By on February 19, 2010

The current fad for “four door coupes” like the Mercedes CLS and its Passat mini-me are a revival of a trend that this Buick helped usher in: the four door hardtop. It actually arrived mid year 1955, on the junior Buicks and Olsmobiles; but just like the 1949 GM two-door hardtops caught the rest of the industry off guard, so did these. Once again, everyone had to scramble and follow GM, until the four door hardtop became the victim of safety regs and changing tastes.

It was a pretty radical idea at the time, crossing the flair and prestige of a hardtop coupe with the lowly four door sedan. Frameless windows and no B pillars created quite a different feel, especially with the windows open. With the large families of the time, and the rarity of air conditioning, this was the cool car for kids to be seen in the back seat.

The rest of GM’s divisions all fielded four door hardtops for 1956, but it took Ford and Chrysler until 1957 to fully incorporate them into both of their all-new line ups that year. From then on, the four door pillarless sedan became a mainstay through the sixties, and into the mid seventies. By about 1975, they were pretty much all gone. Does anyone know precisely which was the last one available?

The mid fifties were a banner time for Buick, having taken the number three sales spot behind Chevrolet and Ford in 1954. The Special was a big seller, a fairly affordable way to get into a Buick, which was still brimming with brand equity then.

The Special and this Century rode on the smaller 122″ wheelbase; the larger Super and Roadmaster shared a 127″ frame. The Century had a higher trim level, and shared the more powerful 255 hp 322 cubic inch V8 engine with the “senior” Buicks.

A substantial number of those horses endlessly sacrificed themselves to Buick’s Dynaflow transmission. It truly epitomized the term “slush box”; in the quest to offer a smoother alternative to the efficient but rather abrupt four-speed Hydramatic, Buick came up with what in practice was a one-speed automatic.

Its complex torque converter had enough dynamic range to start the car in high, or direct drive. That made Buicks perpetually sound like power boats: the engines burbled without ever a substantial apparent rise or drop in rpm. There was a low range, but it had to be manually engaged, and then shifted back to high. It was meant for steep hills, and for those looking for a more visceral resemblance of acceleration.

Fuel economy was also sacrificed to that quest for uninterrupted smoothness, and it was a sore spot among some Buick owners. If they were desperate enough, they could still get a stick, but that certainly wouldn’t have befitted this flashy Century.

The Wurlitzer juke-box styling details of these cars can only be appreciated for what they are: excessive ornamentation. Within a couple of years, this trend blew itself out in the garish and unpopular 1958 models. The Buicks were the worst on the market in that rock-bottom year, and it tumbled them right out of the coveted number three spot. These 1956s were already well on the way to being over the top, but folks were still lapping it up.

No fake portholes glued on here. These are cast metal, and heavily chromed. This particular car has the benefit of little blue lights in each one, which must make for a nice show at night.

What else is there to say about these big bad Buicks? Let the pictures do the talking; they’re much more eloquent than anything I could say.

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83 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1956 Buick Century Riviera Four Door Hardtop...”


  • avatar
    Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

    That is a pretty car.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Wikipedia says the 1978 Chrysler Newport and New Yorker were the last pillarless hardtops in the US.

  • avatar
    86er

    Now this is more like it!

    Does anyone know precisely which was the last one [four-door HT] available?

    I’m going to guess the ’78 New Yorker.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Big domed roof that shows that you can have headroom and a stylish roofline without excessive tumble home.

  • avatar
    86er

    Indeed, this style was very hard to improve on, the ’57 being the last iteration before the overblown ’58 helped knock Buick down many a peg. I believe Buick was down to 9th place after ’59.

    I prefer the purity of the ’55, although the ’54 is not without its charms.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    I’m horrified! Do you TTAC heathens realize how much hexavalent chromium was malevelently inflicted on Mother Gaia, in the production of this beast?!

    .
    .
    .

    Excellent job, Mr. N. What a beautiful car. I sorta feel bad for the poor car guys of today, that they are so constrained, and haven’t the freedom those guys had back then.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    {Wolf whistle!} Nice ride!

    Ah the good old “Dyna-slow” transmission. Buick even tried out a THREE torque converter variant but found it too slow and complex and unreliable, wonder what the MPGs would have been on that land yacht?

