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by phil patton | June 13, 2014 | Lifestyle
As the season heats up, convertibles are opening up across the East End to reveal the best design elements of the most sought-after, high-performance automobiles on the road.
Driving a convertible is a completely different way of motoring. Opening up the car makes the experience sensual, literally. Pop the top and you add the sense of sound, like the cry of a gull, and smell, like the scent of the sea or a meadow. And then you get the purr or roar of your engine and the flow of air all around, the sense of speed and motion. It goes without saying that convertibles come with the latest digital devices for navigation, communication, and entertainment. But truth be told, when you are behind the wheel of one of these sleek and sexy sports cars, your need to stay connected is usually left at the curb.
Auto designers often shape convertibles to take on special personalities, emphasizing one feature of the driving experience or tradition or another—agility or dignity, luxury or escape—by giving priority to certain elements, providing the car with character. Here are some of the latest and most opulent convertibles, ideal to drive along Route 27—all the way to the end.
Ebano Intrecciato trolley ($4,520) and Ebano Intrecciato large duffel ($4,170), Bottega Veneta. Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd., 516-627-7580. 1953 horsebit loafers, Gucci ($640). Americana Manhasset, 516-365-0994
The amazingly engineered top on the new BMW 4 Series makes it perfect for those who want a convertible—but not all the time. The clever thing about this car is that at the touch of a button it goes incognito in 20 seconds and can be identified as a convertible only upon close inspection.
BMW has changed names and numbers this year, with the new 4 Series being the next generation of the old-series coupes. The BMW 428i (starting at $55,825) has three metal roof panels that fold away at the touch of a button and restore themselves just as easily. There is also help with the storage usually lost to a folding top. A clever new pass-through arrangement holds larger objects when needed: Simply fold down the backseat to gain access to trunk space, or lift the trunk lid, making the mechanism shift the top out of the way for easy loading. This versatility gives the driver the freedom to explore their inner David Bowie and embrace the “ch-ch-changes.”
As a BMW, this is, of course, a driver’s car. Under the hood is a 240-horsepower, two-liter turbo four-cylinder engine. The transmission is an eight-speed auto, and the car comes with a series of four suspension and handling settings: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport Pro+. Six Sigma Auto Group, 759 County Road 39A, Southampton, 283-0888
The term scultura in Italian means more than “sculpture”—it dates back to the Renaissance and encompasses the shapes of designs, such as those of automobiles and coaches, or carrozzeria. No auto brand has more of this tradition than Maserati, which turned 100 years old in 2014. The company is celebrating with a special version of the GranTurismo convertible.
It is the work of designer Lorenzo Ramicotti, who likes to note that he was born a few hundred yards from the company’s headquarters. Ramicotti has previously designed Ferraris and Alfa Romeos and was head designer at Pininfarina, the last of the great carrozzeria companies. For the GT convertible, he has reached back to the tradition of racecar lines and an overshot grille mouth with Maserati’s trident logo. But GranTurismo means grand touring—the four full seats let you bring friends to roam the East End, and with the press of the “sport” button, the exhaust bypass valves open to create a throaty note as the engine roars with power.
With the centennial edition of the GT, almost every aspect of the vehicle can be personalized, even down to the color of the brake calipers. It offers special door handles and other features made of carbon fiber. The edition also comes in a three-color paint scheme: Two of the colors—accents—are red and blue, hues traditional to Maserati and Bologna, the city of its birth. The other color is the customer’s choice.
The Maserati GranTurismo Convertible ($153,400) comes standard with a 4.7-liter V-8 engine, which produces 454 horsepower. The GTC Sport model offers a more powerful engine, with 460 horsepower. For both, the transmission is a six-speed automatic. Ferrari-Maserati of Long Island, 65 S. Service Road, Plainview, 516-665-1665
Audi has long been distinguished by elegant interiors. And in an Audi convertible—labeled Cabriolet by the brand—the interior is more important than in a closed car. Like the ideal beach house, interior and exterior join in one aesthetic when the top is down.
Audi’s Cabriolet interiors offer Bauhaus-inspired forms for the instruments and grips and elegant materials for the seats and dash. A wide band of chrome on the windshield pillars and a striking chrome beltline running around the base of the roof also carry this theme. This is a longtime cue of Audi design, and when the top is down, it is the perfect frame for the cockpit of this open car.
