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Remember the Landau Roof?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro November 2016

Every so often, you're driving down the road, and you see one: a landau roof. Essentially, it's a fixed roof that's been covered with vinyl or cloth instead of normal metal and paint, in an effort to make the car look like a convertible.

Is this not the single stupidest thing you've ever heard of?

Here's a little history of the landau roof (or the landau top, if you prefer). Originally installed on horse-drawn carriages, the landau roof carried over to early automobiles as an actual, fully opening convertible top. Half-opening roofs were described as "landaulet" tops -- a term that still gets occasional use today. But for various reasons, the landau roof didn't carry on as a convertible top, and it didn't survive past the early automobile.

And then, it happened.

Sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, automakers decided to bring back the name "landau roof" or "landau top" to describe something completely different than the original meaning: in this case, a fixed roof on a coupe or a sedan that merely simulated a convertible. Automakers did this themselves throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and then -- beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s -- fake landau-roof companies started popping up to install the feature as an aftermarket item.

Unfortunately, all this landau roof talk doesn't really answer the main question you probably have, which is: WHY???? And indeed... WHY???? The vehicle above is a run-of-the-mill late-1990s Toyota Camry LE -- a basic, boring automobile, the epitome of reliable transportation. So, why does it have a landau roof?!

There are still companies that make these conversions, but we may never know the answer. Today, car enthusiasts who actually know what a landau roof is -- an increasingly small number -- mostly associate it with elderly drivers who grew up during peak landau-roof era and don't want to give up this gorgeous design feature. The rest of us just think it's weird.

So, the next time you see a car with a landau roof, you'll know the backstory. You'll know the current situation. And you'll probably know the age of the driver.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Remember the Landau Roof? - Autotrader