Home Cars The Legends of Open Air Driving: 20 Best Classic Roadsters Money Can Buy

The Legends of Open Air Driving: 20 Best Classic Roadsters Money Can Buy

Vukasin Herbez June 25, 2018

Ask any car enthusiast what their greatest driving pleasure is and most of them will say it is driving a small two-seater open-top sports car on a coastal road in the summer. Although it is a mainstream driving experience, you can’t beat the smell of the sea and the warm wind in your hair. Add the excitement of driving a compact and nimble convertible to the equation and it is an unforgettable experience.

For those who don’t know, roadsters are a class of small sporty convertibles with two seats, compact bodies, rear wheel drive and sharp handling. They are not brutally fast, although most of them deliver a satisfying performance, but they drive perfectly and provide the ultimate enjoyment. British manufacturers from the 50’s and 60’s were best known for classic roadsters, all of which are popular in America. And, even today, America is one of the biggest roadster markets in the world.

This interesting list showcases the best classic roadsters that also happen to be surprisingly affordable for summer cruising. In most cases, a perfectly restored, classic British or Italian roadster can cost you the same as a new compact SUV which is a bargain. This list also includes some of the newer open top alternatives from the 90’s that are slowly reaching classic car status. Keep reading to find your dream roadster and let your hair fly in the wind.

  1. MG B

One of the most popular and typical British roadsters from the 60’s is the MG B. They introduced it in 1962 as was successor of the MG A, which helped establish the roadster class in the U.S. For the standards of the day, the MG B was a fairly modern car with unibody construction, a roomy interior, and decent suspension and steering.

Some contemporary tests said the MG B was underpowered. In fact, 95 HP from 1.8-liter engine certainly isn’t much, but since the car weighs only 2,200 lbs, it can keep up with modern traffic. For those who want more power, MG introduced their model C with a 3.0-liter six cylinder and 145 HP. They also offer the MG B GT with a 3.5-liter V8 engine, available only in coupe form.

The best thing about the MG B is that this is a simple car to maintain and all relevant parts are available today. MG produced over 400,000 MG Bs, with most of the cars sold in America, so finding one isn’t a problem. Expect to pay from $7,000 for decent MG Bs, and up to $25,000 for show quality examples.

  1. Austin Healey Sprite Mk1

If you look at an Austin Healey Sprite Mk1, you will see how the industry has advanced in the last 50 years. The little, bug-eyed Sprite Mk1 is a tiny roadster with two seats, a cramped interior and a small trunk. It weighs 1,500 lbs and comes with a 943 ccm engine producing 45 HP. But, the Sprite Mk1 was an immensely popular roadster back in its day.

In fact, Austin Healey sold over 350,000 examples, most of them in America. People in the U.S. have loved it for its compact size, peppy engine, driving dynamics and pure driving feel. Basically, when you drive a bug eye Sprite Mk1, there is nothing between you and the road. There’s just a little tin can with a small windshield.

Not surprisingly, the Sprite Mk1 was a favorite car in amateur racing on the West Coast. Many latter racing champions started behind the wheel of this little thing. For around $20,000 you can find a nice Mk1 that will introduce you to basics of open-top motoring.

  1. BMW Z3

Roadsters became popular in the 90’s with the Mazda Miata showing the way. It made all the major car companies want a piece of the action. BMW produced numerous convertibles before it, but no roadsters, so the Z3 was their first. Despite this being a relatively modern car, it possessed the classic concept and analog driving feel. It was and still is the definitive future classic, so you may want to get yours today.

BMW created the Z3 using the E36 Compact 3 Series platform and a rear suspension out of the old E30 model. BMW finished it off with a sexy new open-top body. The result was a stylish convertible with two seats, a lineup of potent four and six-cylinder engines, a light weight and great driving dynamics. The car was significantly more expensive than the Miata, but also much better, faster and luxurious.

The Z3 was released to an eager audience in 1996 in the middle of the roadster renaissance. It was one of the bestsellers in its class, and a benchmark model in the performance and handling department. The Z3 was especially popular in America. Interestingly, it was the first BMW they solely produced in the new South Carolina factory.

Also, the appearance in James Bond movie, GoldenEye, helped its popularity, too. BMW made close to 270,000 examples until 2002. For around $10,000 you can find a nice six-cylinder Z3 with all the luxury items such as a leather interior. Most also come with climate control and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) to will make cruising along the coast much more enjoyable.

  1. Triumph Spitfire

The Spitfire was the second definitive British roadster from the 60’s, and according to most car fans, it is much cooler than the MG B. They share the same mechanics, modest power and performance. However, the Spitfire got its name from a World War II fighter plane. It had an aggressive, sportier design with lower sides and a sharper front end.

Triumph presented this legendary roadster in 1962. It came with a diminutive, 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine with 63 HP. Over the years, the power grew, thanks to a 1.5-liter engine with 71 HP and more torque. These changes improved the driving dynamics. As all other British roadsters, the biggest market was the U.S.

Triumph produced 314,000 Spitfires with most of them ended up in America. The high production numbers make the Spitfire is easy to find and relatively inexpensive, too. Some decent examples cost below the $10,000 mark and for $15,000, you can purchase one of their perfect late models with the hardtop option.

  1. Mazda Miata

One of the most successful stories in car industry must be the tale about the Mazda Miata roadster. This little car changed the car world, becoming the best-selling open-top model in history. In fact, the Miata passed the one million mark in 2013. Nobody expected it would be so successful and influential when Mazda presented the Miata in the late 80’s. Soon after its introduction, the industry realized roadsters were coming back and the Miata completely dominated the market.

The Miata’s secret was simplicity, a light weight and balance. Mazda didn’t try to invent something new. Instead, they copied the basic concept of a classic British roadster, added modern materials and designs, making the Miata dependable yet agile. With 116 HP coming from a twin-cam 1.6-liter engine, it may not sound powerful, but in a 2,200-lb car, it’s more than enough.

If you are looking for an affordable Miata, the first-generation Miata can provide many memorable moments for just a few thousand dollars. Don’t forget that there are lots of aftermarket options to can transform your little Miata in a sports car killing machine, too.

  1. Triumph TR6

If the Spitfire was Triumph’s roadster for the masses, the TR6 was a car for lovers of open-air driving and speed. Some drivers considered the Spitfire underpowered even though it weighed only 1,500 lbs. However, the TR6 provided lots of power and a convincing performance straight out of the box. The TR6 was a successor to the TR5 and for the U.S. market only.

The TR6 and TR250 shared the basic construction, dimensions and design. Triumph introduced the TR6 in 1968. It featured disc brakes all around, an independent suspension and a 2.5-liter straight six engine with 145 HP. Thanks to a weight of just under 2,200 lbs, the TR6 was agile, making it among the fastest power roadsters in the late 60’s.

Production ended in 1976 after Triumph produced more than 90,000 of them. Today, the TR6 is a popular choice for classic roadster fans who want those old school looks and feel with decent performance and speed numbers. You can find a quality TR6 for approximately $20,000.

  1. Datsun Fairlady Roadster

One of the most interesting Japanese copies of European cars was the cute, compact Datsun Fairlady Roadster. Datsun, known by some as Datsun Sports, built the Fairlady Roadster from 1959 to 1970. They borrowed the design, technology and the feel from those classic British roadsters like the Triumph and MG.

However, Datsun did more than just copy the British. They gave this little roadster significant power with a 2.0-liter engine, as well as better handling and driving dynamics. Most importantly, Datsun guaranteed the quality of their cars, which is something that British car manufacturers had difficulties with at the time.

Datsun made over 40,000 of these cool little cars over an 11-year production period. They sold most of them in the USA, so they came with left-hand drive. Today, you can find a decent Fairlady Roadster for just over $15,000. For that budget-friendly price, you’ll get a cool sports convertible with better construction than anything coming from the UK.

  1. Alfa Romeo Spider

Alfa Romeo introduced the Spider in 1966. It was the Italian answer to the popularity of British roadsters. Eventually, it became globally popular and the Alfa Romeo model with the longest production run. They initially called it the Duetto. They built the Spider on Alfa’s 105 sedan-coupe base with a Pininfarina-designed body, all alloy twin cam engines and rear wheel drive.

During the late 60’s, the Spider became popular after the movie, The Graduate, where the famous actor, Dustin Hoffman, drove a red one. While the rest of the roadsters vanished from the American market, Alfa managed to sell Spiders all the way up to 1994. This just shows how popular this car was in the U.S. The engine choices ranged from 1.3 to 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines with 105 to 130 HP. Earlier cars had carburetors and later models had fuel injection systems.

