By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Gas prices may be going through the roof — but that’s even more reason to go topless this summer. Obtaining Maximum Enjoyment Per Gallon is at least as important as how many Miles Per Gallon you’re getting — especially at $4 per!
Here are eight ways to feel better about this summer’s high cost of driving:
1) Mustang GT California Special
Engine: 4.6 liter V-8, 300 horsepower
The Bottom Line: The best of yesterday is even better today.
Ford returns an icon to the showrooms — not once, but twice. The retro-muscle styling of the ’08 Mustang convertible’s hunky shell and the rumbly menace of an old-school Detroit V-8 to take you back to those warm summer nights of ’68. Add the resurrected California GT Special — a modern-day version of the California Special packages of 40 years ago — and your trip down memory lane will be complete.
The GT California comes with a mean-looking chin spoiler, custom 18-inch mag wheels, side scoops and prominent rolled exhaust tips to let the 4.6 liter, 300 hp engine breathe more freely. The package also includes embroidered Dove or Parchment leather seats and a unique paint/stripe package to make an already stand out car stand out even more. Add the optional 10-speaker Shaker 1000 premium audio upgrade and you’ll have the perfect tool for carving up Pacific Coast Highway.
2) Porsche Boxster S Limited Edition
Engine: 3.6 liter “boxer” six, 295 horsepower
The Bottom Line: James Dean would approve.
Enjoy your own James Dean Moment behind the wheel of the spiritual heir of the 356 Speedster the legendary actor drove into Valhalla. While not as ferocious as a 911 — or as focused as the hardtop-only Cayman coupe — the Boxster roadster arguably delivers the purest expression of the Porsche experience.
Like its ancestors, the Boxster S is balanced like a Gurka fighting knife. It is powerful — but not overpoweringly so; the driver is expected to work the drivetrain to extract the available performance. But the effort is its own reward as the revs climb and the corners come at you faster and faster.
S models feature an up-rated 295 horsepower version of the classic, horizontally opposed “boxer” six-cylinder engine, mounted amidships for optimum balance and handling. The new-for-2008 Limited Edition offers a unique exterior color scheme (orange with contrast black trim) and trim upgrades — including crushed suede accents for the steering wheel and shift knob as well as metallic dash and console facings.
3) BMW 650i
Engine: 4.8 liter V-8, 360 horsepower
The Bottom Line: Drop-top high-end hitman
In the ’80s, BMW’s menacing “sharknose” 635CSi prowled the streets like a hungry Great White. It was an instant icon and legend in its own time. But unfortunately, it was never offered in convertible form — in part because the technology of the time didn’t allow removal of a major portion of the car’s structure (the metal roof) without compromising chassis rigidity and thus, handling. For BMW, which built a reputation on being purveyors of the “ultimate driving machine” — form had to follow function.
No such worries with today’s 650i convertible — which is every bit as tight-feeling as the hardtop coupe version. Form still follows function, however. When the top is up, there are few visible signs you are driving a convertible. No seams, no pleats — and the seal is so tight it almost pops your eardrums.
A 10-speaker stereo, DVD navigation system and 360 horsepower V-8 engine with your choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission are four more things no Reagan-era 6-series ever offered — but which are standard equipment on today’s 650i.
4) Jaguar XKR Portfolio
Engine: Supercharged 4.2 liter V-8, 420 horsepower
The Bottom Line: Oh, behave!
There’s wind in your hair — and under the hood — courtesy of the XKR’s forced induction supercharged 420 horsepower V-8 and zero to 60 capability of 4.5 seconds.
The ultra-exclusive Portfolio Package tops off an already sumptuous array of creature and technology features with uber-amenities such as 16-way, multi-stage heated seats, custom-made thick-pile carpeting with embroidered Jaguar “leaper” crests for the mats, massive 20-inch “Cremona” or “Senta” alloy wheels, racy engine turned aluminum trim plates, 525 watt Alpine audio system and high-capacity Alcom brakes system featuring 15.8 inch discs and six-piston calipers up front.
One reason people buy six figure convertibles is to get other people to look at them; wouldn’t you rather one a car that makes you want to look at it instead?
