By on May 23, 2011

Frank A. writes:

It’s been a while since you advised me on Town Car engine cleaning.  I’ve still got the TC, but I’ve got an itch to add something less practical to the fleet–a retractable hardtop.  Probably anybody who is old enough to have been frightened by a Ford Skyliner as a child has had this impulse now and then.

I’m interested in the Pontiac G6.  They were made ’06-’09 and are percolating down into a practical price range.  I can’t spend the bucks on a high dollar retractable, so the VW Eos and Chrysler Sebring would be my only other choices.

Gee whiz: Pontiac quality, Volkswagen quality, or Chrysler quality: what are you gonna choose?

So, what do you think, of retractables in general and the G6 in particular?  Are they reasonably reliable?  What kind of maintenance does the top require as it ages?  (Assuming Pontiac dealer support is going to recede into the past.)  And how loopy an idea would buying one be?

Before you reply that this is too bizarre a kink for a Panther guy to take up, just remember–the Skyliner is a direct ancestor of the Big Cat.  It must have left a few retractable genes in there somewhere.

Sajeev answers:

Having recently spent time in a restored 1958 Skyliner, these systems aren’t exactly the stuff of rocket science. And my goodness, the Skyliners are one of the high points in Detroit’s history: when you consider the historical implications of Panther Love.  It is a truly stunning machine.

I get it. You need a folding roof.

And a few unique hinge pieces, custom rubber bits and the appropriate electrics is all that’s in play. That said, retractable tops will be a nightmare if a greenhorn with a wrench and a shop manual gets their hands on it. As time goes by, the rubber bits are my biggest concern. Unlike most droptops, I suspect the G6’s folding hard top has a fair bit of unique molded rubber that will be tough to find. But this won’t be a problem if Steele Rubber Products stays in business for the next 30 years. If they go away, start crying: I know I will.

But go for it, life’s too short to drive nothing but a Lincoln Town Car.  Compared the out-of-warranty repair costs of a VW and the stunning crappiness of Chrysler, the Pontiac G6 is a smart move. If any vehicle shall be blessed with an overabundance of replacement bits and service expertise, it will be a GM product. But that’s discounting the G6’s unique folding roof.

Whatever.  Just do it, but much like your Town Cars dirty engine, be proactive about cleaning the hardtop’s moving parts.  Get the dirt out of the rubber and finish them off with a touch of silicone spray lubricant. Clean and lubricate the hinges, conservatively. Overdoing it might let more dirt and grime build up. Buy the GM factory service manual, read the specifics about the folding top and learn how the experts tune and tweak these things as the ravages of time do their duty.

And if you get into a significant accident, don’t get too attached: I suspect any insurance company will total a depreciated G6 with a jammed roof.  This ain’t a valuable Mercedes SL, as you well know.

Good luck, the Town Car and the G6 will be a fun Detroit pairing.

Send your queries to sajeev@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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52 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Panther Lover is a Folding Hardtop Lover...”


  • avatar

    I’d highly suggest finding the drain holes/slots and make sure you keep them from becoming blocked…this will help avoid water/rust problems in the future!

  • avatar
    weatherman

    Given those choices I’d say the G6 is the best option, but if he’s willing to go with a different letter/number combo, I think the Z4 would be a much better choice!

  • avatar
    BlueEr03

    you already have a town car, go with something smaller for your -vert. May I suggest a hard top Miata? Cheap, reliable, and the anti-thesis of your TC when it comes to size.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      A retractable hard top Miata would be a driver’s choice, but I suspect they’re thin on the ground for $16,000 in excellent condition. Were I him, I would look at conventional convertibles. If he needs 4 seats, the Solara is about as good as it gets as a primary car. Since this is a second car, he could consider some RWD/manual transmission cars that will let him down but be more fun between repairs.

      • 0 avatar

        Build quality with the Solara convertible is far from Toyota’s best. The structure is pretty flimsy. The Pontiac feels more solid. Main problems with the Pontiac are:

        1. Cheap interior bits

        2. Zero room in the trunk when the top is folded.

        Wish I had an idea of how reliable these complicated tops have been, but not enough in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey.