Alfa made over 124,000 of those elegant Spiders, selling most of them in the states. The final model year is 1994, so there were four generations of this model. Although they kept the same mechanical layout, they updated the design details, bumpers and lights. For less than $20,000, you can pretend to be the young Dustin Hoffman, but pay attention to rust issues since those classic Alfa Spiders were rust-prone.

  1. Porsche Boxster

Although the third generation of the Porsche Boxster is currently in production, they presented the first-generation model in 1996 and discontinued it in 2004. It’s been over 20 years since Porsche introduced this roadster, so it is safe to say the Boxster revolutionized the concept of the open-top fun car. It has also stood the test of time as a future classic that you can own today.

The big advantage of the Boxster is its layout. While most cars have a front engine and rear wheel drive construction, the Boxster has a mid-mounted flat six engine. This gives the car perfect balance with room for two trunks and sublime handling. The base 2.5-liter engine delivers a healthy 200 HP.

This makes even the most affordable Boxster agile, fast and exciting to drive, especially with a six-speed manual transmission. If you think that the 90’s Porsche design is cool, and you want a perfect piece of German engineering with open-air flavor, this is the roadster for you. For around $10,000, you can find a nice Boxster from the late 90’s.

  1. Fiat 124 Spider

The Alfa Spider wasn’t the only Italian contender in the classic roadster class. Fiat’s 124 Spider was also a popular, affordable choice that is still an interesting proposition for convertible fans who love Italian charm.

Fiat introduced it in 1966, selling the Spider in America until 1985. Pininfarina designed and built the Fiat 124 Spider on the 124 Sedan platform. The mechanics were straightforward with a twin cam engine, a four-speed manual transmission and rear wheel drive. The early models produced 90 HP from a 1.6-liter engine, while later versions got 2.0-liter engines with fuel injection and 102 HP.

The 124 Spider was one of the most comfortable roadsters since it featured a roomy cabin, a big trunk and impressive ride quality. Car fans seek well-maintained models of the 124 Spider. Fortunately, Fiat built over 200,000 124 Spiders. Most of them are in America, so finding one won’t be hard. You can expect to pay around $15,000 for a near mint 124 Spider.

  1. Renault Floride/Caravelle

You may see some of the other cars from this list during your daily commute because they are common street décor in America. However, you will have to dig deep to find the Renault Caravelle, even at car shows or in automotive museums. But, the Caravelle was popular, so Renault managed to sell 117,000 of them during its 10 years from 1958 to 1968.

Renault based it on the mechanics of their economy 4CV model. The Floride/Caravelle was a cool-looking roadster with a rear mounted four-cylinder engine and 2+2 seating configuration. Renault intended to call the car Floride for sale in the U.S. But they decided to call the model the Caravelle for U.S. buyers and Floride for the rest of the world.

Interestingly, most of the production did end up in America although the British roadster invasions of the 60’s made Renault look outdated and slow. Despite looking elegant, the Caravelle was sluggish because its biggest engine was a 1.1-liter four cylinder with 55 HP. However, if you love French charm, are not in a hurry and want a car nobody else has, the Caravelle is for you. You can find a Caravelle for around $10,000, which is affordable for such a rare model.

  1. Honda S2000

Honda introduced the S2000 in 1999 and discontinued it in 2009. However, you could consider the S2000 a 90’s model, even though Honda presented it at the end of the decade. This model was a true driver’s car with all the important features, like lightweight construction and an ideal weight distribution. It also had a powerful, rev-happy engine and razor-sharp handling in an elegant open-top package.

Under the hood was a 2.0 or 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with 240 HP, which was the main selling point of the car. This little gem of an engine featured a 9,000-rpm redline and four valves per cylinder. It also had the famous Honda V-Tec system, providing all its power in high rpms and a wonderful screaming sound. Thanks to its intelligent engineering and light weight, the S2000 delivered respectable performance numbers and handling, receiving universal praise.

During its decade-long production run, Honda sold over 110,000 of these fast, little roadsters. You will be pleased to know you can find one today quite affordable at around $6,000. Look for unmodified examples since people are mostly looking for those stock S2000s. However, there is one possible downside of the Honda S2000. It is a small car with limited interior space, so if you are over six feet tall, you will probably have problems fitting inside.

  1. Mercedes SL R107

Although the Mercedes SL isn’t exactly a small convertible, if you look carefully, you will see that the R107 generation fits the bill perfectly. First, it is strictly a two-seater convertible. Second, it is an old school model, built with highest standards of quality. Third, it offers a lot of enjoyment, power and comfort for the money. Fourth, it is a great summer cruiser and a good investment since the prices of classic SL models are constantly on the rise.

