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The History of the T-Top

Posted by on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 in Articles

The most notable of T-Tops

The T-Top is a beautiful example of compromise. If you want the open-air fun of a convertible but don’t want to completely sacrifice structural rigidity and add the weight of a drop top, the T-Top was made for you. It’s also not a feature you’ll find in any car being manufactured today. Meaning if you want the red-jeans-wearing, mullet-having, John Cougar Mellencamp-blaring awesomeness of a T-Top, you’re more than likely going to need to buy a classic car.

While many credit GM for the T-Top, it was actually invented and patented by car designer Gordon Buehrig. It was first used in a 1948 prototype by The American Sportscar Company or “Tasco.”

The Tasco Sportscar featuring t-tops

See those wheel covers? They turn with the wheels!

While Tasco had an excellent roof, they never made more than one prototype of the car.

The T-Top wasn’t seen again until GM introduced it on the 1968 Corvette, at which point Gordon Buehrig promptly sued them. While his suit was successful, the settlement is said to be relatively small.

The Corvette’s T-Tops were so well-liked they were cited as the reason Chevy discontinued Corvette convertibles in the 1976 model year and didn’t resume production of them until 1986.

A C3 corvette with T-Tops

What late C3 ‘Vette lacked in forward visibility and stingray badging, it completely made up for in roof-awesomeness.

Perhaps the most iconic application of the T-Top was on the second-generation Pontiac Firebird. Offered for the first time in 1976, these T-Tops were originally provided by Hurst until 1978, when they were replaced by larger, less leaky panels  manufactured by Fisher. The “Smokey and The Bandit” Trans Am, pictured above, features Hurst tops.

Eventually, all of the Big Three American car manufacturers tried their hands at making cars with T-Tops. They even made their way onto less performance-oriented models like the Chrysler Cordoba and seventh-generation Ford Thunderbird. Overseas, this roof is featured on a variety of Japanese and British automobiles, even on quirky utility vehicles like the Subaru Brat and Suzuki X-90 (you may not recognize it without a giant Red Bull can on the back).

While none of today’s car companies have the good sense to make cars with these truly awesome roofs anymore, the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird brought the T-Top into the 21st century, if only just. T-Tops went the way of Pontiac and its Firebird in 2002. Until manufacturers come to their senses, car-buyers with discriminating tastes, i.e. those who adore T-Tops, will just have to look to classic cars to get their open-air performance fix. And that’s just fine by us!

If you have an early model T-Top or another collectible you’d like to insure with us, let us show you how we are more than just another collector vehicle insurance company. We want to protect your passion! Click below for an online quote, or give us a call at 800.678.5173.

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