I’ve always wondered what the difference between a convertible and a cabriolet is. To me it’s a bit like tomato / tomatoe. That said, my preference has always leaned towards cabriolet simply because it sounds sexy and graceful. In my mind, “convertible” sounds functional and mechanical, sort of like saying “transformer”, as if the car will turn into something else, which technically speaking – it does!
After doing a little research, I found that there is very little difference in meaning between the two words. By and large they both have the same meaning and refer to a car with a removable roof. The word Cabriolet is derived from the French word “cabriole” (told you it was sexy!) and was first used in the 18th century to describe a light horse-drawn carriage. In those days, a cabriolet had two wheels and a folding fabric hood that could be pulled up to protect two occupants from the weather. The cabriolet would be pulled by a single horse. The reason the carriage was named a cabriolet is because of the French term to describe the dance-like high kicking classical movement of a horse and because of the vehicle’s light, bouncing motion.
On the other hand, the word Convertible does not seem to have any poetic meaning to it and is only used in reference to cars. As I suspected, it simply means ‘to convert’ referring to the fact that the car can be converted from a vehicle with a roof to one without.
Since the production of motor cars, the words convertible and cabriolet have become interchangeable. Car makers in the States generally use ‘convertible’ while European brands (French in particular) often prefer to use ‘cabriolet’.
Of course the other names for open-top cars are; “drop-top”, “soft-top”. “rag top” (roofs made from material). There are also retractable roofs as well as detachable roofs (mostly found on recreational utility vehicles and small off roaders).
Irrespective of which word you use – cabriolet or convertible, open top cars are fun to drive. Of course there are pros and cons to owning one and they tend to be on the pricey end of the spectrum but no one can deny that they exude a feeling of fun and light-heartedness one cannot quite achieve in a fixed hard-top car!