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.