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Convertibles @ DEs

Discussion in 'Driving Schools' started by rzeleznik, Apr 29, 2013.

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    Hello all,

    I've only recently joined BMW CCA, despite being a loyal BMW consumer for the last 10 years. I know that this is a bit of a rant and I understand that the decisions are made in the name of safety, but I am having trouble reconciling that with the following:

    - Porsche (PCA) happily accepts convertibles at their DEs
    - BMW NA happily accepts convertibles at the Performance Center in SC
    - Mercedes (MBCA) seems to accept "hard top" convertibles at their events

    Given the inherent risk associated with taking ANY vehicle onto the track, how does BMW CCA justify having such an arbitrary, line in the sand rule... let alone having it delegated to the Chapter level.

    I've seen comments to the effect of "no instructor would want to get into a convertible in a roll-over scenario". Of course they wouldn't. Nor would they be terribly excited to get into a hard top (err, "fixed" hard top) in a roll-over scenario. Nor would they be getting in line to be involved in ANY of the vast array of mishaps that can take place on the track... All of which pose risk of serious harm to the driver and instructor.

    I've heard that it has to do with the insurance side of the house. If so, how does PCA manage to live with these consequences from an insurance perspective? Has anyone at BMW CCA reached out to PCA to determine how they are able to shape their insurance policies to allow for this?

    I've heard that despite having a hardtop, it is doubtful that the newer convertibles will hold up the same as a fixed hardtop in the event of a rollover. Has this been tested? Are there studies to show this as fact? Moreover, if there are such metrics out there, do they yield that the hardtop convertibles pose the same risk as soft top convertibles?

    How is it that PCA instructors are more "willing" to be a passenger in a convertible than BMW CCA instructors? I've met a few instructors (at Porsche, PCA and at the BMW Performance Center), and not once have I ever gotten the impression that they were afraid of much, let alone riding in a convertible.

    I've seen folks reference the idea that this is a deeply mired topic, but my question is why? Given the changes in technology (i.e. convertibles are not what they were 20 or event 10 years ago) and the willingness for other clubs to permit hard top convertibles, what are the REAL points of contention?
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    Satch SoSoCalifortified

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    This topic has been under discussion since at least 1998, and the BMW CCA policy—or at least the Club's interpretation of that policy—has changed at various points. I have always believed that the high-performance driver training is the most useful of BMW CCA programs, and I have also believed that we should be able to make better drivers of any vehicle. However, I lost all credibility as of February 2008, when I bought a roadster; obviously, I am now merely looking after my own selfish interests by trying to sneak my Deathmobile onto a race track.

    Insurance is not the issue, but that argument has been used at times by chapters that did not want to allow soft-tops in their schools.

    Beginning in 1998, chapters could disallow open-top cars or allow open-top BMWs with fixed factory rollover protection—fixed hoops rather than explosive posts. Another provision allowed for cars with post-factory roll bars and struts or roll cages. Evolution of the rules regarding open-top cars led to the current situation, which—if it allows them at all— will only allow open-top cars with so much added rollover protection that they would probably survive a NASCAR pileup. No member with a lease or any consideration for resale value is going to go this route just to attend our schools.

    Remember that the Club is member-driven, and that safety standards come from the Driving Events Committee; members of that committee come from the various regions and chapters, and presumably reflect the prevailing attitudes of the members therein. I know of chapters where the folks who run the schools get the collywobbles even thinking about an open-top Chariot Of Death turned loose on curvy asphalt; on the other hand, I have instructed in roadsters at other chapters' schools.

    Even chapters that allowed open-top cars, however, were mindful of the reluctance of some instructors to expose themselves to peril (and sunburn). If I remember correctly, it was expressed like this: "If we can't find an instructor willing to ride with you, you're out—and you don't get your money back." But I do not personally know of any driver of an open-top car in a school that allowed them who was unable to find an instructor.

    As for the assertion that convertibles are safer than they were twenty years ago: What isn't? A mechanical-engineer friend of mine was surprised to hear (in 1998) that we drove on race tracks with no additional rollover protection in tin-tops. I have always maintained that proper instruction is the key to avoiding most incidents, and I'm with you: I don't climb into this student's car or that one based on how well we will survive the inevitable rollover. However, cars do roll over now and then—one fellow instructor has been over three times, I believe, and he is firmly in the no-convertibles camp—and opponents of open-top cars would rather err on the side of caution, which is understandable.

    But nobody on either side has any hard data: Are you safer in a tin-top? Maybe—or maybe not. As with front-end collisions, the angles and velocities affect the physics. We have all seen E36 carcasses with their A-pillars flattened, and I have seen convertibles with their windshields and A-pillars intact after a rollover. I personally believe that the structural integrity of a hard-top convertible would have to exceed that of a tinfoil-top coupe, but I certainly have no hard data to prove it.

    As long as the prevailing opinion of the DEC is that open-top cars are somehow more dangerous in a rollover, our driving-school policies will not change. If the chapters in your region believe otherwise, then their input to the DEC may eventually bring about a change.

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