When you slip behind the wheel of the Audi A5 (starting at $45,000), you will be greeted with a harmonious, even musical, arrangement of round dials and other graceful shapes along with lush tactile materials: textured aluminum, woven carbon fiber, perforated leather, and such a variety of choice in burled and grained woods that it seems the craftspeople at Audi’s famed interiors studio in Ingolstadt must be Black Forest elves. Under the hood: a 220-horsepower, supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo. Six Sigma Auto Group, 705 County Road 39A, Southampton, 283-0888
Arion carryall ($4,175) and Victoria FTT 50 bag ($5,050), Hermès. Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd., 516-869-6660. Cashmere cable knit throw, Ralph Lauren ($595). 31-33 Main St., East Hampton, 324-1222
The Porsche 911 Carrera presents one of the most recognizable and romantic silhouettes of any car ever made. Whether it’s a hard-top or a cabriolet, the form is just as iconic.
F.A. Porsche’s rear-engine master design has changed under the skin, however, and over multiple generations. The top of the 911 Cabriolet is fully powered and the only one of its kind made largely of magnesium—an incredibly light and strong metal—to reduce weight and noise as well as add strength. It takes just 13 seconds to lower, and it can be done at speeds up to 30 mph; it comes, of course, with a wind deflector.
The Cabriolet is slightly wider and lower-appearing than the 911 Coupe, and with a special taillight, it has an even sportier appearance.
Under the rear hood is a choice of Porsche’s traditional opposed six cylinders, a 3.4-liter with 350 horsepower, or, in the 911 Cabriolet S, a 3.8-liter with 400 horsepower. The choice of transmissions is between a new seven-speed manual and Porsche’s own special dual-clutch manual—a super-sophisticated alternative to an automatic.
There is a new variant for the 911 convertible t his year a s well: the 911 Targa (starting at $117,530), which is like an Eames chair—a reborn Midcentury Modern classic that offers a unique sliding top with a signature bold roll bar, reminiscent of a basket handle. The first version of the Targa was introduced in 1965, and it has been revived by exterior designer Grant Larson, who was also a key designer on the original Boxster. Porsche-obsessed people like Larson migrate from around the world to Stuttgart to spend their lives fulfilling their passion. Six Sigma Auto Group, 705 County Road 39A, Southampton, 283-0888
Heritage is a mixed blessing. Like the letter in its name, the F-Type comes after the E, the 1961 Jaguar, also known as the XKE and regarded by many as the most beautiful car ever designed. The XKE has captured the imagination of moviegoers in films like Casino Royale, Thunderball, and The Italian Job; it is so important aesthetically that it is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. But Ian Callum, who created the F-Type, along with some of the best-looking Aston Martins, was neither imitative nor intimidated when it came to shaping the F-Type—a car that goes back to Jaguar’s origins: a light, fast, and fun sports convertible.
Callum’s brief was to create a car you can take to the track by day and then drive to dinner by night. The F-Type has the heart of a convertible: Jaguar launched it first as a soft-top roadster and only later added the coupe model.
In the F-Type’s design, Callum echoed some of the flowing lines of the XKE, such as its long, sleek hood, but he a lso sliced into the body the bold, crescent-shaped vents on either side of the grille and the shark-like gills on the sides. He has taken from heritage but added to it as well.
The taillight is a neat slice across the rear. The LED lamps are invisible until illuminated—then the whole car appears to glow from within. The F-Type (starting at $69,000) is powered by either the new Jaguar supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine, available in 340-horsepower and 380-horsepower variants, or a 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 with 495 horsepower. Jaguar Southampton, 355 Hampton Road, Southampton, 855-867-5355
“A Mercedes-Benz lasts 30 years,” says Gorden Wagener, the company’s chief designer. With this in mind, Wagener designs cars with looks that won’t go out of style. The classic elements of the face of the Mercedes-Benz SL convertible hark back to the company’s notable racing ancestor, the 1955 SL, and its street siblings. Today, the finest examples of those cars, with their gull-wing doors, sell for $1 million or more.
Wagener borrowed family traits from those models to create the sixth-generation SL 550 (starting at $116,500). It wears the most basic of Mercedes-Benz faces: the tri-star logo suspended from a bold, bright line inside a grille whose outline suggests an archer’s bow. But the styling is not retro—it simply appears to carry the same DNA throughout, even in the interior; for example, the gun sight–shaped gauges, Wagener points out, were found in the 1955 original.
The glass roof folds at the touch of a button and comes with a unique optional feature: a window in the roof called Magic Sky Control that turns from opaque to transparent with the touch of another button—more alchemy than chemistry. Under the hood is a 4.6-liter V-8 that puts out 429 horsepower. This SL is a sophisticated machine that is a classic in waiting. Mercedes-Benz of Southampton, 575 County Road 39, Southampton, 204-2500
photography by Christian Lipinski; photographed at Wölffer Estate Stables