Keith’s Blog: What is it About Convertibles in Winter?


If I don’t drive my old cars in the winter, I feel like I am losing out on part of the ownership experience.

Growing up in San Francisco, with its temperate weather, I recall keeping a down-filled parka behind the seats of my Bugeye Sprite. I never put the top up, and the little bit of warmth that came from its Smiths heater, combined with my cold-weather jacket, was enough to allow me to keep the top down all year long.

There’s something special about driving a convertible in cold weather with the top down. You are a part of the world, instead of observing it through the front and rear windows. The smells of the city and country become part of what you experience. Inevitably, you’ll have a ruddy complexion by the end of your trip.

But it isn’t just an old car that let’s you have that crisp-weather experience. One of my favorite memories with my daughter Alex is of driving our 2000 Porsche Boxster S home from Bend, Oregon, after attending the Oregon Festival of Cars.

It was mid-September, and the frost was thick on the car when we headed out at 6 a.m. We put the top down, switched on the heater and heated seats, made sure the wind-blocker was properly installed, rolled up the side windows, bundled ourselves up and headed out Highway 26.

With the top down, we watched the sky turn from black to dark blue to pale blue to day.

We drove through through Madras, crossed Mt. Hood via Government Camp and arrived home four hours later. We passed people in hard-top cars with their windows up — for them, it was just a trip. For us, it was an adventure.

Perhaps I should make a point of taking the 1967 Alfa Duetto out this winter, at least on a clear day. It has an effective heater, and it deserves to be exercised. It’s hardly a concours-prepared car, so a little more dirt won’t really affect its appearance. I know I’ve got a winter jacket hanging in a closet somewhere, along with a cap with earflaps and some lightweight insulated gloves.

With the right attitude and a little extra gear, my old cars engage me just as they did when I was younger  — turning ordinary activities into adventures that I can reminisce about with my children and friends, long after the events themselves have passed.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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  1. One of my favorite things to do with my convertible is to drive up to Mt. Hood when it is snowing – best when there is no wind and snow flakes are the size of quarters and falling straight down, just a beautiful way to enjoy the drive. On the way home, stop at the Toll Gate Inn for some great food – try the pot roast!

  2. A good c. 1974 or so memory of this was when a friend of mine and I were restoring our old cars, or moreover, our only cars at that age Our idea to go night skiing on Oregon’s Mt. Hood forced a decision to fire up my non-at-the-time running ’48 Chevy Fleetline, or use his ’58 MGB that he had just painted. The MG won, however it didn’t have its new top yet. We bundled up against the windscreen, clenched our teeth and made it fine.
    After a great night of skiing, we shoveled out the interior of about 6″ of fresh snow and drove the 50 or so miles back to Portland. Winter convertible driving at its most basic.

  3. I recognize the Lewis and Clark bridge heading north out of Oregon into Longview, Washington. I drive it every day to and from work in my Mk1 Audi TT Roadster. Top down driving is a visceral experience made even more intense with the winter weather. If it’s not raining too hard, I’ll drop the top. If the sun is going to be out for a while, I’ll install the cockpit tonneau and boot cover, fire up the seat heater and roll with the heater on high. Love it!

  4. Love it too…wool hat, neck scarf flapping out over the rear deck lid….exhaust smell, noise & the mostly “shocking looks” from others !! As I rip along the “frozen tundra” … Fabulous !!

    thanks for discussing this.

  5. One of my first and favourite memories after moving to Victoria, BC 10 years ago was seeing a Fiat, topdown, with a christmas tree in the passenger’s seat. Driver wore a Santa hat. Pure bliss.
    Only on the West Coast!