The Last Word: Soft-tops are for oldies

11 April 2011
imports_CCGB_soft-top1_40864.jpg The Last Word: Soft-tops are for oldies
Brian Gower talks about the perils of owning a soft-top, both full-size and replica. ...

So, there you are belting along the A29, through Billingshurst which thanks you, careful driver, hoping to make Arundel before they stop serving lunch at the Black Rabbit, when you find yourself having to brake hard to avoid inserting the bonnet of your car into the boot of what looks like an Austin Healey travelling at barely 40mph.

As passing is out of the question on the long bendy few miles ahead, you have plenty of time to study the driver. A hundred to one he is the wrong side of 60. If he is a new-age oldie he will be sporting either a cropped barnet or be totally shaved and gleaming or he just might be wearing a stiff baseball cap. He will also be gassing away to the much younger female in the passenger seat, pointing out the restored instruments, demonstrating the positive but notchy gear change – “it’s a knack, y’see” – patting her leg and letting her know what an 18 carat geezer he is. What he won’t be doing is looking in his mirror so he can use the car’s unquestionable performance to get out of the flubbing way.

The reason I offer such good odds on the age of the man in the Austin Healey (or AC Ace or Triumph TR 3A) is that younger men with that kind of disposable lettuce tend to go for a BMW, Porsche or Audi TT. They also tend to drive very quickly, although nowadays you can never be sure that the cars aren’t driving themselves very quickly.

If I wanted to drive a soft-top, I would first have to purchase a tight-fitting flat cap, tweed not check, to prevent myself from exhibiting Silly Hair Syndrome which I could so easily do were I not constantly on my guard.

You see, I have what my mother liked to describe as either ‘fine’ hair or ‘fly-away’ hair. This used to be all right until I found that my hair has, of late, taken to flying away and not coming back. What is currently left needs careful management if it is to pass for a ‘full’ head of hair. One does what one can and what one does not do, if one has any sense, is expose the fragile construction that now sits on one’s head to the buffeting that can be experienced in an open car.

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Anyone similarly afflicted with silly hair would do well to heed this advice. It matters not that you are cruising around in thirty grand’s worth of classic poke, if your hair has lifted from your classic dome to become a flapping banner above your left ear, you will not be looking your best. Even in the model world, soft-tops are better suited to the older collector. I include all miniature open cars in this special category because their suitability is defined quite simply by their predisposition to gather more dust than closed cars. The more mature collectors have, theoretically, an abundance of leisure time to devote to the care of their collections and quite likely own things like cotton-wool buds, small brushes and even those tiny vacuum cleaners specially designed for sucking the dust out of computer keyboards or 1/43 car interiors.

Older diecasts can withstand fairly vigorous dusting: I frequently employ a lightly moistened soft toothbrush to remove the grime of ages from diecast seats and dashboards. Wifey’s organic cotton tissues are perfect for buffing up the paint to a good shine and are also gentle enough for plastic windscreens. Modern diecasts with their plastic interiors require a delicate touch because the various transfers and fine printing, which get better by the month, are easily harmed, as are moulded details such as the little stalk-switches on steering columns, the gear levers and hand-brakes, etc. It is an enjoyable task and one that helps us to appreciate even more the work that goes into these products. I was once told that you only really understand how something is put together if you have drawn it. I would add: or cleaned it.

Having finished the dusting, as you walk into the kitchen to make yourself the nice cup of Assam that you so richly deserve, you might find that you are hobbling. This will be because you are wearing the new soft-top socks bought for you by your kindly wife to stop your ankles from swelling up, you old wreck. You have now joined the army of gentlemen who are privy to the secret of soft-top socks, which is that they don’t stay up. They slide down to form agonising ridges under the soles of your feet before occupying the space in the front of your shoes leaving no room for your toes. Isn’t life marvellous?

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