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      “Dyna-flush” was the term we used. There was a 50 cent seal that would blow out and pump some three gallons of Type A, suffix A overboard.

      That was the first “CVT”, just on the opposite end of the efficiency curve. Gen 1 Powerglide was also one speed with low gear only a manual selection.

      BTW, Olds used the marketing term “Holiday” for its hardtop bodystyles. Did any of the others have a cute name?

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      BTW, Olds used the marketing term “Holiday” for its hardtop bodystyles. Did any of the others have a cute name?

      Good question. Unless I’m totally mis-reading the 1956 brochures I found online, Buick’s “cute name” for their hardtops (at least in that model year) was “Riviera.” Pontiac used “Catalina.” Chevrolet used the terms “Sport Coupe” and “Sport Sedan.”

      Can’t find anything online to suggest such a naming convention for Cadillac (other than “hardtop”), but I’m fairly certain that non-GM entities had similar names.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      What a useless transmission. Best use for a Dynaflow is to scavenge the turbine ring out of the torque converter and make a banjo body out of it. It’s an Appalachian mountain music tradition, made popular by folk musician Jenes Cottrell. There’s a Buick banjo on eBay right now:

      http://cgi.ebay.com/5-STRING-BANJO-MADE-FROM-1959-BUICK-TORQUE-CONVERTER_W0QQitemZ110495722387QQcmdZViewItemQQimsxZ20100219?IMSfp=TL100219121003r28248

      I am fascinated by the nexus of music and mechanics.

    • 0 avatar
      tkgray

      We had a ’56 Century Riviera hardtop that got between 15 and 17 mpg, depending on how lead footed you were.
      On a free way or turnpike, if you kept the car at cruising speed (65 to 70) it might inch up to 18, but mountains were brutal on mileage.
      And driving at a constant speed for very long seemed to overheat the oil. But the car was heavy and a delight to drive and rode like a Pullman.

    • 0 avatar
      bugo

      Bel Air was Chevy’s name for its first pillarless hardtop in 1950. It, of course, became a full series in 1953. Ford’s name for hardtops was Victoria. After the 4 door hardtop came out in 1956, the 2 door hardtop became a Club Victoria while the 4 door hardtop was named the Town Victoria. The Crown Victoria wasn’t a hardtop coupe at all, although it had frameless windows in the doors.

  • avatar
    86er

    If they were desperate enough, they could still get a stick, but that certainly wouldn’t have befitted this flashy Century.

    Are you sure about this, Paul? I would guess that the manual shifter would’ve been column-mounted, therefore not looking much different than the dynaflow shifter. I could be wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I’m sorry, but “stick shift” in the parlance of the times, meant manual shift transmission, most typically on the column. “Stick” or “auto” was the craigslist equivalent for how one described the transmission. Floor shifts were usually described as “four on the floor” or “three on the floor”. It might have been different in other parts of the country.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Yes, I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying the Buicks had a floor shift, which I don’t believe was the case.

      You were saying a “stick” wouldn’t have befitted a flashy Century. I was just confused because the auto and manual would’ve looked quite similar there on the column.

      I guess you meant “rowing your own gears wouldn’t have befitted a fancy Buick at the time”.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Attempting to dredge up childhood memories: I know the manual “three on the tree” transmission was still available on the Special, I’m not all that certain it would have been available on the Century. As the Century used the Roadmaster/Super engine, I think the transmission came along with the package.

      Yeah, back then, ages 6-8, I knew all that stuff by memory. Occasionally, I was known to correct one of dad’s salesmen on an available option for that year’s Chevrolets.

  • avatar
    mikey

    My older brother had a passion for 55-56 Buicks. I wasn’t old enough to drive. But I do remember the Sonomatic radio,and you had to push the gas pedal to the floor to activate the starter.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      That’s one that hung around until the ’59′s, I think. I got used to it on my first car, a ’37 Special (straight eight, three on the floor). Back then the ’37′s came with a locking steering column, turning the (not-ignition) key locked the steering column and moved the ignition toggle switch inward so you couldn’t move it to the ‘on’ position.

