Automotive Histories: The Last Full-Size Convertibles

Hoods and trunk lids that go for days were par for the course for full-size American cars of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. For that extra dimension of extravagance and silliness, there were full-size convertibles. While proposed rollover regulations were what the Big 3 cited as the reason for discontinuing their convertibles, full-size convertibles had been moribund for years. Today, this format is a historical curiosity and will likely never see a rebirth. Let’s look at the last examples of the breed.

Even in their salad days, convertibles were never the volume leaders. Still, they put up more of a fight against the more sensible coupes, sedans and wagons with which they shared platforms. By their final years, they were generally the least popular option in their lineups, often by some margin. For each entry, you’ll see the volume percentage they accounted for of their respective model ranges as well as what little photographic evidence there was of them in their respective brochures.

1967 AMC Ambassador

Total production: 1814

Percentage of Ambassador volume: 2%

The Abernathy era at American Motors was when the company tried to be all things to all people, including offering a full-size convertible. Available only in top DPL spec and only with V8 engines, the ’67 Ambassador convertible was outsold by everything except the down-market Ambassador 880 2-dr sedan. Even the controversially-styled Marlin outsold the drop-top.

1970 Buick Wildcat

Total production: 1244

Percentage of Buick B-Body volume: 0.49%

The slowest selling full-size Buick of 1970, the Wildcat Custom convertible was outsold almost 6-to-1 by the $800 more expensive Electra convertible and almost 2-to-1 by the $300 cheaper LeSabre convertible. The Wildcat line itself lived in the shadow of its siblings, sporty full-sized cars falling out of fashion in a market that was becoming increasingly enamoured with Broughams. Nevertheless, Buick persisted with a replacement for the Wildcat called Centurion, even including a convertible.

1970 Buick Electra

Total production: 6045

Percentage of Buick C-Body volume: 4.02%

Although the Electra Custom convertible dramatically outsold the Wildcat Custom convertible, it was still very much a niche player in Buick’s full-size lineup. The only other full-size Buicks it outsold were the B-Body LeSabre Custom 455 pillared sedan and coupe – understandable because what Buick buyer was looking for a pillared sedan with the biggest possible engine in 1970?

The Electra convertible sold twice as well as its Ninety-Eight cousin over at Oldsmobile. However, in total division sales, Oldsmobile turned the tables and outsold Buick from 1970 until 1982.

1973 Buick Centurion

Total production: 5739

Percentage of Buick B-Body volume: 2.06%

The ’73 Centurion’s sales numbers look markedly better than the ’70 Wildcat’s but it’s not quite as simple as that. Buick had temporarily retired the LeSabre convertible for 1973, forcing full-size convertible buyers to spend extra on the Centurion. Like the Wildcat before it, the Centurion was merely a LeSabre with slightly different trim and a more powerful base engine. By ’73, that was a Buick 350 with a 4-barrel carbureter although the previously standard 455 remained an option.

The Centurion convertible narrowly outsold the droptop LeSabre in ’71 and ’72, perhaps because the remaining full-size convertible buyers appreciated its sportier image. The fuel crisis and the continuing shift towards plusher, more luxury-focussed models meant the Centurion didn’t survive past 1973. For 1974, there was once again a LeSabre convertible.

1975 Buick LeSabre

Total production: 5300

Percentage of Buick B-Body volume: 4.31%

The last full-size Buick convertible was the ’75 LeSabre Custom. It was outsold by all full-size Buicks bar the two-row Estate and sold only marginally better than its Pontiac Grand Ville cousin. Chevrolet and Oldsmobile sold more B-Body convertibles that year (and more cars in general) but the LeSabre did enjoy a slight uptick from ’74 sales, perhaps buoyed by the public’s awareness that convertibles were going “extinct”. Compared to 1972, the year before the OPEC oil crisis, LeSabre sales had fallen dramatically. Only the convertible bucked that trend.

1970 Cadillac DeVille

Total production: 15,172

Percentage of C/D-Body volume: 7.05%

With 15,172 units sold, the DeVille convertible was the fourth best-selling C-Body variant in Cadillac’s lineup. The DeVille convertible only appears to have died because Cadillac was introducing a convertible Eldorado for 1971 and didn’t want to have any overlap.

1976 Cadillac Eldorado

Total production: 14,000

Percentage of Eldorado volume: 30%

Not all full-size convertibles went out with a whimper. Because of all the publicity about the “death” of convertibles, 1976 ended up being the best year ever for the Eldorado convertible. The coupe still outsold it by more than 2-to-1 but the convertible accounted for a sizeable 30% of total Eldorado volume. Talk about leaving on a high note.

It even got a two-page spread, while most of these full-size convertibles were lucky enough to get a single photo.

