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Dodge Shadow and Geo Metro: Those Awful Convertibles of the Early 1990s

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author photo by Aaron Gold February 2017

The convertible was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The old convertible was dead as a door-nail.

That's not entirely true, but I bet someone $5 that I could paraphrase a Dickens novel in an automotive article and have it make perfect sense. I win. Thank you, Autotrader.

So no, convertibles weren't quite dead when the drop-top Metro and Shadow made their appearances, but they were pretty darn close. Convertibles all but died out in the mid-1970s when the Fed floated potential rollover crash standards, although by that time automakers were all but done with them already. Still, it was just a decade before nearly every car -- even the cheap ones -- could be had with a folding roof.

Though Chrysler is largely credited with bringing convertibles back with the K-car based LeBaron, it was in fact Chevrolet that got an early start in the cheap convertible business. They introduced a drop-top version of the Cavalier in 1983 and actually went so far as to show a convertible version of the Sprint -- the Metro's predecessor -- in 1986. The drop-top Sprint never made it to production, and a convertible version of the Beretta was also stillborn, but in 1990 Chevrolet did introduce half of our starring lineup: The Geo Metro convertible.

I'd love to wax poetic about this little car, but how can I? I've already chronicled the miseries of the Geo Metro, and the primary difference between the convertible and the hatchback -- besides the lack of a back seat -- was the fact that more people could see the person who couldn't afford a real car. The engineering of the Metro Convertible wasn't that awful (GM had them built in Japan by Suzuki rather than entrust them to the CAMI team that built the Metro hatchback in Canada). But this was still a tiny car, (under)powered by a 3-cylinder engine and riding tires as thick as dinner plates. I have often said that any drive in a convertible is a good drive, but I must admit I never had the Metro in mind as those words tumbled from my lips.

The Dodge Shadow convertible followed a year later. Though Dodge reportedly looked at building them in-house, the Shadow convertibles that were sold to the public were converted from hard-top cars, eased by the fact that the Shadow, like the Metro, was already offered as a 2-door. The body structure, door mechanisms and steering column were reinforced, and the engineering was pretty decent. Chrysler went beyond cheap-car norms and offered the Shadow convertible with an optional turbocharged engine.

The Shadow Convertible is a relatively flex-free car that delivered a great open-top motoring experience. It was good for what it was, but unfortunately what it was wasn't great. By 1991 the Shadow was in its fifth year, and it was based on K-car mechanicals first introduced a decade prior. The rest of the compact clan was quickly overshadowing the Shadow, and the convertible lasted only three model years (1991-1993). It was dropped for '94, the year the Shadow ran side-by-side with its replacement, the Neon -- an infinitely better car that, unfortunately, was never offered as a convertible.

Oddly enough, the cheap convertible scene hasn't changed much. Today, the cheapest convertible you can buy is the smart fortwo, another tiny 3-cylinder 2-seater (and not as miserable as the Geo Metro). There's the FIAT 500C, which isn't really a convertible, and then there's the Mazda MX-5 Miata -- and that car is reason enough to forget the Geo Metro and the Dodge Shadow ever existed.

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Dodge Shadow and Geo Metro: Those Awful Convertibles of the Early 1990s - Autotrader