7 'Drop-tops' for less than R500 000 that could hit a sweet spot for you this summer

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AC Cobra
AC Cobra
  • Summer is here in full swing, so it makes perfect sense to buy a convertible, right?
  • We set a budget of R500 000, surprisingly we can 'afford' a Maserati!
  • Many low mileage models to choose from in the pre-owned market.
  • For motoring news, go to Wheels24

Again, I couldn't sleep last night, so I spent most of the night searching for cars on AutoTrader. I do this often; much to my wife's dismay as she knows, I'll be putting vehicle proposals to her on some vehicles that following day during breakfast, lunch, and dinner and in between.

This evening, I'd been searching for convertibles. Summer is here, and we have the best weather in the world in South Africa, so I thought it would be the perfect time to explore the world of open-top motoring again after a very short stint with a poorly maintained used Honda S2000 several years ago. (Now, that's a story for my next instalment of my' worst piece of motoring advice' feature coming soon).

I set two stringent criteria for my search on AutoTrader:

1. The budget is capped at R 500 000. (Hey, it's after midnight here, and I'm allowed to dream, right?)

2. Mileage, no more than 50 000km when searching. (My dad's advice when buying used, I just go with it).

So, what did I find on this digital window-shopping quest for the ultimate summer drop-top for under half a million rand? Let's tuck in:

AC Cobra
AC Cobra

1. AC Cobra

I can hear my wife throwing this printout in the dustbin already. She's seen the Ford v Ferrari film and is not a fan of Carroll Shelby. She also remembers when we had a replica Cobra on press test back in 2006 during the Durban Motor Show. I could barely reach the pedals on that car (I carried pillows) as it was built for a customer by a bespoke Cobra builder in KZN. It was way too noisy, and it used so much fuel. Seriously! They said it had a 5.7-litre V8, but you'd think it was a Bugatti Veyron at full tilt after a day with that car.

Nevertheless, the Cobra remains a must-have for me, and I am sure for some of you too. It's iconic, and because of its starring roles in cinema and its legendary developer, you can't help but respect it as an open-top monster of a motor vehicle. The one I found on AutoTrader had 2800km on it, and it was built in 1995. Of course, genuine AC Cobras will set you back millions, so a replica might be just the thing to give you the vintage thrills you need while satisfying a reasonable price point. We reckon you ought to bury the rev counter on a Cobra at least one time in life before we all can't afford fuel anymore.

BMW M235i
BMW M235i

2. BMW 2 Series

The M235i is a future classic and arguably one of the best convertible BMWs the company has ever made. Seriously, it has the fabric roof that they're bringing back with the new M4 for improved dynamics, and it has that manic turbocharged engine that they used in the original M2 coupe. With a slick-shifting sports auto box, I could easily see myself living comfortably with this car for many years to come as it has the performance, luxury, safety, and open-top appeal that I'm looking for right now. 

The 2017 model I found on AutoTrader had 45 000km on it, and it was listed for sale at an approved BMW used car dealership. This means, if you wanted to, you could extend its maintenance plan as part of your finance deal when if you plan on taking a loan for the vehicle. This car appealed to me as it comes with optional equipment that the original owner already had to pay a pretty penny for, such as the built-in navigation system, Harman/Kardon audio system, and instrument cluster with extended contents. These models also came 'connected' to BMW's concierge and emergency services, so if you need help with anything from the car while touring South Africa, you'd simply hit one button in the car to talk to a BMW assistant. 240kW, 0 to 100 in 5 seconds, claimed 7,9 litres per 100km. This could be the one! 

Do you drive a cool convertible or customised car? Share your ride and your story with us here, and we could feature it on Wheels24.

Maserati Spyder
Maserati Spyder

3. Maserati Spyder

Having spent a reasonable amount of time behind the wheel testing various Maserati cars over the past decade and having had the opportunity to live with a 2004 Quattroporte for a while, we have come to appreciate the unique nature of these cars. I know cars are mechanical things, but trust me, once you hear a 4.2-litre V8 Maserati with a straight-pipe hit its rev limiter, it will have you captivated for life. A 2006 Spyder popped into my search with 42 000km on it at a private premium car dealer. 

