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A convertible with a folding top:
BMW 8 Series Convertible
A convertible with a steel roof:
Ford Focus CC

With Cabriolet or short Convertible is body shape of a car called, the roof can be opened by folding back.


Convertible is the abbreviation for the French cabriolet (from the French. Cabrioler , "gambols / Capriolen make"), the Germanized Convertible is written. Long before the age of the automobile was with cabriolet or convertible , a slight open, one-horse (horse) carriage or car trip meant for fair weather days. The German spelling and spelling Cabriolet has meanwhile become rare again.

Convertibles are often based on the coupé variant of a vehicle series. Even if they are similar to the corresponding closed vehicles, they differ greatly in the design of the self-supporting body . Due to the missing roof spars as a load-bearing component, all loads must be absorbed by a reinforced floor assembly . (One speaks here of the "shoebox problem", because the rigidity of a convertible compared to a fixed-roof vehicle can be compared with a shoebox , which can be twisted more easily as soon as the lid is removed)

Traditionally, the term convertible refers to a vehicle with a lined fabric roof that can be folded back completely. If the top is not lined, it is called an open touring car, such as the Mercedes 170 Da OTP (Open Touring Car Police) from the early 1950s. If the side windows are also lowered, the occupants sit completely outside, apart from a roll bar that may be present. If, on the other hand, the window frames together with the B and C pillars remain with the roof down, this is referred to as a convertible sedan . This variant was especially popular until the 1960s. Since the 1990s, however, more and more models have been fitted with a retractable steel roof or retractable hardtop , so-called coupé-convertibles . In common parlance today, however, other designs of vehicles with a folding top, attached top or emergency top are (incorrectly) referred to as convertibles.


Maybach Zeppelin DS 8 with body as a four-door convertible by Hermann Spohn , Ravensburg, approx. 1932
Peugeot 601 C Eclipse with body by Pourtout , 1934

A convertible is a car , usually 2 to 5-seater without a roof or with a retractable, lined hood, usually two, rarely four doors and retractable side windows. A convertible with four doors and four windows is referred to in the USA as a "Sedan-Cabriolet" or "Sedan-Convertible". In the 1920s to 1950s, Mercedes-Benz differentiated the different types of cabriolets by means of order letters:

  • Cabriolet A: A two-door, usually two-seater vehicle with a solid all-weather canopy that folds behind the seats and remains visible. Support of the convertible top mechanism partly also with Landau linkage.
  • Cabriolet B: A two-door, four-seater vehicle with a solid all-weather hood that folds behind the seats. Side windows for the rear passengers. Support of the convertible top mechanism partly also with Landau linkage.
  • Cabriolet C: Same as Cabriolet B, only without rear side windows.
  • Cabriolet D: A four-door, four- or five-seat vehicle with a heavy all-weather hood. Usually with Landau convertible top mechanism.
  • Cabriolet F: like Cabriolet D, but with side windows behind the rear doors

Class B convertibles are also referred to as Convertible Coupé (USA) or Drophead or Drophead Coupé (Great Britain), i.e. as Coupé with a fold-away roof, e.g. B. the Jaguar XK 120 DHC (Drophead Coupé). In earlier times, all vehicles were built on frames, so that the actual body had no load-bearing function. However, for weight reasons and because of the crash behavior, this design is now only used in off-road vehicles for difficult terrain and in trucks.

With the introduction of the self-supporting all-steel body in the passenger car sector, the vehicle frame was omitted and the body took on the load-bearing and reinforcing function in the vehicle. Today's convertibles therefore differ from the closed basic sedans in that they have reinforcement in the underbody area and a reinforced windshield frame to compensate for the lack of stiffening by the roof and glued-in windows. In some cases, permanently visible roll bars (for example Golf III Cabrio) also have this task. These are then often derogatory, but perhaps also just descriptively referred to as “strawberry basket convertibles”. Another option is the automatically deployable roll bar, which is used in many models today.

A simple sawing off of the roof, on the other hand, reduces the stability of the body and requires extensive additional stiffening measures. In the 1970s, due to the safety discussion, convertibles were built that had an additional roll bar or were even constructed as convertible sedans. E.g. the Baur-Top-Cabriolet based on the 3 Series BMW. Even when BMW offered a 3-series full convertible, this model was still sold.


