26 Mar 2014

Top Down Or Not - A Convertible Conundrum

Graham King ponders the complicated relationship Brits have with drop-tops

Graham's new Mazda MX5

As I write this it's a lovely, sunny day. Cold, but lovely and sunny. The perfect weather, then, to go for a top-down blast in my Mazda MX-5. I probably will go for a drive later, but the roof will remain firmly in place. In fact, since I bought the car last December I haven't once gone topless.

You might be wondering what the point is of having a convertible and not converting it. Well, I bought an MX-5 because it's small, rear-wheel-drive, dependable and doesn't cost much to run. The fact the roof comes off had nothing to do with it.

And yet I've found my self driving along on lovely sunny days like today and couldn't help but feel like I should go alfresco. But I just could not bring myself to do so. Why?

We Brits have a complicated relationship with convertibles. We buy more of them than any other country in Europe, probably because of, not despite, our unpredictable weather; on those rare occasions the sun does show itself we want to take advantage of it.

Clearly we love convertibles, but vast swathes of the population despises convertible drivers. Car people generally respect the roofless motorist. I certainly do. And the worse the weather the better. Back in January I was driving into a freezing, drizzly London at silly o'clock in the morning and was passed by a roofless Aston DBS. That bloke got big respect from me. But I bet every single pedestrian he passed thought he was a posh dick.

Whether or not we like to admit it, Britain is still a society divided by class. These days it manifests itself as a deep aversion to the fact the that there people out there who make more money than you. We especially do not like having that fact rubbed in our faces. We hate conspicuous consumption, and no consumption is more conspicuous than the car as it offers a unique opportunity to connect a complete stranger with their likely income.

Sports cars count as conspicuous consumption because by no stretch of the imagination does anyone need such a thing. If I was being completely sensible I would have bought a Citroen C1. I don't need much space and most of my driving is local with a couple of longer trips a month. A C1 would cope perfectly well with that, probably better than the MX-5, and cost a damn sight less to run. Or I could have bought a £500 snotter and had a few extra grand in my pocket.

In short, I bought an MX-5 because I wanted it. It's the reason anyone buys a sports car. How many people have that luxury? Most people's car buying decisions are constrained by running costs, finance rates and needing to take the kids with you. A sports car shouts to the world that you don't have worry about any of that, that you have money to burn. Which is a truly heinous crime these days.

I try to live by the credo popularised by Chanel 4's The Last Leg: don't be a dick. That I'm not a dick is the only thing I care people think about me. By driving a sports car, as I've explained above, I'm inviting people to think that of me. With the roof up I can at least insulate myself from people's judgement. So up it shall stay.

Or am I being a complete idiot?