What Is a ‘Landau Roof’ and Why Is it Called That?

Once in a blue moon, you might see a car driving down the road with a landau roof. What is a landau roof? It’s a fixed roof with cloth upholstery that makes it look like a convertible. But why is it called a landau roof and why would anyone want one?

A brief history on the landau roof

A red Lincoln Continental with a landau top. | Wikimedia Commons
A red Lincoln Continental with a landau top. | Wikimedia Commons

Also referred to as the “landau top,” the landau roof was originally used on coaches and horse-drawn carriages before cars were widely used or even invented. According to The Hog Ring, a “landau” was a convertible carriage with a manual-retractable top suspended on elliptical springs. These mid-18th-century carriages were invented and manufactured in a German city named Landau, hence the name.

The top itself was bisected so that the operator could drawback one section and leave the other side fully closed. It was kind of like an old-school sunroof made of cloth. The tops themselves had decorative sidebars to denote that they were landaus as opposed to ordinary cloth-top carriages.  

Fast forward to the 1920s when American car manufacturers started incorporating landau tops into their cars. These fixed-roof cars feature the same decorative sidebars as their horse-drawn originators but lacked the same type of prestige. Eventually, the public at large didn’t see any point in having a fixed roof with a soft cloth top that wasn’t a full-fledged convertible, so the landau roof ended up being phased out in the 70s and 80s.  

The landau roof may be gone, but it’s not forgotten

A green Ford Thunderbird with a landau top.
A green Ford Thunderbird with a landau top. | Wikimedia Commons

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While automakers stopped incorporating the landau roof design in their coupes and sedans, the alternative roof décor became somewhat popular in the aftermarket. According to Doug Demuro, fake landau roof companies started popping up in the late 80s and early 90s ready to install this weird feature on just about any car that you wanted.

But why? We’re not sure and based on our research, no one else is sure either. If anything, we can chalk the landau roof up to a pure styling preference as opposed to something more functional. Technically speaking, they never had much of a function on hardtop cars anyway.

Will the landau roof ever make a comeback?

2011 Toyota Camry with a landau top.
2011 Toyota Camry with a landau top. | Craigslist.com

Probably not. Especially since electric cars and hybrids are the waves of the future. However, I did come across this 2011 Toyota Camry with a landau top in my local Craigslist classifieds. To be honest, its execution looks pretty clean, but it doesn’t really seem to fit the car, especially since the Camry is not actually a convertible.

That all being said, if you do ever find interest in a landau top, you’ll happy to know there are plenty of online retailers that will outfit your car with one. It should cost around $300 to $800 depending on the type of material used, the design, and the amount of labor. Or you can just buy a real convertible and forget the whole landau concept. But at least now you know the backstory.

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