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Who invented the targa top?


Remember T-Tops? They first appeared on the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette as a way to offer a convertible experience without the loss of chassis strength and rigidity. Soon every car maker seemed to have one T-Topper in their line up.

Porsche 911 fans will point out that the 911 boasted a Targa Top as far back as 1966, but it was roll bar and a full width, removal roof section. No "T" there. Triumph devotees will go even further back, to 1961, and the TR4. It had fixed rear window with a removable canvas roof stretched between it and the front windscreen. No "T" either.

The inventor of the real T-Top was Gordon Buehrig. Yes, the same guy who shaped 1930s Auburns and Duesenbergs, and the iconic 810/812 Cord. In 1948 Buehrig and some business associates decided to design and manufacture an all-American two seater sports car. They set up The American Sports Car Company, and used an acronym of the company name, Tasco, for the car.

After some discussion it was agreed the Tacso ought to be a closed coupe, but with the open air experience of a convertible. That's where Buehrig's idea for T-Tops came in. The 2012 equivalent of $4,000,000 was spent to build one prototype which was shown across America to an underwhelming response. The projected price, $7500 in 1948 money, (about $500,000 in 2012) scared away most prospective customers and the weird styling took care of the rest.

Very quickly the company folded and Buehrig went to Ford to head up one of their advanced styling studios, styling the first Crown Victoria hardtop coupe. The actual Tasco is still intact and in good condition. It sulks in a dark corner on the second floor of the Auburn Duesenberg Cord Museum in Auburn, Indiana.

Buehrig was granted a patent on the T-Tops idea in 1951. He tried to interest Ford, Chrysler and General Motors but no one could see their value in a world full of real convertibles. 

Then came Ralph Nader's pivotal tome 'Unsafe At Any Speed', and suddenly the roll over safety of convertibles became a news topic.

In 1968, Chevrolet released the Corvette with a T-Top option. Buehrig's patent was still operable so he sued GM and won some compensation for infringement of copyright. With the advent of rectracle steel roof convertibles, T-Tops have long disappeared. Buehrig himself died in 1990.

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