Hardtop Rush Isn’t Over Yet
The retractable hardtop is the automotive equal of a Busby Berkeley routine. The roof raises, folds and shoves into the car’s trunk. Just to witness the operation is fascinating; much more is to experience the driving options of a convertible.
Car occupants are given a broader leeway for the exercise of their driving discretion. A free-spitted ride with the wind blowing the hair or a private drive that precludes the world from taking unwarranted chirp - these are the options available to them.
Advances in technology and engineering feat made convertible a big hit. Nonetheless, auto hardtop is not a recent discovery. Its inception could be traced ages ago. You think that the 1998 Mercedez-Benz SLK230 is the most popular convertibles bearing these exceptional hardtops? Think again. In 1934, Georges Paulin, a Parisian dentist and part-time car designer, designed and patented a retractable hardtop for a small Peugeot coupe. Paulin’s patron and coachbuilder, Marcel Pourtout, also helped in customizing the former’s designs on a larger Peugeot chassis. The cars were stunning and well received by many.
The patent of the retractable hardtop design was sold to Peugeot in 1935. During the World War II, Peugeot built a limited number of cars named the 402BL Éclipse Décapotable. Said cars used Paulin’s design. One of these remarkable cars is bought by Raymond Milo, a Los Angeles dealer in collectible European cars. According to Milo’s research, there are 470 Éclipse Décapotable manufactured however, only 30 of them exist up to the present time.
“The Éclipse was a milestone design and perhaps the most attractive example of Art Deco design applied to automobile coachwork,” Milo said. He added that unlike most first attempts to solve an engineering problem, the design was sound. Being manually operated, the top was relatively simple and could be raised and lowered by one person.
Paulin died during the Word War II holocaust. And his design seemed to be forgotten by the automaker. It did not reappear in postwar era until the introduction of the 206CC in the year 2001. It was followed by the mass-produced retractable hardtop called the 1957 Ford Skyliner.
The Ford Skyliner was built on the Fairlane chassis and was equipped with a 118-inch wheelbase. The rear deck of the car made it extraordinary. The space required to stow the top gave the Skyliner the proportions of a pickup truck.
It was reported that Ford persuaded Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to pitch the car on television. With the requisite amount of sexism for the period, Desi warned Lucy when she asked to try out the top, “An automobile is complicated machinery; women just don’t understand.” The announcer said there is no truth to that statement and explained that the process is so simple anyone can do it.
The complexity of the engineering features made it daunting. The standard of hardtop convertibles was enhanced when Mitsubishi introduced the 3000GT Spyder at the Los Angeles auto show. The car is likened to the Camaro or the Firebird. It was offered with a retractable hardtop for the 1995-96 model years in naturally aspirated SL Spyder form and as the 320-horsepower twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive 3000GT VR-4 Spyder.
Mercedes-Benz invaded the hardtop scene with its own version of a fascinating convertible. It was delivered to the industry for the model year 1998. Said car was designed to compete with the BMW Z3 and the Porsche Boxster.
Now, the big names in the automotive retractable hardtop include the Mazda MX-5, Lexus SC 430, Pontiac G6, Volkswagen Eos and the BMW 3 Series. Volvo also introduced the Volvo C70 which carries a remarkable improvement of the Volvo 940 parts. Hope, product communications manager for Volvo Cars North America, management approved the cost of the Volvo C70 program after engineers pointed out that a single retractable-roof version was actually more efficient to develop than both a soft-top convertible and a fixed-roof coupe. Like the clutch pedal, the ragtop may be going the way of the rumble seat.
Hardtop convertibles are showering the auto industry with lots of good things that every driver desires. This is the reason why the rush is not to end yet – not yet.
About the Author: Glady Reign is a 32 year old is a consultant for an automotive firm based in Detroit, Mi. She is a native of the motor city and grew up around cars hence her expertise in the automotive field.