Convertible Summer

Ice cream run in a 1999 Miata.

During the summer months, my husband and I attend a fair amount of car shows. This year, however, most have been canceled, replaced by social distancing car meetups and unofficial cruises. I am not real keen on cruises as my classics are temperamental and I fear I may stall out or break down at some point if I have to drive a great distance. Consequently, we have replaced events with really old cars to one activity with a not-quite-classic one. When my husband worked on the Mazda account years ago he acquired a 1999 evolution orange Miata. For the past 20 years it has been stored in the garage and taken out occasionally in the summer, accumulating only 14000 miles in the interim. In years past, we have had a lot going on from May through June – baseball, concerts, road trips, plays, and walks with the dogs – so the Miata only came out occasionally. This pandemic summer, all but the dog walking has been canceled. So as a summer project we have decided to visit as many ice cream establishments as possible to determine who has the best frozen delicacies in southeastern Michigan [it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it]. And our vehicle of choice for this important endeavor is the topless Miata.

Having a convertible in Michigan is always a dicey affair. I myself have owned three – a 70s era Fiat, a metallic blue VW during the 1980s, and most recently, an Audi S4 cabriolet. Convertibles always seem like a good idea until you remember it is often too hot to drive them during the day, the tops take a beating in the winter months, and they mess up your hair and makeup on the way to an important event. However, this summer, I have absolutely nowhere to go. So ice cream runs on a hot summer night are nothing short of glorious. We live in a rural area so take our time on the back roads to reach our various destinations. As I am a runner, I always put in a few extra miles on ice cream days to avoid a few extra pounds. Thus far we have had a great summer weather wise and usually go out at least twice a week. It has helped make the concert/theatre/baseball-less summer a lot more palatable. 

As I have noted in my research, during the 1950s and 1960s – at the height of its popularity – the convertible was branded to appeal to a sense of youthful rebellion and depicted in contemporary advertisements as an emblem of upward mobility. This devil-may-care freedom was marketed specifically to the male consumer; if women appeared in advertising in was primarily in passive roles. Women were rarely considered potential customers for convertibles; the vehicle was considered too fast, sporty, unsafe, and attention-getting for the female motorist. Yet in conversation with 21 elderly women about their early automotive experiences, I discovered that “while only a few had actually owned them, almost all of the women had – at some point in time – yearned for a flashy ragtop”(Elderly 406). Although most eventually settled for a functional family vehicle, the women couldn’t help but imagine the convertible as the means to a pleasurable, desirable, and exciting escape from the practicality and sameness of their domestic existence. In my research into the chick car phenomenon, I found that women whose children were grown and out of the house often purchased convertibles such as the Miata as a reward for the minivan years. As one of the respondents exclaimed, “I went from a soccer-mom car to an empty-nest car and I love it” (Chick 524).

Although I loved my past convertibles, I let my vanity and practicality get in the way of truly enjoying and experiencing them. This summer, I don’t care. I put on my baseball cap, stick my hands out to feel the breeze, and keep on smiling all the way down the windy road.

Lezotte, Chris. “Born to Drive: Elderly Women’s Recollections of Early Automotive Experiences.” The Journal of Transport History 40.3 (2019): 516-417. 

—        “The Evolution of the ‘Chick Car’ Or: What Came First, the Chick or the Car?” The Journal of Popular Culture 45.3 (2012): 516-531.

Published by Chris Lezotte

Chris Lezotte PhD is an independent scholar whose research focuses on the relationship between women and cars.

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