Beauty and the beast.

That's not the kids' movie, but the typical fare for an auto writer. You get a lot of beauties to drive, but a fair share of beasts as well. Sometimes you drive a vehicle that's a beauty and a beast, which is what we found in a test of the 1993 Nissan 300ZX convertible.

Beauty is in the styling. The 300ZX body is slung low and squatty while thestance is wide-the formula for performance. The beauty, too, comes from a suspension system that seems to respond to any bend or twist in the road as ifit were locked on radar control. Lateral movement is exceptional.

And the 24-valve, 222-horsepower, 3-liter, V-6 is a real beauty. Though ourtest car came with optional automatic rather than the standard 5-speed manual,there was little noticeable loss of power off the line. The automatic did little to detract from the ZX's quickness.

Beauty, too, is in the eyes of the beholder of an air bag in the steering wheel hub and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. The perfect complement to all that power.

Of course, there's the beauty of retracting the canvas top and cruising down the highway and through the countryside with the breeze tossing your locks of gold or, as with this scribe, the strands of gray.

But to appreciate the 300ZX's beauty means at times you have to put up withits beastly qualities.

And that brings us back to the canvas top. It's a manual unit and not power-controlled. Though opening a twist-top brew has become a bit of a challenge, there's enough sinew left to drop a top. Where we came up short is in the patience needed to stow the top and start driving.

To lower the 300ZX top, you have to press a button that frees the lever youmust pull to pop the holders along the windshield. Why is there the needless step of pressing that button? It means two hands, not just one, are required to release the lever.

The top released, you press a button to open the plastic tonneau cover. Theenclosure to hide the top is under that tonneau. No problem with the tonneau until the top is folded out of sight and you need to close it. You must get the little rollers on the hinges on each side of that cover in exactly the right spot along the track, or the cover won't budge.

Have you ever played the carnival game in which you insert 50 cents in the machine and try to maneuver a toy crane directly over the stuffed animal to pick it up and win the prize? After eight hours and roughly $500, you still haven't gotten the $1 animal to budge. So, too, can be the frustration with the 300ZX's tonneau.

Why did Nissan think it necessary to design in such grief?

For too long we've heard the argument that sports car aficionados thrive onpain. Seat too tight? Love it. Suspension so stiff even faith healers can't remove the bruises on your bottom? So what? Sports car loyalists learn to put up with aggravation. It's all part of the ritual. No pain, no gain.

Horsef eathers!

There's no reason it should take two people with engineering degrees to lower a manual convertible top.

That's not all.

When you have the top down and stored, you can enjoy open-air motoring. Butdrink deep of the scenery, because once that top is back up you'll lose sight of an awful lot of that countryside. The large door pillars meant to serve as structural reinforcement for a convertible, plus the canvas top that wraps from rear window to just behind the driver's and passenger's ear, cause ample sight obstructions. Unless side mirrors are set up perfectly, you easily can lose sight of cars approaching from side or rear.

Again, why?

Is the test of a true sports-car buff the need to stick his or her head from the window to guarantee there's no car in the lane he or she wants to hopinto?

One other pang came when we eyeballed the sticker and saw $39,490. For $40,000, we expect the top to retract via electric motor and we want to be able to see out all the windows.

Standard equipment includes speed-sensitive power steering, four-wheel independent suspension and 16-inch performance tires rated for summer driving,all contributing to the above-average handling, plus air conditioning, power (and heated) mirrors/windows/door locks, AM/FM stereo with cassette and power antenna and leather seats/steering wheel cover.

A word of warning. Those summer tires may be fine year-round in San Diego, but in the Snow Belt you'll have to be satisfied with them in May through August; you'll need a second set of tires to change with the seasons. Or you can simply put on an all-season tire to avoid that hassle.