What’s a T-Top?

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A T-top is a car design with two removable roof panels that leave a center bar running through the cabin. It provides extra support above passengers’ heads and was first introduced in the 1940s. Targa tops are similar but lack the center bar. The design became popular in the US with the launch of the Corvette in 1968 and was featured in films like Smokey & the Bandit. Other automakers, including Datsun and Suzuki, also offered T-top models.

A T-top is an automotive design that incorporates two removable panels on the roof of a car. When these panels are removed, they leave a center bar that runs through the cabin of the car, connecting the center of the front windshield to the center of the rear. This bar gives the vehicle a characteristic T-shaped structure. The term can refer to both the design of the roof and the car in general.

As an alternative to a convertible, a T-top provides additional support where it’s needed most, above the passengers’ heads. While the two panels are removable, the center beam is permanently attached and integrated into the car’s structure. Cars with a similar design, only without this center bar, have only a removable panel that leaves the area above the cabin completely open. These are known as targa tops.

Removable panels are usually made of safety glass approved for automotive use. In the event of a crash, the panels will not break like normal glass would. Since the panels are made of glass, the area they occupy is transparent when they are joined together.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the idea of ​​a car in this design was first introduced. The TASCO was a concept car, designed after World War II, that was supposed to revolutionize the American sports car. TASCO’s prototype failed, but it was the world’s first T-top. Gordon Buerhig, a designer who worked on the prototype, patented the T-top in 1951.

In 1968 Chevrolet launched a new Corvette model. One of its distinguishing features was a T-top model, making it the first car in regular production within the United States to feature this design. Although the T-top Corvettes were discontinued after 1982, the styling persisted as a defining feature of other notable General Motors (GM) sports cars, such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.

One Trans Am that contributed to the popularity of the design in the US was the performance model of GM’s Pontiac-branded production line Firebird. The 1977 Trans Am featured in the film Smokey & the Bandit caused sales to increase substantially.

The following year, GM’s other budget sports car, the Chevrolet Camaro, offered a T-top option, as did many other Pontiac models, such as the smaller Fiero and the slightly less sporty Grand Prix. The popularity of the design was not lost on foreign automakers either, with Japan-based Datsun and Suzuki also offering T-top models. The Datsun 280ZX, a small and light sports car, capitalized on the design, and all subsequent Z models through the 300ZX would share this feature.

Other similar design elements exist. The targa top is a single, removable panel, rarely made of glass, leaving the front and rear windshields undisturbed. An open top coach is any car with a roof that can be moved back and forth on a track running along the frame of the car on top of the doors. It can be placed all the way up or all the way down.

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