1. Archive

Going topless all the rage; a convertible comeback

"Adieu, mes amis, je vais a la gloire." (Farewell, my friends, I go to glory.)

_ Dancer Isadora Duncan, stepping into a Bugatti convertible on the Riviera in 1927

In the summer of his 11th year, Herb Galper found freckled glory in the adolescent arms of a redhead at camp on the Hudson River.

Mary Jane Brennan drove Galper goofy. "She was my first love," he said the other day, his gray hair blowing in the wind. "We kissed on the lips and swore we would never part."

All the kids would squirm around in the dark by the campfire, girls and boys singing soprano: Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile.

"I guess nobody remembers the old songs anymore," Galper says now.

The song may have ended, but the redhead lingers on. "She always smelled sweet and her skin was soft and silky. It's been almost 50 years but I still think about her."

But how long could first love last? "Summer came to an end, of course, and I never saw her again," Galper said.

Not long ago, the retired stereo salesman from Queens was tooling around with the top down in his bright blue Mazda Miata up near first-kiss country. With the wind in his hair and a gleam in his eye, he swore he could still see Mary Jane Brennan jumping barefoot across the summer grass, after all these years.

"There's something about a convertible that can do that to a guy," 60-year-old Galper said.

A gentle flirt

A convertible is a topless time machine that can take anybody anywhere the imagination allows.

Drop the top and life becomes a gentle flirt with recklessness. Nothing else in our popular culture is more closely linked to freedom and fun, adventure and romance. Driven to near-extinction in the '70s by slumping sales, safety concerns and the comfort of air-conditioning, the car of summer has made a comeback.

Ragtops are on a roll. Last year 180,671 domestic and foreign models were sold in the United States, 2-percent of all car sales.

When the young and the young at heart sizzle around in their toys of summer, hot things can happen. Heads turn, eyes pop and a few hearts beat a little faster.

The young drivers crave today's fancy and fizz, while some of the older owners are looking back toward yesterday's glory.

Rooflessness does have its messy side. A convertible, for instance, can cost $5,000 more than a comparable hardtop. Insurance costs more. They're loud. They shake. They're naked to thieves.

Isadora Duncan, the American pioneer of modern dance, stepped into a Bugatti roadster for a test drive 66 years ago _ and told her friends she was bound for glory.

For her night ride, Duncan wore a long red silk scarf, with one end wrapped around her and the other end streaming out behind the Bugatti. The car surged forward, then jerked to a stop. The driver screamed. The dancer's silk scarf had wound itself around a rear wheel, breaking her neck and killing her instantly.

Isadora Duncan had gone to glory, all right, riding in a topless time machine.