VW Beetle Cabrio with folding top and tarpaulin
Vario roof of a Mercedes-Benz SL
The modern steel roof of a Volvo C70 opens
The fabric roof of a convertible folds into the body
Detailed view: fabric roof folds up
Drive module of the mechanism

In not all convertibles, the convertible top can be stowed under a convertible top flap, but instead sits folded on the convertible top flap. Examples are the Opel Astra F Cabrio, the VW New Beetle Cabrio or the Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio . However, since water can damage the folded top, it makes sense to pull a tarpaulin onto the top to protect it, which was supplied as standard. The tarpaulin should be used - despite the cumbersome handling - otherwise the hood can be damaged by moisture.

Since the mid-1990s there have been increasing efforts to replace the flexible convertible top material (made of PVC or fabric) with a retractable hardtop ( RHT for short ). After vehicles from Peugeot (1930s) and Ford USA (1950s), the 1996 Mercedes SLK deserves the honor of being the first mass-produced vehicle with a metal folding top. The roof consists of two or more parts that are folded using complex kinematics and stored in the trunk. The advantage of this technology: the metal roof wears less and is not as prone to vandalism as a fabric roof. In addition, such a car is insensitive to snow and ice and tends to be quieter in the interior than a convertible with a fabric roof.

These advantages are offset by several disadvantages. The tin roof is more expensive (approx. 1500 €) than a fabric roof and requires more space in the trunk. In addition, most conventional two-part constructions can only cover a limited interior length, which in four-seater metal roof convertibles such as the Renault Megane CC or the Peugeot 307 CC is compensated for by an extremely sloping front window that extends far beyond the driver. This - this is how convertible purists complain - impairs the desired feeling of fresh air, especially for small people whose seat is far forward. Often they cannot get into the car upright, as is typical of a convertible.

In 2006, the VW Eos , the Opel Astra Twin Top, the Volvo C70 and the Mitsubishi Colt, the first three-part steel folding roofs came onto the market. Of these models, only the VW Eos has a sliding glass roof function when closed. The BMW Mini Convertible , however, also implements the sunroof function with a fabric roof.

Overall, the folding roof technology initially gained in importance compared to fabric roofs: There were and are corresponding vehicles from Nissan, Mercedes, Lexus, Daihatsu, Peugeot, Renault, Opel, Volkswagen, Volvo, Mazda (even in both variations), Mitsubishi, Chevrolet and Cadillac. Even BMW equipped henceforth the 3 Series Convertible ( E93 ) - contrary to the tradition - with a solid metal roof. In 2004, retractable hardtops made up approx. 25% of convertible production (approx. 225,000), and the trend is rising. The retractable hardtops do not displace the fabric roof, but rather establish themselves in a separate niche as a coupé with an “open air” option.

In the meantime, however, there are also manufacturers who are returning to the traditional fabric roof, such as B. Opel with the Cascada .

See also: rollover protection system

Convertible and convertible top manufacturer

The convertible is a niche vehicle . Convertibles are often not manufactured by the chassis manufacturer, but by correspondingly specialized companies.

Another variant is the delivery of the complete roof modules to the OEM, who then completes the convertible in its large-scale production lines.

Well-known manufacturers of convertibles for various brands are or were among others Bertone , Pininfarina , Heuliez , Baur , Karmann and Magna Steyr, Webasto.

In earlier years there were hundreds of smaller to medium-sized bodywork companies, some of which produced body variants of niche models (mostly convertibles), some on their own, some on behalf of the major vehicle manufacturers. The development in the post-war period towards self-supporting bodies made such variants difficult. Furthermore, the manufacturers increasingly moved niche models into their own production. The number of these companies continues to shrink. Also in the last few years some well-known manufacturers had to stop their activities. B. Bertone in Turin or Karmann in Osnabrück.

Specialized companies often only supply the respective roof modules to the OEM. The companies Dura Convertible Systems , Edscha , Webasto and OASys have also specialized in the manufacture of roof modules .

