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February 11 Weekly Open Thread: T Tops

Trans-Am_banditEver since Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, and Jackie Gleason made a little movie with a black Trans Am, T Tops have become a staple in our automotive land. For about two decades, every American automaker offered them. The Subaru BRAT, Nissan 300ZX, and Toyota MR2 were a few foreign models that had them as well.

After all, convertibles were gone forever after 1976 (Or so we were told), so this was the only way, other than a sunroof, to open the skies for us motorists. And they just looked, well... cool!

Even the Wikipedia "T Tops" link shows a "Smokey and the Bandit Mobile" as their example of a car with T Tops. In fact, this is that image. So please behold, in all of its splendid magnificence, a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with T Tops, which is still the desire of many diehard car chase movie fans, truck drivers, and Coors beer enthusiasts.

Of course, Smokey and the Bandit premiered in the summer of 1977, so they used a '77 model Trans Am. But there was little change for '78, so many replica cars were one year-model later.

We usually associate T Tops as twin removable panels, leaving a structural roof bar in the center and making something of a "T" shape. They also usually leak air and/or water. However, T Tops are also called Targa Tops by some. My late friend George Arents told me that the word "targa" is Latin for "shield," which makes sense. But most Targa Tops use only one panel, leaving the entire area over the front seats as open space.

Fiero with T TopsThough most people probably associate T Tops with Camaros and Firebirds, I think the stylish (and rare, only 1,252 were made) application on the Fiero ranks as one of, if not the best, ever done. But then, I kind of like the Fiero.

So would you like to see Targa or T Tops return on certain cars, like the Camaro? Are they viable alternatives to convertibles?

And of course, this is also the place to fret about anything else that's even slightly automotive-related.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

Image Credit: The Trans Am photo was found at Wikipedia. The Fiero image is from Photobucket.com.

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I had T-tops on my first "sports car"...a 1985 300ZX.
Unlike the stories I'd heard about the GM cars, they didn't leak. I rather enjoyed them.

Ford only half-heartedly got into T-tops, overing them midway through the Fox-body Mustang's run, and as an option of a few 77-79 T-Birds.
I'd like to see some today, since I miss the current Mustang coupe's lack of a decent sunroof.

Sadly, the modern class sunrooof (and the few cars with large glass panels that electrically block sunlight) will preclude the return of them.

The pictures in this post remind me how much I miss Pontiac.

Despite the fact that I've never really been into convertibles, T-tops were a completely different story. Maybe it had to do with many toys that I had. Funny, I remember wondering what would the occupants do if it rained (no toy hatch panels for, say, a Hot Wheels Hot Bird. I was like 4, gimme a break)... Or that Z31 300ZX that was for sale during my childhood... Or Knight Rider...

Even with stories of body flex and water leaks didn't faze me. It wasn't until recently that I'd consider a Trans Am without T-Tops. The youngest T-top machinery has easily 10 years (thinking of 4th-gen F-bodies), so the seals and body flex will inevitably to some leaking, especially on older vehicles. As long as the rust isn't bad, it's yet another nuance of owning an older vehicle.

About 2nd-gen T-Tops, when they were being offered, you had those from Hurst and those from Fisher Body. See and compare at the link:

http://www.78ta.com/ttops.php

I always get a kick out of cars that you'd not regularly expect to see T-tops on, like GM A and G-bodies or Malaise-era Mopar B bodies. I smile whenever I see a first-gen Nissan Pulsar with T-tops.

Did somebody say T-tops on modern cars, like the Camaro? Sure... As long as it looks like a Pontiac:

http://www.kevinmorgandesigns.com/HNY2011.jpg

...my first car was an '81 mercury capri white lightning, and i dearly missed its t-tops every day for fifteen years after selling it...the removal/replacement hassle never really bothered me; i gladly accepted occasionally being caught open-roofed under a suprise storm, along with the inevitable minor leaks as a trivial inconvenience well worth the price of their inimitable marriage of interior space with the open environment around me...

