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A History of the FCA US LLC Convertible
The guilty pleasure that tops the open road is the open air. And FCA US LLC utilized the love of the convertible to showcase the most daring design, engineering, imaginative marketing and innovative leadership ever rolled out on four wheels.
The ’39 Plymouth Convertible was the first to feature a power-assisted top. It was swiftly followed by the “car of the future,” the art deco-inspired ’41 Chrysler Thunderbolt, the country’s first fully retractable hardtop. Unlike modern drop tops, the retractable hardtop mechanism took up the entire rear end, relegating three passengers (at the most) to the bench seat in the cockpit. The Thunderbolt’s aerodynamic design was a tribute to Budd streamliner trains, and boasted push-button-controlled hidden headlights, windows, rear deck and top. Its curved-glass windshield was also the largest attempted at that time.
The first American muscle car was the ’55 Chrysler hardtop, with a 331-c.i. HEMI® V8 engine churning out a massive 300 hp. It really hit its stride in ’57, when it was outfitted with huge fins, cathedral window taillights, a 375-hp, 392-c.i. HEMI V8 engine, and a convertible top. Raw power singed the open air and there was nothing else like it. It defined the “jet age” of American cars.
The most uniquely versatile convertible in history was the Jeepster Commando produced by Kasier Jeep®. The 1966 Jeepster Commando was configured as a pickup truck, a wagon and a roadster, as well as a convertible. It was built on the CJ-6 platform and was offered with either a manual or power convertible top.
The ’70s saw some very iconic iron, with convertible versions of both the coveted Challenger R/T and Barracuda. These rare beasts command top dollar today, with the ’70 Dodge Challenger R/T HEMI engine convertible fetching the world-record price of $1,815,000 in 2016. The only known numbers-matching 426 HEMI engine-powered four-speed convertible ’Cuda in existence brought down an amazing $3,500,000 at auction. FCA US convertibles are almost priceless.
A decade passes before another historic convertible makes the scene. In 1980, Chrysler Corporation introduced the humble K-car. These unassuming cars gave Chrysler Corporation the ability to seek out niches in the market by nimbly mixing and matching specific K-car models to buyers’ desires. And while the convertible was considered dead and forgotten, the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible started an unimaginable rag top renaissance, along with being almost inconceivably affordable and practical.
In 1987, Dodge created the mid-size truck segment with the Dakota Sport. Then in 1989, it literally took the top off the truck segment with the Dakota Sport pickup convertible — yes, pickup truck convertible — complete with a four-wheel-drive option. This convertible is easily one of the most unique pickups ever offered.
Chrysler Corporation design commanded the ’89 North American International Auto Show with the convertible Viper concept. This concept started getting orders before the show even ended and was another “product-market fit.” Produced for five generations, this convertible had a massive amount of torque, horsepower and top speed. It helped to revive the culture of the concept car.
In a category almost by itself, the 1996 Chrysler Sebring convertible launched. The Sebring convertible was one of only five passenger convertibles created by an American brand. And in 2008, Chrysler Group LLC only reinforced its leadership as America’s favorite convertible with the all-new Sebring convertible. The Sebring offered an unmatched combo of design, performance, fuel efficiency, spacious interior and a category first … three automatically latching convertible top options, which could be retracted with a push of a key fob button. For Chrysler Group, the convertible proved to be, once again, a way to showcase the dominance of its market savvy and maverick innovation.
This year marks another convertible first for FCA US. The introduction of the all-new 2020 Jeep® Gladiator — a convertible Jeep truck — is certain to keep those who love the open air feeling open-minded and enthused about being one with nature.
So, by now it should be obvious. For FCA US, the convertible has always been a way to breathe fresh air into an uninspired marketplace. And it continues to be a vehicle to keep the car-buying public hungry for more.