1972 Chevrolet Impala

Total production: 6456

Percentage of B-Body volume: 0.63%

Chevrolet rarely broke down the production numbers for Impala convertibles in the 1960s but they surely sold better than the ’72. By 1972, the Impala SS was long gone and the Impala drop-top was outsold by every V8-powered Chevrolet B-Body (six-cylinder models were split out in production totals this year). For 1973, Chevrolet switched the body style to the flagship Caprice line.

1975 Chevrolet Caprice

Total production: 8349

Percentage of B-Body volume: 1.97%

In the swinging sixties, Chevrolet had a raft of drop-tops: the Nova, Corvair, Chevelle, Impala, Camaro and Corvette. The seventies, however, saw the drop-tops drop off – the Chevelle convertible was gone after 1972, leaving only the Corvette and Caprice. Although full-size Chevy sales had suffered a savage blow as a result of the oil crisis, 1975 volumes tracking at less than half of 1972’s numbers, the Caprice convertible did manage to sell fractionally better than the last year of the Impala convertible and it outsold the two fleet-special Bel Air wagons and the Caprice Landau and Impala Landau coupes. By 1976, however, every Chevrolet convertible was gone.

1970 Chrysler Newport

Total production: 1124

Percentage of Chrysler volume: 0.62%

The Chrysler Corporation seemed to have an aversion to high-end convertibles. How else to explain the absence of a Chrysler New Yorker convertible and the presence of a drop-top in the Newport line but not the Newport Custom line? The Newport convertible was the second slowest-selling ’70 Chrysler, accounting for less than 1% of Chrysler division volume. Though the imposing fuselage Chrysler still had a few more years in it, the convertibles were gone after ’70.

1970 Chrysler 300

Total production: 1077

Percentage of Chrysler volume: 0.59%

The only Chrysler to sell worse in 1970 than the Newport convertible was the more expensive 300 convertible. Opting for the 300 meant buyers had to shell out another $500, although the higher list price did include a larger, 440 cubic-inch V8 instead of the Newport’s 383 V8. It included precious little else, however, and the 300’s performance options – including the higher-output TNT 440 V8 and Sure-Grip differential – were all optional on the Newport.

1969 Dodge Monaco

Total production: Unknown

The US never got a convertible version of the Monaco but Canada did until 1969. For that year, Canadian-market convertibles were available in either regular Monaco or Monaco 500 trims; there were no Polara convertibles north of the border. Dodge’s Fuselage convertibles were just as visually enormous as Chrysler’s but the subtle, sweeping contours towards the back were elegant even if the detailing at either end was unexciting.

1970 Dodge Polara

Total production: 842

Percentage of full-size volume: 0.98%

While Canada had the Monaco convertible, the US had the more downmarket Polara, another example of the Chrysler Corporation restricting their full-size convertibles to lower-end trim levels. For the final year of Dodge’s fuselage convertible, there was a new loop-style front bumper, something Chrysler was very fond of at the time. It added some character to the somewhat plain Polara and made the ’70 the best-looking fuselage Dodge convertible. That wasn’t enough to justify its continued sale, however.

1970 Ford XL

Total production: 6348

Percentage of full-size volume: 0.74%

It’s interesting to see which full-size variants were truly unpopular. Anything that was outsold by a convertible by the 1970s was probably not long for this world. In 1970, the XL convertible was the second slowest-selling full-size Ford, the wooden spoon going to the hardtop coupe variant of the low-line Custom 500.

As for the XL, this sporty Galaxie was retired after 1970. Like full-size convertibles, sporty full-size coupes were no longer fashionable. A sport-trimmed full-sized convertible in 1970? Forget about it.

1972 Ford LTD

Total production: 4234

Percentage of full-size volume: 0.5%

With the demise of the XL convertible in 1970, Ford’s full-size convertible switched to the plusher LTD line. Although the LTD was very successful and the market had embraced cars of its ilk, it wasn’t enough to prop up the moribund full-size convertible style. The LTD convertible was easily the worst-selling full-size Ford in 1972. When the LTD was redesigned for 1973, there was no new convertible. With its even paunchier styling, that was no great loss.

1968 Imperial Crown

Total production: 474

Percentage of Imperial volume: 3.08%

Imperial was already a distant third in domestic luxury brand sales, being outsold by Lincoln by more than 2-to-1. In 1968, the slowest selling Imperial by some margin was the Crown convertible. It’s unclear why Chrysler invested in a convertible variant of the new-for-1967, unibody Imperial range but they certainly weren’t willing to invest in a convertible version of the ’69 fuselage-style Imperial.

1967 Lincoln Continental

Total production: 2276

Percentage of Continental volume: 4.98%

Has there ever been a more beautiful and iconic American luxury car than the Continental convertible? It’s unique in offering four doors and yet, despite this and its place in history, it was never a huge seller. For its final season, it was the slowest-selling Lincoln by some margin.

It’s a shame nobody else picked up the mantle of offering a four-door convertible.

