Last updated
1965 Rambler Marlin, a pillarless hardtop 1965 AMC Marlin white 6 NJ interior.JPG
1965 Rambler Marlin, a pillarless hardtop

A hardtop is a rigid form of automobile roof, which for modern cars is typically constructed from metal. A hardtop roof can be either fixed (i.e. not removable), detachable for separate storing or retractable within the vehicle itself.


Pillarless hardtop (often referred to as simply "hardtop") is a body style of cars without a B-pillar, which are often styled to give the appearance of a convertible design.

Pillarless hardtops

1969 Dodge DE Phoenix 400 sedan (6335532503).jpg
1969 Australian Dodge Phoenix four-door sedan
1969 Dodge DE Phoenix 400 hardtop sedan (6336273002).jpg
Four-door pillarless hardtop of the same model. Note the lack of a B-pillar and window frames, which (along with the vinyl roof) creates an appearance similar to a convertible.
1976 Chrysler New Yorker with doors open. Note the half-height pillar to which the rear doors attach. 76 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham (14368997025).jpg
1976 Chrysler New Yorker with doors open. Note the half-height pillar to which the rear doors attach.

The pillarless hardtop (often abbreviated to "hardtop") is a hardtop with no B-pillar which is often styled to look like a convertible. [1] [2] If window frames are present, they are designed to retract with the glass when lowered. This creates an impression of uninterrupted glass along the side of the car. [3]

A pillarless hardtop is inherently less rigid than a pillared body, requiring extra underbody strength to prevent shake. Production hardtops commonly share the frame or reinforced body structure of the contemporary convertible model, which is already reinforced to compensate for the lack of a fixed roof.

Hardtops tend to be more expensive and collectible than sedan models of the same vehicle. [4]

Some hardtop models took the convertible look even further, including such details as simulating a convertible-top framework in the interior headliner and shaping the roof to resemble a raised canvas top.[ citation needed ] By the late-1960s such designs could be highlighted with an optional vinyl cover applied on the steel roof.

The hardtop began to disappear along with convertibles in the mid-1970s, partly out of a concern that U.S. federal safety regulations would be difficult for pillarless models to pass. The ascendancy of monocoque construction also made the pillarless design less practical. Some models adopted modified roof styling, placing the B pillars behind tinted side window glass and painting or molding the outer side of each pillar in black to make them less visible, creating a hardtop look without actually omitting the pillar. Some mid- to late-1970s models continued their previous two-door hardtop bodies, but with fixed rear windows or a variety of vinyl roof and opera window treatments.

By the end of the 1990s, almost all hardtop designs disappeared as structural integrity standards continued to increase.


California Top on a 1926 Studebaker Special Six Phaeton Studebaker 1926 Phaeton With California Top.jpg
California Top on a 1926 Studebaker Special Six Phaeton

Early automobiles had no roof or sides, however by 1900 several cars were offered with fabric roofs and primitive folding tops. [5] [6] However, cars with fully closed bodies (i.e. with a rigid roof and sides) grew in popularity and soon became the norm. [6]

In 1915–1918, the first pillarless hardtop cars were produced, then called "convertible cars" (or "touring sedans" or "Springfields"). [7] The Springfield design featured folding upper frames on the doors and the rear glass frames are removable and stored under or behind the seats. [8] In the late teens, Cadillac offered a sedan with removable "B" pillars.

Another form of early pillarless hardtop is the "California top", originating in Los Angeles and most popular from 1917 to 1927. [7] [9] These were designed to replace the folding roofs of touring cars, in order to enclose the sides of the car for better weather protection. [10] One objective of these aftermarket tops was to bring the cost of the closed car nearer to the prices of corresponding open cars. [11] Automobile dealers were encouraged to equip an open car with a California top to demonstrate that they were "cool and clean in summer, and warm and dry in winter." [12] The hard tops were frequently equipped with celluloid windows that retracted like a roller blind for open sided motoring offering a low-cost compromise between an open and closed car. [13]

United States

1969 Pontiac Parisienne.jpg
Two-door hardtop coupe:
1969 Pontiac Parisienne
1966 Chrysler Newport (4345700182).jpg
Four-door hardtop sedan:
1966 Chrysler Newport
1957 Mercury Commuter.jpg
Two-door hardtop wagon:
1957 Mercury Commuter
1958 Ambassador 4-d hardtop wagon 1.JPG
Four-door hardtop wagon:
1958 Rambler Ambassador

