By Paul Borden -
Photos by Pepe Delfino
June 14, 2012 @ Ritz Carlton
Hotel - Key Biscayne, FL
It seems such
a natural fit -- convertibles and South Florida -- you might think that it
would have been the first thing to come to mind when the board of the
Southern Automotive Media Association, which is based in Miami, began
mulling over ideas for another event to add to its yearly calendar.
When the organization was formed in March of 2007, the first thing it did
was work with the South Florida Auto Dealers Association to coordinate an
awards program for the South Florida International Auto Show.
That fall, SAMA selected its first “Star of the Show” of the event, which
draws more than 600,000 visitors annually in the fall to the Miami Beach
Convention Center -- the Cadillac CTS.
The following year, SAMA held its first Rides-N-Smiles event, treating
pediatric patients from Baptist Children’s Hospital who suffer from
chronic childhood illness such as cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s and Colitis,
and brain injuries, to a day of rides in luxury performance cars around
the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.
In the last couple of years, that event has grown to add families from
Miami Children’s Hospital and continues to grow thanks to the efforts of
SAMA Vice President Bill Adam. The 2012 Rides-N-Smiles is scheduled for
Nov. 10 at the Speedway.
But always in the back of everyone’s minds was the idea of a third event
for the spring to balance out the schedule.
It would be loosely based on the Texas Truck Rodeo competition the Texas
Auto Writers Association conducts in the Lone Star State but featuring
another automotive segment. Though pickups and SUVs are popular in South
Florida, especially when it comes to towing boats, they don’t really fit
into the area’s image.
Consideration was given to luxury cars. After all, you can’t drive up and
down Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive without encountering at least one and
usually several exotics that make you stop and go “whoa.” That idea never
got off the ground.
Then thoughts turned to the evolving “Green Car” market of hybrids and
electric vehicles. But that didn’t take off either.
Finally, at a breakfast board meeting, someone broached the idea to
feature a convertible competition, and that got unanimous and enthusiastic
Thus “Topless in Miami” came into being. (From the name, you might think
this meeting was held during cocktail hour, but coffee, orange juice and
tea were the only beverages on the table.)
The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne was also a unanimous choice as the
headquarters as the hotel not only is in an exotic beach location but has
an big area to serve as a staging area for the cars. A convenient, short
driving area that presents several great photo backdrops is right there as
It works this way: Members take the cars out for quick spins and score
them on design, driving experience, and the ease of raising and lowering
the tops. One-button operations that secure themselves get high marks.
Several factory representatives are in attendance to answer questions and
ride along to answer questions if the member desires.
The process begins in the morning and continues through late afternoon
when all the scores are tallied, and winners in four categories plus an
overall Convertible of the Year are announced at a banquet that night.
It is a fun, but not exactly an easy task. The quality of the 17 vehicles
entered in the recent (June 14) second annual competition reflects the
overall strides the industry as a whole has made in recent years in
overall quality and design.
The other difficulty is getting the vehicles into a proper category as
well as defining the categories. Luxury, small, and sports cars are
somewhat obvious segments, but a fourth presented a bit of a challenge.
The decision was made to classify convertibles with four-passenger
capacity as “family” vehicles. It worked out great in 2011 when the Nissan
Murano CrossCabriolet was the winner of the “family” category, but calling
the 2012 winning Chevrolet Camaro as a family vehicle might be stretching
things a big.
But those are details that are to be worked out in the future. The turnout
of 71 members for 2012, nearly 20 more than the number who took part in
the first year, would seem to be evidence of the enthusiasm SAMA members
have for Topless.
Other winners for 2012 are the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster as
Convertible of the Year; the Jaguar XKR-S as luxury convertible of the
year; Camaro as best family; Audi TT S-Tronic Roadster as sports car; and
the Gucci edition of the Fiat 500C as best small convertible.
The Fiat was a repeat winner in the category from the inaugural event last
year, when the Audi R8 Spyder won the voting for 2011 Convertible of the
Year. Other winners last year were the BMW 650i, Chevy Corvette, and, as
mentioned, the Murano CrossCabriolet.
But considering the support from the manufacturers and the turnout of the
members, a fifth winner on a bright, sunny South Florida day, a fifth
winner was SAMA itself.
Adam Paige from Mercedes-Benz
John Kiskinis from the South Florida Auto Show
Mia Morandi, Jaime Florez
Tony Lesesne, Ron Beasley
Tony Serrato, Erin Ryder, Mia Morandi, Tony Lesesne
Marcello Serrato, Paul Borden
Johnny Tapanes, Javier Mota, Al Vásquez
Tony and Woodie Lesesne
Woodie & Tony Lesesne, Juan Robbin, Angelo Serrato
Ady Coutinho, Jaime
Gabaldoni, Jaime Florez, María Ravani
Ford Mustang Convertible
Jeep Wrangler, VW Eos, Jaguar XKR-S
Fiat 500 Gucci, Mercedes SLK 550, Chrysler 200, Ford