By the mid-seventies, that climate had changed substantially as the guarded optimism of the postwar years and the idealism of the sixties faded to a gloomy hangover of inflation and political disillusionment. The big growth areas in seventies Detroit were ostentation and intimacy: blind rear quarters (with the inevitable padded landau top), tiny opera windows, shag carpet and plush velour. Many American preoccupations of the time demanded a certain privacy — we don’t think it’s coincidental the same period was also a boom time for custom vans — and the glassy hardtops of the fifties and sixties were suddenly out of place.
The American public mindset has shifted several times since then, but hardtops, like tail fins, have yet to really make a comeback. Many modern cars still display a hardtop aesthetic — frameless door glass, blacked-out and/or glassed-in pillars, etc. — but at present, retractable hardtops are more common than the pillarless variety. Engineering a pillarless hardtop to meet current expectations for crash safety and structural rigidity is undoubtedly more challenging than it was 50 years ago, but cars like Mercedes’ CLK and CL coupes demonstrate that it’s hardly impossible. Mundane coupe versions of popular sedans like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima have become increasingly common, and perhaps when the current public fascination with crossovers and ‘soft roaders’ has run its course, hardtops may once again become the Next Big Thing. The new federal roof crush strength standards that will be phased in for the 2013 model year (49 CFR § 571.216a) may complicate that, but stranger things have happened…
The author would like to thank Jerry Edmundson and Danielle Szostak-Viers of the Chrysler Historical Collection (now FCA US LLC – Historical Services) for providing some of the images in this article and Alden Jewell (autohistorian on Flickr) for his insights on the launch of the 1949 hardtops and contemporary GM advertising.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Our sources included “1950 Chrysler Town & Country Newport Coupe” (16 August 2008, Imperial Club, www.imperialclub. com, accessed 18 July 2011); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1936-1992 Buick Roadmaster” (22 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com; auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1936-1992-buick-roadmaster.htm, accessed 17 July 2011), “1946 Chrysler Town & Country Hardtop” (15 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1946-chrysler-town-and-country-hardtop.htm, 17 July 2011), “1948-1949 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98” (4 September 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1948-1949-oldsmobile-futuramic-98.htm, accessed 20 July 2011), “1950-1952 Buick” (11 September 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1950-1952-buick.htm, accessed 20 July 2011), and Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); John Barach, “Cadillac History” (1998-2010, Motor Era, www.motorera.com/ cadillac/ index.htm, last accessed 20 July 2011); Thomas R. Bonsall, Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel (Automotive History and Personalities) (Stanford, CA: Stanford General Books, 2002); R.P. Bradly, “Armstrong Siddeley Typhoon” (no date, ArmstrongSiddeley.org, www.armstrongsiddeley. org, accessed 27 July 2011); Herbert Brean, “’54 Car: 3 Years Old at Birth,” LIFE, 18 January 1954, pp. 80-92; Arch Brown, “SIA comparisonReport: Upper Middle Class ‘Class’: 1948 Buick Roadmaster, 1948 Chrysler New Yorker,” Special Interest Autos #167 (September-October 1998), reprinted in Terry Ehrich, ed., The Hemmings Book of Buicks (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books) (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 24-33; Arch Brown, Richard Langworth, and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1946-48 Chrysler Town and Country,” Great Cars of the 20th Century (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1998), pp. 158-161; Buick Motor Division of General Motors Corporation, “Buicks: The Fashion for 1950” [brochure], January 1950; and “Buick” Smart Buy for 1951″ [brochure], January 1951]; Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Dave Crippen’s 1985 interview with Irv Rybicki, “Reminiscences of Irwin W. Rybicki” (27 June 1985, Automotive Design Oral History Project, University of Michigan Benson Ford Research Center, www.autolife.umd. umich.edu/Design/ Rybicki_interview.htm (transcript), accessed 20 July 2011); “Debut for the ’49 Buick—Dynaflow for Supers,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 90, No. 6 (December 1948), p. 116; Jim Donnelly, “Rain Man Ryan’s Ride,” Hemmings Classic Car #61 (October 2009), pp. 14–17; Jim Dunne and Jan P. Norbye, Buick 1946-1978: The Classic Postwar Years, Second Edition (Osceola, WI: MBI, Inc./Motorbooks International, 1978, 1993); Nick Georgano and Nicky Wright, Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work (New York: SMITHMARK Publishers, 1995); George E. Goddard, assignor to Dodge Brothers, “Design for an Automobile-Body,” United States Design Patent No. 51,979, applied 15 August 1916, published 23 April 1918; Ken Gross, “Pride of Willow Run: 1951 Frazer Manhattan Convertible,” and “The Man Who Never Failed,” Special Interest Autos #27 (March-April 1975), reprinted in Richard A. Lentinello, ed., The Hemmings Book of Postwar American Independents: Drive Reports from Special Interest Autos Magazine (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books) (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 28-35; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975 Revised 4th Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002), and Standard Catalog of Buick 1903-2004 Rev. 4th Ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2004); John Heilig, “Red, Ned, and Dynaflow Too: The 1949 Buick Story,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 20, No. 4 (December 2003), pp. 38-49; Franklin Q. Hershey with J.M. Fenster, “Glory Days! My 35 Years as an Automobile Designer,” Automobile Quarterly Vol. 27 No. 1 (Spring 1987): 14-31; Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); Tim Howley, “1950 Ford Crestliner: ’50 Ways New for “50,”‘ Special Interest Autos #119 (September-October 1990), reprinted in Terry Ehrich, ed., The Hemmings Motor News Book of Postwar Fords (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books) (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000), pp. 20-27; Richard Langworth, Chrysler & Imperial 1946-1975: The Classic Postwar Years (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1993), and Kaiser-Frazer, the Last Onslaught on Detroit: An Intimate Behind the Scenes Study of the Postwar American Car Industry (Automobile Quarterly Library Series) (Boston, MA: E.P. Dutton, 1975); Tom McCahill, “Tom McCahill Tests the World’s Most Popular Car,” Mechanix Illustrated February 1965, reprinted in R.M. Clarke, ed., Impala and SS 1958-1972 Musclecar Portfolio (The Brooklands Muscle Car Portfolio Series) (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1996), pp. 80-81; Mark J. McCourt, “Buyer’s Guide: 1948-1949 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Series,” Hemmings Classic Car, June 2006; “New Dynaflow Buicks,” The Motor 8 December 1948, reprinted in Buick Performance Portfolio 1947-1962, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2000), pp. 10-13; “New Steel Tops Look,” Popular Science Vol. 154, No. 5 (May 1949), pp. 134-135; Jan P. Norbye and Jim Dunne, Pontiac 1946-1978: The Classic Postwar Years (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1979); the Old Car Brochures website (oldcarbrochures.org); John Peatling, “Armstrong Siddeley 16-18 hp Model Range” (no date, Armstrong Siddeley Owners Club Ltd., www.siddeley.com, accessed 27 July 2011); Graham Robson and Richard Langworth, Triumph Cars: The Complete Story, Second Edition (Pitlake, Croydon: Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 1988); Michael Sedgwick, Classic Cars of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Second Edition (Twickenham: Tiger Books International PLC, 1997); The Classic Buick: Facts for Classic Buick Enthusiasts (no date, www.theclassicbuick. com, accessed 20 July 2011); Bill Smith, Armstrong Siddeley Motors: The Cars, the Company and the People in Definitive Detail (Dorchester: Veloce Publishing Ltd., 2005); “The New Buick,” The Motor 21 January 1948, reprinted in Buick Performance Portfolio 1947-1962, pp. 6-9; Toyota Motor Corporation, 75 Years of Toyota, Vehicle Lineage: “Carina ED Hardtop (1st),” “Carina ED Hardtop (2nd),” and “Corona EXiV Hardtop (1st)” www.toyota-global. com, accessed 18 April 2014); and the Wikipedia® entry for the Armstrong Siddeley Typhoon (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armstrong_Siddeley_Typhoon, accessed 26 July 2011). Some additional facts on the introduction of GM’s hardtops came from emails between the author and automotive historian Alden Jewell, 22–25 July 2011.
We subsequently reviewed upcoming changes to federal roof crush requirements in “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Roof Crush Resistance; Phase-In Reporting Requirements,” Federal Register, 12 May 2009, Doc. #E9-10431, govpulse.us/entries/2009/05/12/ E9-10431/ federal-motor-vehicle-safety-standards- roof-crush-resistance-phase-in-reporting-requirements, accessed 9 August 2011.
Historical exchange rate data for the dollar and British pound were estimated based on data from Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies” (2009, MeasuringWorth, http://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/; used by permission). Please note that all exchange rate equivalencies cited in the text are approximate and provided for illustration and general informational purposes only; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!
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