Why is our age group so keen on convertibles? Does one's equipment size have a bearing? Our kids are up and gone and there's some money around, says MG owner Colin Bostock-Smith
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you to learn that a fifth of sports car and convertible owners bought their squat little fantasy-wagons after the age of 50, with the result that the number of soft-tops on the road has doubled in ten years.
They’re impossible to miss. Most of you will have either been stuck behind or cut up by one of those mature boy-racers as they bounce along country roads. You’ll have marveled at their determination to take the top down any time the temperature rises above freezing. You may even have seen them reach their destination so cramped and stiff and cold that they need to be hauled out of their bucket seats by helping hands.
Yes, you’ve seen them. Some of you may have even seen me too, because – as I must blushingly admit – I am the ultimate middle-aged cliché, the soft-headed male in the soft-topped sports car (in my case, an equally middle-aged MG).
Why? What’s wrong with me? Why do I and so many others exchange safety and comfort for blistering exposure to the elements? The internet offers two theories, both of which are tediously predictable, and both mean the same thing.
The polite version talks about mid-life crisis, and the more abusive concerns itself with penile length. No way. It’s got to be more than that, if it’s to outweigh the enormous disadvantages of owning one of the things.
I mean, it drinks gas. Don’t even mention the insurance. And while the hard ride means you corner on rails, it also means that when you hit one of those spectacular potholes now apparently preserved for the nation, you are jolted sideways across the road for several perilous feet.
Then there’s the soft top. That’s where things really get complicated. The more expensive sports car has a top that appears and retracts automatically. It is a product of cutting-edge electronic technology, and therefore works for about two months before jamming half up and half down. Then it rains.
We plebeian owners work our soft tops by hand. It’s a simple enough job. You flip open the catch on the driver’s side, walk around the car, flip open the catch on the passenger side, pull the thing back and it sticks. You remember you’ve forgotten to release the secondary catch on the driver’s side, walk round, release secondary catch, pull the thing back and it sticks. You remember you’ve forgotten to release the secondary catch on the passenger side… Well, anyway, it folds down OK in the end, and what’s five minutes out of your life and a blackened fingernail?
Soft tops are also magnets for vandals. If I ever catch up with the jackass who casually ran his flick-knife through my hood, I shall know how to deal with him. And afterwards I will distribute his body parts to various woods and ponds, making several trips because the trunk of the MG is far too small to carry a whole body at once.
Second only to jerky attacks on one’s soft-top are those from birds, though one has to admire both their single-shot accuracy and their occasional employment of the scatter-gun principle.
Talking of birds, young men traditionally see the sports car as a sexual magnet. But not we more mature types. At 50, most men have attracted our birds by other means, and any prospective new partner of our generation tends to balk at having to book another blow-out after every trip.
So what is it? With all this to cope with, why do so many men in the prime of life abandon the plump luxury of the BMW for the bone-rattling bounce of the two-seater? I think I’ve worked it out.
At our age the mortgage is often a thing of the past. Or we are downsizing to make it so. The odd inheritance comes through. There’s a little money around. The kids are up and gone, so the back seat is redundant. We have learned one of life’s great lessons: it is better to travel than to arrive. And we know how we want to travel. Yes, the secret is, we buy sports cars in our fifties because we can.
And maybe all the rest is true too; the psychological theories, mid-life crises, lengths of tackle and so on. It doesn’t explain women of similar age, mind you, who seem to be buying zippy little two-seaters in equal numbers.
But we males can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we are not one of those mad middle-aged bikers who buys himself a Harley, grips the gas tank between his knees, and roars off to the coast at weekends imagining he’s Marlon Brando.
That kind of guy – he’s really got problems.