There were a variety of hardtop-like body styles dating back to 1916. [14] Chrysler Corporation built seven pillarless Town and Country hardtop coupes as concept vehicles in 1946, and even included the body style in its advertising that year called the Town and Country Custom Club Coupe. [15] [16] In 1951, Plymouth offered the Cranbrook Belvedere as a low priced hardtop two-door until 1953. [17]

Mass-production of hardtops began with General Motors, which launched two-door, pillarless hardtops in 1949 as the Buick Roadmaster Riviera, Oldsmobile 98 Holiday, and Cadillac Coupe de Ville. They were purportedly inspired by the wife of a Buick executive who always drove convertibles, but never lowered the top.

The Kaiser-Frazer 1949 Virginian was an early example of a four-door hardtop albeit with a removable thin, chrome- and-glass 'B' pillar held on by five screws. [18] The car was designed to have a convertible look and padded nylon or cotton was applied over the roof to contribute to the soft-top appearance. [19]

Two-door hardtops became popular with consumers in the 1950s while the two-door sedan body design fell out of favor among buyers. [20]

In 1955, General Motors introduced the first four-door hardtops. [21] [22] Following the pattern established by the two-door variants, GM utilized the same special sub-designations for the pillarless four-door body types within all their brands in North America. The term de Ville was used for Cadillac, Riviera was used for Buick, Holiday was used for Oldsmobile, Catalina was used for Pontiac, and Bel Air was used for Chevrolet. [23]

Other manufacturers also designated special names for their pillarless models. Ford called them Victoria, Chrysler used Newport and their luxury division Imperial used the name Southampton, Packard named them Mayfair, and Hudson's were Hollywoods. Nash used the Country Club moniker while pillarless Studebakers were Starliners, a name that was later used by Ford for its Galaxie hardtop.

By 1956 every major U.S. automaker offered two- and four-door hardtops in a particular model lineup. General Motors restyled their new models and now offered four-door hardtops from every division and in nearly every series except the lowest priced lines. Chrysler also offered two- and four-door hardtops for every brand, from Imperial, Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge and Plymouth. [24]

In 1956, the first four-door hardtop station wagons were introduced by Rambler [25] and American Motors Corporation. [26] The following year, the Mercury Commuter hardtop wagons became available in both two- and four-door body styles.

Throughout the 1960s the two-door pillarless hardtop was by far the most popular body style in most lines where such a model was offered. Even on family-type vehicles like the Chevrolet Impala, the two-door hardtop regularly outsold four-door sedans. Some car lines (such as the 1957-64 Cadillac and 1965–69 Corvair) only offered pillarless models with no sedans at all. So prevalent were true hardtops that Popular Mechanics had to describe that the new full-sized 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont models also included a "pillar" sedan. [27]

The U.S. industry's last pillarless two-door and four-door hardtops were in the 1978 Chrysler Newport and New Yorker lines. [28] Since then, no U.S. manufacturer has offered a true hardtop in regular production.


1972 Toyota Crown with side windows lowered 1972 Toyota Crown MS60 Coupe.jpg
1972 Toyota Crown with side windows lowered

In July 1965 Toyota introduced Japan's first 2-door hardtop coupe, and August 1967 they installed the 1,587 cc DOHC 9R engine in the Toyota 1600GT. This followed with several manufacturers offering the popular bodystyle as a luxury car appearance. During the 1970s, Toyota produced the Toyota Crown in a pillarless two-door hardtop version. [29] Nissan followed suit with the Nissan Cedric and Nissan Gloria in 4-door sedan and 2-door hardtop body styles, [30] with the latter "rendered as a premium quality personal car." [31] Subaru introduced a new compact coupe as a genuine two-door hardtop with the Subaru Leone in 1971. [32] The pillarless hardtop models were more expensive and luxurious than the sedan versions.

In the 1980s, Toyota continued the design with the Mark II, Nissan with its Laurel, and Mazda marketing its Luce.