1970 Mercury Monterey

Total production: 581

Percentage of full-size volume: 0.39%

Ford and Chrysler both held a much smaller share of the dwindling segment than GM. Mercury’s full-size convertibles were as terminally unpopular as those from each of Chrysler’s three divisions. That mirrors Mercury’s overall weaker foothold in the mid-priced market.

With such dismal sales volumes, Ford saw no point in continuing the full-sized Mercury droptops past 1970 even though the Ford LTD convertible remained available until 1972.

1970 Mercury Marquis

Total production: 1233

Percentage of full-size volume: 0.83%

The ultimate Marquis convertible did eke out one small victory: it outsold the cheaper Monterey convertible and managed to best one other full-size Mercury, the mid-range Monterey Custom hardtop coupe. With its hidden headlights and imposing styling, the Marquis was the closest thing to a Continental convertible in Lincoln-Mercury showrooms in 1970. But the Continental convertible had only been a niche player and had been put out to pasture and, after 1970, the Marquis convertible joined it.

1970 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

Total production: 3161

Percentage of 98 volume: 3.29%

Although GM did better in this segment than Ford and Chrysler, 1970 was the last year for C-Body convertibles. Henceforth, full-size convertibles would only be available in the more workaday B-Body ranges. Despite this, 1970 was a year in which the Ninety-Eight outsold its cheaper Delta 88 convertible companion albeit by less than a hundred units. Ninety-Eight sales had mostly coalesced around the sedan by 1970, however, and the convertible was the slowest-selling car in the Ninety-Eight range that year.

1975 Oldsmobile Delta 88

Total production: 7,181

Percentage of Delta 88 volume: 5.35%

Pity the poor Delta 88 convertible. Though it’s been immortalized in countless Sam Raimi films (a ’73, to be precise), it ended production with only a tiny thumbnail of a photo in the ’75 full-size Olds brochure (I’ve used a press photo above, instead). And yet Oldsmobile’s last full-size convertible was the hottest-selling B-Body convertible from GM that year. With 7,181 units produced, the Royale convertible outsold the two-row Custom Cruiser and came within striking distance of the base Delta 88 hardtop sedan and coupe.

1970 Plymouth Fury

Total production: 1952

Percentage of Fury volume: 0.74%

Although the final year of the full-size Plymouth convertible was a slow seller, it outsold every other Plymouth convertible: the Satellite, Road Runner, Barracuda, ‘Cuda and Barracuda Gran Coupe convertibles. The drop-top Fury was available only in Fury III trim, skipping the lower-rung I and II trims but also avoiding the new, luxurious Gran Coupe trim and the Sport Fury. It makes one wonder: just who were buyers of full-size convertibles? Whoever they were, there weren’t many left by 1970 – the Fury III convertible was outsold by every other Fury variant.

1972 Pontiac Catalina

Total production: 2399

Percentage of B-Body Pontiac volume: 0.70%

For 1972, Pontiac’s full-size convertible was available only in the entry-level Catalina and flagship Grand Ville lines, skipping the mid-range Catalina Brougham and Bonneville entirely. Not that they would have represented many sales – the Catalina convertible was outsold by all full-size Pontiacs except the Grand Ville convertible. Although GM’s C-Body convertibles were all gone by ’72, each division with a full-size convertible was transitioning to offering it only in top-spec trim (e.g. LeSabre Custom, Delta 88 Royale). By ’73, Chevrolet’s convertible switched from the Impala to the Caprice and the Pontiac Catalina convertible was dead.

1975 Pontiac Grand Ville

Total produced: 4519

Percentage of B-Body Pontiac volume: 3.57%

The final full-size Pontiac convertible was outsold by all full-size Pontiacs except the two-row Catalina Safari and two- and three-row Bonneville Safaris. That arguably speaks more to Pontiac’s weakness in the full-size wagon segment more so than the convertible’s sales prowess. Much as Pontiac’s full-size models consistently sold in lower volumes than their rival divisions’ counterparts, the Grand Ville was the slowest-selling B-Body convertible that year albeit not by as wide a margin as you might think. With its handsome coke-bottle contours and modern detailing, the Grand Ville was arguably the most elegant of all the B-Bodies in ’75 and a marked improvement over earlier years of this series.

Full-size convertibles may never have enjoyed the soaring popularity of their coupe and sedan counterparts but their marginal popularity had almost entirely evaporated by the 1970s. The much-publicized “death” of convertibles may have proved to be a false prediction but the full-size convertible never reappeared alongside its smaller brethren. And it probably never will.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville Convertible – The Lady in Waiting

Curbside Classic: 1972 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Convertible – Practical Impracticality

Car Show Classic: 1966-67 Lincoln Continental Convertible – End Of An Era

Curbside Classic: 1966 Mercury Monterey Convertible – Geometry Class