...sure, since then i've tried sunroofs and i've tried convertibles, but they're really not the same; only targas scratch that itch...i joyfully found my way back into a targa about five years ago and have been savoring my daily commute ever since, occasional wet interior and all...

...once you've had the opportunity to relish a crisp autumn jaunt safely ensconsed within a t-top or targa, nothing else comes close...

That Fiero T-top picture is truly delectable. That led to me looking for a pristine Fiero, which led me to this $40K, 221-mile gem. Doesn't look like it's a T-Top car, but it's awfully pretty:
http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/ctd/3596653611.html

And that in turn led me even farther off-topic, to this weirdly non-red Reatta convertible:
http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/ctd/3604075504.html

Wowza.

Wow Chris, that Reatta brings back some memories.

The first review I ever wrote on the car show was about a Reatta convertible exactly like that one... same colors and everything. The one we tested was the 3rd Reatta convertible made.

The first line in the review read, "Until now, there haven't been many Buicks that Junior would beg the keys from Dad for." I think that still holds true today, concerning the Reatta.

But the Reatta had the same FLAW that the Allante did... it had a manual roof. If memory serves, an Allante was $64,000 and the soft top Reatta was $37,000... in 1990. I think for that price, then or now, you should not have to do that work yourself.

So that brings us to this... imagine a Reatta with T Tops. Now, I'd definitely beg for the keys to one of those.

...fourty thousand dollars is a lot of money for a fiero, regardless of its mileage: that particular example appears to have been modified, to boot, blacking-out all its stock gold trim...

...i keep an eye open for '88 GTs and it's not terribly uncommon to find reasonably-pristine examples with all the bells and whistles (which that hinton car lacks) in the range of $8-14k...

@tigerstrypes: the T-tops were not all that uncommon on the G-bodies.

"the T-tops were not all that uncommon on the G-bodies."

Yeah, but did you expect them to be? How common a sight was it to see a G-body with T-tops?
I know of Buick Grand Nationals with t-tops, but that's about it.

What about conversions? Cars that didn't come with t-tops got got 'em through body shops?

Anybody got good ones? Bad ones?

I found this one (not for the faint of heart):

http://img39.imageshack.us/img39/7721/7032643full.jpg

Mustang II also came with t-tops: http://lotpro.com/blogphotos/Ford/tn_1978FordMustang.jpg

I've always thought it was a great idea and wondered why it was never really engineered really well to get rid of the leaking problems and having to manually remove the panels. One would think *some* sort of retractable panels could be designed.

Knew a guy back in the late 80s that had a 79 Thunderbird with T-tops, one of maybe 2 or 3 T-birds of that bodystyle that I've ever seen with them. Almost bought a 77 Grand Prix around that time that also had T-tops.

Who remembers that Dodge Aspens/Plymouth Volare coupes also were available with T-tops? As well as the Chrysler LeBaron/Dodge Diplomat coupes of that era - those would indeed be rare birds if any of those were still around today.

There were thousands and thousands of Oldsmobile Cutlasses with T-tops, from both the colonnade and 5th generations. The last T-top was a 2002 Camaro or Firebird. T-tops used to be everywhere. Now they've been off the market for over a decade. I don't think I noticed until this article.

"Mustang II also came with t-tops.."

As a former Mustang II owner, I should have remembered that. You're correct. I betthey didn't make many, and all the ones I've seen were on Cobra II fastbacks.

I had a coupe, and it would have been neat for it to have T-Tops.
When I bought it in 74, I thought about having them added, but with no aftermarket kit available, and me being just a college student, not George Barris or an early-day Jay Leno, the idea came to nought.

I loved the T-tops in my Datsun. All the benefits of a convertible with none of the hassle.

I had a 1984 Brat with T-tops. There were storage straps behind the seats to secure them when they were removed. One of these days I'll find another one, loved that little trucklet. I also miss pop up headlights. My son has a 1996 Ford Probe GT with the pop up headlights, and I'm jealous.

Incidentally, the Targa = Shield derivation is incorrect, or at least irrelevant. Porsche took the name from the Targa Florio, and trademarked it for their line of not-quite-convertibles.

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