        It should be possible to buy a PRHT Miata for close to $16000. Here’s one with a manual all ready for autocross:

        http://bit.ly/joMqjT

        Another with even fewer miles and an automatic in a very attractive green:

        http://bit.ly/jHXmSK

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I looked at San Diego’s craigslist, which historically has been a good place to look for cheap convertibles. Of 81+ Miatas, I found zero with the retractable hardtop. The soft top ones that were recent and low mileage were much more than those two you found too. Sorry. I didn’t need to spread misiformation on market values. The only two G6 retractable hardtops I found were a private party 2006 asking $16,500 and a 2007 at a dealer with 15K miles for $19,888.

        I test drove a 115K mile Solara convertible that had spent its life on our illogically broken roads and was still remarkably solid, more so than a new BMW 335i retractable I drove the same day. That’s a sample size of one, but there really wasn’t any comparing the build quality of that car with a showroom floor Corvette, let alone a Pontiac G6. What happened to the accordion roof G6s? They advertised them to high heaven, gave Oprah a parking lot full, and then I never saw a single one in the tin.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        The major drawback of the Solara is that the structure is rubbery. It is amazing how much driving pleasure is lost when the body flexes so much. My friend’s primary complaint with her car is the looseness of it. Otherwise she is happy with it – only a few minor repairs in 70K of driving. However, she is hardly an enthusiast. The G6 is notorious for being a beancounted mess, but should be a notably better drive. Not so sure how long term reliability will be, but I’d bet the money saved over the Toyota will pay for a goodly amount of repairs. Steer clear of the Sebring; arguably the worst modern car made.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    [i]”Gee whiz: Pontiac quality, Volkswagen quality, or Chrysler quality: what are you gonna choose?”[/i]

    http://www.edmunds.com/lexus/is-250-c/2010/

  • avatar
    mikey

    I nearly bought one about a month ago. I put that top up and down at least 10 times. Sajeev is right the G6 is a solid car. As a former assembly line worker,I would love to know the jobs per hour ratio of drop tops. Practice makes perfect, you need to run a good percentage of anything that differs from the norm.

    I came within a whisker of buying it….YMMV.?

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Ignore the hardtop nonsense and just buy an NC Miata with the soft top. They are easily had for cheap with low miles and are far, far, far better cars than a sedan with the roof sawed off.

    • 0 avatar
      MoppyMop

      The NC softtop is also stupid easy to put up and down, so it’s not like you’re giving up much by passing on the hardtop.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        Yeah, it is essentially a 1 hand job… while sitting in the car.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        The Hardtop isn’t for ease, it’s for longevity. You don’t have morons cutting their way in, or any of that crap.

        The hardtop is also quieter on the highway.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        I’ll give you quieter on the highway, which is precisely why I don’t own a Miata right now, but if it is a 2nd vehicle, take the TC when you’re going into the shady part of town. Not everyone lives in a crime ridden city either. Most of the convertibles in my area are left top down when the owner runs into a shop anyway. We don’t know where Frank A. lives.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        If the car is going into a garage, soft top may be just fine. Practically all my friends who got soft top Miatas & Jeeps eventually found them cut open by some thief breaking in to steal stuff. But if garaged, the soft top should be OK.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Why would you lock the doors on a soft-top convertible? NOTHING in the car is worth what the top will cost to replace, and if they are going to steal the whole car they will cut thier way in anyway! Just plain silly.

    • 0 avatar
      Flybrian

      “Yeah, it is essentially a 1 hand job… while sitting in the car.”

      Do you know how difficult it is to NOT go for the juggular on that one…?

      More to wit, the G6 is a solid choice.

  • avatar

    We have a 2009 Pontiac G6 hardtop and it has been trouble free. We got a great deal on it, so it was a no brainer compared to the overpriced and cramped Eos and the aweful Sebring. A friend of ours has a 2006 and his is also trouble free. Good luck! It’s a good car for the price.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Jeremy Clarkson has pronounced that not only is the Sebring almost certainly the worst car in the entire world, he has also blamed the mentality that would produce such an unmitigated disaster for the invasion of Iraq. Love him or hate him, I would steer clear of the Sebring.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Jeremy Clarkson may be bombastic and over the top.

      Based on actual experience, actually driven a Sebring convertible for a week, he is not wrong about the Sebring convertible.

      What a horrible, horrible car. I could not recommended it to any friend, not in good conscience.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        May be? Definitely is!

        But I agree 100% on the Sebring convertible. After a two-day rental in one, I have since refused a two “upgrades” to Sebring convertibles.

        Chrysler didn’t even bother making the windows seal properly against the top …

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        Yeah, it was a “free upgrade” for me, too. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!

