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The return of the Mustang convertible

A look back at the 1980-1982 Ford Mustang CABRIO
Shown are three stages to lowering the convertible top of a 1980-’82 Mustang CABRIO by Automobili Intermeccanica, and the hard hatch cover that hid the fabric roof. Pictured in the lower image are the subframe tubing and steel plate, plus steel rods inside the windshield frame, all of which added strength when converting a Mustang two-door coupe into a convertible.

Shown are three stages to lowering the convertible top of a 1980-’82 Mustang CABRIO by Automobili Intermeccanica, and the hard hatch cover that hid the fabric roof. Pictured in the lower image are the subframe tubing and steel plate, plus steel rods inside the windshield frame, all of which added strength when converting a Mustang two-door coupe into a convertible.

Forty-three years ago, there was much excitement surrounding the debut of the all-new 1979 Ford Mustang. This was the fifth styling interpretation of the original 1965 Mustang, and still captured the long hood and short deck persona of the original.

For 1979, Mustang now featured crisp, hard-edge lines that not only improved the looks of the pony car, but also made it more aerodynamic. In addition, the new Mustang was bigger inside and out than the previous Pinto subcompact-based Mustang II of 1974 to 1978, as the 1979 Mustang now shared the new and larger Fox-body platform with other Ford models.

Like the Pinto-based Mustang II, the 1979 was not available as a convertible; this fifth-generation Mustang was only offered as a two-door coupe and three-door hatchback.

Several outside firms made bids to correct Ford’s oversight and produce a soft-top conversion from the coupe, which could be sold by Ford dealers as a factory-authorized convertible. In the end, Ford gave the green light to Automobili Intermeccanica of California to build the limited-edition conversions, which went on sale in 1980 and continued to be constructed through 1982. In getting the bid to produce Mustang convertibles for Ford, Automobili Intermeccanica beat out Carson Concepts and American Sunroof Co. (ASC).

Automobili Intermeccanica named its conversion the Mustang CABRIO (all upper-case letters) and, in construction, used a subframe of 1/4-inch by 3-inch tubing and 1/4-inch steel plate, welded inside to its lower quarter panels, plus two 1-inch steel rods inside the windshield frame for added strength.

The Mustang CABRIO had improved handling due to its strengthened subframe as well as the weight added low in the body, further resulting in a lower center of gravity. Since the entire steel subframe was welded into place before the original top was removed, CARBIO’s ride and body alignment remained true and un-compromised.

The CABRIO’s folding top mechanism was pre-assembled and welded on a top jig to ensure better production control and operation. A choice of matching or contrasting convertible top fabric colors was available. There was no clumsy snap-on boot, but a hard, one-piece top hatch cover, finished in fabric to match the interior. (Articles from the early 1980s suggest that the top mechanism used parts from the Mercedes-Benz 220 trunk lid and boot cover.) Performing all that alteration was not cheap, resulting in a $14,000 asking price for the CABRIO, compared to the $4,642 window sticker of a 1979 Mustang Ghia coupe.

With an estimated 1,200 Mustang CABRIOs built by Automobili Intermeccanica, they are rare. If you run across one for sale, recognize that it is a rare Mustang, and a possible topless addition to a choice Mustang collection.

In 1982, Automobili Intermeccanica moved to Vancouver, B.C., and for the 1983 model year, Ford cataloged a Mustang convertible, but it was now a conversion built by Cars & Concepts.

Today, Automobili Intermeccanica is known as Intermeccanica International and remains located in Vancouver, B.C. It produces high-quality hand-built vehicles, such as an authentic replica of the 1959 Porsche 356 A convertible it calls the Roadster 356.

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