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By Robert Musial, FCN News


Nothing captures that carefree, summertime, out-for-fun look better than a convertible. It promises soft breezes, sunshine and adventure -- even when it's just parked at the curb.


Considering those attributes, the identity of America's best-selling drop-top should come as no surprise.


"The Mustang convertible is the No. 1-selling convertible in the U.S.," said Robert Parker, the car marketing manager for Ford.


It's been that way since 2004. And this year, the Mustang convertible continues to gallop past its competitors by better than a 2-1 margin.


According to the latest figures available from R.L. Polk registration data, sales of new Mustang convertibles hit 12,829 though April, easily more than the Toyota Camry (5,990), the Pontiac G6 (5,525) the Chrysler PT Cruiser (4,781) or the Volkswagen Beetle (3, 881).


The enthusiasts at Car and Driver magazine have touched on why the Mustang convertible is a sales success.


"There aren't many four-seat convertibles that cost less than 30 grand and none of them have the alluring character of the Mustang. The looks are undeniably nostalgic, and in V-8 GT form, it's got the burbly muscle-car soundtrack of a bygone era. We want one," wrote the editors.


Ford is happy to oblige, with four Mustang convertibles in different trims plus special models like the GT California version and the limited edition Warriors in Pink model.


For collectors, the 2008 Shelby GT convertible hits the streets next month in a limited edition.


Along with Shelby and Ford Racing upgrades, this latest ride sports Vista Blue paint with silver stripes plus a 319 horsepower engine, 18-inch polished wheels and Hurst short-throw shifter -- just what one needs to show off at a summer cruise.


Warm weather has been a part of Mustang's allure ever since the car was introduced in April 1964. From the start, Ford's oldest continually-produced car brand came in soft- and hard-top models.


"About one of every four Mustangs sold is a convertible. They're fun, affordable, and they represent open-air freedom," explained Dan Geist, Mustang's marketing manager, noting that nearly two-thirds of Mustang soft-tops are sold between March and October.


Market data shows that, with the average U.S. household now owning 2.2 cars, many convertibles are being purchased as third vehicles.


"People say, 'Let's have fun with it,' and buy a third car," Lonnie Miller, Polk's director of industry analysis, told Business Week magazine. "It's a segment that appeals to the id."


John McLellan, the sales manager of Varsity Ford in Ann Arbor, Mich., agreed that the appeal of a Mustang convertible is obvious.


"You can't beat driving down the road with the top down. You have that relaxed, open-air feeling, and life is just much better," he said. "It's like being on vacation, even if you're driving to work."


With Mustang, the attraction is more than just sensory, said McLellan. "Now, the quality is there, too."


Two recent quality surveys back him up. For the second year in a row, Mustang was the highest-ranked vehicle in the Midsize Sporty Car segment of J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey (IQS) of customers in their first three months of ownership.


For the third straight year, Mustang also took home top honors in its class in the J.D. Power's latest Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study (APEAL), which asks customers to rate their delight with their vehicle's design, content, layout and performance after three months of driving.



The August 2007 issue of Car and Driver magazine reviews three affordable convertibles -- the Ford Mustang, the Pontiac G6 GT and the Chrysler Sebring Touring.


In rating the Mustang in the middle, here's what the gearheads said:


"Mustangs are all tied up with our youth and freedom and fun. For nostalgia reasons alone, we could enjoy this car…it drives well, in an all-natural, whole-grain, stone-ground sort of way…lots of rear-drive trustworthiness here. The brakes are especially firm…The big V6 is strong, producing the best 0-to-60 times at 7.3 seconds. It's also loud and crude-sounding…Today's machinery in a 1960s wrapper…rear passenger space is short on legroom…this pony feels a bit coarse around the edge…"

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