Most Corvette enthusiasts were in love in 1968 with the all new third generation Corvette, which wore a completely new body style based on Larry Shinodas Mako Shark II concept car. One of the new design features which created considerable excitement was the introduction of T-tops. The 1968 Chevrolet Corvette was the very first American production car to offer this innovative roof style and several buyers thought that it offered the best of both the hardtop and convertible.
T-tops offered more body and chassis rigidity than an open car, better insulation and protection from bad weather, and fewer rattles than the convertible while still allowing the occupants the enjoyment of open air driving if desired. GM marketed the body as a “convertible coupe” and as the copy reads, “Look it’s the 1968 Corvette Stingray Coupe: sleek, snug, sporty. Look again. Now, with the roof panels off, it’s open to the sun, the sky, the air. This ‘convertible’ feature is standard”
All C3 coupes came with the dual roof panels that could be removed leaving only a center stile connecting the back section of the roof to the windshield cowl. The stile was needed for structural rigidity.
Though the convertible outsold the coupe in 1968, as it had in every other prior year, it was more the result of limited coupe availability. GM was not convinced how the new roof would be received and production continued to be based on prior years’ historical sales heavily weighted to the convertible. But the buyers’ preference clearly favored the T-top coupe and from 1969 thru the last year of the C3 convertible production in 1975 the coupe dramatically outsold the convertible. For the entire C3 production run six times more coupes than convertibles were sold, 472,275 coupes versus 70,586 convertibles.
The popularity of the dual roof panels spread and virtually every American auto manufacturer began offering the popular feature on several models. T-tops were particularly popular on the GM F-bodies and Ford Mustangs in the 1970′s, 1980′s and early 1990′s. Slowly, however, the once innovative panels were shunned by the enthusiast. The tops were notorious for leaking, inconvenient to store while not in use, and on sunny days with the glass T-tops in place interior temperatures became almost unbearable.
Today no American manufacturer offers the T-tops in their original configuration with the center roof style. GM switched to a one piece removable roof panel with the new C4 design in 1984 and to this day they continue to offer a targa-style roof derivation on most coupes.
Rick Tavel writes about automobiles with an emphasis on Corvettes and the hobby in general. You can see his website at revenantrt.blogspot.com