‘Fun, Young’

June 13, 2013
BY Linda L. Esterson
Boomers choose good times with the top down
Phyllis Brown says her Audi S5 convertible gives her “a liberating feeling.” (David Stuck)

Phyllis Brown says her Audi S5 convertible gives her “a liberating feeling.” (David Stuck)

There comes a time in life — after raising the kids, paying off the house or turning an age that ends in zero — that it’s time to do something for you.

For some, it may mean an exotic trip. For others, it could be a house at the beach. But for many baby boomers, it means buying the car they’ve always wanted.

Phyllis Brown had a little red sports car when she became pregnant 32 years ago, and she vowed she would again own a sports car someday. Six years ago, at 54, she bought her “dream car,” a convertible Porsche. Because of its small size, it became impractical, and after a few years she opted for a four-door sedan.

But then, Brown, a nurse practitioner, stopped by Len Stoler to replace a brake light last year, and she saw a convertible Audi A5. It was dark blue with a soft top, and it “had my name on it,” she said. Her husband rolled his eyes; he has a BMW that’s logged 200,000 miles. The Audi is comfortable, has a larger backseat than the Porsche and provides a smooth drive.

Brown estimates she drives with the top down about half of the time. She has a wardrobe of hats — with Velcro or elastic — that can takethe wind, and she keeps a bottle of sunblock in the car.

“It’s a liberating feeling,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.”

According to automotive pricing and information website Truecar, there is no single convertible model that is heavily preferred over another by baby boomers (those born between 1946 and1964). The most popular is the Chevrolet Camaro, purchased by 9 percent of boomers. The Ford Mustang (6.9 percent), Chrysler 200 (6.3 percent) and Mazda Miata (5.9 percent) follow on the list of top boomer convertible purchases.

Like Brown, Randy Melnick, also 60, loves the feeling of driving a convertible. About 18 months ago, Melnick purchased her fourth Audi convertible, and this one is white with a brown top. It has all-wheel drive, which enables her to travel to her work as an educator and fundraiser during the cold winter months of ice and snow.

“It’s fun, it’s young,” says Melnick, who bought her first convertible around age 50 as a “midlife treat” after driving SUVs and sedans that were suited for family and carpools. She’s an outdoor type, and the convertible fits her lifestyle and her demeanor. She estimates she drives with the top down about 50 percent of the time, weather permitting.

“How lucky am I?” she asked. “My midlife is wonderful, healthy and happy. This was not a crisis (car); this was wonderful.”

When the grandchildren visit, Melnick takes the SUV or van. The convertible is the family’s third car, and her husband, Gary, likes to drive it around town occasionally.

For years, a convertible usually was purchased following a midlife crisis or retirement, but today, the buyer is a little younger, said Jeff Lenovitz, brand specialist for Len Stoler Porsche Audi in Owings Mills.

“It seems to be happening earlier — people in their 40s while they are still working but ready for the toy,” Lenovitz said. “They’re at an age when they can afford it.”

Still, he said, empty nesters comprise the majority of convertible buyers, and they often keep the sedan or SUV to transport grandchildren. Usually, he said, they come in to look at a compact, sporty Porsche, but the guy with the “giant sports belly and bad back” becomes an Audi owner when the wife gets involved.

The Audi A5 Cabriolet is the most popular choice, Lenovitz said, as it provides more cargo and trunk space, is not as low to the ground and has doors that open wide for easy access — perfect for those with back, hip or knee issues. The single and divorced man usually opts for the smaller, roadster model.

About 50 percent of convertible purchases are leased, according to Lenovitz, leaving little maintenance and expense to the driver. They often return after three years and choose a new convertible.

“They feel like they’re 18 again,” he said. “They say it’s good for their health. They feel younger and better. It’s good medicine.”

Richard Chase bought his BMW 328i hardtop convertible three years ago at age 48.

“I never had a convertible,” he said. “It was a treat to myself. I always wanted a convertible.”

Chase underwent an extensive search through the metro area for a car within his budget. A friend at a dealership called when she saw the car on the back lot. The sun was glistening off of the body “like a fairy tale,” Chase said. “I got lucky.”

He rides “topless” whenever it’s warm, sometimes even at night with the heat on.

“There’s something special about driving it,” he said. “It’s just a fun car.”

Sometimes family history plays a part in the purchase. Melnick’s convertible elicits memories of her mother, who had a Chevrolet Impala convertible when she was young. After her family obligations waned, she purchased a Mercedes convertible.

“I foresee [always] having a convertible,” she noted. “I really would miss it.”

For those who remember Bridget Jones’ wind-blown hair or the loss of her scarf while riding in her boss’ convertible, Melnick suggested they not be dismayed. Today’s wind guards and wind screens do the trick and serve as a “girl’s best friend.”

“People I see in convertibles with the top down are happy with life and having fun,” said Melnick. “They have a smile on their face, are probably singing with the music and having a good time in their car.”

Linda Esterson is a local freelance writer.

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