In the craft of auto upholstery, we often use the term “landau top” to refer to a vehicle’s simulated convertible top. But how many of us ever stopped to wonder where the term comes from and why it’s used?
In the world of coach-building, a “landau” was a convertible carriage with a manual-retractable top suspended on elliptical (leaf) springs. The soft top was divided into two sections, front and rear, and latched in the middle. Operators had the option to draw back one section, while leaving the other fully closed. The tops also typically featured large, decorative sidebars that helped distinguish them from ordinary cloth-top models.
Such carriages were invented and manufactured sometime in the mid-18th century in the German city of Landau — hence the name.
In the 1920’s, U.S. automakers began producing fixed-roof cars with simulated convertible tops that featured side landau bars to give them that elegant, old-world look. The models were named “landaus” in honor of those bars.
However, drivers at the time didn’t see the sense in outfitting cars with simulated convertible tops, so the feature was discontinued and the name eventually died off. It wasn’t until after World War II, when Americans returned from war in Europe where old-world styling was still popular, that tastes changed and U.S. automakers reintroduced “landau tops” — some with landau bars, others without.
Today, “landau tops” have again fallen by the wayside. But every now and then one will make its way into an upholstery shop for replacement. What’s more, you can still find landau bars on hearses, where they’ve become a design staple.