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A hardtop is a term for a rigid, rather than canvas,

automobile roof. It has been used in several contexts:

detachable hardtops, retractable hardtop roofs,

and the so-called pillarless hardtop body style.

Detachable hardtops

Before the mid-1920s 90% of automobiles had open tops, with

rudimentary (if any) weather protection provided by a

convertible-type canvas top and celluloid or isinglass side

curtains. Some automobile bodies had roofs that could be removed

during the summer and reattached during the winter, although it

was a cumbersome and laborious job. By the time of [[World War

I]] some automakers offered a lift-off roof, typically with a

wood frame, canvas or leather covering, and glass windows. These

removable roofs, sometimes called a California top, were

the forerunners of the detachable hardtop, offering security and

weather protection comparable to a fixed-roof model when


Following the ascendancy of steel tops for closed bodies in the

1930s, detachable hardtops with metal roofs began to appear.

After World War II, the availability of new types of plastic and

fiberglass allowed lighter, easier to handle hardtops with much

of the strength of a metal top.

In the 1950s and 1960s detachable hardtops were offered for

various convertible sports cars and roadsters,

including the 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird and the [[Chevrolet

Corvette]]. Because the convertible top mechanism is itself

expensive, the hardtop is customarily offered as an additional,

extra-cost option. On early Thunderbirds (and Corvettes through

1967), buyers could choose between a detachable hardtop and a

folding canvas top at no additional cost, but paid extra for


Improvements in canvas tops have rendered the detachable hardtop

less common in recent years, in part because the top cannot be

stored in the vehicle when not in use, requiring a garage or

other storage facility. Nonetheless, some open cars continue to

offer it as an option. Around 10% of Mazda MX-5s are

believed to have been delivered with an accessory hardtop, which

is compulsory for some auto racing series.

Retractable hardtops

See main article: under convertibles: retractable hardtop

A retractable hardtop (also known as coupé convertible or coupé

cabriolet) is a type of convertible that forgoes a folding

textile roof in favor of an automatically operated, multi-part,

self-storing roof where the rigid roof sections are opaque,

translucent, or independently operable.

Pillarless hardtops

The other automotive usage of the term "hardtop" is a body

style known as the hardtop convertible. A hardtop

convertible is a fixed-roof model designed to look like a

convertible with the top raised. While some early models

retained side window frames and B-pillars, by the 1950s most

were pillarless hardtops, omitting the B-pillar (the roof

support behind the front doors) and configuring the window

frames, if any, to retract with the glass when lowered. Some

hardtops took the convertible look even further, including such

details as simulating a convertible-top framework in the

interior headliner and shaping the roof to resemble a raised

canvas top. By the late 1960s such modifications were often

superseded by a simple vinyl roof.

A pillarless hardtop is inherently less rigid than a pillared

body, requiring extra underbody strength to prevent shake.

Production hardtops commonly shared the frame or

reinforced body structure of the contemporary convertible model,

which was already reinforced to compensate for the lack of a

fixed roof. With such a reinforced frame, a hardtop was stronger

and stiffer than a convertible, but both weaker and (because of

the reinforcements) heavier than a pillared body.

There were a variety of hardtop-like body styles dating back to

at least the 1920s. Chrysler Corporation showed a pillarless

Town and Country hardtop coupe as a concept vehicle in 1946, but

the car never went into production. The trend-setter for mass-

production hardtops was General Motors, which launched two-door, pillarless hardtops in 1949

as the Buick Roadmaster Riviera, Oldsmobile 98 Holiday,

and Cadillac Coupe de Ville. They were purportedly inspired

by the wife of a Buick executive who always drove convertibles,

but never lowered the top. The hardtop became extremely popular

in the 1950s, and by 1956 every major U.S. automaker offered

hardtop coupés and four-door sedans in a

particular model lineup. In 1955, Buick and Oldsmobile

introduced the first 4 door hardtop sedans and Chevy and Pontiac

even introduced "hardtop" (six pillar) two door wagons (the

Nomad and Safari,

respectively), and in 1956 the first four-door hardtop [[station

wagon]] was introduced by Rambler. In 1957,

Mercury offered both two- and four-door hardtop wagons, the only

brand to ever to do so. The type didn't didn't catch on,

though, as most buyers considered wagons too boxy to benefit

from the sporty look (or expensive enough to begin with). All

disappeared from the market after 1964. The [[Facel Vega

Excellence]] is a notable French example of a four door hardtop

from this period, noted for the huge opening with both doors on

one side open and for sagging if all the doors were left open.

The doors were designed for locking to the floor and not each


Throughout the 1960s the two-door pillarless hardtop was by far

the most popular body style in most lines where such a model was

offered. Even on family vehicles like the Chevrolet Impala,

the two-door hardtop regularly outsold four-door sedans.

The hardtop began to disappear along with convertibles in the

mid-1970s, partly out of a concern that U.S. federal safety

regulations would be difficult for pillarless models to pass.

The ascendancy of monocoque construction also made the

pillarless design less practical. Some models adopted modified

roof styling, placing the B pillars behind tinted side window

glass and painting or molding the outer side of each pillar in

black to make them less visible, creating a hardtop look without

actually omitting the pillar. Some mid to late 1970s models

continued their previous two-door hardtop bodies, but with fixed

rear windows or a variety of vinyl roof and opera window

treatments. The U.S. industry's last true two-door and four-

door hardtops were in the 1978 Chrysler Newport and

New Yorker lines.

Since then, no U.S. manufacturer has offered a true hardtop in

regular production, although some German manufacturers,

including BMW and Mercedes-Benz have offered upscale

pillarless hardtops. Renault produced a three door hard top

between 2001 and 2003 in the form of the [[Renault


In the mid-1970s, Toyota introduced the Toyota Crown as a 2-

and 4-door hardtop, and Nissan followed suit with the [[Nissan

Cedric]] and Nissan Gloria. Subaru introduced a new compact

coupe as a genuine 2-door hardtop with the Subaru Leone in

1971. The hardtop models were more expensive and luxurious than

the sedan versions. In the 80's, Toyota continued the trend with

the Toyota Cresta and the Toyota Chaser, with Nissan

introducing its Nissan Laurel, and Mazda introducing the

Mazda Luce, all as 4-door hardtops. During the early 1990s,

almost all Japanese car makers had at least one 4-door hardtop

in multiple classes, including compact sedans, starting with the

Toyota Carina ED, Toyota Corona EXiV, [[Toyota Sprinter

Marino]], Nissan Presea, Honda Inspire, [[Honda

Integra]], Mitsubishi Emeraude, and Mazda Persona. Even

Subaru got into the game with the Subaru Legacy. By the end

of the 90s, however, almost all 4-door hardtops disappeared, as

structural integrity standards continued to increase. The Subaru

Legacy remained a "B" pillar hardtop until the introduction of

the 2010 model.

British luxury carmaker Bentley (owned by [[Volkswagen

Group]]) sells two true hardtop coupes, the Continental GT

fastback, and the new Brooklands coupe (2008). Other British

pillarless hardtops included the attractive Sunbeam Rapier

and the glitzy [[Ford Capri#Ford Consul Capri .28335.29

.281961.E2.80.9364.29|Ford Consul Capri (355)]] which, unlike

America, sold fewer cars than their saloon cousins. The body

style was thought to be making a comeback, as concept versions

of the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro shown in

2006 were both two-door hardtops, however, the production

versions of both included a blacked out B Pillar and fixed

rear side glass. Another pillar-less design was featured in the

2007 model concept for the Chrysler 300C.

See also


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