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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

How ASC brought convertibles back from the dead

A funny thing started to happen when the American auto industry moved from the go-go '60s into the uncertain '70s. Over the course of the decade, Detroit's Big Three seemingly lost the will to build convertibles. In reality, the downfall of the American drop-top was deliberate and strategic.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/how-asc-brought-convertibles-back-from-the-dead/
79 REPLIES 79
Rick2
Instructor

My first car was a 1964 Falcon convertible, 260 V8 three on the tree. Then some t-tops and targa tops then a 2002 Thunderbird and now a 1992 300SL. You can't beat the view from a convertible on a starry night.
GEORGEG
Pit Crew

I didn't see mention of the ultimate unique convertible the Dodge Dakota
cslandry
Intermediate Driver

Actually, it was mentioned in the article as one of ASC's designs.
GEORGEG
Pit Crew

I have to reread it I didn't see it.

sorrktm
Intermediate Driver

First car I bought was a convertible, 1966 AH Sprite. I was 17 and regret every day since I sold it (used the money for school). Life and wife took priority for several years but as soon as things settled down a little I bought another convertible, a used corvette. I've had convertibles ever since. If you get it, you get it. If not, well... As has been said, nothing like the top down on a warm summer evening cruising to nowhere. Or if the wife's along, for an ice cream.
hjoh3118
Pit Crew

Anybody putting convertibles down probably hasn't actually owned one. I am 62 now and have owned over 15 convertibles since I was 18. These include two Cutlass's, a Buick Centurion 455, a Camero, a Dodge K car, a Corvair Monza Spyder, a Oldsmobile 88, a Pontiac Catilina, a 71 Cougar XR7, and a 65 Mustang that I've owned for the past 18 years. There is no feeling like the open air fun of a drop top, especially at the beach or in the mountians. I love them for short hops and long trips alike! Like they say, "If the top goes down the price goes up!". It doesn't cost that much more to restore a convertible than it does to restore a closed car, and when you do decide to sell it and start another, the return is usually better. I plan on keeping my Mustang though. The body style of the original Mustang has never been topped, and the sound of a 289 is great. I have owned hard tops, t-tops, and currently own two cars with sunroofs. You're entitled to your opinion, but please don't knock my convertibles and I won't knock your coupe!
TG
Technician

Interesting... I always thought the rollover laws were the key driver for the stop in convertible production
josephdemeyer
Pit Crew

I am restoring my recently acquired 1960 Buick Lesabre convertible and now waiting on the latest rain storm to see if I finally fixed the leak in the rain gutter underneath where the top is attached to the body: after two months ! Due to the twisting of the body these welded gutters tend to break…
And that’s just one of the complications a convertible will offer you ( the front attachment clamps , adjustment bolts and the weather strips are a few others..)
But it’s all a labor of love because I can’t wait to drive around with the top down!
Let’s see if tomorrow morning the little water pools are smiling again at me in the trunk…
JerryH
New Driver

I believe ASC was the company that partnered with Oldsmobile and the Doraville assembly plant to convert 1990 thru 1995 Cutlass Supreme coupes into convertibles. Early models had serious water leak concerns, but later models were much better. My 1994 has some small leaks, but so did the other brands of convertibles I’ve owned.
ConfuciusRacing
Detailer

wow, what a bunch of fuddy duddies.

I remember the ACS Ford Mustang because I bought a new 1986 Ford 5.0 GT new. Couldn't afford that. Cool car, flat behind the passenger area, the +2 part. Spiffy.

