hardtop convertible history museum

Hardtop Convertibles Part I – History

The hardtop convertible. Combining the best in hardtop rides and convertibles, this invention has been around longer than you may think. Welcome back to the VIP European Auto blog where we cover everything you want to know about clean and stylish whips. Here at the shop we spend plenty of time tending to the upkeep of soft tops but we sure recognize a nice hard top when given the chance. To that end we thought we would talk some more about this slick addition to automobiles.

History of the Hardtop Convertible

Let’s go back about a century. Automobiles originally were all open top. Some had the primitive version of a canvas top convertible top. This was a simple top for very basic weather protection. Others were more rigid but cumbersome. A permanent hardtop was the next step and soon the open top standard was replaced.

As soon as fully closed bodies replaced open top as the standard, around 1915-1918, the first ‘convertible’ cars rolled off the lots. These came with frames for the windows that either folded or were completely removable and stored elsewhere, often under the seats.

The 1930s saw Ford getting in on the action with their Carson top, a padded and upholstered hard top that changed the way hot rodding style would look for all time.

Over the next decades various hardtop styles would come out as convertible sports and roadsters remained a popular style and the wish for a sturdier protection from the elements but with the style to match.

Retractable Revisions

98 years ago, back when everyone went by their full name including middle initial, a man by the name of Ben P. Ellerbeck designed the first retractable hardtop. It was to be manually operated in a Hudson coupe but it never saw production. Sixteen later Peugeot took another stab at the technology in their 402 Eclipse Decapotable. The very first were powered retractable tops but were subsequently replaced with a manually operated model from 1936 until World War II.

In 1941 a Chrysler concept car, the Thunderbolt, included a retractable hardtop. As a concept, it didn’t see mass production but it was clear that the idea was sticking around. Over the next couple decades Ford would spend millions on concepts and prototype retractable hardtop convertibles.

In 1957, Ford saw their first success with the Fairlane 500 Skyliner. Just under 50,000 units were made and while they cost double the price tag of a standard Ford sedan, the electronics and functionality were reliable and people loved ‘em.

Over the past fifty years, retractable hard tops have advanced. In the last 15 years, the functionality of the retractable hardtop is seen to be completely replacing fabric tops as they tech required to implement them becomes cheaper, smaller, and more reliable in all scenarios.

Whether it is a (not so) new fangled retractable hardtop, or an older hot-rod classic, there’s no two ways about it. Hardtop convertibles are some of the coolest autos around. If you are one of the lucky ones to cruise around in on the regular, let us help you keep it looking fresh.