May 1979

Old News - Open-Top AlternativeIn the “Detroit Report” section of an old issue of Motor Trend magazine, the writer erroneously states, “The convertible-top car, as we knew it, will never be mass-produced again.”

As if swimming against the current, one automotive manufacturer thought they had found a way to work around seemingly insurmountable regulations that made convertibles all but ‘unsafe’ in the eyes of the feds and doomed in the minds of auto journalists.

It was shown at the 1979 Chicago Auto Show. Think you know what it is?



Big brother and the convertible car
The automobile as we know it started out without a fixed roof. In fact, when the fixed-roof automobile was just being introduced, people derided it as potentially so top heavy that roll-overs would be a continual threat. Engineers knew better. Over half a century later, safety concerns of another variety ironically nearly eliminated open-top motoring from our roads.

Following the 1970s implementation of drastic federal safety regulations, convertible automobiles were believed to be a species on the endangered list. By the middle of that decade there was even talk of laws that would make criminal the construction of any new open-top vehicle in the United States. That law didn’t see the light of day, thankfully.

1976 Cadillac Eldporado convertibleHowever, the safety regulations that did pass were so stringent that auto manufacturers briefly abandoned the segment.

For 1976, Cadillac offered the only American-made convertible which was based on the gargantuan Eldorado. It was even marketed as “the last American convertible” since it was genuinely believed to literally represent the last hurrah.

1979 Pontiac Grand Prix Landau convertible concept overheadAlthough various vehicles sold in the US could still be had with removable roof panels, to some, that wasn’t sufficient. So, one manufacturer came up with a creative solution that played off of the targa design offered on some European cars.

The company with the bright idea was Pontiac.

GM’s excitement division had modified a Grand Prix to come as close to open-top motoring as possible, while still feasibly meeting the government’s requirements for roll-over safety.

1979 Pontiac Grand Prix Landau convertible concept rear three-qtrThe concept car was called the Grand Prix Landau and made use of fairly common t-tops to expose front seat occupants to the sky.

For the rear, however, they had designed an abbreviated fabric convertible section that, when opened, folded under a hard tonneau cover.

The remaining hard-top portion formed a handle-like hoop that was akin to a roll-bar which could protect occupants if the car were to flip over.

1979 Pontiac Grand Prix Landau convertible concept front three-qtrIn typical show-car fashion, the Grand Prix Landau included a little extra flash. The seats were unique to the concept, and the car was colored “carmine and rose,” including the hatch panels.

Another modification, that I was unable to find a picture of, was its hide-away headlamps.

Even though Pontiac’s Grand Prix Landau concept never saw production, by the early 1980s the traditional convertible top made a comeback and proved so popular it would even be offered on some pickup trucks.


Continue below to the photo gallery.

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