Now I have a 1965 Datsun Fairlady, with, 28,xxx original miles...the top is in the garage, if I get caught in the rain, I just keep driving and the rain goes over the windshield...rains harder? Go faster!
KenTennis
Pit Crew

asc built the ascMcLaren in 1986 on a Mercury Capri chassis. Almost the same as the GT but a little lighter, Thunderbird Turbo parts under the front and a really nice ride. I have one with just over 24,000 miles. In 1986 they coast the same as a Corvette. Now the coupe versions are in high demand by drag racers.
Jnick
Advanced Driver

What I can’t believe is living in the northwest we have a lot of days when convertibles are not the first choice.HOWEVER when the spring or autumn roll around with crisp cool air after a rain I am AMAZED to see people driving convertibles with the top up, I want to ask them if they are waiting for the Second Coming or something.
ed
Advanced Driver

Since 2005, I have owned 14 convertibles, all foreign but for a Corvette and my new Jeep Gladiator. For me, one advantage for the convertible is that the wife is all-in, too. So, I can buy toys with hardly a fuss as long as the top goes down, including the current Jeep, SL63 AMG and SLK55 AMG. Spring and summer are nice, but our fav is going into the New England fall with top down, heated seats and the air scarf.

But the passion for top-down touring started much earlier, with a 1990 IROC-Z. Because of a short production run due to early introduction of the 1991 facelift, less than 1,300 1990 convertibles were produced. It was a beauty in Bright Blue Metallic, and the last year of the IROC-Z. We had 3 young kids at the time, and I added a 3rd seatbelt in the back seat so we could all go for a ride. Trophy winner at many Atlanta-area car shows, including 2nd place at my first-ever show, which was all Camaros (I didn't know to replace the locking gas cap with original before judging). I sold it in 1995 to start a business, and it would be 10 years before I would go topless again. I am now on the waitlist to order a Z06 convertible, but I think about that blue IROC-Z a lot. There was something special about it.

77GL
Detailer

Top down can be the best part of the ride.
jrb23321
Intermediate Driver

My first convertible was a completely beat '65 289 mustang, ( great car) then a rusty '69 devile convertible (even better). Now I love being the old man in the silly hat cruising with the top down by myself in my '71 Eldorado that always has the top down because it sliced it's self up years ago. Long live a convertible!
robertglowinkow
Pit Crew

Really enjoyed the article.

There sure are a lot of negative comments here about convertibles, ...and I suppose like others have said, likely from people who have never owned a convertible!

Although my first "open-air" car was not a convertible, my first experience was when I cut the roof off a 1972 Chevelle 4-door hardtop. We even made the roof detachable, with hood pins in the front and metal brackets in the back!

Since then, i have always owned at least one convertible at a time(and several t-top Camaros), that were used as daily drivers, and more recently as fair-weather toys.

There is nothing like driving with the wind in your hair, and being able to enjoy the sensory overload. Going through the gears with the roof down, and hearing the exhaust roar, certainly makes you feel alive - and i'm not THAT old at 56.

Yes, there is some compromise, where the interior is not quite as quiet, and the old cars do leak around the windows, when you spray the hose directly on them, but guess what - i have neighbours whose M5 and Pathfinder also leak when being sprayed. I guess I was fortunate, where none of my t-top or convertibles ever leaked when either sitting or driving in the rain....go figure.

After a bunch or convertible IROCs and Corvettes, I now have a "69 big block Corvette, a '69 Pace Car, and a 2020 ZL-1 convertible. All 3 are a very different driving experience, with the Vette being very raw, and the ZL1 being as quite and mild mannered(if you drive it that way), as any hardtop equivelant. I do have a sedan and SUV as well for lousy weather, but my convertibles are for the fun weather.

I'm a bit different, where i can't imagine why somebody would buy a "sporty" car if it was not a convertible. For me, its about enjoying the drive, and getting the most from the experience!!
jrb23321
Intermediate Driver

That brought back a great memory. My buddy inherited his grandmothers '73 sedan Deville which we were getting ready to repaint. While removing the vinyl top the rear window fell in since the top material was the only thing holding it in. After a few days of pondering, there was only one logical conclusion, 4 door convertible. Went ahead with the paint job, and had a local boat canvas shop fabricate a top, which came out surprisingly well. Drove the car for years until real life got in the way. I ended up with the car, pulled the 472 and a few other bits and junked it. Wish I still had it. ( still have the fender skirts)
okfoz
Advanced Driver

