It used to be true that if you called yourself a real enthusiast - a petrol-veined, apex-meeting, flag-taking enthusiast - then the prospect of a roofless supercar was about as interesting as a topless cherry bakewell. Because they made no sense to the enthusiast mindset: they were invariably heavier and bendier and therefore slower and rubbish. Owning and driving a supercar was very much about the ‘super’ bit, which meant enduring a load-bearing ceiling over your bonce.
But times change. Cars and the methods of building them get cleverer and cleverer. If you’re lucky, your preferred manufacturer will have invested in the structural wonder that is a carbon fibre tub, and said supercar will have no more need for a roof than a modern phone has for a cable. Even if it hasn’t, six-figure cars are now built from such clever concoctions of exotic high-strength materials that they generally laugh in the face of anything as ungainly as scuttle shake.
This tends to make them good. Very good, in fact, because there are few pleasures more genuinely satisfying than having the wind in your hair while a large petrol engine wobbles your ear drums. Add in the knowledge that you couldn’t have gone round the last corner any quicker in the coupe variant, and you’ve got yourself one of the most compelling cars of any stripe - as the sales figures of most supercar makers tend to reflect. This generally makes the Spider or Spyder or Convertible or Roadster or whatever a little pricer than its standard equivalent so we’re doling out £10k more to our contestants than when they went shopping for conventional supercars at the start of the summer. Time to soak up the last of the sunshine…
Wilton House supercar meet use to be one of the highlights of my year, it was an excuse for the PH staff to get a load of supercars in for the weekend and convoy our way to a Wiltshire country home. One of the years I was lucky enough to get allocated an Aston Martin DBS, and though it is an elegant car to cruise around in, I never really got on with the feel of the rear to truly enjoy driving it. Plus, in the rear-view mirror, one of my colleagues had been allocated a lovely topless Gallardo, a permanent envious reflection for most of the event.
The next day we were discussing logistics on returning the cars and my colleague needed to head up to Aston, so I cheekily suggested it would be easier for him to take the Aston and without hesitation the Lambo keys were mine. In a 24-hour period I managed to put on a good chunk of the miles to the next service window, with round trips to friends, my parents, and the best roads I could find. Turning all the driver aids off did nothing but return predictable performance; you could hang the tail out with controllable ease - no danger of chassis twist and sudden torsion release here. Roof-down, V10 melody and a chassis stiff enough to get away with being topless made it a dream day.
I’ve not jumped in one since that weekend so would be very interested in how they have aged in the last 13 years, but it ranks easily as the second favourite car I have ever driven – and here is one with modest mileage and a manual gearbox for all the fun you can muster. Roof down motoring is not about posing, it’s about being surrounded by the elements, listening to an immense exhaust soundtrack. Look no further.
No reminiscences from me this week I'm afraid, I just love the look of the AMG GT and that's all I have! Honestly what more do you need? Well, a 550hp bi-turbo V8 and sub 4 second 0-60mph time helps, because it means the GT really does go as fast as it looks (unlike a lot of the AMG Line stuff that can be found filling up Mercedes forecourts).
If I was being picky I'd ideally like a slightly more special interior; as with all Merc design, tech filters down from the special stuff into models further down the range over time and that switchgear is more or less identical to a boggo-spec courtesy E-class I had recently. But it's certainly something I could live with.
The GT’s silhouette hasn't suffered too much by having a roof chop either, the curvy-coupe lines are retained and with the roof down it still looks fantastic. The rear is one of the nicest out there - almost Z8-esque to my eyes. This example has a mere 7k miles and a spec list as long as your arm including AMG Track Pace, a feature that would surely be rarely used. The car is more suited to a tour down to the south of France, the more long echoey tunnels the better.
What’s the one main motivating factor when buying a convertible supercar? Sound, correct. You want to hear where all of your money has gone and you want it to make you feel good, in an attempt to justify both the purchase price and a super-unleaded addiction. The second biggest reason to buy a convertible supercar is to look good; let’s not avoid the truth here, people. If we weren’t bothered about we looked in such cars, there surely wouldn’t be a market for them in the first place. Because I don’t care what’s said elsewhere; you don’t buy drop-top exotica to drive hard.
