Back when James May was a boy, the concept of a car with a removable soft-top roof was about the most exciting thing he could think of. “More exciting, even, than the Airfix 1/24th scale BF 109 Emil,” he recently wrote on driving.co.uk.
“I didn’t ride in a convertible until I was 16,” James writes. “My mate Dave was a year older than me and had his licence. More importantly, his trendy mum had a Triumph Spitfire, which he was allowed to borrow. So off we went, hood down, cruising around town, hoping to impress some girls, not realising we were two downy-faced boys in a small convertible and there was nowhere for them to sit even if we’d been successful.”
Nevertheless, the experience was enough to ensure he’d caught the convertible bug – and in his early 20s he purchased a 1960s Triumph Vitesse drophead. Being a product of the British motor industry of the era, in May’s words “it was crap,” but he loved it nonetheless.
But for a man who recently turned 54, the prospect of driving a car with the roof off is more than a little bit daunting – even when he recently drove the new Ferrari 488 Spider. “After driving for a bit I found myself parking in a lay-by and thinking, Well, I suppose I’d better take the roof off now and try it like that,” May said.
Despite his new-found hatred for driving with the roof down, May maintains that there is a lot to like about driving convertible vehicles. “You smell things sooner, the seasonal changes resonate more clearly and exposed drivers are more sociable,” he says. “Accident statistics back this up — if you’re not cocooned in an all-metal box, you’re less inclined to give someone the finger, just as we’re all more confrontational online than in a pub.”
“Some years ago, when I passed 45, I came up with a simple rule. As you reach for the button or lever that lowers the roof in a convertible, pause and think to yourself, ‘Would I do this if I was naked?’ Yes, if your skin is as taut as a balloon and your hair cascades from your head like one of Tennyson’s wild cataracts. But if the answer is no, then leave it up.” – James May
Despite May’s convertible conundrum, he found the Ferrari 488 Spider to be an incredibly responsive car, “the subtle management of torque curves and gear ratios can at times make the 488 feel almost like a mini LaFerrari, with hidden bucketfuls of thrust available even if you’re a bit slapdash with gear selection, reading the road and all that other helmsman stuff. It’s tremendous fun and it feels very, very special,” he wrote.
But after recently driving the technological hybrid marvel that is the new Honda NSX, on The Grand Tour, May says that the 488 Spider and all other other mid-engined sports cars “are beginning to feel strangely unenlightened.”