      If you unlocked the steering column, you didn’t need the key for anything. People were way more honest back then. Oh yeah, the only door lock was on the passenger side door. You were expected to enter a locked car from the sidewalk, not the street.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Always loved the ’56 Century , as this was my first Revel kit. I thought this was the golden age of American cars , but Paul has rubbished it !

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      And how did I “rubbish it”?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      At worst, he guilty of the usual look at history – through modern eyes. Inadvertent revisionism.

      At the time, the ’56 Buick was still a bit on the restrained side when it came to trim. Put a Mercury or Chrysler along side it. Better yet, put a ’56 Packard along side it. That’s garish for the day.

      Seeing it today as over-chromed is only natural, as 99% of all vehicular chrome today is reserved for Harley-Davidsons.

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      “A substantial number of those horses endlessly sacrificed themselves to Buick’s Dynaflow transmission. It truly epitomized the term “slush box”; in the quest to offer a smoother alternative to the efficient but rather abrupt four-speed Hydramatic, Buick came up with what in practice was a one-speed automatic. There was a low range, but it had to be manually engaged, and then shifted back to high. It was meant for steep hills, and for those looking for a more visceral resemblance of acceleration.

      The Wurlitzer juke-box styling details of these cars can only be appreciated for what they are: excessive ornamentation.”
      This is what you wrote , Paul , to burst my bubble.

  • avatar
    geeber

    The comparison of the old four-door hardtops to today’s four-door “coupes” is quite clever and one that had never occurred to me. These cars have loads of character, although I believe that they look better with two-tone paint schemes.

    I do believe that all Chrysler Corporation divisions – Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial – offered four-door hardtops for 1956. Lincoln was the laggard here – it’s all-new 1956 models didn’t include a four-door hardtop. That wouldn’t come until 1957.

    Interestingly, Rambler took the concept to the next level in 1956 by offering both a hardtop sedan and a hardtop station wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      These cars have loads of character, although I believe that they look better with two-tone paint schemes.

      With that side chrome, they were made for tu-tone.

    • 0 avatar
      Spike_in_Irvine

      I remember lots of 2 tone cars in the 60s. It was an upmarket option. Are there any two tones available today? I can only think of a mini with a white roof.

    • 0 avatar
      AccAzda

      Only other Two Tone cars I can place currently.. is the Flex.. and they charge an arm n leg for it.

      Then again..
      To get the two tone done right in a Mini Cooper.. is pricey.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      You can get tu-tone on some Ford, Chev/GMC and Dodges, but again, there’s an extra charge.

      But then, it’s only a very tepid strip of a contrasting/complimetary colour usually at the bottom.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      You can get tu-tone on some Ford, Chev/GMC and Dodge trucks, but again, there’s an extra charge.

      But then, it’s only a very tepid strip of a contrasting/complimetary colour usually at the bottom.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      …I believe that they look better with two-tone paint schemes.

      To heck with two-tone color schemes; in ’56 you could have a three-tone scheme:

      1956 Buick Roadmaster Riviera

  • avatar
    h82w8

    Paul, not sure how you’d substantiate your comment re: the ’49 GM coupes catching the rest of the industry off guard. I always thought the ’49 Fords and Mercs were considered industry style leaders in those years, catching the rest of Detroit off guard with their “fenderless” styling and compact proportions, which GM didn’t fully embrace until ’55.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Specifically in regards to two door hardtops; the Caddy and Olds 98 were the first in ’49.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    The Century also spawned one of the most drop dead gorgeous station wagons ever made, the Caballero. Imagine that, a four-door hardtop station wagon. Has there ever been a more beautiful wagon than that?

    http://www.denker.cz/oldtimer/1957_Buick_Century_Caballero_Estate_Wagon.jpg

    On the question of the CLS-fad of today, Buick wasn’t first. There are strong connections to the European Sports Saloon, and the American Closed Couple Sedan of the thirties. A style that Jaguar brought forward, to this day.

    http://image.automotive.com/f/features/news/9518204+pheader/0805_13z+1932_daimler_double_six_sports_saloon.jpg

  • avatar

    Thanks Paul, any 50s car story about something other than a 567 Chevy is a treat. Throw hubcaps on that beast and it is a complete package for a low investment hobby car.

  • avatar
    AccAzda

    God..