This generation was in production from 1971 to 1989 and is common. The engine choices include one six-cylinder engine and several V8 with range-topping 560 V8. Look for a 450 or 500 V8 engine since they are the most popular and offer the best combination of power and efficiency.

Mercedes sold over 237,000 of those elegant convertibles during its 18-year old run. Believe or not, almost two-thirds of the whole production were U.S.-spec cars. That is why you will not have any problems finding an excellent SL. But, be ready to pay around $25,000 for the best examples of this Teutonic-powered roadster.

  1. Sunbeam Alpine/Tiger

One of the most interesting but forgotten models in the classic roadster class is the Sunbeam Alpine, an English two-seater convertible they built from 1959 to 1968. The Sunbeam is a classic English brand, long gone from the market that only a handful of enthusiasts remember. But the Alpine is a nice-looking car with dependable, conventional mechanicals and small 1.5 or 1.7-liter four-cylinder engines.

Over the years, Sunbeam built over 60,000 Alpine roadsters, so finding one shouldn’t be a problem. For under $20,000, you can find a nice model of this interesting car. However, if you are looking for a more serious machine, go for the Sunbeam Tiger.

This model looks like the Alpine but it packs a 260 or 289 Ford V8 engine under the hood, giving it a better performance and soundtrack. The legendary Carroll Shelby designed it before he worked for Ford. The Tiger is significantly more expensive and rarer because they only built 7,000 of them. But its cool history and performance are worth your investment.

15. Buick Reatta

It seems like everybody forgot about the sleek Buick Reatta. Introduced in the late `80s, the Reatta was Buick`s halo car and it was a cool looking two-seater coupe or convertible built on shortened GM`s E platform.

Under the hood was a 3.8-liter V6 with independent suspension and disc brakes all around. All Reattas were highly optioned cars and despite dating from late `80s, it featured board computers and lots of pretty modern electronic systems. The production lasted four years and over 21,000 were made.

16. Mercury Capri

Over the years, Mercury sold numerous models under the Capri name. First it was just a trim level on a regular Mercury sedan and then it was a re-badged Ford Capri from Europe. In the late `70s and early `80s it was the Mercury version of Fox-bodied Mustang and in 1991 it was a totally new and separate model.

The 1991 to 1994 Mercury Capri was assembled in Australia on Mazda 323 basis and sold in USA. The cool looking two-seater roadster had a 1.6-liter engine and front wheel drive. Despite being a decent car in all aspects, it failed to gain significant popularity and was withdrawn from the market in 1994.

17. Cadillac Allante

The Allante was envisioned as a competitor to the Mercedes SL convertible and it was a two-seater luxury convertible with Italian styling by Pininfarina, Northstar V8 engine and front-wheel drive. That was quite an unusual combination but the car looked and performed very well. Even the production process was specific and actual fabrication was done in Italy in the Pininfarina factory and the cars were shipped to the States by jet which affected the cost of the final product.

The Allante stayed in production until 1993 and just over 21,000 were made. The car proved too expensive to produce and the factory allegedly lost money on every example they made.

18. Jensen Healey

In a desperate attempt to save the company, Jensen launched the Jensen Healey roadster in 1972. The initial response from the American buyers was good since the car was a modern take on a bit outdated MG and Triumph offerings.

Under the hood was a 2.0-liter Lotus derived engine with around 100 HP and modest performance. However, the modern design and nice stance attracted buyers. As all British cars from the `70s, the Healey had problems with rust and electrics and that is why they are cheap today. However, if you are looking for an interesting and rare car with Lotus engine, this could be it.

19. Fiat 850 Spider

Fiat was always one of the best producers of supermini and compact cars, often making sportier and open top versions for keen buyers. This is exactly what the 850 Spider is. Presented in 1964, the 850 Spider was a cool looking roadster version of the regular 850 compact family car.

Despite looking like a toy compared to other full-size cars of the period, the 850 Spider was a capable driving machine since it was so light and nimble. With just 49 HP the car wasn’t exactly capable of outrunning any Porsches but since it was so small, it could provide much driving excitement.

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Hopefully, this list of the legends of open-air driving – best classic roadsters you can buy has given you an idea of what to get if you like the thrill of your hair blowing in the wind.

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