Other designs of open vehicles

Current designs

Other body designs of open vehicles, which - often incorrectly - have also been referred to as convertibles:

Alfa Romeo Spider of the fourth series (1992)
  • Roadster (also Spider, Spyder, Open Tourer Sports) :
    • First an open two-, three- or four-seater with minimal body and optional weather protection, alternatively also called runabout or motor buggy. From the 1920s an open two-seater, possibly with foldable emergency seats in the rear ("mother-in-law's seat") and makeshift weather protection in the front consisting of a light, unlined hood and tarpaulins that can be attached to the side instead of side windows. The roadster was often the simplest, cheapest, but also the lightest and therefore fastest model in a series.
    • From the 1930s, increasingly as a sports car with an emergency roof and plug-in instead of cranked windows; occasionally deep cut doors. Example: Triumph TR2 , Jaguar XK 120 OTS
    • Today, two-seater, sporty vehicles with their own body and opening top or two-seater sports coupé derivatives with opening top. Case in point: Mazda MX-5 .
  • Convertible sedan :
    • Sedans with fixed door and window frames, in which the roof can be rolled back to the rear window or including the rear window. The best-known representative today is the Citroën 2CV ; currently the Fiat 500C and the Citroën DS3 CABRIO The convertible sedan differs from the American convertible sedan (see below).
  • Targa :
    • Describes a coupe roof with a removable roof section. The first patent was filed in 1948 by industrial designer Gordon Buehrig , who developed the TASCO concept car with Derham . The name "Targa" was first used by the Porsche company in 1965 for the version of the Porsche 911 with a removable roof center section, while Porsche alluded to the Targa Florio road race , similar to how the Porsche Carrera was named after the Carrera Panamericana . Other vehicles with a one-piece, removable roof segment between the A and B pillars were the Triumph Stag and the Honda CRX Sol.
Pontiac Trans-Am with T-bar top and honeycomb rims (1978).
  • T-top or T-bar top:
    • A T-Top is a variant of the Targa roof: Instead of a one-piece roof segment, two roof halves can be removed, with a bar between them that connects the windshield frame with the rear roof section in the middle of the vehicle. T-tops were developed by Hurst and were initially available from the factory for the Chevrolet Corvette C4 . Selected two-door models from other brands were later added, with the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird being the best-known in Europe . General Motors started using its own roofs developed by Fisher in 1977 . T-tops have been a popular retrofit accessory. However, the conversion often had irreparable consequences if it was not carried out properly. Because no reinforcements were usually made - initially also at the factory - the rigidity of the body also suffered.
  • Landaulet :
    • (Chauffeur) limousine with a rear roof part that can be opened, mostly belonging to the luxury class of automobiles. The longest available wheelbase was usually used , and some (younger) providers also extended it. Lined fabric hood, often with storm bars in the past. In the past, this was a typical field of activity for manufacturers of special bodies. Due to the design, the few modern landaulets have a notchback .
  • Combination of Targa and Landaulet
VW T-Roc Cabriolet (2020).
  • Crossover convertible
    • One of the crossover types. These combine features of different body shapes; here: the SUV with the convertible or with a roof that can be fully or partially opened. The transition to the off-road vehicle convertible is difficult to define, however. Examples are Suzuki LJ80 , Jeep Wrangler , Mercedes-Benz G-Class W460 , Range Rover Evoque or VW T-Roc . There seem to be efforts to establish the term SUC (for Sport Utility Convertible ) for this. However, the abbreviation would also fit any Sport Utility Coupé .
Jeep Commando C-104 (1972).
Chevrolet SSR with metal roof that can be opened; here with an optional tonneau cover over the loading area (2004).
  • Pickup convertible
    • Vehicle for a niche market. As a roadster pickup (with simple weather protection), it was widely used as an inexpensive pickup truck in the 1920s and 1930s. Large manufacturers such as B. Ford, Chevrolet or Dodge offered such variants on a car basis ex works (often in the commercial vehicle catalog). There were also conversion kits for subsequent modifications. These were often done in the brand agency; a conversion by the buyer himself or a commissioned wagon builder was not unusual. The rear of a roadster or a convertible coupe was swapped for a loading area. Based on this tradition, Chevrolet created the SSR as a homage to a leisure vehicle with stylistic echoes of pickups from the late 1940s and early 1950s. At this time, however, there were no longer any such vehicles ex works with an opening top. Commercial vehicles with folding roofs are not uncommon as army transporters, just as most early trucks had little or no weather protection.