    What a beautiful car to look at.
    I would have gotten it confused with the Roadmaster… and would have had to do some work to find a Buick of similar year, with 4drs and a V8.

    Now..
    What Id like to know is..
    Isn’t the biggest difference between a CLS and the Buick (besides the years separating them, the origins of the parent companies and the door / frame issues of the vehicle) being the fact that there is a massive slope behind the passengers of the 2nd set of doors?

    Isn’t that the whole point of the niche?

    To have the styling of the coupe` albiet with 4drs.

    Like taking a 00 Accord coupe, stretching it.. and adding an extra set of doors, instead of building the sedan version.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Did “they” paint the wheels red on all fifties’ cars? It seems every time I’ve seen any without the hubcaps, their wheels have been red.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      Not all were red, but the steelies were painted in complementary colours. Our Buick was two-tone green and had dark green wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      Juniper

      I think Red was a common Hot Rod Mod of the day. I like it!
      But stock wheels did match the car body color IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      It’s a current rat rod fad. I view it as code for “I can’t afford to do the restoration that this vehicle deserves.” If the car is too rough to restore on your budget, spray it with black primer, paint the wheels red, cover the seat springs with a saddle blanket and call it done.

    • 0 avatar
      aamj50

      Not all old cars need or “deserve” a 100 point restoration. I would rather see a red-wheeled, blue-light portholed ’50s Buick on the road than a gleaming, factory-fresh looking one on a trailer.

  • avatar
    Monty

    Thanks Paul!

    This is what I grew up with. We had that exact car, other than ours was two-tone green, when I was a wee lad. In ’58, my dad traded a 57 Chev wagon and some serious cash (I can’t remember exactly how much) to upgrade to the ’56 Buick. We had it until ’61, when he got a Valiant, and was that ever a disappointment compared to the Buick, even to a young child! A four door hardtop Buick still commanded respect, even if it was 4 or 5 years old. It meant we had moved up in the world.

    I recall that it had a “Wonderbar” radio; it would always select the strongest signal, IIRC.

    I can still remember my mother inadvertently slamming the car door on my hand, 50 years later!

    Those were the days! No seatbelts, a metal dashboard and no door locks (you couldn’t open the doors from outside of the car when they locks were engaged, but you could open the door from the inside with the lock engaged) it’s a wonder we survived our childhoods back then.

    My love affair with Buick started with this car. I’m going to sort through the collection of pictures to see if I can find any of the car to post.

  • avatar
    Ivanho

    I purchased a cream puff 77 New Yorker 4 DR Hardtop in 1986 and I know the 78 models were practically identical. The 79s were conventional sedans as I recall. Regarding Dynaflo, my favorite drive in 50 years of driving so far was a straight through trip from Pittsburgh, PA to Tampa, FL in a 63 Buick Electra 225 4 DR Hardtop with 4 barrel carb and 3 drivers. The acceleration was neck snapping and the ride was so smooth it was like flying a jet fighter. No air conditioning but we didn’t expect it in those days. I haven’t felt a ride that smooth since but I have never owned a Buick. That one belonged to my brother-in-law.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Nice ride you have there, Ivanho. I have a 78 NY’ER 2 door, that doesn’t have the St. Regis roof treatment, just the standard vinyl top.
    I plan to get a 4 door also, when finances permit. What I would really like to get is a 74-5 Imperial. Same car but I love the Imperial name.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    That pristine 56 Century hardtop sedan looks elegant. Quite impressive in black. The missing wheel covers dsiplay the popular Buick option of painted red road wheels. The side view shows the nice proportions, the 4 big veniports, the beltline dip and Buick’s trade-mark side-sweep trim mouldings. Another uniquely odd feature on the 55, 56 and 57 Buicks were model year graphics on the front grill medallions. In those heyday years of planned obsolescence, it almost seemed counter-productive. The 4-door hardtop proved to be a minor triumph of form over function. The windows usually didn’t fit very well, causing wind and water leaks. Hard to allign properly during assembly, they quickly fell out of adjustment in actual use. Because of the thick rubber widow seals they required, the side windows were often very hard to crank up and down by hand (fewer than half had ‘lecky windows). And lacking a B pillar, the bodies were audibly creaky, squeaky and flexible. To make matter worse, they appeared right around the time of the new Interstates. Only a true convertible is windier on a freeway that the backseat of a hardtop with all the windows down. It was an answer to a question few were asking. All they had going for them were the good looks.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Cadillac went one better with the year labeling than Buick (as it had to, I suppose), putting a flamboyant “Nineteen Fifty Six” script emblem on the dash directly in front of the passenger.

