By on August 5, 2020

A bout of insomnia last night left you author with plenty of free time to mull things over, staring at the blank ceiling above. For whatever reason, the unplanned sleeplessness saw this addled mind focus on the year 2011.

Did anything exciting occur that year? Nothing on this end, if memory serves, but it did seem to mark the end of a uniquely American tradition.

We’re talking aftermarket tops today. 2011 was the final model year for two holdouts in the non-factory vinyl top/carriage roof tradition: the Lincoln Town Car and Cadillac DTS.

The recollection that kicked this off was a stay at a dumpy Providence, Rhode Island motel back in the spring of 2002, where I noticed, while returning from the store with a fresh pack of Marlboros, a green Chevrolet Corsica sporting an aftermarket black vinyl top. It remains, to this day, the only time I’ve ever seen that model so equipped.

Coating a roof in canvas gave some owners of largely pedestrian autos a silent thrill, allowing them to express a refined air to passers-by. This is no ordinary Buick Century, they telegraphed to other drivers, and no ordinary driver, either. Yet as time marched on and rooflines became increasingly less formal, and as memories of luxed-up factory models with padded scalps receded, the roof treatment faded from the landscape. The last-generation Buick LeSabre seems to have been a particularly willing host for such roofs, thought the aforementioned Town Car and DTS seemed the most likely to wear such hats, for obvious reasons. Their demise brought the end of an interesting era.

Or did it?

What’s the most-recent model you’ve spotted bearing such a roof?

[Image: Murilee Martin/TTAC]

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44 Comments on “QOTD: Put a Lid on It?...”

  • avatar

    It has to be the XTS right?

    Theoretically there could be a new 2019 so equipped still on a dealer lot somewhere in Florida.

    • 0 avatar

      In the Chicago area there are still plenty of dealers who’ll add a carriage vinyl top to your ATS/CTS/etc. It’s still a “thing” for certain buyers to broughamify anything Cadillac

      • 0 avatar

        yep, i live in Chiraq and this is def truth. Even the latest Camry is not immune here.

        But… this one, such a beautiful design, just completely ruined. From more late model cars, i think this one takes the cake —->>–/YXBwaWQ9eW5ld3M7cT04NTt3PTYzMA–/

  • avatar

    I suffered from insomnia last night too, but not due to the awful, vinyl, brougham-y cars that shouldn’t be. I hate that stuff, all of it, but especially on down market cars or foreign cars. But I just recently saw a recent Camry (2018 at least) with that treatment.

    To me, the last car that looked fine wearing a vinyl toupee was squa-aero Town Car last built in 1997 or its GM colleague the Fleetwood. Later Devilles and DTS or whatever aren’t terrible, but still not a appropriate as older cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep- actually saw a prior gen Toyota Camry with one- stood out, but not in a good way.

      As a young kid we had a Caprice Classic Brougham with the full padded vinyl roof. With how quiet it was (especially in rain storms and car washes), to a kid, riding in any car without it felt like you were riding with poor people! Haha!

      But yeah, with the more formal roof shapes and ‘old school luxury’ going away, these just don’t fit in any more.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen an XT6 with one and it was freaking awful.

    The Vogue tires and stick-on chrome set is still alive and kicking. It’s in terrible taste, and they should feel bad.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 82 full-size 2-door LTD had that… a white vinyl roof on a white car, with red velour interior. Yeah.

    • 0 avatar

      Speaking of Ford, I think the height of their distasteful vinyl-ing was the 80-82 Thunderbird Town Landau.

      • 0 avatar

        And the Mercury (Cougar) version was even worse.

        look at the overall mass of this top treatment, those louvered opera windows and the resulting blob of a blind spot.


  • avatar

    Some dealers use a vinyl roof to cover hail damage. I bought a new, hail damaged Buick LeSabre in 1989, dealer had put a vinyl roof on. I later had a new hood installed. Car looked sharp then. Great car by the way.

    • 0 avatar

      I spent the summer of 1995 working at a shop that installed sim-con and vinyl tops. Hail damage at a dealership? Paint a new hood and trunk, wrap the roof, sell it as a premium trim.

      PDR shops have killed that game, these days.

  • avatar

    Locally here in the land of retired folks (south FL) landau roofs were put onto Camrys often. These same cars had gold trim & emblems. I believe this was a made-up dealer package in the late 90s. You still occasionally see such Camrys cruising around town.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like a Southeast Toyota Distributors special. Depending where you are in FL, your area may be serviced by SET. I sold Toyotas in Atlanta back in the early 90’s, we had tons of these “Jim Moran” specials. Corollas with full padded vinyl roofs, stand up hood ornaments, gold plated emblems, etc.