        Other Chrysler rentals since then haven’t made me feel any better about the company. I’d rather rent a HKia than a Chrysler.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Agreed, any day. I have been using National recently, and their midsize/full-size fleet is around 2/3 Chrysler (at least at EWR), and seemingly half of the rest are Impalas. So far I’ve managed to score a new Sonata, a few Camrys, a Jetta (a VW rental — a rare sight!) and a bunch of Malibus.

    • 0 avatar
      Ion

      I find my time spent in Sebrings (especially the last/current gen) to be really uneventfull. Outside of the collapsible roof I see no reason to drive a sebring, their just…… bland Even the Avenger seems to have more character. I wouldn’t say it’s horrible but I can’t really find anything good to say about the Sebring.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    That Skyliner talk reminds me of its close relative, the 1962 Lincoln Continental convertible I owned. It had the same open trunk, fold the top, close trunk routine as these droptops do, with the added fillip that if the rear door windows were closed it would lower them a couple of inches first. My car was ten years old when I got it and while it hadn’t been beat it hadn’t been all that well maintained either (e.g. about ten pounds of rust in the cooling system). When you pull the back seat cushion forward you see a rack of electrical relays that extends clear from one side to the other of the car. Yet all that stuff still worked like new.

    My point is not that it’s too bad Ford isn’t doing something like that now, but to say that this isn’t cutting-edge technology for car makers. Mikey’s endorsement of the G6 makes sense to me; we had a G6 GT rental a couple of years ago that I was reasonably well impressed with.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      The Skyliner was still 20 years behind the Europeans — check out the 1938 Peugeot 402B:
      http://www.fantasyjunction.com/cars/420-Peugeot-402BL%20Eclipse%20Decapotable-2148CC%20OHV%20Four-Cylinder%20Engine

      Truly amazing given the 1930s technology levels, definitely not a single microprocessor or even transistor to be found anywhere.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Full disclosure, I love convertibles. Every drop top from a Sebring {who cares what Clarkson thinks} to a Miata thrills me.

    Frank..It all depends on your budget,and what YOU want. The G6 will do a great job for you. Do you live where it snows? If you need to drive your car in the winter,the G6 is perfect. Remember,no trunk space. Same goes for a Sky. You will find lots of room in a Sebring, or a Solara but no mojo? The Miata is a blast to drive,but a little small for me. The Euros? Mercs,BMW or Audi, big bucks to buy,and bigger bucks to fix,but certainly..very cool. How about a Jeep? Great idea, practice putting the top up as fast as you can..sudden down pours,don’t you know.

    A Mustang or Camaro? Hmmmm…I think I will leave that to another “Piston Slap”

  • avatar
    manu06

    Why not get the Solstice hardtop ? It’s a better looking vehicle and more likely to
    hold it’s value if you can find one.

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    If the folding hard top was designed by the same “engineers” as the complicated louvered sunroof on the G-6 I would RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN FROM THE G-6. We could see sunlight through several of the gaps, taken to dealer, per GM district rep. “that’s normal and within acceptable factory tolerances” The whole things brings back memories of circa late 70s leaky Pontiac T-tops.

  • avatar
    MBella

    I am not familiar with the G6s system, however I have worked on quite a few MB SLs and SLKs, and those systems are overcomplicated, have way to many peaces that can fail. They also rattle way more than a CLK or E convertible with a soft top. I would recommend against the folding hard top, and recommend something with a soft top or removable glass panels like a targa or t-top.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Well, well, well; someone mentions the word “hardtop”, and like Pavlov’s dog, here I am!

    My wife and I bought a 2007 MX5 a year ago for our fun car. I’d buy one of those – if you can fit comfortably in it and if you only need two seats. If you need 4 seats, the G6 is the way to go. GM has an awful lot of sheetmetal lying around and parts will be easy to come by for years. Florida Window Lift has many available replacement parts for all convertibles and undoubtedly will have plenty of G6 parts in the future as well – I’m talking about window motors, top motors, etc. Ditto for the sources mentioned above, plus others.

    We looked at a retractable HT MX5, but they were a bit pricier than we wanted to spend, so we stuck with the soft top. Works for us.

    Pontiac G6 – go for it!

  • avatar
    claytori

    I just returned from a trip to Ireland. I saw a Ford Focus with a tin retractable hardtop that looked very nice.

  • avatar
    Fromes

    how about a SC430?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    G6, no brainer. Become a member of the dead brands club!

