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A convertible is a vehicle body style that is defined as having a removable roof. This allows the vehicle to convert from a closed cabin to an open-air cabin. When the roof is up, convertibles typically resemble the coupe body style. However, convertible models of other body styles are available, including sedans, SUVs (for example, the Jeep Wrangler, and even the occasional pickup truck (c1989 Dodge Dakota).

History of the Convertible Body Style

The open-topped car is the oldest automobile body style, and it was not until 1910 that Cadillac introduced the enclosed cabin vehicle design to the United States. Popularity in the convertible body style would diminish until the 1950s, when a resurgence of interest was spurred due to marketing and manufacturing efforts made by American automakers. Almost every domestic passenger car made during the 1950s was available as a convertible. America's interest in the convertible would continue until the 1970s, when the U.S. government threatened to create stricter rollover safety requirements. This led automakers to drastically reduce the number of convertible models made available to consumers.

When these increased safety requirements never materializing, the convertible made a comeback in the 1980s. Moderate popularity in the convertible body style has stayed relatively constant to present day.

Types of Convertible Roofs

The roof material and mechanism for removal vary from one convertible to another. Currently, two types of convertible roofs are available:

  • Folding Convertible Roof - These convertibles have a top made of cloth or vinyl that can fold down and collapse behind the rear passenger seat. Most convertibles now automate this process through the use of electrical or electro-hydraulic mechanisms. When up, the roof is kept in place by attaching to the windshield frame via manual or automatic latches. Advantages of this design include easy conversion and minimal storage requirements of the retracted roof. Disadvantages include reduced safety during rollovers and fading or shrinkage of the cloth or vinyl due to sun exposure.
  • Hardtop Convertible Roof - These convertibles feature a roof made of hard plastic, aluminum or other rigid material. The majority of hardtops must be manually removed or installed, though retractable hardtops are available. Advantages of the hardtop include increased safety and acoustic insulation. Disadvantages include cumbersome removal of the roof and increased storage space requirements.

Notable Convertible Features

Beyond the roof itself, convertibles incorporate several unique design characteristics to facilitate the open-top construction. Some of these features include:

  • Tonneau Covers - Protective covers that secure into place over the retracted rooftop. Tonneau covers help reduce the risk of sun damage to the exposed roof cloth or vinyl. They also hide mechanicals of the retraction device for a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.
  • Wind Blockers - Deflect wind noise and movement to facilitate a comfortable drive for passengers when the roof is down. Various wind blocker designs are currently in use, including retractable vertical glass, wind flaps and detachable fold-up blockers.
  • Rear Windows - The small size of convertible rear windows has historically created visibility problems for the body style. To combat this issue, most new convertible models feature heated glass rear windows.