Fun In The Sun
Playful Yet Practical Convertibles from the 60s, 70s & 80s

During the 1960s-80s, convertible utility cars had become very popular with the motoring public. Many manufacturers seemed to share a common design for these cars: take an existing model, strip it down to its most basic components, and market it as “rugged” and “fun”. Most of these jeep-like vehicles had light off-road capabilities due to their increased ride height, but were mostly used as beach cars or urban runabouts. Lane Motor Museum’s Fun In The Sun exhibit showcases some of these cars from a bygone era of disco, denim, and endless summers.

The cars of this exhibit will include:

1965 Ferves Ranger
1967 Austin Mini Moke
1970 Fiat 500 Moretti Minimaxi
1972 Ferrario Lucertola
1972 Honda Vamos
1974 Volkswagen Thing (on loan, courtesy Ron Domeck)
1975 Trabant 601 Tramp
1981 Schmitty A2
1982 Citroën Mehari

A History of Open-Air Motoring

Did you know that the first cars were convertibles? Technically, all “horseless carriages” were just that: an open-topped buggy with an engine. Some had buggy-like canvas or leather roofs on a folding frame, but no side windows at all. Early cars were playthings of the wealthy, so when it rained, the car simply wasn’t driven.

By the early 20th century, as cars became more of a necessity, one needed to be able to drive in all sorts of weather conditions. By the 1920s steel body panels had become cheaper, and enclosed cars were more widely available to the average consumer. Convertibles were once again becoming a luxury item.

Flash forward to the 1960s: many manufacturers now offered an increasingly popular option: air conditioning. This made the idea of open-air motoring seem even less necessary, and sales started to decline.

In 1964, in the midst of surf culture, Beach Boys albums, and beach movies, Bruce Meyers set up shop in Newport Beach, California. Inspired by home-made beach cars known as dune buggies, Meyers took a shortened Volkswagen Beetle chassis and VW running gear and wrapped it in a custom fiberglass body. The Meyers Manx became a hit, spawning multiple knock-offs around the world.

Perhaps inspired by the beach cars and dune buggies of Western surf culture, multiple car companies then struck upon a similar idea: a lightweight utility vehicle, based on an existing model’s platform, but with a rugged appearance and an open body style. These jeep-like vehicles had moderate ground clearance, and could perform light off-road duties, even if many were just two-wheel drive. They were SUVs decades before the acronym existed. Manufacturers marketed them as fun, leisure-time run-abouts, and they were usually offered in bright colors; a seemingly perfect match for the feel-good, anything goes decade that was the 1970s.

This exhibit will be open through April 16, 2018.

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