      This was surely one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. How glorious for everyone to see at a glance that you have a BRAND NEW CAR! Uhhh, except that a few months later, it loudly proclaimed to the world that you were driving LAST YEAR’S CAR. Oops.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Oh, I don’t know that people care all that much about others knowing they drive an older car. I see a great many cars with dealer license plate frames from the dealer of another brand, a dead giveaway that the car was bought used.

  • avatar

    Another informative CC, Paul. Does anyone know if this was the only year the Buick series badging featured the model year?

    • 0 avatar
      Johnster

      Yeah, this was the only year that the model year was displayed on the exterior trim. I read that both Buick dealers and owners complained to GM about it and the practice was stopped. Would-be buyers and owners would be embarrassed in a few years that automotive know-nothings could look at the car and see how old it was by the badging, and dealers who were concerned about lower resale value on the cars in the future.

  • avatar
    50merc

    I don’t know what you mean by “fully incorporate” but Ford and Mercury did have four door hardtops in 1956. Quite handsome, I think.
    A picture of a ’56 Mercury Montclair Phaeton is at:

    http://www.hubcapcafe.com/ocs/pages01/merc5604.htm

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Do people retrofit belts (or good belts) into cars like these? On the one hand, I can understand not wanting to modify an original car – on the other hand, I can understand not wanting to have my head used as a window removal tool in a minor traffic accident…

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I’m not sure safety regs killed four door hardtops, as they were dropped long before side airbags (actually, before any airbags) and long before side impact protection efforts turned every car into an armored car. I think it’s a case of the Interstate Highway System influencing car design. Driving a four door hardtop with all four windows open is quite pleasant at speeds up to about 45-50, and cools off the car quickly on all but the muggiest days. At 65-70 or above, the noise is deafening and the rear seat passengers are in a perpetual hurricane. In 1956, the Interstate Highway Act had just been passed. By the early 70′s, enough of the system was in place that interstate travel was commonplace, and cities not named Los Angeles were becoming ringed and crisscrossed by freeways, so everyday trips to work or shopping were taking place at highway speeds. More and more, buyers wanted quiet air conditioned cars. That’s exactly when pillarles hardtops started dying out.

  • avatar
    jplane

    That is one beautiful car.

  • avatar

    @PeriSoft
    My parents had (lap) seat belts installed in the ’57 Chevy, front and rear, in 1960 or 1961. I don’t know how good they were–but I’m really glad our lives never depended on them. I think we also had front belts only installed on the ’57 Plymouth. We had front three pointers installed in front in ’66 in the ’63 Chevy II (when we bought the car) and in the ’62 Falcon, acquired in late ’69 or early ’70.

    This car has wonderfully expressive style, and very interesting about the slushboxes. I remember that burbling.

    • 0 avatar
      50merc

      It was ’59 or ’60 I installed front seat belts in my James Dean Mercury. (Actually, Dean had nothing to do with my purchase. I just happened to have the $175 it cost.) The belts came from some mail-order house, maybe J. C. Whitney, and when they arrived I saw why they’d been advertised as heavy duty. They were Air Force surplus; belts intended for military aircraft. Installing safety belts was the sanest thing I did with that car. Somehow I survived the teen years.

      Agree with others about the Buick. It’s gorgeous. 1956 was a great year for Detroit.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      My 63 Valiant came with aftermarket seat belts. And two different styles. Someone somewhere along the line made a budget mod that I have used every time I’ve driven the car for the last 30 years.

      It’s a Signet 2 door hardtop: and it’s body is almost as willowy as a convertible.

      Surprising that the style lasted as long as it did, but in the period “styling” was the #1 or #2 consideration in the purchase of a new car.

      The drafts, rattles and looseness of a hardtop body as opposed to it’s road prescence and making the neighbors drool were worth the drawbacks, especially if an actual convertible was just too impractical.

