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Best-selling American convertibles: The drop-top automobiles that Americans bought the most of

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Chevrolet’s 1958 Bel Air Impala convertible. Photo courtesy General Motors, brochure scans from author’s collection.

During the late 1940s and through to the mid-1960s, sales of convertibles were robust; they seem to have reached their zenith in the years immediately after the War when American optimism was at its peak. So, which were the bestselling American-made automobiles of the post-World War II era?

Broken down by brand, each auto manufacturer’s convertible topseller along with their second and third bestselling models are detailed here and in the order of the convertible model that sold the most. For some manufacturers, convertible production numbers were quite amazing, with overall sales in numbers the likes of which will never again be seen.

 

Chevrolet: 1958 Bel Air/Impala — 83,330 produced

During the Tri-Five years, it was the 1957 Bel Air that attracted 47,562 buyers, yet that was way fewer than the topselling Chevrolet convertible: the 1958 Bel Air/Impala line with 83,330 examples built (no model breakout is available). Close behind in second place was the 1963 Impala, both six-cylinder and V-8, at 82,659 units produced. For the record, the bestselling Camaro convertible was the 1967 model with 25,141 cars built, with the V-8 Camaro totaling 19,856 units. The topselling Corvette drop-top was the 1968 model at 18,630 units followed by the 1966 Sting Ray convertible at 17,762.

 

Ford: 1957 Fairlane 500 — 77,728 produced

You wouldn’t be far off the mark if you guessed the Mustang was Ford’s biggest selling convertible. It wasn’t, but it was Ford’s second biggest seller with 73,112 convertibles built for the 1965 model year. Eight years prior, Ford hit one of many grand slams when it introduced the appealing line of cars for the 1957 model year: the very stylish Custom and Fairlane line. It was the Fairlane that year that comes in as Ford biggest selling convertible model with 77,728 produced. Broken down by engines, 832 six-cylinder Fairlanes were made versus 76,896 ordered with V-8s. Sixty-two years hence, the 1957 Fairlane 500 convertible remains one of many iconic models in Ford’s long line of great automobiles.

 

Buick: 1947 Super — 27,796 produced

Unlike the other GM divisions, Buick buyers didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm for convertibles; this was especially so during the 1960s when Oldsmobile and Pontiac convertibles sold extremely well. So, we have to go back to the immediate postwar era to find that the $2,333 1947 Super Series 50 was Buick’s bestselling convertible with 27,796 units produced, with the handsomely styled 1949 Super right behind it with 21,426 in sales. With its infamous “buck-tooth grille,” the $2,476 1950 Super sold 12,259 examples, making it Buick’s bestselling convertible of the 1950s. The $3,145 1960 LeSabre sold the most during the 1960s with 13,588 units produced, while the ever-popular Skylark’s bestselling convertible model year was 1965 with 10,456 V-8 examples built; an additional 1,181 V-6-powered Skylarks were made, too.

 

Pontiac: 1963 Bonneville — 23,459 produced


With its upscale style, Pontiac’s redesigned fullsize line for the 1963 model year was a huge hit with the public. Pontiac sold 18,249 examples of the $3,300 Catalina convertible, yet it was the pricier $3,568 Bonneville drop-top that was the biggest selling convertible in Pontiac’s postwar history with 23,459 units built. The 1964 Catalina/Bonneville convertibles weren’t too far behind in sales with 18,693 and 22,016 respectively. During the 1950s, it was the $2,691 1955 Star Chief convertible that comes out on top with 19,762 units sold. As to the hot new Firebird, its biggest selling convertible was the second-year 1968 model attracting just 16,960 buyers by comparison.

 

Cadillac: 1965-’66 de Ville — 19,200 produced


Rarely are the same amount of a particular model built for two successive years yet that’s what happened to Cadillac (or at least that’s what they claim) during the 1965 and 1966 model years. A grand total of 19,200 convertibles were built each year, with the 1965 costing slightly more at $5,639 versus $5,555 for 1966.  The second (or is it the third?) bestselling Cadillac convertible was the 1967 de Ville at 18,200 units. So how did the iconic 1959 Cadillac fair in convertible form? The Series 62 convertible that year saw a 11,130 production run, plus an additional 1,320 examples of the pricier $7,401 Biarritz. Oh, and what about the so-called “last American convertible to be built,” the 1976 Eldorado? With collectors and investors running wild to score this future collectible, 14,000 were built; its sizeable base price of $11,049 clearly wasn’t an issue.

