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James May

James May on: convertibles

Published: 20 Jun 2013

Yesterday, I witnessed an unwarranted attack on the driver of a convertible car. With water bombs. Here is the scene: very slow moving traffic leaving a big public event - a football match, no less. A mini roundabout on an industrial estate, a roofless car, shoeless feral urchins hiding behind walls armed with balloons full of water. When the car stopped, they pounced, undisguised, in full view of thousands of witnesses. It was a brazen attack worthy of the most desperate terrorist organisation.

I put it to my learned friends that this was a pre-meditated crime and not one of passion committed in hot blood. Youths wander around with all sorts of suspicious things about their persons - mobile phones, conkers, catapults for firing at policemen's helmets - but not balloons full of water. Unless perhaps they're deeply disadvantaged clowns' children or the bastard offspring of Tiswas presenters.

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As with most pogroms and bank jobs, everyone looked the other way and pretended not to have seen anything. But was this attack justified? Tricky...

Yesterday, a strange, blazing yellow orb appeared briefly in the sky over my home town of Hammersmith. Many children under the age of five had never seen such a thing, and ran inside screaming. I, though, am old enough to remember 1976, so I started thinking, as usual, about convertible cars. But because I can remember 1976, this might prove problematic.

I love convertible cars. There is something ethical about them, perhaps because the driver of a roofless car is not cocooned from the rest of society, and is therefore less likely to be aggressive towards it. You can remonstrate directly with the driver of a badly driven convertible. Nothing makes you drive more carefully than a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead, which can have the effect at a stroke of making you look both a knob, and a rude one at that. Nothing except, of course, driving with a takeaway curry on the passenger seat.

Convertibles are uplifting, too. When spring finally arrives, you want to take it in as intensely as possible, and an open car generates a sort of supercharging effect in the senses. Nature releases pheromones of some sort, and they are a drug to be craved, to be acquired as a concentrate. A cabrio does this for you. It's like a persuasive dealer in something illicit.

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But the last convertible I had was my Boxster, which I let go, with some sadness, several years ago. Now I want one again. To be honest, it doesn't really matter what it is. Being a convertible trumps every other attribute for which we love cars - performance, handling, noise, good hi-fi, and everything else that is really a shabby substitute for not having a roof. So I covet a 458 Spider, of course, but a Triumph Herald would do. I could even look at a Talbot Samba with some fondness.

Obviously an XK convertible is preferable to an MG Midget, but the Midget offers something that a tin-top Jaguar can't match - a communion with nature. But still I find myself hesitating. I think this may be different for women. It may even be different for genuinely old blokes. But I'm 50, and in some strange anteroom to proper maturity where I'm not a lad any more but I still don't make too much noise when I sit down in a nice comfy chair.

What is society to make of someone like me driving around in a car with no roof? That I'm worried about girls not finding me interesting any more? This is absolutely the case, and I don't need BMW to rub it in for me.

Well, you might be thinking, have a convertible car but only take the roof down when you're out in the countryside. Nice idea, but you can find yourself barrelling into an unexpected village around the next bend, and there might be a fête or church parade or whatever else they do in the countryside going on.

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Unless the roof goes back up as quickly as a schoolboy behind a bike shed can hide a lit fag, then you're busted. No convertible currently on sale is anything like swift enough. Look, the rule is - as I've put it before - if you're not happy driving with the roof down and naked, then you shouldn't have the roof down. This simple principle works in reverse, too. If you don't want to look at that bloke in the buff, tell him to put his roof up.

Back to the water bombing. Not only was this bloke driving a Ferrari, on his own, roof down in the middle of town, but I think he may have been over 40 as well. In which case, he was asking for it, your honour.

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