      GM made the potential for sealing problems even worse in 65 with frameless front door glass that pressed against weatherstripping in the roof and the rear window glass. But it looked great

      And who cared after 3 years and it was time to trade?

      This is a beautiful car, Mr N. I sure look forward to your CCs

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Within a couple of years, this trend blew itself out in the garish and unpopular 1958 models. The Buicks were the worst on the market in that rock-bottom year, and it tumbled them right out of the coveted number three spot.

    Garishness is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. I’d give a nod to the ’58 Olds as being the worst in that rock-bottom year. Hard to say though – the competition was keen.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    I think the Mercury Marquis and Ford counterpart (LTD?) had four door hardtops through 1978.

    Beautiful car in the picture.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    The last pillarless 4-door Fords and Mercurys were in 1974. They were restyled in ’75; while the frameless glass remained through ’78, all 4-doors had a center pillar.

    @mytmsi:I think the Mercury Marquis and Ford counterpart (LTD?) had four door hardtops through 1978.

    Beautiful car in the picture.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Looking at the side profile, one first notices the grandly wrought “sweep-spear”, but there’s something more interesting to be found. As we see new designs showing a hitch in the beltline (witness the Lincoln MKT and the concept Honda Odyssey) I love the little curley-cue used to resolve the beltline jump in the middle of the rear door. Elegent, whimsical, and totally impossible today.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I never owned one of these, but drove one in the late 60′s as a loaner for a couple of days while my main driver at the time was getting the transmission rebuilt. The thing that amazed me about it was that there weren’t many cues of increasing speed, and I found myself going well over the speed limit on the freeway without having quite realized it.

    I remember them as being even worse rusters than 1957-59 Mopars; In front of a wrecking yard in Tacoma I saw one that had rusted out all along both rockers and most of the way around the rear wheel cutout. It had to have come from Detroit or someplace like that. Nevertheless I think it’s remarkable now to find a rust-free one like this feature car.

  • avatar
    Joel

    @Paul- A couple of editing quibbles-”The Special and this Century rode on the smaller 122″ wheelbase; the larger Super and Roadmaster shared a 127′ frame. The Century had a higher trim level, and shared the more powerful 255 hp 322 cubic inch V8 engine with “senior’ Buicks.”

    127′ or ” frame? also, senior has a ” and a ‘ with it.

    Also- “No fake portholes glued on here. These are cast metal, and heavily chromed. This particula car ” Particula needs a an r.

    As to the article itself, it’s just amazing to see where cars have come from, stylistically. I also wonder where we’re going in the future.

  • avatar
    zenith

    I saw a ’57 Century for sale several years ago that had a 3-speed column-shift manual transmission.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    @marlin66: You’re partially right and apparently I’m wrong. The last year for true Ford 4-door hardtops was ’72, subject of a recent CC profile. The ’73 pilared hardtop redesign replaced both fully-framed sedans and traditional 4 door hardtops, just as with GM’s intermediates, also redesigned for ’73. Ford went back to fully-framed door glass with the ’79 Panther platform. The ’78 Chrysler New Yorker sedans only came in the hardtop design, making them the very last of the breed.

    I could have sworn I saw ’73 Ford hardtop sedans in movies and TV shows like the one Crocker drove on Kojak (http://tinyurl.com/ygnnt2n)and maybe in person but apparently it was an optical illusion!

    Author: marlin66
    Comment:
    bomberpete
    “The last pillarless 4-door Fords and Mercurys were in 1974.”

    You might want to check this on Google images. Looks like the last year was 1971. The 72′s were essentially identical, except that they had suddenly sprouted a pillar. You are correct, however, that the frameless door glass continued …
    BTW, 1973 was the year of the significant redesign, and that was the one that lasted until 1978 with mainly front- and rear-end revisions.

