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?
Like many automotive terms we use today, including “trunk” and “dashboard,” the term “landau” finds its origins in the era of coaches or horse-drawn carriages — the predecessor of cars.
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.
Thank you, Nadeem! I was standing at my office window waiting for the copier and glanced out the window into the downtown LA traffic and saw a spiffy old Monte Carlo with a landau top. I was a car collector as a young girl and still love my old cars. But I started to wonder if it was really called a landau top, or perhaps that was just someone’s made up word in my small southern town. Sure enough~ and now I know about the landau bar too. Bonus! Thanks again for taking a piece of the boredom out of a Thursday afternoon at the office.
Edward Munday says
Retired …Landau referred usually to a half vinyl top not a whole vinyl top. Or a half simulated convertable top..