As someone who has been interested in ASC convertibles for a long time, I have some information I would like to share. ASC made more than 1,000,000 Convertibles, here is a list I found years ago, Cars which were completely converted by ASC are noted, others the system was simply supplied to the manufacturer and the manufacturer did the conversion in house.
1982-1985 General Motors Buick Riviera (total 3899 converted)
1983-1999 General Motors Chevrolet Cavalier (total 122,252 conversions)
1983-1997 General Motors Pontiac Sunbird/Sunfire (total 92,319 conversions)
1984-1990 Ford ASC/McLaren Mustang
1984-1985 General Motors Cadillac Eldorado (Total 5,793 Conversions)
1984-1985 Toyota Celica Full conversion
1985-1987 American Motors Renault Alliance GTA
1986-1994 General Motors Chevrolet Corvette (Total 62,474 conversions)
1986-1994 Saab Saab 900 Turbo System supply
1987-1992 General Motors Chevrolet Camaro Full Conversion (28,124 made)
1993-2002 General Motors Chevrolet Camaro (total 73,677 conversions)
1987-1989 Toyota Celica Full conversion
1989-1990 Daimler Chrysler Dodge Dakota
1987-1989 General Motors Pontiac Firebird Full conversion for Dealers (607 Made)
1991-1992 General Motors Pontiac Firebird Full Conversion (3,718 Made)
1993-2002 General Motors Pontiac Firebird (Unknown)
1989-1991 Porsche 944 S2
1990-1991 General Motors Buick Reatta (total 2487 conversions)
1991-1993 Toyota Celica Full conversion
1991-1992 Infiniti M30
1991-1994 Rover Metro
1990-1993 DaimlerChrysler Dodge Shadow
1992-1995 Porsche 968
1992-1994 Nissan 240SX
1993-1996 Nissan 300ZX
1995-1997 Mitsubishi 3000GT
1995-1999 Toyota Celica Full conversion
1996-2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse
1997-2002 BMW Z3
1997-2000 Toyota Paseo/Cynos Full conversion
2000-2008 Toyota Solara
2002-2004 BMW Z4
2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR (total 23564 conversions)
2007-2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse
KenTennis
Pit Crew

STOP RIGHT THERE!! The 1984-1986 ascMcLarens WERE NOT MUSTANGS. They were built on Mercury Capri Chassis and are a LOT better looking than the everyday common Mustangs. Way more class than the Mustangs of that era.
BaxterFranks
Pit Crew

It was during the housing boom of 75 & 76 when I was working 13 days strait with one day off every 2 weeks at the drywall factory, when my 1st convertible came into my life! A 1968 RS Camero. Next up was a 1976 CJ5 Jeep. Then marriage, babies and life got in between me and convertibles. 1992 Chrysler Le Baron GTS. 1996 BMW 328iC. 2006 Pontiac Solstice. Currently there is a 2012 BMW 128i occupying the 3rd slot in the garage.
Sonettman
Pit Crew

It was a love/hate relationship with my 1989 Saab 900 Turbo convertible. L loved a leisurely cruise on a warm summer evening but hated baking in the sun when stopped at a stopped light. I loved the way the car handled but hated the automatic tranny. I loved top-down cruising in the dappled shade on a wind-y back-country road but hated the lack of visibility with the top up. In the end, the hates won. While there are things I miss about the ‘vert, for now windows down, sunroof open in my ’91 Saab 900 SPG will have to do.
Landerson1
New Driver

I have owned 3 Firebirds, and my last one which I still own is the best. I ordered a 2002 Trans Am WS6 convertible. I love the open feeling with the top down. Nothing better than a cruise in the country on a curvy 2 lane blacktop. I will never part with my sporty ragtop. My wife and I love to drive on Sandbar Road along the river.
02-orignal-ownr
Advanced Driver

IIRC ASC did convertible conversions on two lesser-known European platforms: Yugos and Renault Alliances. Regardless of what you might think of the cars (and at least the Alliance was a tidy and long-lived little car--my sister-in-law got over 100k out of one in the salt-rich environment of downstate New York with hardly a hitch) ASC's conversions were both attractive and well-engineered.

