By on February 21, 2017

1969 Chrysler New Yorker (Alden Jewell/Flickr)

Those who know me well — the lucky souls who’ve plumbed the deepest depths of my dark psyche and returned alive — know my strange and beautiful lust for 1970s land yachts. It needn’t be seen as a weird kink. I mean, who doesn’t like vast swaths of interior room, pillowed velour, and a narcolepsy-inducing ride? Weirdos, most likely.

If two sad, motherless puppies ever crawled their way to my doorstep, shivering and scared, I’d immediately rename them Brougham and Landau, and I don’t care who knows it.

As full-size cars shrink in popularity, the cues of those past Interstate barges — padded roofs, opera windows, flip-up headlights — are nowhere to be seen in today’s automotive landscape. Another common feature of those overstuffed rides, one that rose to prominence in the heady 1950s and met its death before the end of the 1970s, currently occupies an endangered micro niche.

I’m talking about the missing B-pillar. Yes, the alluring and illustrious pillarless hardtop.

In coupe and four-door sedan guise, the pillarless look implied a luxurious step up from the stodgy, pillared fare occupying the bottom-rung trims. Every automaker took to it at one time or another.

While the pillarless look, especially in sedan form, provided more sun and air for occupants — especially rear-seat passengers — the svelte look did nothing to help side-impact crash or rollover protection. Once three-point seatbelts came on the scene, the open-air look was spoiled by long straps affixed to the interior roofline.

Those weren’t the only drawbacks. By its very nature, a pillarless hardtop offers up less weatherstripping, meaning more opportunities for annoying leaks (especially as a vehicle grows old).

2015-s-class-coupe-ch06-d

For a myriad of reasons, including a downsizing trend and a move towards less ornate designs, true hardtops disappeared from the domestic landscape during the Carter administration. The 1978 Chrysler New Yorker, still wearing a body from 1974, was the last four-door offered without a B-pillar. Personal luxury coupes from the Detroit Three soldiered on into the early 1980s with no B-pillar. However, as with lesser models that shunned the post — including the Plymouth Sapporo and Toyota Corolla — the rearmost side glass was fixed, meaning no fully open sides.

That left the Germans, Mercedes-Benz specifically, to carry the torch. Which it did, admirably, through the 1980s and 90s. Who doesn’t turn and stare when a vintage (and obtainable!) 280 CE or 300 CD coupe drives past? Who doesn’t appreciate the lines of any model ending in “SEC”? For those who have never owned one, we can only dream of the easy shoulder checks an absent B-pillar could bring.

The long-gone BMW 8 Series continued the pillarless trend in a more upscale fashion, though the flame returned solely to Benz when that model died at the end of the 1990s. Now, we have the sleek E-Class and S-Class coupes to remind us of a bodystyle that once roamed free, and in big numbers.

Will it ever return on this side of the Atlantic? The feature is, along with suicide doors, a go-to trait for concept car designers in Detroit and elsewhere, but the buying public isn’t about to be bestowed with a Buick Avista. Clearly, it creates an impression. However, with coupes — and cars in general — falling out of favor, it’s likely that all the high-strength steel, seat-mounted belts and innovative airbags won’t be enough for American automakers to bring true hardtops back from the dead.

The question to you, Best and Brightest is: should they? Besides opining whether it’s worth it for an automaker to take the pillarless plunge, answer us this. Would you care if they did, even at all?

[Image: Alden Jewell/Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Mercedes-Benz]

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51 Comments on “QOTD: Is There Still Appeal in Going Pillarless?...”


  • avatar
    John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

    I would care.
    I can’t promise I’d care enough to buy it, but a hardtop coupe is sexy. Sedan, not so much.

    My favorite PLC is the later Olds B body with the formal roof and little side windows. I like it the way it is, but on other cars, yes its worth the trouble for visual aesthetics alone.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    My god, yes. Pillarless would get me to pay too much for an impractical car. Especially a pillarless sedan. But the engineering issues are considerable, and get more so as safety standards get stricter and consumer expectations about quiet get higher. Most makers will get more benefit from focusing their engineering chops on other things.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    That New Yorker is fab.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    There were some beautiful pillar-less coupes/sedans/wagons “were” being the operative term.

    To me this feels like an idea whose time has come and gone.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      Gotta think this has implications for rollover testing.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Think how thick the A and C pillars would be on a reasonably priced pillarless sedan built today.

        It would make a current 300 look light and airy by comparison.

        • 0 avatar
          King of Eldorado

          I would happily choose thinner A-pillars over the no-B-pillar look, especially since you only get the true style when the rear windows are rolled down, and how often is that?

