Would suit: Stringfellow (well, better than a thong)
Price: £16,795 to £20,270
Performance: 129mph, 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 37mpg
Further information: 08457 111888
I know why it has taken Ford so long to come up with a folding hard-top, and it has nothing to do with the sloth of the global conglomerate's decision-making process. Since Mercedes launched the SLK in 1996, the brand managers at Ford have been doing the corporate equivalent of standing in front of the mirror in Topshop and wondering if they can get away with a pair of those new Kate Moss hotpants.
Ford, you see, is not really a convertibles company. It is a "durable plastics with decent loading capacity" company (those awful Escort convertibles kind of prove my point), and it clearly had to think long and hard before taking its top off at the beach.
"Could we get away with that?" the Focus brand managers asked themselves back in 2001, when Peugeot launched the 206CC. No, they decided, putting their M&S polo shirts back on and going back to making cars for dads and mums. Then, finally, VW had a go with the Eos. "Come on," said Ford. "If these crusty old farts at Wolfsburg can get away with it, then so can we!"
It reminds me of the time when, in a deluded attempt to convince myself I still "had it", I bought a tight tank top and a pair of low-slung jeans to wear to a launch party for a very cool magazine that had unwittingly commissioned me without realising how I dressed. I took one look at myself in the mirror and realised I looked like a Nathan Barley-o-gram (and that my pants were showing). I did the right thing and went in a suit. Ford, on the other hand, has done a Peter Stringfellow and stripped down to its thong *. Off has come the Focus's roof, around 10 years late. They might as well have launched a "Cool Britannia" version with Union Jack paintwork and sand-blasted denim seats.
Fashion tardiness aside, the Focus C-C is good because it is based on a Focus, which is one of the greatest cars of the last decade (really, I mean it), so it has wonderfully fluid, consistent controls; great ride and handling; and is exceptional quality for the price. But not so good because they've cut the roof off a car that was never supposed to be a convertible. At this point in any article about soft-tops, car journalists are obliged to point out that they lose structural rigidity, and the extra chassis stiffening means they weigh more and performance suffers. So I will.
More serious is that the C-C looks a bit of a duffer. Ironically for a type of car that is entirely about appearance, four-seat folding hard-tops almost never look happy. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you all the Peugeot CCs so far, the Vauxhall Astra Twin Top and Renault Mégane CC, while the Focus is proof that even Pininfarina, which styled it, does occasionally have off days. The Focus suffers more than ever from the typical folding hard-top's hunchback profile, rear wheels which are swamped by the rear bodywork, messy boot line and, in this instance, a windscreen which arches over the top of the front passengers' heads and will administer a sharp reminder to anyone who does not give full attention to their ingress or egress.
If there is one thing worse than ignoring trends altogether, it is turning up in last season's fashions. I could never get away with a sarong (though there is no question I have the ankles for it), and I am not entirely convinced Ford has quite pulled this off either. * If this image is now scorched on to your cerebral cortex, simply imagine Nicholas Soames, naked, on a rodeo simulator.
It's a classic: Crayford Cortina
Back in the 1950s and 1960s it was often left to specialist companies to create convertible versions of mass-produced cars. In the UK, the company best known for hacking up Fords (and Minis, long before Rover got round to it) was Crayford of Westerham in Kent, which produced soft-top versions of the Corsair, Cortina, Capri and Fiesta. Many is the time I have been tempted, albeit briefly, by an Autotrader ad for a Crayford Cortina MK III or, the holy grail of sunshine Fords, a Crayford Capri (which always seems to be for sale in Worthing for some reason). Despite costing roughly 50 per cent more than the standard models when new, Crayford conversions always had a reputation for being, well, a bit rubbish. As with the Focus C-C, the extra bracing needed to ensure they were strong enough meant they were slow, yet the bodies remained wobbly, and their folding-canvas roofs always looked home-made and leaked. This and their unglamorous badge kept them in the bargain-basement section compared to Continental rivals like the Karmann Ghia or 1960s Peugeot soft-tops.Reuse content