They say the car only had two previous owners and that it has an entire service history. It's the 4.2-litre V8 version with the automatic gearbox. If you ask some people, they will tell you to stay far away from a pre-owned Italian sports vehicle. However, like me, others will tell you that it's worth it if you find the right one at the right price. This car is selling for R475 000, a bargain considering the cost of new cars these days. If you want some Italian style for your summer thrills and some day to day, why not consider the Trident for your garage?


4. BMW Z3 2.8i

Call me biased for having two BMWs on this list, but I can't help but share the Z3 that popped into this search. It's a 1998 2.8i model with a five-speed manual gearbox. It has 28 000km original kilometres on it. More than two decades ago, this car arrived with such a bang that even James Bond took note.

These days it's a rare sight. I can't remember the last time I saw one on the road in Johannesburg. If you want to experience proper steering before they went electric, and you want that sensation of a vehicle that turns as your hips turn in the driver's seat, then this is the car for you. Watch out, this car didn't have any modern driver aids, so if it went into oversteer situations, you had to wrestle with it to avoid a nasty incident. The dealer selling this car wants R450 000, which is way more than it sold for new. I wouldn't buy it, but I respect it and looks pristine in the pictures, and if you have some disposable income to part with, this might be an exciting vehicle to consider.

Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG
Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG

5. Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG

You can't have a list of convertibles and not include the granddaddy of convertibles, the Mercedes-Benz brand. Fight with me in the comments section or send us an email here if you disagree, but I think the best sub-R500k convertible you can buy right now is this SLK55. The seller says it has one previous owner and that it has a mere 35000km on the odo despite being registered as a 2006 vehicle.

We've had the opportunity to test press versions of these cars in the past, and from those experiences, we can tell you that they can still punch with the most modern turbo sports cars in the right hands. This SLK55 AMG had a 5.4-litre naturally aspirated V8 that revved to nearly 7000rpm. AMG sent power to the rear wheels, and it felt meaty, all the time, throughout the rev-range and any speed. Mercedes tried with the new SLC (we promise, we'll never mention it again), but this is the drop-top Merc you want for summer. Fuel concerns me, but for R 400 000, I'd have it in a heartbeat.

Millennium 7
Millennium 7

6. Millennium 7

We attended the launch of the Millennium 7 at Zwartkops more than a decade ago. We'll never forget the array of models on display for us to climb into and ask questions about. I'll never forget the one engineer telling me how he had to figure out a way to make a BMW E30 braking system fit on the car, and another telling me how one customer had to have a rotary engine fitted to it.

Since that launch day, we haven't seen too many Millenniums on the road, but one popped into this search for convertibles. Interestingly, the car on sale is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged, Mazda-derived rotary engine. They say it develops 522kW, but it's tuned to deliver 298kW, you know, slightly less daily. We imagine that a high-revving, high kilowatt, low kerb weight car won't appeal to everyone, but if you want the wind in your hair, step this way. This Millennium 7 has 677km on it. It's still new from the looks of things.

Toyota MR2
Toyota MR2

7. Toyota MR2

Mister Two. My friend and former colleague and racing ace, Thomas Falkiner, had one, but before that, I had fallen in love with the MR2 ever since a local motoring magazine pitted it against the Mazda MX-5 back in the early 2000s. What's not to like here? Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, manual transmission, mechanical power steering, and a seating position that would make a Lotus Elise jealous. Ok, it was slow, particularly by modern standards, as my best friend's mom's Jazz Sport will give it a challenge in a traffic lights grand prix these days.

I had the chance to drive a couple of these early 2000s pre-owned MR2 models when I looked for my Daihatsu YRV Turbo a few years ago. They felt good, taught, and nimble, with very little to distract me in terms of colour screens. For pure driving, and if you don't mind noise, vibration and harshness, this is an excellent choice for a summer drop-top, and it's so darn affordable. This one has 36 500km on it, and it's selling for less than R150 000. You'll pay way more than book value for a clean MR2, so be sure you give them a thorough look before you buy one, and perhaps take a friend or mechanic who knows what to look for in these cars when you're going for a test drive.

Of course, there are other cars to consider that shed their rooves. Minis, Fiats, Mazda's, etc. These cars stood out for this recent exercise, as they showed how much value there is out there if you're looking for something niche that hasn't been driven into the ground. If these cars don't appeal to you, search for stricter parameters on the AutoTrader website. If you buy a cool convertible for the summer after reading this, please let us know here.

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