Now that warmer weather is approaching, Cam and his wife are looking for an affordable convertible as a weekend car. They want something small and fun with a manual trans that won’t break their budget, but here is the catch, they really do not want a Miata. What car should they buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
My wife and I are looking for a small, fun, summer convertible that we can take out on nights and weekends with the top down to enjoy the summer. We both already have our own cars for daily driving and commuting, along with a motorcycle that we ride together. We both love driving manuals, but our daily drivers are both autos, so a manual in this car is a must. This car won’t be used to carry or haul anything, and it is unlikely that we will need more than two seats. We prefer small cars with spirited driving qualities. There is only one catch that is making this difficult: The car cannot be a Miata. Help us find a fun summer drop top!
As for budget, we can spend up to $10,000.
Budget: up to $10,000
Daily Driver: No
Wants: Small, Fun, Convertible
Doesn’t want: a Miata
Cam, so naturally every Jalopnik commenter’s head is collectively exploding right now because what you are describing is a Miata... but you don’t want a Miata. And you know what, that’s fine. Miatas are great cars but it’s OK to be different, and I’ve got just the idea that will combine reliability, fun, and a manual trans for your budget.
What you need is a Honda Beat. As you are likely well aware, the Honda Beat is a small convertible that was never sold here, but is now eligible under the 25 Year Rule to be legally imported.
Don’t let the fact that the Beat’s tiny three-cylinder motor only makes 64 horsepower sway you, the car weighs less than 1,700 pounds. For comparison purposes, a ‘91 Miata tips the scales around 2,100 pounds. But unlike the Miata’s front-engined layout, the Beat’s motor is in the middle. As well all know mid-engine cars are ideally balanced for handling. The one downside to this car is that you will need to learn to shift with your left hand since these are Japanese market vehicles that are right-hand drive. But hey, that’s part of the fun.
Our friend Gary Duncan in Virginia has all sorts of Beats at various price points many of them well under $10,000. I’m partial to this yellow one with the funky wheels.
Okay, Cam, your name is already a car part, so you need to really embrace the hardcore gearhead angle here and go for something tiny, classic, fun, and British, like an old MG or a Triumph. Those are the quintessential small two-seat roadsters, the cars that inspired the Miata. But, seeing as how you probably want to actually drive the thing (as opposed to wonder why it’s leaking oil in you driveway), we’re going to cheat a little, and go with a car that looks and feels like a classic British roadster, but isn’t British at all: a Datsun Fairlady 1600.
These little roadsters were absolutely inspired by MGBs and Austin-Healeys and Triumph Spitfires, and it shows. They’ve got looks and details that seem to reference all those cars, and yet in the Datsun it all comes together as a handsome, classy little beast. Even better, it’s got Japanese build quality and a fairly bulletproof beefy inline-four, giving you all the fun and feel of classic MG or TRwhatever ownership without all the crying.
Look at this one here, for right at $10,000. It’s a 1970, in fantastic shape, and there’s no way this thing won’t fulfill all of your small, fun convertible desires many, many times over.
This is the time to get something vintage, lovely, and fun. This little Fairlady is all of those things, and while not exactly common, there’s enough of a community of owners in the U.S. to make sure that parts and maintenance aren’t a nightmare.
This is the car you want. I can feel it.
Cam, old sport, I cannot applaud you enough for shopping for a fun convertible and having the good sense to say no to a Miata, the pumpkin spice latte of convertibles. While Jason offered up an excellent suggestion with the Datsun, allow me to disagree with him completely and recommend that you go straight to the source of the inspiration. Go with a Triumph Spitfire.
Look at the people in that press photo. Note how happy they look, how blurred they appear to be because they are simply driving too spiritedly for the camera’s shutter to keep up. That could be you and your lady!
See, a Triumph would be the perfect little plucky summer weekend convertible because they were made by people who actually, you know, enjoyed building cars and driving them. I know this because I drove the hardtop GT6 version once and they are essentially the same thing. The cars have all the analog qualities that you can imagine and they weigh next to nothing, which makes them fun and infinitely chuck-able.
Yes, British cars are not know for their reliability, but here’s the thing: Triumph made and sold so many Spitfires that it’s actually not that hard to find parts for them. They’re everywhere. Plus, you get to drive around in a car called the “Triumph Spitfire.” One word means a spectacular achievement and the other was a nod to a famous British war plane. How cool is that?
There are actually a ton of Spitfires to be found below your budget. Autotrader Classics has 41 examples listed at the time of this writing. Here’s a lovely green one with about 54,000 miles on it for $5,950.