KenTennis
Pit Crew

ascMcLarens were produced from 1984-1986 on a Fox Body BUT NOT THE MUSTANG. They were built on the Fox Body Mercury Capri Chassis. A much better looking Fox Body. I have one. a 1986 ascMcLaren convertible in Porsche Red (Sikkens paint), tan leather interior, decor package and every option available in 1986.. It has just over 24,000 original miles on it.
WesTxStoner425
Pit Crew

Convertibles rule! My first one was a 1973 Mustang 3-speed with a 302. It was decked out like a Mach 1 with all the gauges, Comfort-weave seats, and NACA hood. My roommate and I took it from El Paso to Tacoma by way of Phoenix, Yuma, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. This was about a month or two after Mount St.Helens erupted. He loved being in a convertible so much, the following year he bought a 1980 Limited Edition MGB, We took it to Denver the following year. As we were driving thru New Mexico, a new-looking blue convertible Trans Am passed us. The driver was a tough looking biker kind of guy, but there were two gorgeous female passengers; a blonde in the front seat, and a redhead in the back (we eventually decided these were probably topless dancers being escorted by their "manager" to their next gig). As they easily passed us (that little MG was seriously underpowered) the redhead turned to face us, took off her shirt, and flashed us! You can bet we chased that Trans Am, asking that little MG to please hang in there until we could catch up. We eventually did pull up alongside and showed them a cigarette case full of joints (it was a different time); that got their attention, and we maneuvered the two cars close enough to hand off a joint to the redhead while going 70mph (not smart, but we were young and hormone-driven). I remember I kept telling my roommate "They don't even MAKE a convertible Trans Am anymore!"...In case you think I had my priorities mixed up, I eventually married my own redhead, who loved driving in my 1969 Cutlass S convertible...I still have both, the Cutlass and the redhead!
WesTxStoner425
Pit Crew

As far as bad weather goes, I've always said "It only rains at stop signs"...if you go fast enough, you won't get wet! But that's in El Paso, where it only rains less than 9 inches a year.
jdwilker
Pit Crew

The best "convertible" isn't a convertible - it's my '57 Ford Skyliner (retractable hardtop). Too cold, it's raining, going on a long freeway trip; leave the top up. It's as quiet and dry as a hardtop (OK, it might leak a little around the edges). When it warms up and you're cruising on a scenic backroad, there's nothing better than driving with the top down. And when you drop the top in a crowd, you'd think the circus just came to town. Like Ford said in their sales brochure, "The best of both worlds.
RonRod
Pit Crew

Did my sports car thing in the 60s then moved into motorcycles. My wife bought a new 2012 Porsche Carrera S Cabriolet. That screen/wind baffle thing really works. We go hundreds of miles in a day with the top down and no problem. She is much younger than me and a hell of lot prettier. Only one thing is better than a guy driving around in such a car with a pretty Blonde as passenger. That is a pretty Blonde gal driving around in such a car with a guy as passenger. She bought it with bonus money so it is really all hers. Always chuckles when we pull into a gas station and the guy pumping asks - "You let her drive it?" Chauvinists!
brb
Instructor

So, how many T-top Chrysler Cordoba's do you suppose are still kicking around?
I always thought the Riviera made a good looking convertible.
I've owned two of the ASC produced 3000GT VR4 Spyders with the folding hardtops. The tops were clever and worked well.
sspader
Pit Crew

A little late joining the conversation on convertibles but I can say that I recently purchased one of the 500 '84 Riviera Convertibles that were made that year. I've always wanted to own a nice classic car that is a convertible and now I do. However, in truth I've been driving a convertible of sorts since 1967 when I purchased a '43 Ford Jeep (WW II) from my aunt for $1! She had purchased it in England (initially, it was part of the build-up for Overlord) in the early '60's and brought it back the US in '65. I have driven it in all types of weather but mainly in warm weather. Besides the Riv, it's the only car that makes me smile while driving. And yes, I still own it 56 years later!!