5) Aston Martin DB9 Volante
Engine: 5.9 liter V-12, 449 horsepower
The Bottom Line: Advantage, Vantage
When the world is not enough, only a DB9 will do.
There are more costly convertibles – as well as faster and more powerful ones. But few at any price can match the aesthetic eroticism of a DB9. Even among sheetmetal supermodels, it is a standout stunner — the perfection of proportion that one has trouble imagining either biology or engineering delivering – until you see it in the flesh.
The Volante’s exotic beauty is matched by its equally exotic 5.9 liter, 12-cylinder powerplant — and near 200 mph top speed capability. Naturally, only the finest leathers and wood envelops the interior. Every conceivable gadget is at your fingertips – including Bluetooth wireless, DVD navigation and a custom-engineered 128 watt Linn ultra-premium audio system.
Of course, one buys a DB9 as much for how it looks when standing still as one does for how it performs on the road. By either measure, you’ll find your money has been well-spent.
6) Lamborghini Murcielago
Engine: 6.5 liter V-12, 632 horsepower
The Bottom Line: Bring a brown paper bag
Lamborghini has a long tradition of being the Yin to Ferrari’s Yang; its cars have always been brutally muscular as well as pornographically compelling. There is nothing subtle about a Lamborghini. The legendary Miuria of the 1970s should have been sold in a plain brown wrapper. It was followed by the Countach — a car whose name itself sounded almost obscene. But these automotive unmentionables were also sold as hardtop coupes only — a pattern broken by the LP460 Murcielago.
It comes as both a coupe and an even more come-hither convertible. If its looks don’t kill, leave the mopping up to the Lambo’s overwhelming 6.5 liter, 632 horsepower V-12 engine — which also produced nearly 700 ft.-lbs. of asphalt abusing torque.
As for the car’s not-so-great rearward visibility, keep in mind the immortal words of Ferrucio Lamborghini, who famously stated: “That which is behind me does not matter.”
7) Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe
Engine: 6.7 liter V-12, 453 horsepower
The Bottom Line: Nothing rolls like a Rolls
In the ancient world, pharaohs had pyramids erected in their honor. Today — if you have the means — you can have a Rolls built in yours. And that is no exaggeration, because even in this age of mass produced everything, Rolls-Royce motorcars are essentially built one at a time and largely by hand to each customer’s individual specifications.
Like the pyramids of Egypt, the massive four-seater Drophead Coupe is monumental in every respect — from its sheer mass (an asphalt-crushing 6,700 lbs.) and dreadnought size (220 inches long, 130-inch wheelbase) to its mogul-like opulence (hand-fitted and custom-dyed leathers and rugs; real wood inlays cut to fit each individual car) to the hand of god thrust provided by its titanic 6.7 liter V-12 engine. It is the biggest — and the most — in almost every conceivable way.
With the hand-fitted top down, motoring along in a Rolls convertible is like piloting your own private Queen Mary — lesser vehicles deferentially moving aside as you glide on by. Just don’t forget your gas card; the Drophead Coupe’s “best case” mileage in town of 11 mpg will put you on a first name basis with the Emir of Kuwait.
8) Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
Engine: 5.4 liter supercharged V-8, 617 horsepower
The Bottom Line: You can go no no farther; welcome to the top of the ladder!
The half-million-mark represents the deep end of the automotive pool; it’s a place where very few of us will ever get to swim. But in the event you have the means to afford a car that costs twice what most Americans spend on their homes, the SLR ought to provide sufficient exclusivity.
Finished in liquid-looking black or silver, the uber-roadster absolutely dominates the space it occupies; other cars fade into the backdrop like extras in a movie overwhelmed by the candlepower of an A-list star. The wheels alone — ginormous 20 inch custom-made super lightweight alloys — cost more than a new Corolla.
And escaping the paparazzi is easy when you’ve got 617 supercharged horses at your command.
The only downside? Door dings and stone chips. This is a car you’ll want to drive everywhere — but live in constant fear of scuffing. And then there are parking valets…
Ah well. Everything has its price!