As we saw in part 1 of this series, the vinyl top rapidly transitioned from curiosity to commodity between 1962 and 1966. By the late 1960s, vinyl tops had lost any of their original pretense of being simulated convertible tops and had become a styling feature in their own right. The late 60s and early 70s would be peak vinyl, as manufacturers experimented with a variety of shapes, textures, patterns, and vehicle fitments of vinyl tops.
Different Body Styles
While vinyl tops were originally limited to sedans and coupes (owing to their convertible top origins), they quickly spread to other body styles, even those typically not associated with convertibles, such as pickup trucks and station wagons.
Chrysler and Pontiac share the honors for the first station wagon vinyl roof in 1965. Chrysler’s was a split style vinyl roof, but rather than being split from to back like most partial vinyl roofs, this application was curiously split down the middle.
Pontiac also offered a Bonneville wagon with a full vinyl roof starting in 1965.
Dodge was the first to put a vinyl roof on a pickup truck, in 1967, available in black or white. The D100 with the white top (pictured above) was actually textured paint and not vinyl, but I couldn’t find a decent picture of a 1967 D100 with a proper vinyl black roof.
The Chevrolet El Camino was also available with a vinyl top starting in 1968.
Even America’s only true sports car was not immune to the vinyl roof. By 1968, the mighty Chevrolet Corvette was available with an optional vinyl top. Granted, it was only available on the optional removable hardtop for the convertible: The fixed roof Corvette was never available with a vinyl roof.
Another way to liven up your vinyl tops is with a printed pattern. We’ve already seen this idea explored in convertible tops, such as stillborn 1961 Buick Convertible Tops In Designer Fabrics, so it was only natural to apply this idea to vinyl tops as well.
While Ford may have launched the vinyl roof fad in 1962, leave it to Chrysler to jump the vinyl shark. Chrysler made printed vinyl tops (complete with matching seats and door panels) available in 1969 and 1970 with their Mod Top option, available on various Plymouth and Dodge models. Technically it was only called a “Mod Top” when fitted to a Plymouth – Dodge just called it a “Floral Top.”
These were quite rare – only 2,876 were produced between 1969 and 1970, and I don’t recall ever seeing one when I was growing up.
Plymouth also had a paisley vinyl top option in 1970 and 1971, which also had a matching interior. Technically not a Mod Top, as it was not marketed as such.
Not to be left out, in 1970 Mercury offered a Cougar with a factory houndstooth printed vinyl top and (natch) a matching houndstooth interior. While not factory-installed, the houndstooth vinyl top was also available as a dealer-installed accessory on other Ford products, and in my research, I found several period Mustangs so equipped.
While most vinyl tops either had a diamond point pattern (similar to a nylon convertible top) or an elk or leather texture, Chrysler (of course) experimented with some other textures.
We’ve already previously seen how Kaiser used alligator textured vinyl on their 1951 Dragon. Chrysler resurrected the look in 1969 and 1970 for various Plymouth and Dodge models.
Chrysler also offered Tortoise Shell pattern top vinyl on their 1969 and 1970 C-bodies.
Last but certainly not least, in 1970 Chrysler offered a Newport Cordoba model, long before the B-body PLC of the same name. The Newport Cordoba is quite possibly the only Aztec-themed car ever to be made, complete with Aztec-style emblems, interior fabric, and most importantly (for our purposes), an “Espanol” vinyl roof with an inset Aztec-inspired texture.
The original and most common style of vinyl roof is of course the full vinyl roof, covering the entire roof including the pillars. This is the style most evocative of a convertible top, which as you will recall was the original “function” of the vinyl-covered roof.
Starting in 1963, Chrysler experimented with a canopy-style roof, where only the front half of the roof is covered, leaving the rear pillars and trailing edge painted in body color. This look is most associated with Chrysler, as they used it well into the 1970s, but AMC, Ford, Mercury, and GM all employed the look at various times through the years.
There is also the Halo-style roof, where only the inner sections of the roof are covered with vinyl. The earliest example of this that I could find was the 1964 Buick Skylark.
Perhaps the wildest vinyl roof shape is the split roof, which is a vinyl roof bisected by a strip of metal. We already saw one example earlier in this piece, The 1965 Chrysler New Yorker wagon. The 1971 AMC AMX is a better-known example.
The Landau Roof
The style of vinyl roof that would most come to define the Personal Luxury Coupe, the landau roof in which only the rear half of the roof is covered in vinyl (and usually with a fixed glass opera window) didn’t really come into prominence until the mid-70s. Tracing the lineage of the first modern landau roof is a little tricky, and could almost be a post of its own.
It first appeared in the 1967 Imperial Crown Coupe, although Chrysler referred to it as a canopy roof, and not a landau roof. The look was not popular (or so Chrysler thought), and the option was gone by 1969.
AMC introduced the first properly named landau roof on the 1970 Javelin SST. It was a one-year-only option, replaced in 1971 by the wild split vinyl roof mentioned earlier.
It should also be mentioned that various special edition Hurst Oldsmobile and Pontiac models were available with landau roofs as early as 1971. These were extremely limited production models, and lacking opera windows, they don’t look quite right to modern eyes.
Lastly, Cadillac offered an extremely limited edition Eldorado Custom Cabriolet model in 1972. While this has both the vinyl half-roof and opera windows, Cadillac curiously didn’t call it a landau roof, but rather referred to it as a “vinyl backroof.”
To me, the first car that put all the pieces together (vinyl half roof, opera windows, while actually calling it a landau roof) that was a regular production offering (not a limited or special edition) was the 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Landau. This is only fitting because, as we all know, the Monte Carlo is the car that brought the PLC to the masses. This time, the look was a smashing success, and the template for the personal luxury coupe had essentially been set for the remainder of the decade. Other makers (and even other brands within GM) quickly copied the look, and by 1975 virtually every Detroit brand was offering at least one model with a landau vinyl roof and opera windows.
By the early 1970s, virtually all of the outrageous printed and textured vinyl roofs were gone, and it seemed like the vinyl top had run its course. However, the vinyl top would actually stick around for several more decades to come. Head over to Part 3 for the exciting third and final part of this series!