Topless in Montenegro: a convertible calamity

Bay of Kotor

Driving a convertible had never appealed to me. I’m more inclined to cast disparaging glances at those who ‘go topless’ in their otherwise mundane family cars. I smile at the thought of how much extra they’ve paid just to be able to enjoy the wind messing up their hair on the two or three hot days that make up the British summer.

So it was something of a surprise when I found myself handing over €50 in cash to take ownership, for a day at least, of a Peugeot convertible. We were staying in the coastal town of Kotor in Montenegro and wanted to get out and see more of the country. The usually painful bureaucracy of car hire was nowhere to be seen at this local business and when the owner offered us a fancy car for only €10 more than the basic rate we took one look at the cloudless blue sky and accepted. “Top down?” “Yes please”, we said, wishing to make the most of our extravagance.

It was after a few moments, as we were negotiating the hairpin bends that lead  out of town, that I realised the speedometer was unconscious. Knocking firmly on the dashboard did not revive it so I figured I would need to be extra careful not to get carried away and potentially land up in a Montenegrin police cell.

Meanwhile our planned route took us into the hills to the north of the capital Podgorica (as uninspiring a capital as you’re likely to find anywhere). As we climbed we noted the growing presence of clouds above the approaching chain of mountains. By mid-afternoon we felt the first raindrops and needed to get our roof on. It was at this point that we realised we had no idea how to do this.

There was a button with a roof symbol on it – but pressing it achieved nothing. We fiddled, poked, pulled and cursed, but all to no avail. Eventually, with the rain now falling heavily, I pulled into a mechanic’s yard and asked for help. He waved his arms telling us to get off his property and threw in a few choice Slavic curses into the bargain. In desperation I then stopped at a petrol station and asked the man on duty to call the rental office so that they could help me out.

Stinking of booze, he waved me away, took the keys and proceeded to press all the buttons we’d just been hammering unsuccessfully. His friend soon joined him, so drunk he was barely able to stand, and took his place in the driver’s seat. I protested but my concerns were waved away as both men played around, driving the car around the forecourt and revving the engine to maximum power.

As I was giving up hope of ever seeing the car again (thankfully, this being a cowboy rental operation, he didn’t have my credit card details, so I only stood to lose a €200 deposit), the two drunks managed to pull up the roof on our now soaking wet car; just at the moment when the rain stopped and the sun began to reappear.

“Top down?” they asked as they pulled up triumphantly at the centre of the forecourt. It was the second time we’d been asked that question, but this time the answer was a very firm No. Our convertible experience had turned into a damp squib; in future I’ll play it safe and take the boring car with a normal roof.

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Freelance travel writer

4 Responses to “Topless in Montenegro: a convertible calamity”

  1. LOL! Definitely right the first time! Around here (Tenerife) you definitely only see tourists and wanabes driving topless. Those with any local knowledge prefer air con! I floored an Avis guy in Florida once refusing an upgrade to a topless something-or-other :=) How great that you can see the funny side though!

    November 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm
  2. Oh no! Sometimes it’s best to go with a boring car rather than going out on a limb with a snazzy one. But hey, it makes for a funny story, right?

    I really like your writing style after reading a couple posts…it’s witty, descriptive and eye-catching. Thanks so much for sharing and I can’t wait to read more!

    ~Kay

    November 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm
  3. A bit late now but for future readers, the same thing happened to me in an Aston DB9, 100x more embarrassing than a family car, I can tell you.

    Usually, most modern convertibles use similar safety features to prevent use while driving. Ensure handbrake is on, car in park or neutral, brake applied, doors are closed, ignition on but probably engine off, windows down, seat belts maybe, unworn. Basically the opposite of driving condition.

    Failing all that, there is always a manual over ride valve on the pump, probably located in the spare wheel area or boot sides. A small valve you can open which releases the hydraulic control & allows you to easily pull the roof up & down manually without fighting highly geared hydraulic pistons.

    Best of luck in future
    Damian

    November 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm
    • Thank you Damian. If I’m ever in that position again, I’ll remember your tip. Though I will be unlikely to hire a convertible again I think :)

      November 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm