Pret-a-Reporter

The Convertible's Endless Summer

Skin damage be damned: The new $100K+ Mercedes-Benz SL is the latest drop-top to have Hollywood drooling.

From rent-a-car Mustangs piloted by lost tourists to $200,000 Aston Martins favored by film producers, convertibles long have been synonymous with L.A. And with good reason: June gloom aside, the climate is ideal for those wind-in-your-hair-while-blasting-up-PCH moments. According to R.L. Polk & Co., convertibles account for about 2 percent of annual car sales nationwide, but anecdotal evidence suggests they have a higher share in L.A. THR surveilled beachside hotspots during the weekday lunch hour and found that Shutters on the Beach patrons are slathering on zinc oxide: 15 percent of the cars spotted were convertibles. That bested Ivy at The Shore, where 3 percent were drop-tops. The L.A. area is the top U.S. market for convertibles for manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, which in May released a new SL-Class drop-top and sold 709 nationwide in the first month. The two-seat, $106,000 car is on back-order at dealerships like Mercedes-Benz of Beverly Hills, where sales manager Robert Burt says it received about a dozen SLs and all but one have been sold to customers who preordered them. But there is a potential way to snag one: Pay more than sticker price. Manufacturers frown on it, but dealers have been known to ask for a hefty premium on the suggested retail price. Rebecca Lindland, analyst at IHS Global Insight, says that during the first year a coveted car is for sale, dealers could command up to 20 percent more on the MSRP. Burt declined to discuss SL pricing. Jokes Lindland, "In Hollywood, I would think people have to sleep with their agent to get the SL convertible."

CONVERTIBLES & CELLULOID

There are plenty of iconic silver-screen ragtops: the Alfa Romeo Spider from The Graduate, the replica Ferrari 250 GT from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the Ford Thunderbird from Thelma & Louise, among countless others. The use of convertibles in movies is logical -- they easily evoke a certain joie de vivre and, of course, make it easy to film characters due to the lack of a roof. For the 1999 comedy Runaway Bride, filmmakers worked with product placement agency Norm Marshall & Associates to source a convertible Chevrolet Camaro for Richard Gere's newspaper reporter character. "It's about performance, excitement -- you have wind blowing through your hair," says Norm Marshall, founder of his namesake company, which represents Chevy parent General Motors. He says a Corvette was decided against because it wouldn't have been realistic for a reporter to drive such a flashy car.

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