If you never got to experience something, you never think to miss that thing. One such thing being T-tops, which were a common thing back in the ’70s and well into the the ’90s but which are no longer seen, today.
And – what?
The T-Top is a type of car top that attempts to bridge the gap between a soft-top (i.e., a convertible) and a hard top. It was also an attempt to preemptively deal with what was considered, at the time, to be the impending de facto banning of convertibles, via government regulations.
One has to go back to 1970 to understand what almost happened.
That was the year the federal government got into the business of decreeing automotive “safety” standards, via the newly created National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which plagues us to this very day.
Where the constitutional authority to create – to empower – such an agency can be found in the federal Constitution, which ostensibly limits the power of the federal government to create and and empower such agencies is difficult to divine.
Anyhow, the federal government began issuing regulations defining what federal bureaucrats considered to be “safe” car design – which the car manufacturers were legally obliged to abide by. This is interesting, in view of the fact that no law was ever passed by Congress regarding these. That is the strange nature of regulations – which have the force and effect of laws without the difficulty of those issuing them having to get a law passed. In this manner, unelected bureaucrats – people who have never run for office or been sanctioned by a single voter, let alone a majority of them – become de facto law-makers who cannot easily be removed from their offices.
The little doctor who effectively ran the country without having been elected to any office – and who is insolently unaccountable to any voter – being perhaps the best example of the species.
It is also interesting to observe that “safety,” as defined by the federal government, is not the working definition of that word that most people think of when they hear that word.
Is every car made before the government began issuing “safety” regulations “unsafe” – as in, dangerous to drive? Are they unstable? Crash-prone? Did the wheels fall off? The steering wheel disconnect?
Such defects in design or manufacturing flaws (if they are present) being just that.
Perhaps the best way to make the point is to point out the fact that a Mercedes-Benz S Class sedan that was built in 2005 does not meet the latest federal “safety” standards, while a 2022 Nissan Versa does. Which car do you suppose is the “safer” one to be in, in the event these two cars ran into one another?
Back to T-Tops.
After NHTSA came into existence, the fear was that convertibles would be regulated out of existence as “unsafe” – i.e., they could not be made to comply with the “safety” regulations expected to issue from NHTSA pertaining to roof-crush standards. For obvious reasons, a top made of cloth crushes rather easily. It does not mean a convertible is “unsafe” to drive. It just means if you roll the thing, there’s no roof over your head. Just the same as you might get sunburned if you go outside on a summer day, shirtless and sans sunscreen. No doubt the federal bureaucracy is searching to find “constitutional” authority to regulate that, too.
Anyhow, it was assumed by the car industry, back in the early ’70s, that it would shortly become legally impossible to continue making convertibles, notwithstanding no law had been been passed outlawing them. For those who remember, it is why Cadillac announced that it would stop selling convertible Eldorados – and made a lot of money selling marked-up examples of what people thought would be the last convertible Eldorados.
There were also what were called “colonnade” hardtops, which were hardtops designed to address the roof-crush compliance problem of the “pillarless” hardtops that preceded them. These latter were cars that did not have a structural I beam or pillar in between the front and rear doors and so had expansive side glass – and an unobstructed/panoramic view all around them. You might think that being able to see better is safer. And so it is.
That’s why I-beams – or colonnades – were added, as structural supports. But there was still the problem of having nothing but a hardtop over head when there were still a lot of people who wanted to see the sky – and feel the wind, instead.
T-Tops were seen as the answer and thus, their origins. You still had a hard-top, but two sections of it could be removed so as to be able to see the sky and feel the wind, again while also being compliant with the roof-crush “safety” standards then in effect. Lots of cars were offered with T-tops, beginning in the mid-’70s – which was right around the time the car industry anticipated not being able to legally sell convertibles anymore.
They became very popular, not just because they provided a way to see the sky above and feel the wind in your hair but also because when the tops were on, the car felt like it was a hardtop. And you could still see the sky – through the glass above your head – even when it was too cold to take the tops off.
So why are they no more – and convertibles are still around?
As it turned out, it was possible to design compliant convertibles. Current models deal with the roof-crush standard via built-in or pop-up rollbars. As for T-Tops, the main reason they’re gone has to do with making them not leak, which isn’t easy – and which (apparently) most people won’t put up with, today. There is also a compliance problem in that adding the necessary bracing to what remains of the roof (the glass tops not being a structural element) in order to make them currently compliant would be difficult and costly and the expedient of adding a built-in or pop-up roll bar would be awkward as well as costly.
This isn’t to say it’s impossible to make a compliant T-top car. Just as it’s not impossible to make a compliant diesel-powered car. It’s just too expensive to make it worth doing because too few people could afford it, which means whoever made it would likely lose rather than make money on it.
If you like what you’ve found here please consider supporting EPautos.
PS: Get an EPautos magnet or sticker or coaster in return for a $20 or more one-time donation or a $10 or more monthly recurring donation. (Please be sure to tell us you want a magnet or sticker or coaster – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)