 

Mercury: 1949 Mercury — 16,765 produced


Hard to argue that the 1949 Merc is one of the most iconic American automobiles of the immediate postwar era. While the coupe was Mercury’s hotter seller that year, the $2,410 convertible sold extremely well with 16,765 units built. The restyled line for 1955, with its signature hooded headlamps, saw the $2,712 Montclair convertible reach number-two status with 10,668 examples sold. The compact $2,636 Caliente of 1964 was Mercury’s fourth bestselling convertible with 9,039 built; it was edged out by the $2,002 1947 Mercury with its 10,221 production run.

 

Plymouth: 1963 Valiant — 16,276 produced

With compact car buyers, the early 1960s Valiant was a popular car thanks to its variety of body styles and engine options. The 1963 model ended up being Plymouth’s bestselling convertible with a total production run of 16,276 being built. If divided by engines, the six-cylinder V-200 found 7,122 buyers at a cost of $2,340 each, while the more powerful $2,454 Signet V-8 was the more popular version with 9,154 produced. The 1952 Cranbrook with its $2,222 price tag was Plymouth’s second bestselling convertible with 5,650 units built. As to the ever-popular Barracuda, it was the 1967 model’s 4,228 production that made it the topseller.

 

Nash: 1951 Rambler — 14,881 produced


With each passing year during the 1950s, production of Nash automobiles continued to slide, resulting in a limited offering of convertible models. Nash’s bestselling drop-top model was the compact 1951 Rambler; with its affordable price tag of $1,837, a grand total of 14,881 were produced. Runner-up was the 1950 Rambler Custom Convertible Landau that attracted 9,330 buyers with its $1,808 base price. The only other Nash convertibles were the 1952 Rambler at 3,108 units built and the now rare 1954 Rambler with only 221 examples made. The last Nash fullsize model and the only one offered after World War II was the 1948 Customline; costing $2,355, only 1,000 were made.

 

Oldsmobile: 1967 Delta 88 — 14,471 produced

Although the Cutlass remains Oldsmobile most popular model, in convertible form it holds second and third place in production totals. The fullsize 1967 Delta 88 at $3,646 takes top honors with a production run of 14,471, nipping the 1968 Cutlass V-8 $3,055 convertible by a mere 804 examples; factor in the other 410 Cutlass models sold with six-cylinder engines that year and the total will still be short at 14,077. The third place Oldsmobile convertible was the 1969 Cutlass V-8 with 13,498 sold; with six-cylinder power, another 236 were built. Buyers in the 1950s weren’t as big on convertibles as they were back in 1949 when the $2,624 Futuramic 98 sold 12,914 units.

 

AMC: 1962 Rambler 400 — 13,497 produced

AM Rambler — 1962

When first introduced, the Rambler was a hot car for small-scale American Motors while helping to define Detroit’s new era of compact-sized cars. AMC’s bestselling Rambler convertible was the 1962 model 400; priced at $2,344 some 13,497 were built. The year prior was their second-bestselling convertible, the 1961 Rambler American, of which 10,855 were made; if you include the 2,063 Custom trim models, essentially the exact same car, then total production reached 12,918. Other bestselling AMC convertibles were the $2,346 1964 Rambler American 440 at 8,907 units built and the attractively restyled 1965 Rambler Classic 770 series; costing $2,696 a total of 4,953 were made.

 

Studebaker: 1948 Champion Regal Deluxe — 9,996 produced


The second year of its new, more modern-looking car line, the 1948 Champion Regal Deluxe in convertible form saw its production reach 9,996 examples. With a base price of $2,059, it was Studebaker’s bestselling postwar convertible. Hot on its heels was the radical looking “bulletnose” Champion Regal Deluxe of 1950; costing a very affordable $1,981, it attracted 9,362 buyers. The compact Lark got a convertible body for its second model year when the 1960 Regal was introduced. A total of 8,571 were built; 3,107 were six-cylinder models for $2,621, and 5,464 were V-8-powered for $2,756.

 

Chrysler: 1966 Newport — 5,585 produced


During the immediate postwar years of 1946 through 1949, 11,200 Windsor convertibles rolled off Chrysler’s assembly line, however, no specific model year breakdowns are available. So, we’ll have to go with the 1966 Newport as Chrysler’s bestselling convertible. Between the base Newport (3,085 produced) and the higher trimmed 300 series (2,500 produced), a total of 5,585 were built; $3,898 and $4,358 respectively. As to Chrysler’s highly coveted Letter cars, it was the 1957 300C that had the highest convertible production with 484 built at a lofty cost of $5,359. Runner-up in the Letter car category goes to the $5,841 1961 300G with 337 built.