      • 0 avatar
        rpol35

        I believe Big Al is correct, roof strength standards would prohibit such a design unless, I guess, the cars were manufactured in real small numbers. That’s how convertibles survive, albeit, not many in 2017 – their production numbers just aren’t significant enough.

        That said, I’d be interested. I owned several (mostly Chevrolet) back in the day and loved the visibility and openness of appearance.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    With cars being so homogenized and commoditized under the skin, style matters more than ever. I don’t see stuff like this coming back, but I really wish it would.

    Plus with modern tolerances and design, I think the issues stemming from seals and the like could be a lot better mitigated.

  • avatar
    Penaloza

    The missing b-pillar is the only thing from those 70’s land barges that I miss. It is one of my absolute favorite styling elements. Wish it was available on more than just MBs.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      I was disappointed when my folks bought a new 64 Impala 4 door sedan instead of the hardtop. My best friend’s folks had just bought the same car, only in the pillarless hardtop style. I thought ours looked ugly in comparison.

  • avatar
    RangerM

    I like the vent window on the front, as well. Many an A/C-challenged car can be made more comfortable with that feature on a hot day.

    Also, a good way to dispose of one’s cigarette.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “Also, a good way to dispose of one’s cigarette.”

      Heh… just make sure no other windows on that side are open.

      Like brass ejected from some pistols, ciggie butts have an uncanny ability to tunnel down your shirt when the slipstream whacks them back at you.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        Didn’t that happen to that Frankenstein K-car in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?

        • 0 avatar
          CobraJet

          My Dad refused to buy a new 69 GM A-body car because they had done away with the vent wings. He was a smoker. He even was considering a Plymouth Satellite because they still had vent wings. Finally he came across a new 69 Pontiac Lemans 2-door post body on the back lot of our local Pontiac dealership that had vent wings. The post body GM’s had not gone to the ventless look. He made a deal for it immediately. Funny thing, six months later he quit smoking for good.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Let’s not forget that Japan carried the torch through the end of the 1980s. If I had the wallet, I’d go out and bring this home tomorrow:

    http://www.goo-net-exchange.com/usedcars/NISSAN/BLUEBIRD/700054002230170203001/index.html

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Sedan or coupe nothing. What I really want is a four door hardtop in a full size pickup. With a power rear sliding window and sunroof. And a 8 foot box and four wheel drive. Nothing less.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      I’m always surprised that none of the Big 3 have attempted a full-width power rear window like Toyota’s (unless Toyota patented it), and that the new Titan actually shrank its rear window from the sizable 2004 model.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Ford had the roll down rear window in the Explorer Sport Trac strange they never have introduced it on the full size.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I believe both Ford and Chrysler had it in their luxury models… There were a few that had a reverse slant to the back glass, covered by the overhanging roof and typically fastback-style side frames to disguise the re-angled glass. I specifically remember a couple of Lincoln models around the early to mid ’60s and Chrysler/Plymouth luxury models. ((I tried to link an image off of Wikipedia of a ’60 Lincoln that had the roll-down back window and no ‘B’ pillar, but link wouldn’t work.))

        Rare, as I recall, but I do believe it was attempted in several brands and cancelled because it let rain in or something like that.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Back in the day General Motors had quite a few winners, mostly designed by Billy Mitchell.

    My Favorite:

    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/ef/12/39/ef1239ae1c85af0166f60cf2429226f9.jpg

    ’66 Riviera had some nice lines as well.

    Modern materials could easily outlast the weatherstripping from 40 years ago, and it would be nice to see more of this in the future.

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    While not having the B pillar is nice, I really prefer the BONUS of having a window without a frame.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      A bonus to be sure when the windows are down but the rest of the time they’re a pain, leaning down – in the cars when these still existed, way way down – to grab the door by the handle when you’re closing it after getting out gets old even faster than wiping your fingerprints off of the glass every four days did.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    My Dad had had a 1974 Chrysler Newport Hardtop in Burgundy. Talk about a tank!! With two people in the car it weighed close to 5000 pounds!! It made my Grandfather’s fuselage styled 1972 Plymouth Satellite Custom 4 door seem like a lightweight. The Newport was similar in looks to the New Yorker pictured above. It had a 400 CID motor but it still took its time getting to 60 because it was so portly!! It was very comfortable to sit in.
    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/car-show-classic-1974-chrysler-newport-sorry-please-play-again/

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    In a world where crash rigidity and torsional stiffness are king, this will be a good engineering challenge for the boys and girls.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    I think the time has come and gone for the idea, and sticking it on a few high-end coupes is enough. The majority of buyers care more about wind noise and having a crossover than they do about fancy pillarless design.

