Why Some Cars Have Fake Convertible Roofs
By Chad Upton | Editor
Have you ever seen a car that appears to be a convertible, but you’re almost certain that car is not available as a convertible? Chances are, you were looking at a “landau” car.
Large sedans, town cars and of course hearses are popular cars for Landau conversions, although the occasional sport sedan or midsized car is fashioned with it too. I say “conversions,” because there are no mainstream automobile manufacturers who currently offers this option. In the past, the Detroit automakers offered it on some vehicles from the 1960s through the 1990s. To understand why, we have to go back a century.
Cars replaced horse drawn carriages as the way to travel long distances. Convertible carriages were named “Landau” carriages after the city of Landau (Germany), where convertible carriages were first produced. Landau carriages typically had soft tops that were stored behind the passenger seats and deployed to cover the back, top and sides of passengers for privacy and protection from uncomfortable weather — this exact feature is still evident on contemporary baby carriages (aka strollers, buggies, prams, push chairs).
The first mass produced cars were just motorized carriages. Since carriage builders were the early makers of car bodies, carriage terminology and style were naturally transferred to cars. As the cars began to look the way that we know them now, style cues from traditional carriages eased the visual transition to the modern shape of cars. One of these style cues was the soft “landau” roof, which was accompanied by metal decorations that took the place of functional metal hinges that operated functional tops on landau carriages.
The landau style top was common on cars in the 1920s and faded in the 1930s. In 1950, Nash Motors began selling a real convertible automobile. It was a symbol of luxury and by the end of the 1950s, faux convertible tops were back in style. It was common for the top trim level of more prestigious vehicles to be available with landau roofs. For example, look at the Monte Carlo advertisement above, they fit right in at the polo club.
If you look at the carriage photo above, you’ll see the long, curved metal hinge on the side of the functional landau top. In the photo below, look at the similarly shaped decoration on the 1964 Ford Thunderbird Landau.
Some people still believe the landau roof graces an elegant vehicle with extra class and there are auto dealers and aftermarket custom shops who give them what they want.
Autoblog says, “Make it stop.” MSN Autos puts landau tops first in the top 10 worst auto fads and to quote a member of the MotorTrend forum, “The fake convertible roof is more like a ‘comb-over’. In both cases, the ‘owner’ is delusional if he thinks anyone is fooled by the cosmetic makeover.”