    See all comments on this post here:
    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/curbside-classic-1956-buick-century-riviera-four-door-hardtop/#comments

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  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You really did see a pillarless 4 door 73 ford, bomberpete. I remember my 6th grade teacher owning a 73 galaxie 4 door pillarless hardtop, and I also remember seeing them on tv shows and in movies.
    I know that chevy also still had 4 door pillarless hardtops in 73, because our neighbors had a loaded white 73 caprice 4 dr pillarless hardtop.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      GM offered four-door hardtops in its full-size cars through the 1976 model year (just prior to downsizing): Click here for 1976 Chevy Caprice brochure image; scroll down to see the hardtop. Curiously, Chevrolet didn’t offer two-door hardtops in that same year, but it appears that its sister divisions may have (Pontiac being one).

      Ford switched to “pillared hardtops” on both two- and four-door full-size models at some point in the mid-70s; as bomberpete noted, these had frameless glass with a very thin B-pillar. In fact, this pillar was so thin as to suggest that its primary purpose was not to provide roof support, but rather to provide a reliable center seal for the side glass. Curiously, the mid-size Torino went without a center pillar on the two-doors until the 1977 model year, when the LTD II replaced it.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Thank you, Moparman and BuzzDog.

    I’m positive that Moparman is right but can’t find what I’m looking for through Google. Does anyone know a source for specific body style production of ’73 and ’74 full-size Fords? That would solve the mystery.

    ’73 was the last year of the true two-door full-sized hardtop at GM. They were probably getting worried about rollover standards.The ’74 through ’76 GM full-sized coupes all had a fixed pillar and rear window.

    By the way, calling that ’76 Caprice hardtop a “sport sedan” is pretty funny. I guess they didn’t have the chutzpah to call a 160-hp, 4500-lb. car an “SS,” huh? Great stuff, thanks for posting.

  • avatar
    marlin66

    The more I looked back, the more confused I got!!

    I found both pillared and pillarless 4-door hardtops for 1972.

    http://www.mercuryarchive.com/1969to1972/

    So I thought that with the 1973 redesign, they lost the pillarless hardtop. However, on the same site I also found a pillarless ’73

    http://www.mercuryarchive.com/1973to1978/1973MarquisAirline.jpg

    Unless that photo was airbrushed, maybe they did last until the end of ’74…..!?!

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Thanks, Marlin66. I also found some proof:

    http://www.lovefords.org/tech/production/74.htm

    For anyone still following this somewhat arcane discussion, “real” hardtop sedan production at Ford had been dropping each year throughout the Seventies. It’s not hard to see why the 4-door FoMoCo hardtops were all gone for 1975.

    1974 Ford full-size production was 281,000 for hardtop sedans with the pillar (Custom 500 cheapie/fleet through LTD Brougham trim levels). For non-pillar hardtops (Galaxie 500 through LTD Brougham trim levels), it was just 34,000.

    Those figures are part of a total of just over 562,000 full-size Fords produced in 1974. Pretty amazing numbers, especially because Chevy Belair/Impala/Caprice numbers were even higher and the energy shortage killed full-sized sales that year.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    While you guys are still on the subject of hardtops, chevy still had a 4 door pillarless model in 76, our minister owned one. It was a caprice, but I believe they had an impala version also. If I remember correctly I think the fullsize buick, olds and pontiacs still had pillarless 4 doors through 75 or 6.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      If I remember correctly I think the fullsize buick, olds and pontiacs still had pillarless 4 doors through 75 or 6.

      It was 1976, and brochures of the era show that Cadillac also offered a four-door hardtop in the Sedan DeVille series. And you’re correct; Chevrolet also offered a “Sport Sedan” (hardtop) in the Impala series through ’76.

      Bomberpete, you may be on to something: Low sales volumes may have contributed to the death of hardtops as much as any fear of government rollover regulations. GM discontinued full-size, two-door hardtops started with the 1974 model year, but four-doors (which had thinner C-pillars) stayed on for three more model years.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    That’s right, BuzzDog. The downsized GM A-cars in 1977 all had framed side glass, which contributed to their body rigidity plus it probably saved weight and made manufacturing more efficient. And I’m sure falling sales of hardtops was a factor too.

    Interestingly, though, the downsized 2-door midsized cars of 1978 and luxury cars of 1979 (Eldo/Riv/Toronado) had frameless glass.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      I think they did that more to cut down on wind noise and better water sealing.

      I’ve got a ’77 Chevelle sedan with the b-pillar and frameless glass, it leaks water somewhat, and has a fair amount of wind noise at speed, but more road noise than anything else.

