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Convertibles As An Endangered Species

Brian Champagne

Lexus loaned us an LC500 convertible for a week. It starts as a regular LC500, a low slung, luxury sports car that costs more than four base Toyota Corollas and almost makes the same horsepower as three and a half of those Corollas. The V-8 fires up loud—about 20 seconds later the sound gets age-appropriate.

Then it adds the convertible option for another $8,000, coming in just north of $100,000. You can drop the three-piece power top while driving up to 31 mph, so why would you go around with the top up?

“If it’s a nice day like today, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to drive with your top off,” Sarah Murphy said.

“And if you don't, you’re just wasting your money,” Austin Roundy said.

We showed the LC 500 to some Utah State University journalism students.

“If you have a convertible, may as well have the top down. What are you losing?” Ethan Bosshart said.

“If I got a sound system put into my car, but I never listened to it, then why would I have that nice sound system in my car? If you have a convertible, why wouldn’t you drive with the top down?” Kiki Tuileta said. “Even if you don’t want to, I feel like you have to.”

Have to because you’re driving an endangered species. Convertibles have never been a huge cut of the market, and with American buyers moving to SUVs, there are fewer cars available for top-chopping. The number one soft-top in the U-S is the Jeep Wrangler with 240,000 sold last year. Lexus didn’t sell 2,000 LCs, topless or coupe.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said convertibles are as safe as coupes, and that’s the sound of a fan between the headrest and seat of the LC that blows warm air on your neck. Those, the heater, and heated seats let us go top down all week in November. Yes, it got a little chilly at night, but with Utah making up 1.1% of a shrinking market, we felt an obligation to drive our white rhino as designed, and tried to convince the USU students this was a moral issue.

“You have it, why not use it?” Klaus VanZanten said.

“If it was a sunny day like today, and I looked over at the stoploght and the guy next to me is in a convertible, but he doesn’t have his top down, I probably would judge him?” Sarah Murphy said.

It was fun and metaphor until we talked to Dalton Renshaw…

“People might be getting more boring, honestly. I mean, that’s what you look for in a convertible, you look for the ability to drop the top, have a little fun on a Saturday or Sunday with the wind in your hair, all that kind of stuff, and I think people kind of don’t really care as much anymore,” Renshaw said.

…because the numbers back him up.

“I think convertibles are going to be a thing of the past.” Renshaw said. “I don’t think that they’re as cool as they used to be in a lot of people’s minds, especially in my generation.”

Not the rest of our generations. Driving top-down as my solemn duty.


Brian Champagne grew up in the less-famous Central California but left after starting his television news career there. He worked 22 years in news for NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS affiliates in four markets. He served as chief photographer for KTXL-TV in Sacramento, but worked in front of the camera, too.