Convertibles come in all different shapes, sizes, and styles. We break down the different types of convertibles and which one is right for you.

Drop-Tops of All Shapes and Sizes

People riding in a convertible
People riding in a convertible

There are many different types of convertibles out there, and they all serve the same purpose: freedom! You don’t have to worry about feeling “caged up” all the time when you’re in a car with a removable top. Convertibles allow you to get some “wind therapy” and let loose while driving. It is safe to say that they can make your commute home from work a little more interesting.

One cool thing about convertibles is that they can be found on just about every type of vehicle out there (well, besides pickup trucks). Let’s take a look at the different types of convertibles that you’ll find out there and what models you’ll find them on.

Two Main Types of Convertibles

There are essentially two main types of convertibles that you’ll run across: soft tops and hard tops. This distinction is based on what the main material of the top is made from. Soft tops are thin and pliable whereas hard tops are thicker and made of “hard” or rigid materials.

Soft-Top

1979 Volkswagen Beetle soft-top - media.vw.com
1979 Volkswagen Beetle soft-top - media.vw.com

The soft-top convertible is the type that most people are probably the most familiar with. These were once referred to as “rag tops” in decades past. Soft-top convertibles have a thin fabric (vinyl, rubber, canvas, or polyester) that is stretched on a frame that fits the top of the vehicle.

Here are a couple of types of soft tops.

Retractable Soft-Top

2022 Ford Mustangs convertibles - netcarshow.com
2022 Ford Mustangs convertibles - netcarshow.com

These soft tops fold back on themselves and tuck away nicely into the vehicle. Most of them are found on cars like the Ford Mustang, and they can be retracted by hand or by an automatic system like what is used for hardtops. Either way, they tuck into the car and stay out of the way.

Detachable Soft-Top

2023 Jeep Wrangler with soft top - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2023 Jeep Wrangler with soft top - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

These are typically found on Jeep Wranglers and other off-road vehicles. These soft tops can be taken completely off the vehicle. In particular, the Jeep hardtop can be switched out for a soft top and vice versa.

Hard-Top

These are the opposite of soft tops and are made with rigid materials. They can be detachable or retractable depending on the design of the vehicle. For example, a Jeep Wrangler comes with a detachable hardtop while the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette has a retractable hardtop.

Here are a couple of types of hardtop convertibles:

Retractable Hard-Top

These tops are made of rigid panels and frames that retract back into the rear of the vehicle when not in use. They fold up on themselves in a specific order and are guided into the rear of the vehicle through an electronic motorized system.

They work at the push of a button and therefore are the most convenient to use since there is no physical removal necessary on behalf of the driver (or passengers…or neighbors). However, they are prone to malfunction and are more expensive to repair than detachable hardtops.

Some vehicles with a retractable hardtop are the Chevrolet Corvette and the Mazda Miata MX-5 RF.

Detachable Hard-top

2021 Jeep Wrangler with hard top - netcarshow.com
2021 Jeep Wrangler with hard top - netcarshow.com

Detachable hard tops are usually made from a single piece of rigid material (for example, fiberglass). They require the driver to physically remove the top themselves instead of being tucked away by an automatic system.

Some vehicles have a place that can be used to store the top while others are simply far too large to pack with you (we’re looking at you, Jeep). Top storage should therefore be considered if you’re looking to add a convertible to your collection.

Targa Top

Porsche 911 Targa 4S - porsche.com
Porsche 911 Targa 4S - porsche.com

A Targa top can be found on cars that have fixed rear windows. In other words, if the rear window is still there when the top comes off, then it is a Targa top. These are usually hardtops and are manually removed by the driver. The top can usually be stowed in the car and transported.

A lot of older Chevrolet Corvettes have Targa tops. My 1986 Corvette had one, and it was awesome on a sunny day!

T-Tops

1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am T-Top - Streetside Classics on YouTube
1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am T-Top - Streetside Classics on YouTube

T-tops are hardtops where only a portion of the roof over the front driver and passenger seats can be removed, leaving a “T” shaped bar in the center. They were very popular in the 1970s and 1980s with models like the Pontiac Firebird, Chevrolet Corvette, and Chevrolet Camaro.

Off-Roaders

2023 Ford Bronco - ford.com
2023 Ford Bronco - ford.com

Off-roaders, like Jeep Wranglers and Ford Broncos, come with detachable hard tops that can be removed and replaced with a soft top. These are very common in the off-roading community, and they’re a great option if you’re looking for an off-roading vehicle that can allow you to let the top down and get some wind!

Some will tell you that there is nothing like riding the trails and backroads with the top completely off, and they aren’t wrong – it is awesome.

During the colder months, you can simply take off the soft top, attach the hard top, and you’re ready to go!

What’s the Difference Between a Roadster and a Coupe?

BMW Z3 M Roadster - bmw-m.com
BMW Z3 M Roadster - bmw-m.com

This is a great question that can often cause some confusion. Yes, they can both be convertibles, but the definition lies in the fact that a coupe has a rear seat, and a roadster typically does not. Roadsters can typically be fitted with a soft top even if they come with a hard top.

Coupes usually come with either a hardtop or a soft top and cannot be fitted with another top option.

When you think of a coupe, you should think of something like a Mini Cooper convertible. A great roadster would be the BMW M3.

Conclusion

2023 Ford Mustang - ford.com
2023 Ford Mustang - ford.com

There are a lot of options on the market today especially if you’re buying a used convertible. You should ask yourself, “Do I want a top that I have to store at home or do I want one that goes with me?” This will help narrow down your options when it comes to convertibles.

It always helps to know that all convertibles will require a little extra maintenance that you wouldn’t normally think about when considering other types of cars. The payoff is rewarding, however, and it shouldn’t be something that keeps you from experiencing the joy of riding around in a convertible.

As a convertible owner for many years, I can honestly say that there is no other feeling like having the wind in your hair as you cruise down the road. It can truly feel like you’re freeing yourself from your familiar (and often boring) life just by riding around with the top down!

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D.L. Shepherd

D.L. Shepherd’s love of anything with an engine and everything that goes fast was kickstarted as a child who spent time at the local dragstrip and dirt track. At Bluefield University, D.L. explored creative writing with published pieces in the university's literary journal. He then worked as a Sales Rep. for Harley-Davidson and as an electronic technician. Now, he's using his expertise as an author. With an endless interest in learning about new cars and analyzing all of their specs, D.L. specializes in vehicle reviews of all kinds.

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