      It also has the bad habit of clipping you under the chin if you are getting into the back seat with the window up, since it curves inward a fair amount.

      I don’t think the ’77 B-bodies (which I think you are referrering to) are as stiff as the 73-77 A-bodies, but they are stiffer than the 71-76 B-bodies.

      The two door A/G bodies (Malibu/El Camino/Monte Carlo) from 78-88 are all frameless glass, and those are as stiff as a wet noodle.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Moparman426W there is a nice 75 Imperial for sale in Saskatchewan. Do a suitable google search, you will find it.

    It is is amazing how cheaply four doors of this vintage can be had, even when in good shape. For those of you into 50s cars on a budget and have the ability to do some mechanical due diligence you can still do quite well.

  • avatar
    NickR

    There’s also a 49 Roadmaster for sale…needs resto, but someone has to rise to the occasion.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Thanks very much for the info, NickR. Things are a little tight right now, but I’m going to check it out. :o)

  • avatar
    NickR

    “Things are a little tight right now”

    Joining my club are you? :)

  • avatar
    decg31

    Interesting discussion. But while the last US pillarless ht sedan was the ’78 Chrysler, there were several JDM vehicles built in this bodystyle long afterwards. My guess is the last pillarless ht sedan built was the 1991 Y31 series Nissan Cedric & Gloria.

    Also, I strongly suspect the actual inspiration for the CLS was the 1962 Rover P5 3 Litre Coupe. But in a way I suppose that links it to the 4dr ht configuration as I believe that Rover had originally intended the Coupe to be pillarless but between them and Pressed Steel, they couldn’t figure out how to engineer the body.

  • avatar
    andre1969

    Interesting thread…I’ve always loved 4-door hardtops, although I’ve only owned one, a 1969 Pontiac Bonneville that was pretty beat-up by the time I got ahold of it.

    As far as I know, the last “true” 4-door hardtop was the 1978 New Yorker and Newport. A friend of mine had a Newport back in the 1990′s. It was lost when an early 1990′s Accord tried to cut him off to make a last-minute turn into a parking lot, and he T-boned it. He probably punched in that Accord about two feet on the passenger side. His car was made un-driveable, but for fairly minor reasons. First, the fender buckled just enough to encroach on the front tire, and after that Accord got impaled on the front of his car, they hopped a curb and it bent his back axle pretty severely. It’s a miracle nobody got hurt, even though there was a passenger in the front seat of the Accord!

    Did the Japanese ever make a “true” 4-door hardtop with no B-pillar? I’ve seen some of them where they look like a hardtop, with frameless windows, but they do have a thin B-pillar. With tinted windows, or glare from the sun, it could obscure the pillar. I googled some pics of the Nissan Cedric and Gloria, and they actually look like those “thin pillar” models.

    Oh, one other tidbit…Chrysler actually did have a full line of 4-door hardtops in 1956, from Plymouth to Imperial. However, they didn’t have the funds to make a whole new body, so they just took the B-pillar and window frames out of the 4-door sedan, and made do. It had some advantages, such as good headroom and roomy interior, but they tended to leak and rattle. Ford and Mercury had 4-door hardtops in 1956 as well, but I don’t think Lincoln would get one until 1957. Nash also got a hardtop sedan out for 1956, both as a Rambler and a big Nash, which was probably a pretty quick reaction time for an independent maker.

    • 0 avatar
      bugo

      I’ve never heard of a 1956 full sized Nash 4 door hardtop.

    • 0 avatar
      andre1969

      Oops…yeah, I goofed up on that. There never was a full-sized Nash (or Hudson) 4-door hardtop. The hardtop coupe has an upright roofline and a large enough rear window that, at a quick glance (or a low-res enough picture) it might look like a 4-door hardtop. I might have seen a pic like that, and mistaken it for a 4-door hardtop.

    • 0 avatar
      decg31

      Yes, there were several Japanese true 4 door pillarless hardtops in the 70′s and 80′s, with no concealed B pillar. The ones from the 80s have roof mounted 3 point seatbelts. I think you are looking at the Y32 and onward Cedric and Gloria, which did have concealed B pillars. Witness this ad for the Cedric: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34o_37sGwEc&feature=related


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