Sunny days are finally here. It’s time for convertibles everywhere to celebrate—not by raising the roof, but by lowering it. After all, summertime and drop-tops go together like tacos and Tuesdays. And as any convertible fan will tell you, there’s nothing like the fresh-aired freedom a roofless ride provides.
Besides being a classic form of transport, convertibles hold a special place in American culture. Driven by everyone from rock stars to political figures, these cars have become pop icons—defining eras, styles and moments in time. Here are five times convertibles have driven straight into history.
5. FDR’s famous Ford
President Franklin D. Roosevelt may have been paralyzed from the waist down, but that didn’t stop him from driving in style. His 1936 Ford Phaeton Convertible was just one example of his terrific taste.
The velvety blue car was custom-designed to be fully operational by hand, allowing the prez to cruise around his Hyde Park home pedal free. Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth were among his most famous passengers. FDR was even known to conduct press conferences from the driver’s seat, which allowed him to speak to the public without standing.
Today, you can check out this one-of-a-kind convertible at the Roosevelt home and presidential museum in Hyde Park, New York.
4. The Porsche that summed up the 60’s
She may have sung the praises of the Mercedes Benz, but it was a Porsche that stole her heart. Singer Janis Joplin’s 1965 Porsche 356C Cabriolet convertible was a psychedelic masterpiece. It did more than transport one of the most famous figures in rock ‘n roll...it defined an era.
Joplin paid just $3,500 for the rockin’ ride, which was originally a modest dolphin gray. She then commissioned roadie Dave Richards to complete the Sistine Chapel of automotive paint jobs.
The vibrant result, which Richards titled The History of the Universe, featured trippy-hippie imagery of butterflies, landscapes, rainbows, mushrooms and more.
Joplin drove the wild whip every day, until her death in 1970. At an auction in 2015, the car fetched a whopping $1.76 million. It’s been spotted a couple of times since at Gilmore Car Museum in Michigan. One thing’s for sure—wherever it ends up, this Porsche’s star power is undeniable.
3. The movie car that made history
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a comedy classic, following the adventures of a lovable loafer who skips school to spend a day gadding around Chicago. One of the most memorable features of the film is the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder convertible that belongs to the father of Ferris’ best friend. Ferris convinces his pal to let them cruise around in the pricey red ride for most of the movie. In a famous scene, the duo unsuccessfully attempts to turn back the car’s odometer by putting the car on blocks and running it in reverse. In the end, the car meets its surprise demise in a ravine.
The Ferrari was actually a replica manufactured by California-based Modena Design, who created three versions of the car for the flick. One version is now on display at a Planet Hollywood in Cancun, another sold at an auction in 2013 for $235,000, and the third is MIA.
In the end, Ferris captures the true spirit of the convertible—friends, fun and freedom.
2. Doomed limo in Dallas
Unfortunately, not every historic ride has a happy ending. President John F. Kennedy was a passenger in a 1961 Lincoln convertible when he was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Kennedy had always been extremely fond of convertibles, both for their airy attributes and his desire to connect with the public. From the campaign trail, to presidential visits abroad, he often insisted on cruising with the top down. JFK’s fated limo was an unarmored Continental with a removable bubble top, nicknamed X-100 by the Secret Service.
After the tragedy, the car was actually revamped and put back into service. The overhaul included the addition of a permanent, non-removable top—which made the convertible a convertible no more.
Sometimes used by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, it remained on the road until 1977. The vehicle is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
1. The Tesla that really took off
Some convertibles go down in history...this one went up. On February 6, 2018, Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully completed a test launch with its Falcon Heavy rocket. Test-launched rockets are typically loaded with concrete or steel blocks to simulate payload, but Musk opted for something more memorable: his bright red Tesla Roadster convertible.
Upon the rocket’s final firing, the Tesla was catapulted into deep space, where it’s expected to orbit the sun for tens of millions of years. Piloted by Starman, a mannequin donning a SpaceX spacesuit, the car is also blasting the ultimate celestial soundtrack: Space Oddity by David Bowie.
You can track Starman’s voyage here: Whereisroadster.com.