A convertible or cabriolet is a passenger car that can be driven with or without a roof in place. The methods of retracting and storing the roof vary between models. A convertible allows an open-air driving experience, with the ability to provide a roof when required. Potential drawbacks of convertibles are reduced structural rigidity (requiring significant engineering and modification to counteract the effects of removing a car's roof) and cargo space.
Other terms for convertibles include cabriolet, cabrio, drop top, open two-seater, open top, soft top, spider, and spyder. Consistency is rare about the current use of cabriolet in preference to convertible. The term cabriolet originated from "a light, two-wheeled, one-horse carriage with a folding top, capable of seating two persons", however the term is also used to describe other convertibles these days.
In the United Kingdom open cars with wind-up windows on their two doors and full weather protection were drophead coupés. Four-door open cars with wind-up windows and full weather protection were all-weather tourers.
Demand for convertibles increased as a result of American soldiers in France and the United Kingdom during World War 2 experiencing the small roadster cars which were not available in the United States at the time. These roadsters included the MG Midget and Triumph Roadster. United States automakers manufactured a broad range of models during the 1950s and 1960s – from economical compact-sized models such as the Rambler American and the Studebaker Lark, to the more expensive models such as the Packard Caribbean, Oldsmobile 98, and Imperial by Chrysler.
Other materials are also used in the convertible top. By 1955, the most popular materials were latex and butyl rubber fabrics that each accounted for around 35% of the convertible top weight, with others included vinyl (12%), jute (8%), and rayon and acrylic fibers (Orlon), amounting to about 1% each in the compositions. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material was used for many convertible tops. The material consists of two layers: a top layer made of PVC, which has a specific structure depending on the vehicle model, and a lower layer made of fabric (usually cotton).
During the 1950s and 1960s, detachable hardtops were offered for various convertible sports cars and roadsters, including the 1955–1957 Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette, as well as the 1963–1971 Mercedes-Benz W113 series of two-seaters. Because the convertible top mechanism is itself expensive, the hardtop was customarily offered as an additional, extra-cost option. On early Thunderbirds (and Corvettes through 1967), buyers could choose between a detachable hardtop and a folding canvas top at no additional cost, but paid extra for both.