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Convertible Style

Convertibles added fun and a touch of glamour to the most dowdy, workaday car ranges and so were popular additions to many model line-ups. As the 1950s progressed, car-makers moved on from just chopping the roofs off their saloons to making stand-alone open models. Many were not out and out sports cars, sharing engines and many other parts with their family saloon counterparts, and providing often similarly genteel performance and handling. However they often shared some of the space and a lot of the practicality of their closed counterparts, which made them more versatile than open, two-seater sports cars.

Cadillac Eldorado, 1959


Engine6,390 cc, V8
Top speed120 mph (193 km/h)

An in-house competition was held to find a name for the Eldorado, and Mary Ann Zubosky, a secretary, won. She received a $25 “defense bond” as a prize. First launched in 1953, the car’s wraparound windshield and the tailfins of its body, styled by Harley J. Earl were already American car design staples.

Every comfort

Designed for easy cruising, this car’s equipment included power brakes and steering, and an automatic gearbox. Passengers could enjoy electric windows, powered seat adjustment, and cushion-soft air suspension.

Space for all

At nearly 18 ft (5.5 m) long, the Cadillac was huge even at a time when excess was standard. The interior seated five passengers and a driver in comfort, while the cavernous boot had space for five spare tires.

Stellar styling

Considered garish when it was launched, the 1959 Eldorado marked a pinnacle of design exuberance. The year after its launch, Cadillac trimmed 6 in (15 cm) off the fins of the Eldorado’s replacement model.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, 1957


Engine1,192 cc, flat-four
Top speed77 mph (124 km/h)

Improving standards of living prompted Volkswagen to consider creating an upmarket Beetle-based car, and the result was the Type 14 Karmann Ghia. Launched in 1955, its bodywork was styled by Italian design house Ghia, and German coach-builder Karmann built it. A total of around 10,000 were sold in the first year.

Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner, 1958


Engine5,440 cc, V8
Top speed120 mph (193 km/h)

Featuring the world’s first mass-produced retractable roof, the Skyliner topped the Fairlane range. It was very expensive to buy, however, and only offered limited boot space and leg room. Sales were low and production stopped in 1960 with fewer than 50,000 cars manufactured.

Renault Floride / Caravelle, 1958


Engine845 cc, straight-four
Top speed76 mph (122 km/h)

The Floride / Caravelle design was inspired by American Renault dealers. Styled by Italian design house Frua and built by French coach-builder Chausson, it used the rear-engined Renault Dauphine saloon’s underpinnings. The car’s limited performance improved with time. Later models even had four disc brakes.

Skoda Felicia Super, 1959


Engine1,221 cc, straight-four
Top speed87 mph (140 km/h)

In 1959 when Skoda launched the attractive Felicia convertible, Czechoslovakia was a communist-controlled country. Cars were deemed purely functional, so this model was considered decadently subversive. Mechanically it was simple and conventional. It had a separate chassis frame and, thanks to swing-axle rear suspension, crude handling.


It is a quote. The Classic Car Book – The Definitive Visual History 2016

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