Two 1973 Sunbeam Rapiers: first with side windows lowered and raised on the second car Sunbeam Rapiers ca 1973.jpg
Two 1973 Sunbeam Rapiers: first with side windows lowered and raised on the second car

Various European manufacturers have produced hardtops without B-pillars (usually coupes), however they are rarely marketed as pillarless hardtops. Examples include the current Bentley Continental GT, the 2008 Bentley Brooklands, the 2001-2003 Renault Avantime, the Rolls-Royce Wraith, and the 2012-current Ford B-Max. The 1958-1964 Facel Vega Excellence is one of few four-door hardtops produced in Europe.

British pillarless hardtops included the Sunbeam Rapier and the Ford Consul Capri (355) which, unlike American models, sold fewer cars than their regular center pillar saloon versions.

A New Mini two-door sedan has been marketed as a hardtop in the United States, although it does have a B-pillar, which is disguised by being painted black. [33]

Detachable hardtops

1959 Daimler SP250 with detachable hardtop P138063225dartstratfordtonyf4011001024x768.jpg
1959 Daimler SP250 with detachable hardtop

A detachable hardtop is a rigid, removable roof panel that is often stored in a car's trunk/boot.

Retractable hardtops

2005 Volvo C70 with retractable hardtop VOLVO C70(in transforming).JPG
2005 Volvo C70 with retractable hardtop

A retractable hardtop (also known as coupé convertible or coupé cabriolet) is a type of convertible that forgoes a folding textile roof in favor of an automatically operated, multi-part, self-storing roof where the rigid roof sections are opaque, translucent, or independently operable.

Related Research Articles

Convertible Vehicle with a removable roof

A convertible or cabriolet is a passenger car that can be driven with or without a roof in place. The methods of retracting and storing the roof vary between models. A convertible allows an open-air driving experience, with the ability to provide a roof when required. Potential drawbacks of convertibles are reduced structural rigidity and cargo space.

Coupe Car body style

A coupe or coupé is a passenger car with a sloping or truncated rear roofline and two doors.

Buick Skylark Series of passenger automobiles produced by Buick

The Buick Skylark is a passenger car produced by Buick. The model was made in six production runs, during 46 years, over which the car's design varied dramatically due to changing technology, tastes, and new standards implemented over the years. It was named for the species of bird called skylark.

Sedan (automobile) Passenger car in a three-box configuration

A sedan, or saloon is a passenger car in a three-box configuration with separate compartments for engine, passenger, and cargo.

Buick Electra Motor vehicle

The Buick Electra is a full-size luxury car manufactured and marketed by Buick from 1959 to 1990 over six generations — having been named after heiress and sculptor Electra Waggoner Biggs by her brother-in-law Harlow H. Curtice, former president of Buick and later president of General Motors. The Electra was offered in coupe, convertible, sedan, and station wagon body styles over the course of its production — with rear-wheel drive (1959-1984) or front-wheel drive. For its entire production run, it utilized some form of GM's C platform. The Electra was superseded by the Buick Park Avenue in 1991.

Chrysler New Yorker Motor vehicle

The Chrysler New Yorker is an automobile model that was produced by Chrysler from 1940 to 1996, serving for several decades as the brand's flagship model, or as a junior sedan to the Chrysler Imperial luxury brand. A trim level named the "New York Special" first appeared in 1938 and the "New Yorker" name debuted in 1939. The New Yorker name helped define the Chrysler brand as a maker of upscale models, priced and equipped to compete against upper-level models from Buick, Oldsmobile and Mercury.

Buick Special Motor vehicle

The Buick Special was an automobile produced by Buick. It was usually Buick's lowest-priced model, starting out as a full-size car in 1936 and returning in 1961 as a mid-size. The Special was built for several decades and was offered as a coupe, sedan and later as a station wagon. When GM modernized their entry level products in the 1960s, the Special introduced the modern Buick V6 that became the core engine for GM for several decades and lives on in current upgraded V6 products.

There are many types of car body styles. They vary depending on intended use, market position, location and the era they were made in.

Rebadging Changing badges of the same car

Rebadging in the automotive industry is a form of market segmentation used by automobile manufacturers around the world. To allow for product differentiation without designing or engineering a new model or brand, a manufacturer creates a distinct automobile by applying a new badge or trademark to an existing product line.

Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Motor vehicle

The Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme is a mid-size car produced by Oldsmobile between 1966 and 1997. It was positioned as a premium offering at the top of the Cutlass range. It began as a trim package, developed its own roofline, and rose during the mid-1970s to become not only the most popular Oldsmobile but the highest selling model in its class.

Chrysler LeBaron Motor vehicle

The Chrysler LeBaron, also known as the Imperial LeBaron, was a line of automobiles built by Chrysler from 1931-1941 and from 1955-1995. The model was introduced in 1931, with a body manufactured by LeBaron, and competed with other luxury cars of the era such as Lincoln and Packard. After purchasing LeBaron with its parent Briggs Manufacturing Company, Chrysler introduced the luxury make Imperial in 1955, and sold automobiles under the name Imperial LeBaron until 1975. Chrysler abandoned the Imperial brand in 1975, and reintroduced the Chrysler LeBaron in 1977 to add prestige to what was then Chrysler's lowest priced model. The "LeBaron" name has since been applied to five different cars built by the Chrysler Division:

Dodge Monaco Motor vehicle

The Dodge Monaco is an automobile that was marketed by the Dodge division of Chrysler Corporation. Introduced as the flagship of the Dodge product line, the Monaco was introduced for 1965 to replace the Custom 880, later superseding the Polara model line. During its production, the Monaco was offered in multiple body configurations, including two-door and four-door hardtop sedans, four-door sedans, two-door convertibles, and station wagons.

Buick Roadmaster Automobile

The Buick Roadmaster is an automobile that was built by Buick from 1936 to 1958, and again from 1991 to 1996. Roadmasters produced between 1936 and 1958 were built on Buick's longest non-limousine wheelbase and shared their basic structure with the entry-level Cadillac Series 65, the Buick Limited, and after 1940, the Oldsmobile 98. Between 1946 and 1957 the Roadmaster served as Buick's flagship.

Studebaker Starlight Motor vehicle

The Starlight coupe is a unique 2-door body style that was offered by Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana from 1947 to 1955 on its Champion and Commander model series. It was designed by Virgil Exner, formerly of Raymond Loewy Associates.

Phaeton body Style of open automobile, popular in the early 20th-century

A phaeton is a style of open automobile without any fixed weather protection, which was popular from the 1900s until the 1930s. It is an automotive equivalent of the horse-drawn fast, lightweight phaeton carriage.

Dodge Polara Motor vehicle

The Dodge Polara is an automobile introduced in the United States for the 1960 model year as Dodge's top-of-the-line full-size car. After the introduction of the Dodge Custom 880 in 1962, the Polara nameplate designated a step below the full-sized best trimmed Dodge model; the Polara that year had been downsized to what was in effect intermediate, or mid-size status. In its various forms, the Polara name was used by Dodge until 1973, when its position in Dodge's line-up was replaced by the Dodge Monaco.

Chrysler Newport Motor vehicle

The Newport was a name used by Chrysler for both a hardtop body designation and also for its lowest priced model between 1961 and 1981. Chrysler first used the Newport name on a 1940 show car, of which five vehicles were produced. The Newport continued the tradition of a large, comfortable luxurious coupe and sedan, while offering a modestly priced product in comparison to the Chrysler New Yorker and Chrysler Imperial. The Newport gradually replaced the Chrysler Windsor which originally replaced the Chrysler Royal. The Newport was initially the brand name for the Windsor with a hardtop body style, then was used for coupes, sedans and station wagons in later decades.

Nissan Leopard Line of cars

The Nissan Leopard is a line of sport/luxury cars built by Japanese carmaker Nissan. The Leopard began life in 1980 and was discontinued in 1999. The Leopard were initially based on the Japanese market Nissan Skyline and Nissan Laurel, then later based on the chassis of their Nissan Cedric and Nissan Gloria contemporaries and were rear wheel drive. Final versions were the contributing factors to Nissan's Infiniti M and J products.

Opera window

An opera window is a small fixed window usually behind the rear side window of an automobile. They are typically mounted in the C-pillar of some cars. The design feature was popular during the 1970s and early 1980s that was adopted by domestic U.S. manufacturers most often with a vinyl roof.

