Do I have to define what a roadster is? Maybe so. It is a two-seater and doesn’t have a top. It is the epitome of a sports car. The strict definition says that it doesn’t have roll-up side windows either.
My first exposure to a roadster was my father’s MG-TD, 1952, I believe. It was red and did not have roll-up side windows, just side curtains that sort of kept out the weather. Bucket seats that really looked like they were made from buckets. It had a convertible top that was there only to keep precipitation off and did nothing to provide a meaningful rear view.
Today cars are marketed as roadsters that don’t adhere to the strict definition of not having crank up windows, but they still carry the spirit of the original roadsters, if in a somewhat more civilized manner.
Other roadsters I have known was the Austin Healy 3000, the Sunbeam Alpine and Tiger (with a V8), the Triumph Spitfire, and the variations of the MG midget and Austin Healy Sprite (known as Spridgets). The most endearing of the two variants was the “bug eyed” Sprite.
In the sixties came Carol Shelby’s Cobra roadster that lives on today through a licensing agreement with Superformance. There are some not so fine kit car replicas out there along with some fine examples such as Factory Five’s roadster.
The brutality of the Cobra was a sharp contrast to the roadsters that came before it. While they were powered by four cylinder engines and some times a six, they relied on their light weight and low stance for most of their performance. Shelby broke that paradigm and we should be thankful that he did.
In the last few years we have been blessed with some two seat convertibles christened by marketeers with the roadster label. BMW has had a series of Z3 and Z4 roadsters, but the most fantastic of the modern BMW roadsters has to be the Z8. It is a supercar in a roadster shell. The only incongruity is the fact that they used a live axle on such a high performance car. Most owners have replaced it with a Quaife, because it should have come that way from the factory. Unlike most roadsters where the top is an after-thought the Z8 has a hard top that is fully integrated into the beautiful lines of the roadster body. Oh, and it comes with a soft top as well.
GM has introduced a set of “roadsters” through Pontiac and Saturn that are also stunning. Saturn has the Sky and Pontiac has the Solstice. Unfortunately GM made us wait for a turbocharged version that had the appropriate power level to match the body’s promise.
It must be that spring has hit this area that my thoughts have turned to these two seat convertibles we call roadsters. My first experience as a young lad and passenger was one of the wind and the noise of the engine as I really could not get up high enough in the seat to see much, but with the top off there was the sky and the trees overhead. It all comes back when I get the smell of an old English sports car.
In high school I had a friend in Marstons Mills that seemed intent on cornering the market on MG Midgets and Austin Healy Sprites. There were several that passed through his hands and they were a real blast. Very light weight and easy to throw around corners.
Later I had the opportunity to drive a Jaguar XKE that was in for repairs at the shop I worked at. It was the early seventies so it was one with the straight six engine that pulled like the V8 in a GTO.
In high school a friend of mine loaned me his 1958 Corvette convertable for a few days. It had a 327 V8 and I had a good time giving some of the girls from high school rides in it. Gasoline was twenty cents a gallon so that was not a problem. With the top down and Judy sitting next to me while I blew down Pond Street it was like being in a movie. What fun.
This would be a nice time of year to borrow a “roadster” and head out to the mountain roads in western North Carolina.