      It was especially attractive on a 1988 Corolla…

  • avatar

    Is this going to lead to reviewing a bunch of Amazon offerings for sale?

    That would be interesting! I wonder if there are any that would fit my 2001 Tundra.

  • avatar

    Having lived through the vinyl roof era, there was a brief time in the late 70-early 80’s where they’d do a half roof, just the back bit by the C pillar. This looked OK (Pontiac Grand Prix, others0 but like all things American has to be dialed up to 11, good or not.

    This combines the worst of convertible with the worst of hardtop. I’ve also never seen a car of that era which survived to today NOT get rust on the roof, one of the only places in the salty northeast (snow ? In Alaska ? Hit our roads, it might come here..) you don’t get rot.

    • 0 avatar

      I had such a Grand Prix. The formal roofs of the era were designed to accommodate those demi-vinyl roof caps and looked fine, but when you vinylize a roof that has no definition between it and the body of the car it looks weird

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a car with a vinyl roof, but not what you’d think.

    In 1988, my first car was a charcoal grey 1983 Honda Accord hatch. For some reason the PO had installed a wide swath of light grey vinyl on the roof, front to back several inches in from the sides. It was subtle, and did not resemble a brougham or faux convertible in any way.

    It didn’t look bad, but it didn’t really make sense either. I guess it was the precursor to kids wrapping the top of their cars in vinyl film these days.

  • avatar

    I had a 1973 Merc Montego, coppertone body, with white top and tan interior. It was a lumbering gas hog back in the OPEC days. But it rode like a boat and handled like one too.

  • avatar

    Like others here, I occasionally see late-model Camrys with dealer add-on vinyl roofs.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I owned two cars with vinyl roofs. A 70 Mustang coupe with the optional Western trim package in ginger. The roof didn’t wear too well and I gave it a dye job that helped preserve it. The 74 Cougar XR-7 I owned in sliver had the landau roof in maroon with the opera windows. It held up well due to the occasional Armor all treatment.
    My mom had a 72 Dodge Dart Swinger in Richard Petty blue with a white vinyl roof. It would get dingy but with a good bleach mix or vinyl top cleaner look fresh.

  • avatar

    I’d like to see the half vinyl roof done on a crew cab pickup. Unlimited market opportunity!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I much preferred the half vinyl (landau?) roof to the full vinyl roof.

    The best being the Mark IV Pucci. After that the 1978 T-Bird.
    Believe that the Cordoba and Grand Prix SJ also had half vinyl roofs.

    The Gran Torino Elite despite being the precursor to the T-Bird had a full vinyl roof. As did both Chevrolet Caprice Classics (full sized and downsized models).

    So I have owned more than my share of broughamed PLCs.

    As to the last one that I have seen on the road. Sorry it mustn’t have registered.

    • 0 avatar

      I knew you had several, from your short shorts days as you said!

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Tom Selleck wore the short shorts and knee high tube sox in the 1980s’. We ‘trend setters’ wore them in the mid to late 70’s as casual wear. With a pair of blue Adidas SL76’s like Paul Michael Glasser wore in Starsky and Hutch.

        More formal/dress up attire being a 3 piece suit. As worn by Telly Savalas (Kojak) and John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever). Often with some two-tone platform shoes.

        In between attire would include nice velour pullover shirt with a gold chain and bulky digital watch.

        All quite fitting with the style of a broughamed PLC.

    • 0 avatar

      In between Cadillacs, for a short time in the ’70s… my Mom had a Ford Elite. it was loaded and in triple chocolate brown. being obsessed with cars since 4yo, as with all her cars, i remember it well. it most def had an OEM thickly padded landau vinyl roof with nice dual opera windows in a Cadillac Elk-grain style material.

      i’ve have seen them both ways, and the full roofs even varied with diff levels of pad and types of grain, somewhat like Cadillac’s Tuxedo vs Elk grain roofs. it all somehow must of been related to certain equipment or optional packages at the time.

  • avatar

    What looks worst to me are the aftermarket vinyl tops that are installed on cars that have doors that wrap into the roof. Nothing like seeing 4 cutouts for doors in a fake vinyl convertible top to really sell the idea as convincing.

