Have you ever considered something sort of shitty from the past, like, say, how 8-Track tapes would sometimes pause and click and switch tracks right in the middle of a song, and wonder “why the hell were we okay with this?” If you haven’t you should, because it’s weirdly cathartic, and I suggest starting with this: the profoundly shitty plastic rear windows almost all convertibles had up until pretty recently.
I know you’ve seen these, maybe on some old MGB that’s been parked in the same spot on your street since the Second Gulf War. Plastic rear windows on convertible tops were found all across the automotive spectrum up until the mid 1990s or so, in everything from the humblest Geo Metro convertible to Fords to BMWs and Mercedes and even smug, grand Rolls-Royces.
No matter how amazing or expensive or well-built the car one of these plastic windows was stuck on, sooner or later the window would cloud up and get filthy and more and more opaque, until eventually it’d yellow and crack like some disgusting old man’s heels.
It didn’t have to be like this, either—it was known, for decades and decades, that you could install a nice, clear real glass window into a convertible top. I know this is true because at least one company—Karmman, who built convertibles for Volkswagen since the 1950s, always did it this way.
A few other companies did this as well, but it was very uncommon, and by far Volkswagen/Karmann was the largest producer of glass-rear-windowed convertibles for decades. Well, except for the Type 181 Thing, I guess.
The question is, why?
I get that price would be a factor, and, sure, okay, maybe that’d be why Geo Metro or base-model Miatas would have plastic rear windows, but what about BMWs and Mercedes and other high-end cars? What’s their excuse?
I mean, if VW was throwing these into Beetles and Karmann-Ghias and later Rabbit/Cabrio convertibles, it can’t be that expensive—VW convertibles were more than their hardtop models, but they were hardly “premium” cars.
But there’s also questions for the convertible-buying population of the time, specifically, why did anyone put up with this shit?
Rearward visibility is a big deal in a car, so why would you accept that after a couple of years, you’d just have to give that up? Why was everyone okay with this outcome? Why wasn’t there more pressure on carmakers to build convertible tops that didn’t suck?
I can’t really find any specific reasons beyond carmakers just don’t want to spend money unless they absolutely have to, but, eventually, it seems everyone did have enough, and now glass windows are pretty much the norm.
Still, that doesn’t take away the shame of so many years of yellow, cracked, useless convertible rear windows.