Once upon a time, you couldn’t buy a fully closed Corvette for any amount of money. From 1953-1962, they were all open cars. Sure, you could get an optional clip-on hardtop, but top-down motoring was still just a couple of maneuvers away.
With the advent of the ’63 split-window coupe, closed Corvette motoring was upon us, but it wasn’t until 1969 that coupe sales surpassed that of the roadster for the first time. The enclosed car’s innovative removable roof panels and pop-out rear window made the convertible less attractive to the buying public, and this coincided with true convertibles falling from favor with all automotive consumers. With air conditioning proliferating and memories of massive riots in Detroit, Los Angeles and Newark still fresh, it’s no wonder that convertible sales continued to plummet, with the model finally going out of production after 1975. The roadster returned in ’86 to much acclaim, and it’s been a consistent seller and big money maker ever since (there was no convertible in ’97, the first year of the C5).
Unless you’ve been living on Pluto, you know Chevy introduced the 2014 Corvette Stingray coupe late last year and now there’s the accompanying ragtop version. It’s the most technologically advanced Vette roadster yet, and we had the chance to take the new convertible out for a spin on the spectacular roads around Palm Springs, California. Most impressive is that there are no more latches to undo. Just put the e-brake on, hit a button, and the top disappears under a hard tonneau cover. Purists might miss a fully manual top, but this is simply too easy.
The Stingray convertible features an all-new, fully electronic top that can be lowered remotely using the key fob. The top can also be opened or closed on the go, at speeds of up to 30 mph. Its folding mechanism is all-new and enables the top to be lowered in 21 seconds. We still think it could be a little faster, but when it’s hidden under the hard tonneau cover, most concerns just fade away.
The top itself is thick fabric, and it’s fitted with sound-absorbing padding and a glass rear window. While not as quiet as a coupe when in the up position, only ragtop haters would quibble. This is a world-class roof. Sure, you lose some luggage space in the back, but there’s far more here than any European exotic has to offer, so who cares?
With the top down, the Stingray becomes an even more visceral experience. There are those who don’t understand the allure of the open car. With air conditioning and windows that open and close with one touch a button, they can’t comprehend why you would drive a car with the top and windows down. The new C7 convertible is a rolling explanation: The sun in your face, the wind in your hair (or in my case, what’s left of it), and being a part of the scenery you are driving through. There’s nothing like slicing through a canyon road on a warm morning with the top stowed and the melody of the LT1 ringing in your ears. A trip up and down the coast pins the memories-per-mile gauge in your brain.
Our opportunity with the new convertible in the mountains above Palm Springs was eagerly anticipated, despite the chilly temperatures and threat of rain. I dropped the top, and then the hammer. There’s precious little difference in the handling and acceleration between the coupe and roadster, and we wanted the full panoramic view the Stingray roadster offered. Ultimately, rain put a damper on my canyon carving. With the top back up, the Corvette’s cockpit becomes a more intimate affair, but I’m not complaining.
Later in the day, with the sun back out and the temperature rising, we headed out again from Palm Springs and enjoyed more open air motoring. With the roof lowered, you become intoxicated by the sweet sound of the LT1, even when it’s just burbling at a traffic light. At full throttle, you find yourself hurdling through the landscape. You’ll never feel more alive than you will in a Corvette with the top down and the throttle planted, or later, slicing through the countryside.
Given the ability to run 11s in the quarter-mile bone-stock, not to mention having go-directly-to-jail top speeds, we think the open air Corvette experience is that much finer than that of the coupe.