    Also, seeing a fake convertible top on a car with a glass sunroof just makes me smile.

    I’ve seen a couple “recent” (last 10 years) Camry’s with vinyl tops. Also a few XTS’s, a few of the current 300’s (thank God mine doesn’t have one), and a couple of the most-recent Tauruses.

    • 0 avatar

      Diamond in the back
      Sunroof top
      Makin the scene with the gangster lean

    • 0 avatar

      haha! yep gotta love a power moonroof on a canvas fake full convertible top. even better when complete with ‘bar effect’ inserts underneath the material to really fool people.

      check below on ’28-cars’ post. i linked a car just like you mentioned with the material wrapped around the upper roof sections of the doors. really bad.

  • avatar

    My first car (early 80’s) was a 1968 Thunderbird [coupe!] with a vinyl roof and landau bars.

    Postulated: It’s not a landau if it doesn’t have landau bars.

    Curb weight > 4500 lbs (less steel lost to the rusting rear quarter panels – there was a common moisture problem), which means:
    -> My first car weighed more than any vehicle I’ve owned/leased since.

    By the late 80’s, the vinyl roof was in much better shape than the paint. (It was relatively thick/tough with an embossed alligator-ish pattern.)

    You think you don’t like landau bars? Many, many Americans take their ‘last ride’ in a vehicle with landau bars.

    • 0 avatar

      Love those late 60s Thunderbird 4-door landaus that took half the roof with them when you opened the rear suicide doors

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      In the early 80’s I answered an ad for a 1968 Thunderbird coupe in medium blue with a black vinyl roof and landau bars. The owner had it in a barn, so I thought hmmm, barn find but it was a bit more worn than I expected with the quarters starting to rot out.

  • avatar

    I once caught a white LS400 with a tan one and a gold emblem “Palm Beach Edition”. Best broughamization ever.

    • 0 avatar

      ‘Palm Beach Edition’ indeed. yikes.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I love this.Reminds me of visits to my Wife;s Florida relatives in the 80s

  • avatar

    I want to say the most recent car I’ve seen with the eye-searingly ugly vinyl roof was one of the rulers and protractors Cadillacs. I can’t recall any further detail about it.

    When I was in high school I briefly had a 1991 LeSabre with a fairly ratty vinyl roof. Looked like crap, but it was fairly cheap. I spent more replacing the stainless steel brake lines that had rusted through in the 6 months the prior owners had it parked next to a snow bank.

    I generally liked the car but the driver’s side doors were rusted shut, or were in some other recalcitrant when it came to opening. Luckily it had bench seats.

  • avatar

    My first car, a ’78 Lebaron coupe had a vinyl top. It was rotting away and causing the roof below to rust. Would have rather had a solid painted top myself.

  • avatar

    I actually saw one recently parked on the Main St. It was the white Honda Odyssey with matching white vinyl top, opera windows and red velour interior. Oh and gold wire wheels. It was a jaw-dropping experience.

  • avatar

    My DD was a 92 Cutlass Supreme with a vinyl “brougham” top complete with limo lights. Very tastefully done. The non landaus almost looked naked in comparison. I occasionally see a last gen Chrysler 300 with similar treatments t on my morning commute. Definitely not ugly but not something I’d spend money on.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I had 4 cars with half vinyl roofs (landau) and 2 of them I had to remove the vinyl because they were rusting under the roof. Just as glad that that fad is gone along with thick side chrome molding, white wall tires, and wire wheel covers. All those things required more maintenance and didn’t look that good if you didn’t take care of them. Less can be better.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Personally I wish that manufacturers would bring back the chrome or vinyl strip along the side to protect against door ‘dings’.

      They did in fact work.

      But then as posted before, I also wish that they would also bring back ‘drip rails’ along the roofline, ‘vent’ windows and ‘hideaway/pop-up’ headlights.

  • avatar

    On the other side of the vinyl roof coin…

    I think when the tops are done right as part of the total design, such as my own ’79 here where I actually prefer the factory top vs slick (unless an Elegante’ package), and combined with OEM stainless trim, side moldings, correct whitewalls & wires… it presents a cohesive and solid era-correct look.

    Zoom in & have a look. maybe you’ll agree —->>

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak

    My Dads 1967 Oldsmobile Holiday Coupe, Pale Yellow with Black Vinyl. He said it was a ‘Speed’ Roof. Apparently Nascar racers found, the surface smoothed the airflow over the roof. Like a dimpled Golf Ball?

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