Thrills, chills and headaches.
Car making CEOs are not generally known for their comedic skills. One expects variations of sobriety; suits, stoic faces, a modicum of good manners – even to the press. This is not a charity. Making money (and cars) is serious business. Anomalies do however occasionally surface. Maybe the planets line up in a certain order, a particularly cheeky Chateau Neuf de Pape loosens the guard, revealing the (not so) inner Dr. Nefario (with Gru peering over his shoulder) for a moment, allowing an otherwise unmined niche to come into being. With belly laughs in such short supply, faces must have cracked, mirth wrinkling otherwise stern executive visages when first they beheld the B-segment coupé-convertible.
Launched to a cacophony of spluttered profanities amid the sound of slapped foreheads, this puzzling combination of Japanese engineering blended with Italian manufacturing nous certainly turned heads. A commodious derrière, there purely to store that fold-away roof left the casual on-looker in a quandary: coming toward or leaving? Should your perception be correct, the side view furthered that misconception.
Aimed almost exclusively at the female of driving age, what vicious retort was likely to be rendered when the only possible adjective is dumpy? The A-pillar appears almost to grow from the ground, an unbroken arc of dough terminating on that well-nigh hatbox of a bootlid. The old adage of a wheel at each corner is evident here, and while the front can do little wrong, the gap between the door’s trailing edge and that odd area towards the rear wheel arch? Redundant as a dirty joke in a convent.
What were the executives of Mitsubishi and Chinese Frog fasteners Pininfarina, thinking? UK road tests leaned the only way possible: Reliable, check. Frugal, check. Rigid with roof up, check. Body integrity lost roof down, extraordinary panel gaps and just look at the bloody thing – check. Raised in 2006, lowered by 2011. Prices started at £10,000, rising to £16,000. Examples remaining are unsurprisingly few and far between.
A final Colt CZC factoid – the roof required manual intervention – a clip for dainty digits. Most unlike its contemporary, below.
Nissan Micra C+C
This one managed six years in the marketplace where once more, with the roof up, the boot area was commensurate with that of a class larger – as were the road tester’s comments. While the Colt, in the UK at least, was largely unknown, Micra was a sensible, if soulless beast. Having engineered-in structural rigidity kept the press happy. Micra handled, didn’t creak or groan and was the paragon of inscrutable Japanese form. Only long term (genuine) users knew otherwise. Roof problems, water ingress, expensive repairs. Then we must head outside where the populace had to endure the somewhat English view.
The C+C (guesses as to what it stood for – anyone?) was designed in Nissan’s London studio, engineered in Cranfield (Nissan Technical Centre Europe), Bedfordshire and made in Sunderland. Handy for the UK’s penchant for topless motoring. But if two inscrutable letters were not enough for you, Sebastian Conran (he of the Conran design dynasty) brought forth the C+C+Conran, first witnessed at the 2006 British motor show.
Practising the “ethos of Wa” – a Japanese principle where opposed counterparts feed off one another – led to a Micra with few equals. An exterior of Blushing Black with a vibrant red interior, Conran ascribed his creation to that of a bespoke suit. “Outside, discreet and classy but shocking inside.” Quite. Fashion being fickle and automotive fashion often difficult to comprehend, “Micra Cubed” lit up that corner of the show before exiting the catwalk, stage left. Sales unknown.
To France now with a more notable attendee. Remaining reasonably faithful to Eric Berthet’s sketch under Murat Günak’s supervision allowed some coupé-convertible dignity, a frisson of manners, something which its aforementioned rivals could not get close to. Roof down looked better. When closed, an air of indifference occurred. Complete the circuit might be, but the canvas was too cramped for true coherence. Cute, but procured through expediency? Undoubtedly – world domination is deferred. But Sochaux villainy is in the blood! The open road to the shopping mall – via the service station for some essence de Rudolf.
The T-16 had a trip to Cerizay and Heuliez for those incongruous boot lid handles, something for the cartoon good guy to cling onto for dear life maybe? Quotes of 400 produced per day appear logical. The 206 retains quite the following to this day, although more frequently succumbing to the twilight attentions of the aftermarket crew. Which leads us onto the unexpected fourth part, also made in Cerizay.
Opel/Vauxhall Tigra Twin Top
Providentially, those imaginative minions over at Rüsselsheim managed to strike gold with the single most pleasing B-sector coupé-cabriolet of them all. A grimace worthy of silver-screened bad guys must have been worn by rival auto-executives the day the second generation Tigra was released upon the world. Composed and confident, Tigra-2 knocked the looks of those also-rans into the weeds. A decade (and more) later, its appeal remains unsullied.
Sharp, sassy and ditching the pointless rear seats for useable space, roof up or down made the Twin Top practical whilst keeping those chiselled looks. The inevitable bustle-back a world away from the CZC, the Micra frantically waving the white flag with even the pugnacious Peugeot steering well clear. The Twin Top could be optioned with a contrasting roof structure colour, one of which – Matt Moonland – was not in fact named after a 1960s crooner, as some might have thought.
The coupé-convertible might have been an amusing whim for a time but sales folded faster than their roofs. This shift in taste, compounded with ever-larger vehicular requests, eventually put paid to the entire kit and caboodle. A sad indictment, you might say, but also a comedic craze we’ll never have to endure again. Listen carefully though – executive laughter may still be heard on the breeze as that metal top folds away, in the style of Georges Paulin.
 A braided, button loop found on many a garment.