Cadillac de Ville series Car model

The Cadillac DeVille was originally a trim level of the Cadillac Series 62 and later a separate model when the Series designation was dropped by Cadillac. The first car to bear the name was the 1949 Coupe de Ville, a pillarless two-door hardtop body style with a prestige trim level above that of the Series 62 luxury coupe. The last model to be formally known as a DeVille was the 2005 Cadillac DeVille, a full-size sedan, the largest car in the Cadillac model range at the time. The next year, the DeVille was officially renamed the Cadillac DTS.


  1. "Pillarless Pioneer: The 1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera". ateupwithmotor.com. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  2. Gunnell, John (1982). Standard catalog of American cars, 1946-1975. Krause Publications. p. 15. ISBN   9780873410274.
  3. "Hardtop meaning". Engineering Dictionary. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  4. Mays, James C. (2006). Savvy Guide to Buying Collector Cars at Auction. Sams Technical Publishing. p. 67. ISBN   978-0-7906-1322-2 . Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  5. "The Evolution of the Convertible". popularmechanics.com. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  6. 1 2 "The up-and-down history of the convertible". CBS News. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  7. 1 2 Howley, Tim (April 2006). "A History of Hardtops". Hemmings Classic Car. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  8. Forbes, Kingston (1922). The principles of automobile body design, covering the fundamentals of open and closed passenger body design. Ware Bros. pp.  245–249. Retrieved 9 February 2014. Springfield type construction has a folding upper frame on the doors stored under seat posts between.
  9. "1925 Studebaker Big Six California Top". vintagecarheritage.com. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  10. "Glossary – A guide to speaking the language of CCCA". classiccarclub.org. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  11. Cullen, T.F. (1 February 1922). "Price situation results in many improvements in cars". Automobile Trade Journal. 25 (8): 28–29. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  12. "A source of year 'round profit for dealers that sell Nash cars". Automobile Topics: 96. 25 February 1922. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  13. Spajic, Igor (21 February 2012). "1925 Studebaker Big Six California Top". Vintage Car Heritage. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  14. "Motoring Memories - Hardtop convertibles". autos.ca. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  15. Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (15 October 2007). "1946 Chrysler Town & Country Hardtop". HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  16. http://www.lov2xlr8.no/brochures/chrysler/46tc/46tc.html
  17. John Gunnell, Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Revised 4th Edition
  18. Marcus, Frank (June 2002). "1949 Kaiser Virginian". Car and Driver. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  19. Auto editors of Consumer Guide (23 November 2007). "1950 Kaiser Virginian". HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  20. Norbye, John P. (October 1965). "How Car Buying Has Changed in 20 Years". Popular Science. 187 (4): 65.
  21. Flory Jr., J. "Kelly" (2008). American Cars, 1946–1959: Every Model, Year by Year. McFarland. p. 621. ISBN   9780786452309.
  22. "1955, The Hardtop Goes "Pillarless"". gmheritagecenter.com. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  23. Niemeyer, Daniel (2013). 1950s American Style: A Reference Guide. Lulu. pp. 147, 148, 151. ISBN   9781304201652.
  24. Flory Jr., J. "Kelly" (2008). American Cars, 1946–1959: Every Model, Year by Year. McFarland. p. 701. ISBN   9780786452309.
  25. "Rambler has everything new - even a hardtop wagon". Popular Mechanics. Vol. 105 no. 1. Hearst Magazines. January 1956. pp. 116–117.
  26. "A look at the hardtop station wagon". macsmotorcitygarage.com. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  27. "the 67's: Solid citizens of Detroit". Popular Mechanics. 126 (4): 114. October 1966.
  28. Flory Jr., J. Kelly (2012). American Cars, 1973-1980: Every Model, Year by Year. McFarland. p. 586. ISBN   9780786443529.
  29. Classic Car: The Definitive Visual History. Penguin. 2016. p. 228. ISBN   9781465459077. Designed for the 1970s, the Crown followed US styling trends
  30. "Automotive History: Nissan Cedric – When The Pupil Becomes A Master". curbsideclassic.com. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  31. "Business Trends - Tokyo Report". Business Japan. 36: 20. 1991.
  32. "Subaru Leone Series was Reborn". Diamond's Economic Journal Industria. 10: 40. 1980.
  33. "2015 Mini Hardtop 4-door: A stretch in size and appeal". kbb.com. Retrieved 5 June 2018.