Features That Were Fun… But …

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The other day, someone reminded me about T-tops. If you’re younger than 30 or so, you probably don’t remember T-tops. But if you’re older, no doubt you do.

For about 10 years – beginning in the mid-’70s and through the mid’-80s – T-tops (or T-roofs) were very popular. Camaros and Firebirds, Mustang IIs and 280Zs of that era – and several others, too – often had them.

It was a pretty cool idea.

The trouble was, these T-tops weren’t (usually) very well-engineered. In many cases, they were installed at the dealer level (Hurst was a major supplier at first). And what the dealer  did was – basically – take a Sawzall and “rough in” the holes, then trim it up – loosely and kind-sorta – with chrome surrounds and weatherstripping.

Because the roof is a structural member of the car’s body, cutting away much of the roof’s structure did a number on the car’s body integrity. The remaining – and not as stiff anymore – roof would flex. And the tops would invariably leak. Then, the seats – and carpets – would get wet.

Mold – and floorpan rust – ensued.

The factory-installed T-roofs were better because the roof section was reinforced and also because they weren’t dealer Sawzall jobs. But they still leaked – and squeaked. I had one of each – a ’78 Camaro with the dealer-done Hurst tops (which can be ID’d by their smaller size and shiny chrome trim) and later an ’80 Camaro with the factory Fisher tops (which were larger and typically had “black out” trim) … so I speak from bitter personal experience. The only way to keep the water out was by RTV’ing the things in place. And they still leaked because the frameless door glass these cars had didn’t seal tight enough against the tops.

Anyone who had one of these cars had the same experience.The only way to keep the water out  was to make sure the car never got wet.

Which is why you don’t see T-tops much anymore.

Here’s another: air shocks on muscle cars.

You know how today the big thing is to mount the biggest possible wheels on a car? Back in the day, the big thing was to get the ass end of your muscle car as high up in the air as possible. The idea was to emulate the look of a dragster – you know, get the nose in the weeds. It it was also a cheap way to correct for saggy leafs – and fix tire scrub.

This was achieved by purchasing a set of air shocks and pumping up the rear of the car. Of course, this worked wonders on the already iffy handling of these (usually) worn-out street machines – and when the air line rubbed up against something sharp and sprung a leap, your machine transformed in seconds into a low rider. Or at least, a semi low rider. Because now the nose was up in the air – and the tail was scraping the pavement. The tires, meanwhile, were getting a shave inside the fender wells.

It’s not surprising air shocks aren’t around much anymore.

Another: In-car TV is not a new idea. I know a guy who owns a 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix SSJ with the Hurst (there’s that name again) package – which included an old school black and white TV with a chromed set of antennae you hung off the passenger side door sill to get a signal. Like CB radios, 8-tracks and dictaphone tape recorders, it kinda-sorta worked. The idea’s the same as we’ve got now – only the technology available at the time to implement the idea wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

By about 30 years.

Still, it goes to show ya: There really isn’t anything new under the sun. Things get tried – then forgotten. And resurrected sometime down the line. At which point they seem new again – even though they’re really not.

Finally, how about this gem: Subaru’s rear-facing bed jumpseats?

Back in the ’80s, Subaru sold a model called the Brat. It was kind of like an El Camino (remember that one?) in that it was a car with a pick-up truck-like bed in the back. But one thing it had that the El Camino didn’t was a pair of molded plastic seats for passengers… in the bed. In today’s safety uber alles culture, such a thing is as inconceivable as expectant fathers-to-be smoking cigars and downing Cutty Sark in the waiting room. But back when The Gipper was president and you could still get an airplane ticket without showing ID – let alone showing your private parts – you could buy a new Brat with a pair of seats out back. There were seatbelts – but you didn’t have to wear them.

It was a hoot riding back there. This is one thing I wish they’d bring back. But first, we’ll have to get rid of the safety Nazis – and go back to leaving people alone.

Throw it in the Woods? 








  1. I’ll hedge a bet that blonde “accessory” in the top photo has both of the T/A colors shown, does the carpet match the paint job?

    • It looks like a contender!

      Great deals to be had on the “lesser” TAs with the much-derided 301 Pontiac (like this one) and also the 403 Olds (installed as the default standard engine in the ’77-’79s). Everyone wants a 400 or 455 car. But the 301 and 403 are serviceable (especially the 403, for which there is an abundance of speed parts available, if you want more hp) and also easily replaceable.