Historic designs

Typical touring: Thomas Flyer M6-40 Touring (1910).
Typical Speedster: Mercer Type 35J Raceabout (1913).
Mercedes-Benz 630K Cabriolet from Saoutchik (1928).
Bentley Mark VI Three Position Drop Head Coupé by Franay (1947).
  • French Cabriolet , Convertible Sedan and Convertible Berline :
    • This earliest form of the convertible had four doors with cranked windows, two or three rows of seats, often two jump seats in the rear. There was often a partition in the chauffeur compartment of this representative vehicle. The convertible top could be opened halfway (over the front seats) or fully. It was lined and so heavy that it usually had to be opened and closed by two people. Well-known specialists for such structures were Saoutchik in France or Murphy and LeBaron in the USA. In Germany, the cabriolets by Hermann Spohns for Maybach and von Sindelfingen for Mercedes-Benz enjoyed a high reputation (Cabriolet D and F).
  • "Trèfle" and "Cloverleaf":
    • The French "Trèfle" and the American "Cloverleaf" were special forms of the roadster. Both terms stand for clover leaf and mean a three-seater roadster with a single seat in the middle of the tapering rear. The design is known in Europe from the Citroën 5CV and Opel Tree Frog
  • Speedster:
    • A sports and racing car with minimal body and no weather protection on a shortened chassis. For many manufacturers this was the most powerful model.
    • The Boattail Speedster is one of the Speedsters only in name, actually it is a sub-form of the Roadster with a pointed tail that was widespread in the 1930s. Probably the best-known Boattail Speedster is built on the Auburn 851 (1935, V12) or 852 (R8 with supercharger); Various replicas of these have been produced in series.
  • Three Position Drop Head Coupe
    • In this version, also known as the Sedanca Drop Head Coupe , the convertible top can be opened half or fully.
    • The Victoria Convertible was a version of this that was popular in the US.
  • Sedanca, Coupé de Ville and Sedanca Coupe:
    • Similar to the Targa, part of the front roof can be removed. The use of metal is usually very difficult. The four-door design went out of fashion before the Second World War; the Sedanca Coupé was a custom-made product (by Franay or Saoutchik, for example ) until the early 1950s.
  • Kübelwagen
    • Military version of the Phaeton.

Other open historical designs are u. a. Vis-à-vis , Dos-à-dos , Tonneau (also called wagonette ), touring cars (also touring or open tourers), Phaeton (body design) , Phaetonnet or Torpedo (automobile design) , Scaphandrier (emergency roof only above the passenger compartment) and Skiff (with a wooden boat-like body). They are not considered convertibles.

Term in DIN standards

According to the definition in the German standard DIN 70011 from March 1959, the convertible had to have a retractable or retractable folding top with upper and side window seals. In April 1978 this standard was revised and included in DIN 70010. The term received the standardized spelling "Cabriolet", the folding top was reformulated as follows: top can be folded back (lying on top or retractable); the optional presence of roll bars was explicitly mentioned. The edition of May 1990 then formulated: Roof, fixed or flexible with at least 2 positions: 1. closed 2. open or removed - The current edition of the standard is from March 2001.

New registrations in Germany

Until 2006, the Federal Motor Transport Authority managed the convertible (including roadster) segment . Since 2007, open passenger cars have been classified in other segments and, if necessary, are grouped together with the corresponding closed variants. For figures on the annual new registrations of passenger cars in the convertible segment (including roadsters) in Germany according to statistics from the Federal Motor Transport Authority, see the list of new passenger vehicle registrations in Germany by segment and model series # Cabriolets (including roadsters) .

See also


  • Halwart Schrader: Convertible classics from nine decades. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-613-02029-7 .

Web links

Commons : Cabrios  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Cabrio  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Definition Collins English Dictionary (English)
  2. 500C in Geneva
  3. Top of the Citroën DS3 CABRIO in detail
  4. TASCO.