Here in Chicago, at least, we’re finally seeing signs of spring. And every year about this time, I start thinking about convertibles.
Since ragtops aren’t really practical as daily transportation in these parts (especially where I live in the city, where anyone with a pocketknife can cut their way into your car), I always think of a convertible as being a “weekend” ride. Trouble is, it’s really tough to justify the expense of insurance and license plates for a car you only drive occasionally—and even then, only half the year.
But get one old enough, and that’s not so much of an issue. When a car turns 25 years old, it’s considered a “classic” by some insurance companies and state licensing agencies, meaning both insurance and license-plate fees can be cut tremendously. So whenever I start thinking of convertibles, I also start thinking about any that just turned that “classic” corner.
This year, it’s the 1988 models. However, not many new ragtops appeared that year, so I’m also including a trio of one-year-olds I missed on last year’s list (partly because some were late-year additions), all of which were also offered in ’88.
1987/88 Chevrolet Camaro
First available in convertible form in late ’87, the real winners here are the sporty Z/28 and IROC-Z variants. The top Camaro engine was a 225-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 with throttle-body injection, but best as I can tell, it was only offered on coupes. The top engine in convertibles was a 5.0-liter version offered in both carbureted and “fuelie” form. Either engine could be mated to a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Ford’s Mustang was the Camaro’s natural competitor, but for some reason, the Chevy is usually quite a bit more expensive today.
1988 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24
Cavalier was restyled for 1988, and though the powertrains carried over, the convertible was now offered in sporty Z24 trim rather than only in RS guise. What that means is that the convertible could now be had with a 2.8-liter V6 rather than just a wheezy little 2.0-liter four, and the upgrade brought a needed 35 horsepower and 52 pound-feet of torque. The V6 could be mated to either a 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic. While hardly the car its Camaro brother was, the Cavalier is downright cheap today.
1988 Mazda RX-7
Mazda added a droptop version of its rotary-engine sports car for 1988, and it was a stunner. What it wasn’t was a screamer (at least in terms of performance), as the RX-7’s available 182-horsepower turbocharged engine was only offered in the coupe; convertibles had to make do with 146 horsepower—and somewhat more weight. The biggest problems here are the largely unknown workings of the rotary engine and the fact that this 25-year-old car almost looks too “modern” to be a classic.
1987/88 Volkswagen Cabriolet
Arriving in late 1987 was the well-known Volkswagen Cabriolet. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, it combined good fuel economy, fine driving dynamics, front-drive traction, and a surprisingly well-insulated convertible top into what is today a relatively inexpensive open-air ride.
1987/88 Saab 900 Turbo
Another late-’87 newcomer was the Saab 900 Turbo convertible. It’s easily argued that the “topectomy” required to turn the regular hatchback into a convertible wasn’t a complete aesthetic success, but the car itself was pleasant enough. Unfortunately, there are a lot of expensive things to go wrong here, and with Saab closing its doors last fall, it’s possible some parts may get tough to find. But that’s why we have the Internet….