      Warning to buyers not hip to 2nd gen. F-cars: The t-tops leak. All of them. The Hurst units are much worse than the Fishers. But they all leak. They also screw the structural integrity of the car. The roof. I advise steering clear if you plan to drive the car fast – or drive it in the rain.

  2. Yeah, I had t-tops in my 1990 300ZX. Virtually a total waste – although you did have some cache just for having them. Way too much trouble to take in and out. Owned the car 16 years – only time I ever took them out was when some broad begged me to do it when we were riding around. Now the fact that they were glass was nice at night cuz you could see thru them, and they had nice quick on an off covers, so it was easy to keep out of hot sun during the day, and they were so easy to remove/replace I could do it while driving – that part was nice, because you didn’t stop, get out, take off the tops, and then have to find a place to store them, and worry about damaging them.

  3. Wow Eric, this article brings back memories.

    I had a ’72 Vette with T-tops, but I rarely got caught in the rain so they never leaked — that I can remember!

    I bought a brand new ’68 Camaro that ended up with air shocks, among many other things. They never did leak on me though.

    A guy I worked with bought a new Subaru Brat. I never rode in it, but as a kid we were always riding around in the back of somebody’s pick up. Nobody ever thought anything about it.

    Ah, freedom . . .

    • Not to mention the 64 Studebaker Lark wagon with the sliding roof over the rear section. All 6 of us kids would ride in the back with the top back and the window down fully. And facing upcoming traffic!!

  4. Up till a couple of years ago kids would ride in the back of my truck to the local beach, maybe 4 miles. While “illegal” I was never stopped. I used air shocks on my 1972 9 passenger 400ci station wagon to pull a camp trailer. A coworker explained how to re-jet the carb to increase mileage and power, but shorten valve life. Imagine going up a mountain highway and passing a Honda who had his pedal to the metal, like he was standing still. My rig was over 40 feet long and still a real rocket.

    But my favorite ride was my 76 T-top Stingray. What a car both in performance and style. I got it pretty cheap as it was set up for racing and the state would not “allow” it on the road till I installed all the mandatory factory “pollution” equipment. Made a fake smog pump (gutted) and brazed studs onto the headers to make them look like air rails. And it passed the pollution inspection! Go figure. My baby drowned when salt water went over the dash in the hurricane flooding in ’98, but got a second life as a buddy bought her and mounted her body on a 3/4ton Ford 4WD truck chassis and used the original 350 engine. She is somewhere in the US and is painted up red, white, and blue and is a show car today.

    • Sorry to hear your baby got drowned.

      I see a lot of rays around here that are dirt cheap. It seems too good to be true. I am sure I can fix just about anything on one except electrical. If one is fried do you have to put in everything new? That 350 is nice and easy to work on, what about the tranny and clutch? I’m looking for a winter project and don’t want to get in over my head.

      • Where do you live where they are dirt cheap? I would jump on a Stingray project car over winter, but I live in the Florida Keys and it’s never winter, plus I don’t have a garage here like I did in Colorado.

        The electrics aren’t too bad and most of the third party books have good schematics. It’s not so much the wiring as it is the connectors are hard to work with. I agree the 350 is a great engine and the rest of the driveline is pretty easy to work on if you get a tranny jack. I rebuilt the posi differential myself, but it takes a 1/2 impact gun to run down what is called “the crush sleeve”, a bearing preload gimmick. I also made a press to pull the bearings in the swing arms. Cheaper to make the tool and parts than it was to purchase them as rebuilts. Also learned how to do rear wheel alignments, another worthwhile endeavor as there are 4 U-joints on the rear wheels and they wear fast.

        While they still make “Vetts”, they no longer make Stingrays. Yes the Vetts are superior in every way, but I still love the old sleek ones. Guess the new ones remind me of high tech bathtubs. Don’t think they have T-tops either!

        • Hey Al,

          At least in my area (SW Virginia) I regularly see mid-late ’70s Corvettes for sale in the under $15,000 range. These are typically presentable cosmetically – and mechanically sound, too. Not show cars – but solid 20 footers.

