GET YOUR TOP OFF

With five new launches in the last few years, the glam­our of driv­ing a top­less con­vert­ible is no longer re­stricted to the movies. Welcome to the cabri­o­let club!

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - FRONT PAGE - by Veenu Singh veenus@hin­dus­tan­times.com Fol­low @VeenuSingh12 on Twit­ter

IF THE sight of peo­ple zip­ping down a road in an open-top car, their hair and stoles stream­ing be­hind them in the wind, arouses ad­mi­ra­tion in your heart, blame it on the movies.

For in­stance, the movies are the rea­son that 28-year-old busi­ness­man Luv Is­rani has owned a flam­ing red open-top two-seater con­vert­ible Mercedes for five years. “I watch movies for the cars, not the ac­tors, and there was Au­drey Hep­burn zip­ping away in a con­vert­ible in How To Steal a Mil

lion (1966),” he says dream­ily. And movies, specif­i­cally the Priyanka Cho­pra and Ran­bir Kapoor star­rer

An­jaana-An­jaani (2010), are the rea­son that 20-some­thing Swati Bagga be­lieves the best mood lifter is not a shot of caf­feine but a ride in a car with its roof pulled back, en­joy­ing sun­light, good mu­sic and ad­mir­ing glances from those on the road. “There is no bet­ter mood en­hancer than this,” says Bagga, mar­ket­ing and oper­a­tions di­rec­tor, SB group of com­pa­nies, a rally driver and the proud owner of three con­vert­ibles in­clud­ing the Jaguar F-Type, a gleam­ing red Fer­rari and a BMW Z4.

There’s al­ways been some­thing very ro­man­tic about con­vert­ible cars, in­evitably as­so­ci­ated with movies. Rewind to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and you’ll re­mem­ber that most ro­man­tic es­capades and crazy car chase se­quences were in­com­plete

Call it a con­vert­ible or cabri­o­let,

the car is the same: an au­to­mo­bile

with a fold­ing top

with­out a con­vert­ible car, usu­ally the Chevro­let, later the Im­pala. “A con­vert­ible is not only per­fect for movie chases, it also lends a cer­tain char­ac­ter to the hero’s per­son­al­ity,” says Ran­nvi­jay Singh, ac­tor, VJ and car afi­cionado who dreams of own­ing a 1969 Mus­tang con­vert­ible some­day.

MA­HARAJA OF CARS

Call it a con­vert­ible, call it a cabri­o­let; the car is the same: an au­to­mo­bile with a fold­ing top ( cabri­o­let is merely the French word for a con­vert­ible). It’s a sexy kind of car, but oddly, it’s been pop­u­lar only in phases. “Con­vert­ibles were the most soughtafter cars at one time, but al­most dis­ap­peared in the 1970s,” says Rano­joy Mukherjee, an au­to­mo­bile ex­pert. “To­day, con­vert­ibles are be­com­ing pop­u­lar all over again be­cause car brands are launch­ing them in­tel­li­gently, with ef­fi­cient tech­nol­ogy and lux­u­ri­ous equip­ment.” Be­tween 2012 and 2015 alone, Mercedes, Audi and BMW launched as many as five con­vert­ible mod­els be­tween them.

The cars are not new. “The ma­hara­jas, at a time when they had the lux­ury of own­ing ex­che­quers, were known to be crazy about lux­ury cars, the ma­jor­ity of which were con­vert­ibles,” says Joe King, head of Audi In­dia.

Ma­hara­jas of that kind now ex­ist only in name, but there are other ma­hara­jas to­day – busi­ness ty­coons and movie stars for in­stance – who are just as keen on lux­ury con­vert­ibles. And, ap­par­ently, non-ma­haraja-types, too, can also af­ford a con­vert­ible, ac­cord­ing to Hor­mazd Sorab­jee, editor of Au­to­car In­dia.

“Con­vert­ibles look great and of­fer a lifestyle im­age that a hard-top coupe does not,” he says. “These are be­com­ing rel­a­tively more af­ford­able and no longer be­long to the top fringe of the mar­ket, which is mak­ing them more pop­u­lar.”

