History of the Convertible Top

Here in Arizona, we have finally hit that very sweet spot where it’s not meltingly hot, and the winter has left us. Spring, like some other places in the world might call it, is here! With those great temperate climes, we are dropping our tops down and cruising, letting the warm air blow through our hair. It had us thinking, what’s the history of that convertible top? Today on the blog we are going to give a little history of that convertible style we all love.

The original form of automobiles of all types was open top, following the convention of most horse and buggy stylings. The original convertible then actually referred to an option top to be added on to the car. By the 19th century, most cars on the road had folding textile roof options.  Could you image driving around without a roof year-round? In the 1920s, steel body cars became mass-produced and available to the average consumer. As this modification continued being built standard into vehicles, the first retractable top was then developed in 1922.  Designed by a man named Ben P. Ellerbeck, the hardtop was operated manually on a Hudson coupe but never saw production. Just five years later that feature was brought to market by many manufacturers like Buick, Chrysler, Cadillac, Lincoln, and others.

Of course, when 1929 and the Great Depression hit, the convertible and sporty car trend took a hit as well. While this trend may have dropped, innovations were still being made. Peugeot introduced the first powered retractable hardtop in 1934.

The proliferation and love with the open top car only continued with many manufacturers in America offering a wide range of options in the 1950s and 60s, hitting a record high of 6% of all auto sales in the 60s, while the 70s saw a drop to just 1%.  The fad dwindled for myriad reasons until the 1980s when the style was revitalized with the Chrysler LeBaron in 1982.

As it turns out, the convertible top as we know it means the opposite of what we’d expect, not a recent addition but a time tested and almost prototypical one. Our love of the open top ride is as old as people have been tearing up the roadways, it was the closed top that was the aberration.