          The ’75-’77s especially seem to be good deals – perhaps because this was a low ebb for factory performance. But as you know, all the essentials are there. Maybe the stock L48 350 is weak. But a weekend’s worth of work can double its factory hp – and by Monday, you’ve got a car that will run with a ’70 LT-1!

          I’ll keep an eye out for you if you’d like. I recently saw a red ’76 (I’m pretty sure it was) driving around locally with a “for sale” sign in the back window.

  5. i have 79 trans am with the fisher tops, when it rains they do not leak. now when i go thru a car wash and the powered spray comes from the side- the windows leak…not the t-tops!

    • Hi Bob,

      You’re lucky! They almost always leaked when new – when the seals were still fresh and pliable – and after a few years… forget about it!

      Is your car a 400/4-speed or 403/auto? I still have my ’76 (no t-tops!).

    • I have a 78 with the same tops, they have always been watertight, but now that all the weatherstripping is shot the windows leak, especially into the doors. The bigger problem is the gaskets for the tops hold water indefinitely. I had to completely remove them and fix the rust in the channels and under the trim at the bottom of the rear window, and the car has to stay inside. Pine needles and rust got some kind of revenge scheme going on, or something.

      • Yup!

        You probably also have stress cracks forming at the joint where the roof is welded to the rear quarter panel. Look closely at the area just to the right of the top of the door glass. Every T-top equipped ’70s F-car I’ve ever seen has ’em.

        You probably know all about door sag… and those soft bronze door hinge bushings!

  6. Personally I like having t-tops, open top but with less flex than covertible and targa tops, all 3 MR2’s (2 generations) I have owned had t-tops but they were designed that way from teh factory adn actually weighed a little more than the hard-top versions because of hte additional structure.
    One way to possibly eliminate leaking in t-tops is a trick I learned from a fellow MR2 owner, it was a specific silicone grease (I can’t remember the specifics but can look it up if anyone is interested) that I applied to the weather-stripping and seals. Leave the t-tops out for a few days then apply more grease and latch them in place. The rubber absorbs the grease and “puffs up” a little to close off the gaps that were created over time. I did this to my ’89 and it doesn’t leak a drop anymore.

    • My cousin kinda red-necked-engineered his wife’s ’73 Trans Am’s T-tops with Vasoline. It seemed to work just fine. He was what we used to call a “trader’ and always had a stable of cars and motorcycles that varied from time to time. At one time he had these vehicles parked in front of his house:

      A Maverick Grabber
      The aforementioned Trans Am
      An ancient Ford Cortina
      A 1968 Shelby GT-350 convertible
      A Subaru Brat
      A 1969 Ford Galaxie XL (390 two barrel, 3-on-the-tree)
      A 1964 Harley Sportster
      An early Harley Knucklehead with a suicide clutch and jockey shift
      Various and sundry other conveyances in differing roadable condition.

      We worked at the same place and car-pooled together, switching vehicles on alternate weeks. I had a 1965 Malibu SS with a 327,4-speed manual. He used the Shelby as his daily driver. This was back around…Oh say…1972-74. I was 19.

      One day a hydraulic hose burst on the assembly machine I was operating. No damage (light 1st degree burn) but the shirt I was wearing was soaked. I shed the shirt, cleaned up, requested and received permission to run home to pick up a fresh one while the machine was being repaired. I walked over to my cousin to ask him if he would mind giving me a lift home and he just grinned and tossed me the keys to the Shelby.


      It’s GOOD to be a boomer…

        • Actually I was just referring to the cars we had back in the day. I refuse to feel guilty for the actions of the politicians in DC. My memories of piloting that road-going icon at speed are in no way diminished by your apparent resentment.

          • The cars, great fun.

            I don’t mean to lump you with a collective. But the Boomers in general seem to have been asleep at the wheel while said politicians were dismantling the country.

            Count yourself out if you objected! I mean you no ill will.

          • Dear methylamine,

            “But the Boomers in general seem to have been asleep at the wheel while said politicians were dismantling the country.”

            Not true!

            The Boomers WERE the politicians dismantling the country! E.g. Bill Clinton and Bush II, who are my age, to the year.

            I was not part of it though. I was supporting people like Ron Paul and the LP candidates even back then.

