Destination Miami: Getting the lowdown on top down driving.

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Jun 13, 2018
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The hurricane that had battered Miami the week before was long gone, its only remnants a few blue-tarped roofs and fallen palm trees. Otherwise, Miami in early June was as expected, sunny and humid with an afternoon thunderstorm threatening to force me to put the top up on my Mercedes AMG S63 Cabriolet. I wasn’t worried. With 603 horsepower under the hood I could probably outrun the rain, but even if I couldn’t, with the press of a button I could raise the tight-sealing, body-colored soft top in just a few seconds even while driving along at 30 miles per hour. The AMG Cabrio is just one of many convertibles I was in Miami to drive that day during an event put on by the Southern Automotive Media Association called appropriately enough, “Topless in Miami” presented by Haartz.

Held every year for the past eight, Topless is a veritable orgy of convertibles with manufacturers bringing their best to be judged by a panel of experienced journalists, yours truly included. The line up included convertibles of all varieties including the BMW 430i, Buick Cascada, Fiat 124, Ford Mustang EcoBoost, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Mazda MX-5, Nissan 370Z Roadster, VW Beetle, and the Mercedes AMG S63 Cabriolet I was piloting along Crandon Boulevard. Our criteria were style, technology, comfort, and vehicle dynamics. While the vote was close, in the end, the class winners were the Mustang, Mercedes AMG, and Nissan, with the 370Z taking the trophy for best overall convertible in a bit of an upset. Not that it isn’t a great car. It is. But based on the ogling the Mercedes was getting, I had that one pegged as the sure winner.

What do I know?

One thing I do know is that convertibles today have come a long way from the loud, leaky, breezy, monochromatic, and hard to operate tops cars sported just a decade or so ago. Advances in design, engineering, manufacturing, and materials mean today’s ragtops are easier to operate and look so much better than the black vinyl tops cars like my 2005 Mustang wear.

I was invited to Topless as a guest of the presenting sponsor, Haartz Corporation, and spent the afternoon with Doug Haartz, the company’s International Sales Manager who has worked with automobile manufacturers to help make significant improvements to the topless driving experience. Founded in 1907, Haartz is the leading supplier of fabrics to the auto industry for convertible tops and has recently used that experience to expand their business to include coverings for interior components like door panels, seats, armrests, and instrument panels. But this event was all about convertibles, so that’s what Doug and I spent most of the time talking about.

We settled into a new, four-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with one of Haartz’s Twillfast tops folded down, opening us up to the bright afternoon sun and humid ocean air and went for a quick drive. We ended up at a seaside park where I could ask him about his family’s business, how it has changed over the years, and what he sees as the next chapter in topless driving.

A lot of people think convertibles are just summer cars, but now with the materials and better fit, you can drive them all year long. Typically a new top includes three to five layers of material with an elastomeric layer between each woven layer. This new way of creating top allows for more colors, more textures, and even interesting patterns to be stitched into the top. MINI offers a unique Union Jack design on its convertibles, Corvette is available with 5 top colors, and this year Mazda introduced a new deep red top for the MX-5 Miata.

In addition to added style and the joy of open-air motoring, the new tops provide a much more comfortable interior experience when up. Convertibles are now quieter than ever. Most use acoustic materials between the top and liner, cutting noise significantly. In some cases, like the Corvette, the convertible is even quieter than the coupe. Most convertibles now have inner liners for a more finished feel enhancing the overall look of the interior. These layers also keep the car cool in the summer and warm in the winter making them drivable 365 days a year. In fact, in a recent survey of convertible owners, Haartz found 90% drive their cars year-round.

Maintenance and upkeep are easy. Remove bird droppings and debris from overhead trees immediately to prevent stains. Regular cleaning helps prevent dirt buildup which can cause mildew to form. Haartz recommends a specialized cleaner from RaggTopp or non-detergent soap is it all it takes to keep the fabric looking new. You can then add a protectant to prevent fading and stains.

I’ve personally owned convertibles most of my driving years. Everything from a Triumph TR6 to a ‘70s vintage Fiat 124, VW Cabrio, and my current Mustang convertible. I’ve enjoyed every one of them, but after driving this crop of the latest droptops understand how much better they are in every aspect than the cars of just 10 years ago. Modern platforms mean convertibles drive better, improved mechanisms open and close easier, the variety of fabrics improves aesthetics, and acoustic enhancements mean they are quieter than ever. Owning a convertible is no longer a compromise, which is why we’re happy to endorse the idea of driving topless all year.

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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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