America's glamorous symbol of independent wheeling in the open air, the convertible car, is gasping for breath. Auto sales may be booming, but the rag tops' traditional 2 percent share of the auto market this year dropped to 1 percent, according to the magazine Smart Money.
Rag-topped cars always have been attractive to an adventuresome, hey look at me, driver. Are they disappearing or has it been replaced by some other status symbol? East County locals conjectured about a lot of things that might be affecting the sales of convertibles.
"It's the cost. They're too expensive," said Allie Christiansen of Brentwood. "People are into bigger cars now. Another thing is they are more aware of the dangers of soaking up too much direct sunshine. I used to think of having one but nixed it because convertible riding is a big hair messer. Also, now when it's hot, I want to be cool."
Jay Forbes of Rio Vista once owned a '63 Ford Falcon soft top. "I was a teenager. It was my first car. I had it for five years," he said. "I thought it made me look so cool. It was great as a status symbol. But I've since settled on a compromise, I have a sunroof. It's more practical."
Kelly Cockrell of Brentwood said falling convertible sales are simply a victim of today's tough economic times. "It's an impractical luxury in today's world," she said. "Years ago, I thought of having one. It looked like the fun thing to do. It was a symbol of California's
There are those who ask, why buy a convertible? They say rent one if you want to have a once-in-a-while fling. "Open tops are very popular rentals in Hawaii. Almost everyone wants one," said Brentwood's Chris Molinaro. "It's a vacation status symbol indicating wealth and importance. My mom owned a Mustang convertible, which I got to drive. I loved it. I felt free from being in a boxed-in car. But now I rent one if I feel the need."
Chris Yi, of Brentwood, is a world traveler who feels the same about a once-in-a-while car. "I rent convertibles all over the world. I've done it in Hawaii, Florida, Korea, Hong Kong and Brazil," he said. "It's the thrill of the fresh air and wind on your face. I love an open top but not enough to buy one for daily use."
Travis Shahan of Oakley rented a Mustang rag top in Hawaii to impress his girlfriend, Maria. "It worked," he said. "We're married now. Kauai views are awesome. It's the only kind of car to drive there. I'm not about to buy one for daily use here. It's a matter of priorities. The baby doesn't like it, and convertibles burn more fuel."
Brian Latend of Oakley would like to own a canvas-topped Mustang but also settles for driving one only as a rental. "The last one I had was in Hawaii," he said. "I think California has great weather for driving around with the top down. But they're just too expensive."
Contact Ed Arnow at BrentwoodBuzz@aol.com.