      • I was sincerely involved in some antiwar demonstrations in college back in the day. Unfortunately I (like a lot of my boomer compadres) did not recognize the immensity of the threat at the time. I wish we had. We could have squelched the threat in the bud.

        There were kids to raise….. homes to maintain…..

        It wasn’t that we cared less…we just had no way of knowing. Our sources of information were limited to 4 networks and the printed page. They were heavily controlled. We had books but no time to absorb and consider their implications. Those books were usually obsolete by the time they hit the stores anyway.

        I’m not trying to defend the boomer bastards who are war and power mongers. I think they need to be roped in and dealt with.

        But all I wanted was a better life for my kids. I’m furious that there were few who killed that dream…a small minority of my generation.

        But we know what they did…now.

        And we know what they’re planning…

        And while we’re probably not in the majority, there’s a good many of us geezers who are aware, prepped, and prepared.

        And as far as the cloveristic minions of the powers-that-be are concerned?

        GET OFF MY LAWN!!

  7. As the baby boomers start to die off plenty of older RWDV8 antique muscle will be loosed from garages. Maybe even for reasonable prices now and then if demand stays low.

    Its the least they could do for living it up and sticking us young’ins with the bill.

    • Speaking of Lubbock. I and so many friends from everywhere went to TTU in the late 60’s and stayed together. We’d go from where we lived (Austin, Sweetwater, Roby, Dallas, etc. to Turkey every Bob Wills day. I can remember lots of people having Brats and I was an El Camino freak, still am. We’d go to Turkey, Quitaque, Silverton and hit all the rough stuff in our 4 WD’s. Lots of people got severely hurt and a couple killed in those back seats of Brats. The K-5 Blazer and the fulltime short WB GM pickups were kings. Lots of power(nobody ever had a stock engine since an air cleaner swap, headers and a different cam would make those 350’s scream. We tore up lots of vehicles and killed a lot of the crowd. Of course we were always totally straight. Back in the 70’s we had AR’s, Uzi’s, MAC’s and all sorts of goodies we carried everywhere. Of course they were not the “out of the box” models. I remember a ’78 Ford 1/2 ton 4WD with a dozen bullet holes through the top of the hood when someone with an Uzi shot a bit low trying to hit a close rabbit. The way the hoods were made, the bullets went in and out and never hit anything functional. We were crazy as hell back then, still are for the 60 something crowd. Go Rednecks. Now we complain sorely if the a/c doesn’t crank out 45 degree air or if there’s a crank window. It’s not just the women any more. We all have to stop about every 50 miles to pee.

  8. I guess I’m old enough, I remember all these things. On my pickup I simply used a sawzall to put in a sunroof, I must have done a good job, it didn’t leak. In the bed I put a seat from an old buss and bolted it down. (I don’t have the truck but the seat is still around) Of course then I had to put in a sliding back window so we could hand (um) stuff back and forth. A cheap sparkomatic stereo, with technics speakers. etc, etc, etc, etc.

    It was so much fun back then and cheap too. Each paycheck you could add something and still pay for gas, insurance if you bothered, etc. Even tickets back then were cheap and much harder to come by.

    • A HS buddy did that to his Pontiac Astre (remember that one?)… with wood “trim” and a pirate-style trap door.

      Arghh, mateys! A fine sight it ’twas….

      • Sure, the dragon wagon. That was one spiffy looking auto! Honestly though, you could hop it up and make it go. I wonder how many guys got one as a hand me down? That dorky stuff was just fun!!!! Seriously, you took what you had and did your best.

        • The dorky stuff was fun – because it had all the essentials, including RWD (and usually, a factory V-8 option – so putting a V-8 in a car that had a six was a snap). That’s something we’ve lost with the modern stuff. RWD/V-8 cars are much less common – and much pricier new – so they stay expensive used, until they’re real POS beaters and beer can fodder.

          I’d love to see a car like the Maverick or Nova or Dart (old school) brought back… in concept, at least.

          • Somewhere I sketched out a “modern maverick” concept for ~1988. I don’t think marketeers would allow for it. plus with regulation and what people expect in a car now I feel it wouldn’t sell well. I could be surprised though.

            V-8 conversions were only a snap for stuff made after roughly 1973. (details are with each make and model) At that point the V8 and I6 cars shared a lot of components. Before then the whole driveline and suspension needed to be replaced to do it right. But it was easy if someone wanted to overload the suspension, rear axle, drive shaft, brakes, etc.

