By Sivan Goren

Merc SLK 15.jpg

Fantasy: me in a canary-yellow Mercedes-Benz SLK, circa 1997. The top is down and so is my hair, wrapped in an ever-so-chic scarf à la Susan Sarandon in the hit movie Thelma and Louise – a film that, incidentally, propelled the humble headscarf to stratospheric popularity back in 1991. I am wearing stylish retro sunglasses and the wind gently ruffles the loose tendrils around my face as I cruise through Parkhurst, athleisure-clad coffee shop patrons glancing up from their steaming cortados and openly admiring me – even their Weimaraners look quite impressed.

Reality: the top is down and my hair is tied up with a band hastily fashioned out of whatever was at hand, which doesn’t really matter because after about seven seconds on the road my hair has pulled free of its restraints and is flapping about wildly like an electrocuted octopus. I have, of course, forgotten my hat, so I can now add third-degree burns to my crow’s nest coiffure, and the wind is so loud that I will be lucky to have half an eardrum left when I am done. To add insult to injury, every now and then a violent gust shoots up my nose, a feeling akin to what I can only describe as being lobotomised through my nostril.

Merc SLK 13.jpg

Cabriolets, convertibles, drop-tops, soft-tops, call them what you want. What is it that is so appealing about a car that in reality, let’s face it, is a really bad idea?

Well, for me it’s the thought of a viscerally sensorial driving experience. I mean, there is nothing like being on the open road and enjoying the sounds, smells and tastes of the outdoors, right? Of course, in cities like Joburg the open-air soundtrack will include the dulcet tones of hadeda song and ear-splitting taxi hooting, the aroma of burning clutches and freshly dumped kerbside rubbish, and the flavoursome fumes of that not-so-roadworthy bus that leaves a plume of black smoke in its wake as it chugs along in the fast lane before inevitably breaking down.

Practically speaking, too, a car that is hot in summer, freezing in winter and open in a sudden Highveld downpour is not ideal. Just put the roof up, I hear you say. Sure, then why not just buy myself an elegant hardtop coupé to begin with if I can’t use the car as it was intended for half the year (and more if I live in a place with a horrible climate like the UK, Greenland or – heaven forbid – Cape Town)?

Merc SLK 8.jpg

Eventually the novelty of the al fresco driving experience wears off and I decide that maybe driving roof-up is the way to go. No problem, I tell myself, let’s just keep this puppy closed. And here is when I encounter the problem no one ever tells you about: convertibles with their tops up are noisy. No, I don’t mean the sound of the engine – that would be fine, good even. It is the incessant barrage of squeaks and creaks that follows putting the top up. This top is meant to be dddd-oooo-wwwww-nnnnn, you can almost hear the car accuse as it rattles and shakes over every tiny bump in the road (and even over no bumps whatsoever).

Sadly, then, I conclude that apart from the novelty factor, a convertible really doesn’t have that much going for it. And as far as practicality, a cabriolet is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle. But then one day I hit that soft-top sweet spot… the sun’s in that not-quite-but-mostly-down position, the temperature has dropped so that it is mild and balmy, and a gentle breeze wafts the fragrance of freshly cut grass my way. In the distance I hear party music and I can almost imagine that I’m driving along a tropical coast road… until a mouthful of diesel fumes ejects me forcefully from my reverie.

Merc SLK 6.jpg

Well, that’s that, then – obviously I’m just not cut out for the cabrio life. I guess I’ll just have to continue driving my sensible, reliable, fuel-efficient… oooh, look, an Alfa Spyder!

Merc SLK 14.jpg
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