  • avatar
    Loser

    IMHO the G6 is an underappreciated car, the retractable hardtop even more so. Good solid pick IMHO.

  • avatar
    Ion

    Out of the 3 you’ve chosen I’d rank em G6 then sebring then Eos. Might I suggest a Mustang drop-top though, they handle like crap and the doors tend to sag as they age, but they’re cheap and replacement parts are easy to find

  • avatar
    th009

    Searching for old reviews, I shockingly found some ranked the G6 *behind* the Sebring:
    http://www.wheels.ca/article/225302

    You could also consider the Eos if (1) the back-seat room is not an issue for you and (2) you buy CPO to get the warranty. Eos CPO cars seem to start around $20K for 2007 models.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Seems to me that no one has fully solved the problem that has plagued retractable hardtops since 1957, being no trunk space when the top is down. And before you say “who takes a long trip with the top down?” consider a day trip to the beach. Into the trunk goes all that beach gear — chairs, umbrella, cooler, etc., etc. Now, hey, it’s great beach weather so of course it’s great top down weather . . uhhh, oops . . . .

  • avatar
    ajla

    Just be sure that you spring for the 3900.

  • avatar
    nels2727

    Is the “practical price range,” all about having the money up front/total financing approval, or is it more about what you are willing to spend? I ask because my admittedly quick online search shows these things priced $16K to $20K depending on mileage. While I don’t doubt that the G6 is a solidly built reliable car Pontiac is a dead brand for a reason, FWD cars with “adventureous” styling and shoddy interiors like the G6 killed Pontiac. I doubt anyone will pine for these things a decade from now. Your $20K 20K miles G6 convertible will turn into a $5K 60K miles orphan brand old car in 5 years. However, non-V Caddy XLR’s complete with retractable hardtops can be found with 30K-40K miles in the mid $20K range with some work, and I think they have the potential to appreciate. the $30K -mid $40K V’s seem like the real investment, but still I wouldn’t expect much more depreciation if you find a $25K XLR with mid to high 30K mileage. Strangley prices are all over the place, here’s a link to a private seller listing for $17K with 40K miles that claims to be accident free.

    http://www.cars.com/go/search/detail.jsp?tracktype=usedcc&csDlId=&csDgId=&listingId=66982136&listingRecNum=199&criteria=sf1Dir%3DASC%26mkId%3D20052%26stkTyp%3DU%26mdId%3D22390%26rd%3D100000%26crSrtFlds%3DstkTypId-feedSegId-mkId-mdId%26zc%3D07481%26rn%3D150%26PMmt%3D1-1-0%26stkTypId%3D28881%26sf2Dir%3DASC%26sf1Nm%3Dmiles%26sf2Nm%3Dprice%26rpp%3D50%26feedSegId%3D28705&aff=national

    Plus you’ll have a vette frame, Hardtop convertible,a nice interior, and a 320HP Northstar V8 instead of a 3.9L 240HP V6 at best. If your “practical price range” is a hard cap I understand, but if its more about not wanting to spend the money, think long-term and get a XLR.

  • avatar
    Steve B

    As a sort of dark horse alternative, perhaps the Scion tC…

    On the downside:
    – Toyota and particularly Scion seem pretty hated here on principle. And yes, the marketing is stupid.
    – Steering feel isn’t the best – it’s basically like a midsized sedan (well, like a G6 I suppose).
    – Some folks find the interior to leave a bit to be desired (well, like a G6 I suppose).
    – Not a true convertible, but the panoramic sunroof does let in quite a bit of light.

    On the upside:
    – Cheap – $18,995 brand new.
    – Decently peppy, available with 6-spd manual
    – Pretty good on gas. I’m getting 26 avg in mostly city, about 1 mpg less than the automatic Fit I was driving (what a bad idea :-( NEVER doing the automatic thing again. Ugh)
    – Lots of back seat space.
    – Trunk space isn’t compromised by opening the roof, and thanks to the liftback, there’s a decent amount of it.
    – 4-banger manual tranny compacts are Toyota’s (and generally all the Japanese’) bread and butter. It should basically be bulletproof.

    So yeah, not a really glamourous car, but you’re looking at a midsized Pontiac FWDer, so image probably isn’t much of a concern.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I’ve seen a few G6 hardtop convertibles around but they must be quite rare. Any idea how many they ever sold? I actually saw a Solstice Coupe a few weeks ago. A flawed design (a removeable targa top that can’t actually be carried in any way in the vehicle) but fantastic looking. They can’t have sold more than a few hundred before they shuttered Pontiac.