    The people who do care will pay for the S-Coupe and the like.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It holds little appeal for me except at car cruises; I’m too practical. The same goes for tail fins.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    I had always heard that in the 1930s and 1940s there were a fairly large number of people who bought convertibles because they looked sportier than 2-door sedans. Arguably they had lower-centers of gravity than comparable 2-door sedans. Supposedly, many of the people who bought these convertibles for their styling never put the tops down.

    And the hardtop was designed to appeal to their sense of style, while being a big more practical. (You never had to replace the roof and they had large fixed glass rear windows that didn’t turn yellow or rot out.

    They’re sort of all about style.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      2-door sedans were quite dowdy. They were either bought by cheapskates or young families not yet large or affluent enough to warrant a wagon (in the days before child locks, the best way to keep your kids from opening the door and falling out into traffic was to not give them a door to open).

  • avatar
    gottacook

    “However, as with lesser models that shunned the post — including the Plymouth Sapporo and Toyota Corolla — the rearmost side glass was fixed, meaning no fully open sides.”

    The Mitsubishi coupes sold as the Plymouth Sapporo and Dodge Challenger did have four windows that rolled down, at least in the 1978-80 pre-facelift cars; I drove one for a few days in the 1980s (for Auto Driveaway).

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Pillerless was one of the reasons my father bought the ’64 Riviera, and why I continue to purchase coupes.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    @bluegoose,

    My dad had a 1968 Newport, body looked very similar to one in picture… we use to call it a “tank” also..( because of weight, and was green) His was fast though, it had the 383, and was pre pollution – control…

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    If they offered a pillarless version of a model I was going to buy anyway, I’d choose it, as long as they didn’t go calling it a 4-door coupe. But it wouldn’t be why I chose a car.

    It’s the same with colour interiors. I’d love the option of something other than dungeon black or miasma grey. But I’m not buying a car because of the interior colour.

    That’s why these options no longer exist: lots of people want them, but they’re nobody’s do-or-die.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    I miss the days when a particular model was offered in more than a single body style, as is usually the case today.

    Prior to 1970, a number of popular car models were available in as many as four bodystyles (two-door, four-door, convertible and wagon) – no, make that SIX if you count the two- and four-door hardtops separately from their sedan (center post) counterparts!

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      I’ve been doing a “little” project of side-view pictures of all the cars sold in American markets from 1945-today, and cars from the postwar era through the late ’70s are among the hardest to find good reference pictures for, solely because there were just so many body styles. Especially by the late ’60s/early ’70s, there was always a 4-door sedan and hardtop, but also usually several different versions of the 2-door hardtop (fastback or “normal”), a 2-door sedan, convertible, 4-door wagon, and sometimes 2-door wagon if it was a more compact model. And then there were the yearly refreshes in the front and rear.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      > I miss the days when a particular model was offered in more than a single body style, as is usually the case today.

      +1

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I always liked the “Hardtop” look and probably always will. If you bother to look at many of the crossovers available even today, auto companies go out of their way to disguise the B and C pillars to look like from the front door back is all one single piece of glass, blacked out to the point you can’t tell pillar from window. Some cars have even gone so far as to wrap it around the back to make it look completely pillar-less.

    My favorites, though, were the four-door hardtops with the squareback greenhouse, somewhat common from about ’60-’63. Many of today’s crossovers carry that roof overhang look (is that even functional at all?) but it was somehow more appealing in those old models.http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2013/07/10/15/13/1959_chevrolet_impala-pic-2298601857567270262.jpeg

    But in all honesty, the one I’d want would be the 2-door version: http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2013/08/14/16/14/1959_chevrolet_impala-pic-3187713501956150689.jpeg

  • avatar
    Ermel

    I can understand why nobody does pillarless four-doors anymore. But two-doors should be pillarless, always. In fact, I refer to coupés with a B pillar as “two-door sedans”, much to the annoyance of their owners at times. (No danger of confusion there, as the real two-door sedan is a thing of the past — I can’t think of any that are still in production right now, can you?)

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      The Dodge Challenger is the closest thing to a 2-door Sedan currently on the market. It’s also closer to being a true 2-door sedan than it is to a “pony car.”

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        That’s a good point. I was going to add Mercedes’ C-Class Coupe to that classification, but it’s more similar in profile to the Accord and Civic 2-doors. I *think* the C-Class 2-door has a B-pillar, whereas the E-Class and S-Class don’t.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I would be happy with just more greenhouse in general.

  • avatar
    Wodehouse

    Absolutely, for myself, or, at least make affordable 2 doors with rear side windows that lower. (Dodge Challenger!)

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Oh, hell yes. You just can’t beat how cool a hardtop looks.

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