top speed: 140mph approx
0-60mph: 7.5sec approx
Cost new £25,851
Classic Cars Price Guide £19k-£38.5k
The Jensen is a relative bargain, offering much of the appeal of a Seventies Aston Martin but without anything like the stratospheric values now being reached by the cars from Newport Pagnell. It’s easy to be swayed by the Interceptor’s suave good looks and its effortless American power.
At the other end of the value scale the Golf has an endearingly eager character, and if you can find a good one, ownership shouldn’t be too demanding because they are durable and well supported. The Saab offers a slightly more grown-up version of the same theme, with failsafe front-drive handling, enough performance to be interesting, and a quirky, individual design. The Mercedes doesn’t feel quite as Teutonically solid as you might hope, but it has an appealing blend of robustness and elegance.
‘There are other classics that are faster or cheaper or tidier handling, but none can quite match the Alvis’ panache’
It’s impossible to overlook the Ferrari. It may not be the purest expression of the Maranello ethos and some of its flaws might grate, as they might with any red car of the era. But the Mondial still feels special, and it has an ability to turn even the most mundane journey into an occasion.
But the one that stands out for me is the Alvis TD21. It’s a usable classic that makes a wonderfully cultured noise and oozes class from every angle. There are other classics that are faster or cheaper or tidier handling, but none can quite match the Alvis’ panache. It’s undeniably cool, and has all the quality and appeal of rivals from Lagonda or a Bentley – but at a fraction of the price.
Thanks to: Griffin Autotechniks (griffinsaab.co.uk), the VW Golf MkI Owners Club (vwgolfmk1.org.uk), Mike Wheeler at Rardley Motors (rardleymotors.com), the Mercedes-Benz Club (mercedes-benz-club.co.uk), the Alvis Owner Club (alvisoc.org) and the Jensen Owners Club (joc.org.uk).
‘I like roadsters more than cabrios because there is less compromise’
Chris Bangle is hardly one to conform to accepted conventions, as he proved during 17 controversial years as BMW design chief. Here he picks apart our six chosen convertibles with a critic’s eye.
Most famous for his tenure as BMW design chief between 1992 and 2009, Chris Bangle also had stints at Opel and Fiat (where he designed the Fiat Coupé) and now runs his own design consultancy in Clavesana, Italy, engaged in projects as varied as liquor packaging, superyachts, spaceships and nursing homes. ‘I like roadsters more than cabrios because there is less compromise involved,’ he says. ‘Cabrios fight against their donor packaging.’
‘There is an old adage in the car business that there is no such thing as a ‘girl-car’ but if ever there was one it was this,’ he says of the Golf. ‘For a while it seemed it must only come in white with pastel trims with a flash of long hair in a hairband, big sunglasses and a toothy smile behind the wheel. Jaunty is how I would describe the design, unable as it is to hide the huge overcoat of a drop-top flopped over the package shelf and the roll bar to clock your head on as you climbed into the back – all contributing to the sense of verticality that makes it taller visually than the hardtop.’
‘The Saab is a real crowd-pleaser in any form,’ Bangle says. ‘The “canoe” beltline had its trend moment and in this case makes such a sweeping display flaunting its drop-top-secret- spoiler-lip that you have to like it for bravura in a less-than-bravura era.
‘The Nineties E-class was once described as being as perfectly proportioned as a Panther Tank,’ Bangle says. ‘There is a certain trapezoidal solidity to it, even in the cabrio.
Note the deft handling of the tops of the A-pillars to avoid the “dog-bone” swelling that would have occurred had the designers followed the original window line. The huge plastic door lower panels were also used in contrasting colors to take some of the visual weight out and I think that would have been a good option even on a red car like this beauty.
Bangle likes the elegance of the Alvis, pointing in particular to the folded top that sits very low against the silhouette. ‘Still, the long rear overhang pushes the driver forward almost against his will and the tyre/wheel proportions put the car into that transition area between sport driving and luxury travel-in-style. If you find, as I do, that the car looks a bit ungainly, I would say it’s a case of the proportional training our modern eyes receive, and should not be held against the design. It’s a handsome example of its time.’
‘The Interceptor is everybody’s darling; I particularly like the chrome window surrounds. In today’s palette of roadsters with their frameless glass it seems time for a comeback of this feature.
The Mondial Cabriolet is not one of Bangle’s favourite Ferraris. ‘I have great problems when Ferrari – and Porsche for that matter – make dropheads of their cars. I have this overwhelming desire to be in them – probably so I don’t have to look at them. But from inside with the wonderful combination of wind and motor roar in my ears, I can just imagine how cool we must look. That’s when the design exists only in my mind, and is infinitely sexier – when designers keep their cars in such places, issues like engineering and cost never appear.’
Bangle picks out the Jensen’s chrome window surrounds, the Saab’s psuedo-spoiler and the Merc’s visual-weight reduction tricks as his stylistic highlights; he’s less keen on the Mondial’s ‘beauty is in the mind’s eye of the driver’ constitution and the Golf’s ‘overcoat and hairband’ jauntiness.