    In a different direction, have you considered a 1994-1995 Mercedes E320 Cabrio? The top is “soft” but is really thick and quiet at freeway speeds. It’s a true four-seat cabriolet as well. The body structures are still amazingly solid to this day and the 24-valve inline six is creamy smooth.

    They only sold, I think, about 6,000 of them over the two year run but there always seems to be a few on eBay or CL out my way. They cost about $85k in 1994 dollars when new but a nice reasonable-mile example can be had for well under your $15k budget if you avoid dealers who think their cars are made of gold bullion. I’d hate to think about the cost of replacing that top, but everything I’ve ever read about them just raves about the build quality. Like the G6, the basic mechanical bits were shared with millions of 124-chassis sedans and coupes and are actually affordable to buy… body work and top mechanisms not so much, but that’s what insurance is for!

  • avatar
    geozinger

    A G6 folding hardtop would be an excellent choice. The mechanicals are solid, the rest of the car is truly solid too. If you find the GXP, you may end up with the 3.9/6 speed combo with manumatic which was pretty nice the time I drove one.

    I don’t understand the constant b*tching about the G6 interior, while plain, it’s functional, durable and easy to keep clean. I’m not really a fan of soft plastics or fabrics in car interiors. At worst, ours creaks in the cold weather, once the heater gets up to par, the noises go away. About the only thing in the interior I don’t like is the placement of the cup holders directly ahead of the armrest on the console, anything bigger than a 12oz. Coke can interferes with my operation of the shifter. The other thing I’d like to be able to do is to upgrade the OnStar module, but that’s another issue entirely.

    I’d say go for the G6.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Oh yeah..for sure the G6 is in itself a good car,but I do understand Franks fear of the mechanics in the roof retract system.

      I was so close to pulling the trigger on a nice 07. The dealer wouldn’t come down a nickel. That, and two other buyers were also looking. One guy was luke warm,and the other guy was gung ho. I felt pressured and walked.

      I ended up going a different direction,but I believe I would be happy with the Pontiac.

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    An NC Miata with a REMOVABLE hardtop seems like the smart play here. A nice NB Miata with a removable hardtop for half the price seems like the smartest play.

  • avatar
    biglots1977

    All this talk about the G6 reminded me of a very funny quote from Dan Neil’s review of the Sebring convertible:

    “The Sebring drop top does something I thought impossible: It makes me long for the exquisite craftsmanship of the Pontiac flipping G6.”

  • avatar
    Towncar

    I’m the questioner, and I appreciate all the replies! 51 (currently) is pretty good. I would have lost my bet if I had taken any odds on what Sajeev was going to title this–I was sure it would be “Panther Lover Goes Topless!”

    Well, there’s a lot more G6 love around than I expected. I didn’t figure we had many Sebring boosters here, but I really thought the VW fans would form an Eos cheering section. Either they didn’t think this thread was worth replying to, or the car is not much loved amongst the company’s fan base.

    Anyway, FYI, I live in the south, and in a halfway decent neighborhood, so snow and security are not strong factors. Basically, I just want to push the button and see all that metal go away. Watching canvas fold just doesn’t give me the same rush.

    As regards the suggested alternative tintops, the Miata feels too small to me, and anyway I think part of the fun of a convertible is taking some friends along for the ride. The same thing would bias me against the XLR–along with a suspicion of Northstars that is absolutely native to a Panther guy.

    Quite a few of my friends have urged me to consider the SC 430, just on the question of quality. I admit, V8 and rear drive are not things I object to. However, 1) the backseat is a joke, and 2) in order to get a price I consider reasonable for a fun car, I’d have to get one nearly 10 years old. Right now it’s a distant #2 choice, but still in the running.

    BTW, somebody mentioned the European Focus retractable. It’s cute, and I’ve googled up a number of other retractables that don’t appear in the US. The most amazing one, IMHO, is the Vauxhall/Opel Twintop. It’s an amazing thing, and the mechanism makes the G6’s look simple.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ITZZb5cQcY

    So, currently, I’m basically still in the hunt for my G6. I think I want a 2009.5—in GM’s usual way, the up-to-date features like Bluetooth were held until just before the car was discontinued. It’s going to be hard to find a suitable one from that scanty six months of production, and the ‘09s aren’t really down in my price range yet. So I’m thinking next spring may be my retractable moment. This year, I’ll just open the TC’s sunroof and dream.


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