 

Packard: 1948 Super Eight Convertible Victoria — 4,750 produced


Unlike its prewar days, convertible Packards of the postwar era were limited in both variety of models available and overall production. It wasn’t until the 1948 model year when Packard offered its first new convertible, the $3,250 Super Eight Convertible Victoria of which 4,750 were produced, making it Packard’s bestseller. With its fairly affordable base price of $3,390, the 1951 series 250-based Packard convertible, oftentimes referred to as a Cavalier, was the company’s bestselling convertible of the 1950s but it didn’t sell as well as expected with only 2,572 examples built. The best known and perhaps the most desirable postwar Packard convertible was the Caribbean, which had a production high of only 750 examples for 1953; it was quite pricey at $5,210.

 

Dodge: 1970 Challenger — 4,243 produced


Unlike all the other auto manufacturers, Dodge wasn’t very forthcoming with its production totals; they do not disclose breakdowns for individual models through the late 1940s and well into the 1960s. What we do know is that Dodge produced a combined 9,500 Custom convertibles during the 1946-’49 model years — again, no model year breakdowns are available. We don’t like to assume anything, but from the production figures that are available, the bestselling Dodge convertible was the 1970 Challenger. This handsome E-body had a production run of 4,243 convertibles, with 1,070 being R/T models. Base price was $3,120, with the R/T convertible selling for $3,535. Next in line was the 1971 Challenger convertible with 2,165 cars built; list price $3,105.

 

De Soto: 1952 Custom — 3,950 produced


During the 1956 model year, when De Soto paced the Indianapolis 500, it built 1,485 Fireflite convertibles with a base price of $3,454 each. However, this Fireflite was De Soto’s second bestselling convertible model after its topselling 1952 Custom that sold 3,950 examples at $2,996 each. De Soto’s third bestselling convertible was the mid-priced Firedome of 1957, which sold 1,297 units at $3,361.

 

Lincoln: 1957 Premiere — 3,676 produced


The restyled 1956 model-year Lincolns were a big hit, but it wasn’t until the 1957 models with their stacked headlamps that Lincoln had its bestselling convertible. The Premiere, costing a pricy $5,381, saw its production run reach 3,676 examples. Lincoln’s second bestselling convertible was the four-door Continental of 1965; costing $6,798, 3,356 were built. Third place goes to the 1964 Continental that had 3,328 examples built, but at a higher base price of $6,938.

 

Hudson: 1950 Pacemaker — 2,525 produced


For such a small manufacturer Hudson had an extensive line of not only different models but different body styles, too. Its new-for-1950 entry-level Pacemaker was offered as a convertible in two trim levels — 500 and Deluxe — and had a combined total of 2,525 units built; it sold for $2,428 and $2,444 respectively. The year before the higher priced $2,799 Super Six Brougham of 1949 attracted 1,868 buyers. Hudson’s third bestselling convertible was another 1950 model — the Custom Commodore. Between the six- and eight-cylinder versions, 1,126 were produced, with the $2,809 straight-six model being the better seller at 700 units.

 

Edsel: 1958 Pacer — 1,876 produced


During its short three-year production run, Edsel convertibles were offered every year. Although its production was extremely low, it was the first year $3,766 Pacer of 1958 that was the bestselling Edsel convertible with 1,876 built. The 1959 Corsair at $3,072 was next at 1,343 units built, with the $3,000 1960 Ranger being one of the rarest American-made convertibles of all time, with 76 examples having been made.

 

Imperial: 1957 Crown — 1,167 produced


As Chrysler’s more expensive top-end brand, the topselling Imperial convertible was the 1957 Crown with 1,167 built at a base price of $5,598. Production of the distinctive-looking 1964 Imperial Crown topped out at 922 examples with a then-hefty price tag of $6,003. The third bestselling Imperial was the 1958 Crown with 675 units built at a cost of $5,759.

 

Kaiser: 1954 Darrin — 435 produced


Kaiser produced quite a variety of cars during its short 1947-’55 existence, with its most notable model being the 1954 Darrin roadster with its signature sliding doors and three-position convertible top. At a cost of $3,655, only 435 Kaiser-Darrins were produced. The other convertible built by Kaiser, one that had an unusual four-door body style, was the $3,195 Deluxe for the 1949-’50 model years — it’s quite rare with only 42 examples built in total.

 

Frazer: 1949-’50 Manhattan — 70 produced

Photo by Klaus Nahr.

During the five years that Frazer manufactured automobiles, only one convertible model was ever produced: the four-door Manhattan. With a fairly high price tag of $3,295, approximately 70 examples were made during its 1949-’50 production run. As a result, this is one of the rarest “mass produced” American-made convertibles of the postwar era.