Opentop Style: An A to Z of Convertible Autos by Graham Robson
published 1988 by New Burlington Books
128 pages, hardcover
purchased from a used book store
I picked Opentop Style: An A to Z of Convertible Autos off the shelf of a now-closed used bookstore I liked. The Porsche on the cover and the ‘A to Z’ subtitle caught my attention. And I find it’s a book I don’t really love, but I don’t really hate. Let me explain.
The first thing to notice about this book is how it’s formatted. The author generally profiles a car over 2 pages – one page of text, a facing page of colour photos (in a few cases, there’s an additional 2 pages of photos). As the book is 128 pages including introduction and index, it’s easy to see that there’s going to be just about 50 cars featured.
The features themselves are interesting, though brief and not as detailed as many other books I’ve read. The text pages show a data area which takes up 1/4 of the page. The data portion covers the years of production discussed, the engine availability and horsepower, the body and suspension type, and the performance in terms of top speed and 0-60 mph times.
The text takes up about half the page, somewhat limited in my estimation. In many cases, the model featured is restricted to only a few model years. With only a single page for pictures, there tends to be just one vehicle. I mean literally, 2 or 3 pictures of one particular car to represent the model. To make matters worse, the features alternate between black text on white background and reversed white text on black. In my copy, some of the pages are hard to read as the reverse print has a lot of filling, that is, the black background chokes the white text.
I note this book was written and produced in the UK. Beyond the typically British terms such as ‘saloon’ for sedan and ‘drop-head coupe’ for convertible, I am struck by the choice of cars to feature. Firstly, I’ll say that the introduction tells you this is not so much an A to Z of convertibles, but many ‘open’ cars – T-tops, targas and landaulettes included. Secondly, of the 50 or so vehicles, only 11 are American-made (or let’s say American brands). I do tend to favour the American makes, but I am always interested in cars from all over the world. It’s just an interesting thing to me which on reflection makes sense. British and European automobile fans are certainly aware of American cars, but they’re much more aware of British, French, German and Italian marques, and they certainly produced a great number of drop tops.
Honestly, I couldn’t really discern a specific criteria for which cars were chosen, other than some or all of the roof is open. As of the publishing date (1988), 17 cars were listed as still being in production, including the Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce, BMW 3-series, Cadillac Allante, Chrysler TC by Maserati, Toyota MR2, Jaguar XJ-SC and Volkswagen GTI. We also find some supercars such as the Porsche 911 and Ferrari 328GTS. But then there are classics such as the Corvette (but only to 1959), Thunderbird (1955-57), Deusenberg J and SJ, Mercedes 540K and 300S, Citroën DS19, Ferrari 365GTS Daytona, MG Midget and Triumph TR250. Then additionally there are some fairly rare and diverse vehicles, such as the Mercedes-Benz Landaulette, Lancia Aurelia, Fiat 1200 and Dino, Renault Caravelle and Maserati Mistral. All in all it makes for an interesting but somewhat haphazard collection of cars.
So, why don’t I love this book? Well, for my purposes, it was lacking. Granted, I should not have expected 128 pages to really be a true A to Z of convertibles. Cars, photos and information I was looking for just wasn’t there. It was not an in-depth, a-to-z coverage.
That said, I’d class this as a good entry-level book. It would be suited to the person who has expressed an interest in automobiles, but doesn’t yet have much knowledge or exposure. The vehicle profiles do contain good information, touching on aesthetics, technical specifications and historic context, but they are brief and generic enough that it wouldn’t be overwhelm the novice. The varied selection of cars would also whet the appetite, providing a somewhat non-biased array of eras and marques for the beginner to discover the automotive world.
All in all, if you are taken with the idea of the wind in your hair and sun on your face while motoring along, then this is a fun little book to leaf through.
Pros: a good introduction to a wide range of open-top vehicles; some surprising and rare cars are featured
Cons: perhaps too much focus on cars of the late 1980s; not enough information or images for the knowledgable car buff; reverse-text pages can be difficult to read
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, private collections