What’s meant by af­ford­able is, of course, rel­a­tive. While the Audi A3 has an ex-show­room price of ` 44,75,000 in Delhi, Mercedes Benz of­fers the SLK 55 AMG at ` 1,23,58,175 ex-show­room, and the re­cently launched E400 cabri­o­let is

pegged at ` 77,05,549 ex-show­room. The BMW Z4 mean­while is ` 68,90,000. On the other hand, con­vert­ibles from Fer­rari are priced at ` 5 crore and above, and the Phan­tom Drop­head from Rolls Royce costs

` 8 crore and above. De­spite the prices, these con­vert­ibles ap­par­ently, all have ready buy­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to Eber­hard Kern, MD and CEO of Mercedes-Benz In­dia, the pro­file of the con­vert­ible buyer is some­what dif­fer­ent from the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion. “Our tar­get cus­tomers com­prise dis­cern­ing tech-savvy peo­ple pas­sion­ate about a su­perla­tive driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Rashy Todd, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Audi Gur­gaon, adds: “There is a new con­cept of fun mo­tor­ing and the young cus­tomer sub­scrib­ing to this con­cept is in­ter­ested in sports and tech­nol­ogy. Their cabri­o­lets are usu­ally the sec­ond or some­times the third Audi in the fam­ily.”

Sharper de­signs, pow­er­ful and ef­fi­cient en­gines and good safety fea­tures are some of the el­e­ments that make cabri­o­lets a very at­trac­tive op­tion.

Clearly, con­vert­ibles are per­ceived as very, very sexy. Stu­dent Hardik Modi, whose fam­ily pre­sented him with an Audi A3

as his 19th birth­day gift, can barely de­scribe how he felt the first time he drove the car with the top down. “Driv­ing the A3 from my res­i­dence in Chat­tarpur to Con­naught Place on a rainy day was lovely,” he says. “With a wa­ter­proof soft top that opens in 18 sec­onds flat, weather is never a worry.”

Let’s not for­get the envy a con­vert­ible inspires in passers-by. Luv Is­rani ad­mits he gets his big­gest high when he drives his Mercedes SL 55 AMG and the re­ac­tions it evokes. “I re­cently drove to Agra for a wed­ding in my Mercedes, and my car got much more at­ten­tion than even the bride and the groom.”

While most con­vert­ibles are two-seaters, many now come as four-seaters with de­cent space in the boot. But the big­gest change in con­vert­ible de­sign is in the roof. Once, the roof was made of soft cloth. Now it’s a fold­ing vari­ant, mak­ing it much more com­fort­able and con­ve­nient.

There are sporty ver­sions of the con­vert­ibles, such as the Porsche 911 Car­erra 4S Cabri­o­let. But the ul­ti­mate in be­spoke lux­ury is the Rolls Royce Phan­tom Drop­head Ma­haraja.

“You can spot a Mercedes SLK on any given day, es­pe­cially in cen­tral Delhi, or late evenings in most five-star ho­tels, but the sportier ver­sions are on the tracks of the Buddh In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit,” says Par­i­tosh Gupta, founder of the Delhi-based CannonBall club, In­dia’s big­gest club of su­per­car own­ers.

Mum­bai-based busi­ness­man Sameer Jain loves driv­ing his BMW M3 Con­vert­ible on the Mum­bai-Pune Ex­press­way on week­ends. “Apart from the cramped roads of the city, the hu­mid­ity doesn’t make it con­ducive to driv­ing a con­vert­ible. So, tak­ing it for a spin on the ex­press­way makes sense,” says Jain.

THE IN­DIA EF­FECT

It seems like a dream come true for the car-crazy, but of course, the re­al­ity of life in In­dia can be quite a spoil­sport. “Con­vert­ibles aren’t prac­ti­cal in our coun­try be­cause it’s ei­ther too hot for most of the year, or rain­ing, so they aren’t re­ally bought for open-air mo­tor­ing,” says Sorab­jee.

There are other practicalities to con­sider as well. “Even with the the op­tion of a four-seater, the rear seats don’t of­fer much leg space for an adult,” says Par­i­tosh Gupta.

Swati Bagga adds her own caveats. “Ground clear­ance is an is­sue as sur­face clear­ance is pretty low. So deft han­dling is re­quired when it comes to these beau­ties,” she warns.

But what do practicalities mat­ter when you’re in love? Noth­ing, laughs 18-year-old col­lege stu­dent Lab­hesh Mann, whose red Audi A3, a birth­day gift from his par­ents, is a head-turner. “The only thing that mat­ters is the way peo­ple swoon when they see my car zip down,” he says.

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