Apropos of both those points, I present to you the best looking and best sounding car of this group: the Aston Martin V12 Vantage Roadster. In fact, probably the best looking and best sounding car in any group you care to assemble, really, given the dizzying heights Aston ascended on both counts. Sure, the V10s make a pleasant enough warble and the AMG will do a good Forza impression of a V8, but come on, with the buying criteria as it is, the Aston is hard to beat.
I’ll be the first to admit that the old Roadster won’t be the sharpest tool in the box, the decapitation piling on the pounds in structural reinforcement. But, very obvious carbon-tubbed alternative aside, everything here is more than 1,500kg. So the Aston keeps perfectly good company. While a conventional manual would be nice (and any other colour than this even better), it’s impossible to deny the temptation on offer at less than £80k. Because a V12 Vantage Roadster will always be cool. And there isn’t any kind of RRP you can put on that.
I was never a fan of the 12C when it came out in 2011 for one reason: the 458 Italia existed. The first road car to come from McLaren’s then new road division elbowed its way into the establishment with its turbocharged performance, but that generic front-end and muted V8 were nothing on Maranello’s berlinetta. I never dreamt of owning one, and that feeling was affirmed when the subsequent generations, starting with the 650S, each took significant strides forward in terms of character.
Now, however, I can look back on McLaren’s 600hp opener in a different light. Especially the Spider. Compared to the 458 Spider, its carbon tub makes it much stiffer so there’s no concern for age-related flex in the chassis. And despite the car’s genuinely exotic make-up, 12Cs are cheap. Like really cheap. That’s relatively speaking, of course, but two apparently well-kept 12C Spiders sneak into our £85k budget; by comparison, the cheapest 458 Spider is up for £130k, and it’s done nearly 40,000 miles. Four times more than my pick here.
This is a smartly-specced car, too, with a black on black theme accented by silver wheels and red brake calipers. In a world of evermore garish looking machines, it’s almost discreet. It can’t wail like a 458, nor is it going to be as rewarding to drive quickly on the road - because McLaren unashamedly tuned the 12C for laptimes first and foremost - but nobody can deny the underlying capabilities. In the world of convertible supercars, this is about as fast as things get for under £85k.
Don’t hold it against me, but I’ve always been a bit of an Audi fanboy. I quite like the 24 Hours of Le Mans too, so when Audi launched a road car named the Le Man Prototype while they were simultaneously dominating the field at Le Mans, it’s fair to say I was pretty excited.
I vowed to own one before I turn 40; the clock is certainly ticking faster these days but who knows, it could happen. Faced with the quandary of what drop-top supercar to buy, the R8 Spyder was therefore an obvious choice. But just any old bog-spec R8 wouldn’t do; I always try and buy the top of the line variant of any car I buy.
Enter the GT Spyder. Based on the R8 V10, it was unveiled at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 2011 (that Audi won), with it’s naturally-aspirated V10 power output increased to 560hp amongst other tweaks. Only 43 made it to the UK, so it’s a pretty rare beast. And while sadly no spectators are able to head to Circuit De La Sarthe this weekend and the PH campsite won’t be there for the first time in a decade, I can optimistically look forward to driving it down there in 2021.
Let’s swerve around the whole is-a-Porsche-911-Turbo-really-a-supercar issue (although if a Mercedes AMG GT qualifies, it most certainly does too) and wallow in the fact that a convertible 991 blower with average miles can be bought for a less than gargantuan sum. I say that because whatever your feelings about Porsche or 911s ragtops in general or even the last generation of Turbo, the car is a verifiable monster.
Obviously that’s its maker’s intention. Speak to anyone at Porsche and they are unequivocal about the Turbo’s ranking in the 911 lineup - it is always perched on the edge of what is possible while still retaining the capacity to whisk you across a continent in enormous comfort. It is the sort of bandwidth that no other car on this shortlist approaches, even if some surpass it in handling or powertrain fireworks.
Ultimately of course it’s about what you want from a drop-top supercar. The 991 Turbo is not lithe like a 12C nor as striking as a Gallardo. But there is virtually nothing it will not do. Admittedly black metallic on a triple black leather interior with five-spoke black wheels is not going to be for everyone - but I defy you not to find something about the car which leaves you gobsmacked, post test drive. That’s the 911 Turbo guarantee.
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