            • I fin myself drawn to the oddball stuff – like Mavericks! Also Chevy Monzas/Olds Starfires (remember them?)… I really dig intermediate-sized coupes – the Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, etc. Huge trunk, usable back seats… and just… big!

          • Nova? Gawd, that brings back memories. A friend of mine had one and we’d pack into that thing and we’d race up to Lubbock on weekends.

          • I once a 72 maverick with a 302 and three speed on the floor. I couldn’t hold the ass end down for love nor money when I would pop the clutch but second gear in that car was nothing short of amazing.

  9. Just wait for back up cameras in Fiat 500’s What next, cams on the back of you motorcycle helments? Go figure

      • As much as I like the idea of a backup camera, I’m disgusted that yet another choice is being taken away from me.

        Just a couple days ago I was thinking how good it would be to get a set of adjustable air shocks for my SUV for when I have the back end loaded for camping. I wonder if J.C.Whitney still sells them? Hmm…

        I loved the idea of the Brat, but never got one because it was never economically feasible. Same with the DeLorean, even though the cockpit was so tight I couldn’t raise my elbows without letting go of the steering wheel.

        Get government completely out of the car business, and let the insurance companies and drivers figure out what options/features they want/need. Stripped down commuter car that gets 60mpg? Easy, just illegal right now.

  10. True Story.

    Think it was back around 2001 I got an excellent deal on a RS Camero. It was the six cylinder and had T-Tops. The car was a super beater, but in really nice condition and extremely reliable. Anyhow, the morning after a long night of partying in Stafford, Virginia I hopped on the highway (I95) and started heading back to Norfolk, Virgina (ODU). I was about 15 minutes into my trip doing about 65mph on the highway. I started to notice my driver’s side T-Top hovering (didn’t lock it back down from the night before). The damn thing shot off into the sky before I had a chance to do anything about it. I immediately looked in my rear-view and thank gawd watched it sail off into the woods. I swear that was the hottest day of the entire summer and I was minus a T-Top the entire way back home.

    • Dom, I might be able to do you one better on that.

      My wife and I were driving back from Kennedy Meadows in the northern Sierra Nevada back in 1986 with two good friends. We’d been in the back country for a week and were on US I-205. I was driving my 1985 Chevy S-10 Blazer with a factory rack (and all of our gear lashed to it) at around 65 mph when the entire rack took off and flew around 200 feet before landing in the breakdown lane on my side of the road. No one was injured.

      My friend’s Walther P38, which was in his backpack and sailed over at least 5 cars behind us, suffered minor contusions. At the end of the day, a good time was had by all, but the lesson to be learned here is that one should *never* trust the negative load performance of a Chevy SUV’s roof rack.

      • Yeah, that is pretty bad! I never really thought about the negative forces applied to those racks (never had a chance to use one). Thinking about this just reminded me of another time. This story involves my dad driving his pickup back from Norfolk to Stafford. My car was packed with my stuff and so was bed of his truck (Silverado SS Intimidator Model). We had my $1,000 mattress sitting in the back of his truck too (vertical). Pops used to love hauling ass. So there we are nearing Richmond (think on I295) and I see my mattress dancing in the back of his truck. I immediately flashed my lights and moved out from behind him. Not sure what the hell he was thinking, but he sped up a bit. Ha, I got out of the way just time to watch my mattress go airborne like a magic carpet, hit the road, and slide down the highway and off onto the shoulder. Tried calling my dad a few times on the phone. When I finally got thru to him I mentioned we need to go mattress shopping tomorrow!

        • I really dislike stuff not being properly secured in pickup beds.

          In WI going on a camping trip. I am with my friend in his full size econoline conversion van. My brother and his wife are following in the mazda I now own. We are in the middle lane. I see this aluminum ladder in the lane and tell my friend who didn’t see it as it was on my side. He does a dodge and weave in this full size van…. my brother doesn’t see it in time and hits it. Beat the hell out of the engine bottom splash guard and a plastic cover for a rear control arm bushing but no functional damage.

          We pull over and there’s the dufus with his pickup truck who had lost the ladder… my brother had a little convo with him, but let the damage slide.

          As we were checking things on the shoulder the ladder got shreadded as it was hit again and again. As we left it was pretty much just shards of aluminum scattered across all lanes.

          • OK, I just gotta chime in on this one.

            One afternoon several decades back I had just picked up a really nice horizontal display cabinet for my business in the back of my F-150. I lashed the frame down real good, closed the tailgate, and jumped on the I-805 in San Diego heading south. It was the middle of a weekday, so there wasn’t much congestion on the roads, and I jumped into the fast lane doing about 65.

            Passing over the giant bridge that spans Mission Valley, I caught the cross wind that rips up the valley from the ocean almost every afternoon. It first blew open the sliding doors on the cabinet, then lifted the whole 6′ x 2′ x 1/2″ plate of glass off the top of the cabinet like a sheet of paper. I caught it sailing through the air in my rearview mirror and watched it shatter all over the road. There was nothing I could do but keep going and thank my lucky stars that there was nobody behind me (or worse yet watch it sail over the guard rail and onto the I-8 below!).

            Lesson learned, whew!

        • Reminds me of a time I was driving down the freeway near DFW during rush hour and I noticed a pickup laden with all sorts of personal effects but the most prominent being a hard sided child’s pool upside down on top of this “load” but unsecured! I moved over a couple of lanes and wouldn’t you know it this thing took off like an airfoil and launched into the sky high above! It lands onto the road in front of oncoming traffic which I saw, through my rear mirror, did everything possible to avoid it. The pickup swerves quickly to the center pull off with wheels smoking!…. Quite the sight.

          • I was driving a 61 Ford I had while in the Navy at New London, Conn. I came around a corner and found an 8×8 walking down the road towards me. It bounced up on to my hood, and came through my windshield. The bad part was not so much that it wiped out the windshield, but it bent the windshield post so that a new windshield could not be installed. Since it was like a $100 car a sailor bought when the ship came into port, and sold to some guy who’s ship was returning as he was leaving, and my minimum insurance that included glass breakage, wouldn’t pay for the rest of the car.

    • Same thing happened to me! The difference with my experience was that I probably noticed it happening a 10/th of a second earlier than you did. I was in my Cutlass when I heard a noise and looked up at the T-tops. I saw the handle shaking and went to grab it. At the same time that my hand landed on the handle, the whole thing went sailing into the air. My hand was cut from trying to hold it and my eyes were fixed on the rear view mirror. I saw it sail through the air and land on the road behind me, shattering into a million pieces. Damn.

  11. Both T Tops and Highjackers were bad ideas from an engineering perspective. The seats in the back of The Brat at least, did not diminish the dynamic or structural integrity of the vehicle.

    But if your idea of a “hoot” is riding in the open bed of a mini pickup while facing backward…well, I’m sure that a lot of folks featured on those “people of walmart” sites would agree with you. 😉

    • I had a Jeep with rear facing seats and my daughter’s hair would blow in her face so she had to bend down and hold her hair-it was not a good idea for people with long hair.

    • My father mounted boat style bucket seats in the back of his ford ranger in a similar fashion. Seatbelts included. Me and my brother loved the hell out of it as kids. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. This was in the late 90s, not sure how he got away with it.

      There is nothing wrong with t-tops from an engineering perspective, only from the application back then. They make for a great roofless option, mainly, they make for an easy to remove and store hard top convertible.

      An example of a well designed modern one:
      The new wrangler hardtop has a t-top of sorts. No center bar, but the part over the driver and passenger are removable independently. They did an excellent job in terms of solving the leak problems prone to the old style t-tops.

    • I remember the T-top Camaraos and Firebirds very well having graduated from HS in 1980. I just saw Super-8 and at least it reminded me of the hair styles and fashion of the era. It was the age of Smokey and the Bandit and everyone wanted one and their own CB or base station. Even a good buddy of mine had one of the T-Top factory cars and he kept it garaged all the time. Obviously there was a reason for doing that. As far as riding in the back of pickup trucks? Well, I did that in the back of old Chevys with no seats, hot dogging around town andt trying my damnedest to keep from sliding all over the place. Yes, it was a hoot, but I wouldn’t advise doing it. Still, having a nanny state ordering you how many gallons your shitter is allowed to flush or barking at you to wear a plastic helmet while riding a bike is worse. It kills the soul.


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