The Fancy Top: A Look At The Classic Landau Top

The soul and character of classic cars is what makes them special. There were so many iconic styling trends, but the landau top stands out as being truly unique. We talk with Phil Hollenbeck from Haartz to learn more about this classic vinyl vehicle option.

The Backstory Of Landau Tops

Landau tops weren’t something that was created by automobile manufacturers, they actually predate the entire automotive industry. Back when humans used to travel up and down the roads in horse-drawn carriages, there was a desire to have upscale units. The landau top was developed to give sophisticated carriage occupants the ability to be protected from the elements when the weather wasn’t great, but allowed them to put the top down and enjoy the sunshine when it made an appearance.

When the internal combustion engine was stuffed into its first carriage the world was forever changed. These motorized carriages started rolling down the road in droves, and many of the early vehicles had landau tops just like their horse-drawn ancestors. But, as time passed, foldable landau tops fell out of style and they weren’t seen for many years.

Landau tops were a factory option, but were also added by dealerships to vehicles as well.

Well, trends get recycled all the time and that’s exactly what happened with the Landau top. While the automobile had gone through drastic changes over the years since its introduction, companies found a way to bring the landau top back.

“A landau top is basically a glue-down vinyl roof cover that looks just like a vinyl convertible top. The metal roof of a car with a landau top is made specifically for this type of topping, although you can retrofit a non-roof cover car to accept this treatment. These tops started appearing on automobiles in the mid-1950s because manufacturers were simply looking for a waterproof material to keep their passengers dry. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that car companies started using Landau as a bit of a fashion statement. The main goal was to take an average-looking car and spiff it up a bit with a faux convertible top,” Hollenbeck states.

Automobile companies loved offering different options for their vehicles and the landau top was a perfect fit. People who wanted their vehicle to have that upscale look checked the landau top option box to ensure their pride and joy stood out in a parking lot. These tops were offered by automobile companies until the 1990s, when they eventually were phased out as a factory option.

A Landau top is used by hot rod builders to spice up the looks of a vehicle.

Landau Top Basics

While the original landau tops on horse-drawn carriages were complex, the ones that can be found on cars aren’t. There’s no internal structure to a landau top on a car, it’s literally just a covering over the roof.

“Your standard landau top is an embossed vinyl outer layer mechanically bonded to a polyester non-woven backing. You can think of the non-woven backing as a soft fuzzy felt-like material. It’s basically the same material that’s on the back of car bras,” Hollenbeck says.

Landau tops need to not only look good, but they need to be tough since they’re exposed to everything Mother Nature has to offer. Haartz has put a lot of time and effort into developing its landau top materials. Hollenbeck explains what goes into making landau tops at Haartz.

Haartz uses state-of-the-art equipment and methods to create its Landau tops.

“Haartz uses an extrusion process whereby we extrude the PVC onto the non-woven backing and emboss the grain all in one step. This results in a highly efficient process as these two operations are performed at the same time. The PVC layer is then coated with a very thin layer of lacquer coating that helps protect against abrasion and the sun’s UV rays. After this step, all of the topping is 100-percent visually inspected for defects, cut into smaller rolls, and packaged for shipment.”

Replacing And Caring For A Landau Top

Like any other material on a car, vinyl used on a landau top is going to show wear as it ages. It’s going to fade and show the effects of weathering, it can also be damaged by rust that forms underneath from the metal portion of the vehicle’s roof. When you start to see these issues it’s time to think about replacing the top.

Haartz strongly recommends that you have a new landau top installed by a professional. There’s a lot that goes into installing one of these tops and it helps to know all the tricks that make the process go smoothly.

You can install a landau top at home, but you need to be ready for the process.

You can attack this task on your own, but you need to know what you’re getting into before you begin. Every installation is going to be different and you’ll want to do plenty of research in advance if you plan on installing your own landau top. Here’s a general idea of what goes into applying one of these tops.

If you’re going to tackle installing a landau top at home preparation is critical. You’ll want to unbox the top and lay it out on the vehicle so it can “relax”. This will make the top easier to work with during the installation process. If you’re going to be installing the top on a freshly painted surface, you’ll need to lightly sand the surface with 220-320 grit sandpaper and then clean it with a degreaser.

Now, if you’re installing the top on a surface that had an old top on it there’s a bit more involved. All of the old adhesive will need to be removed and any metal repair will need to be completed before you start the installation process. The top needs a clean and solid foundation to be attached to.

Depending on the vehicle, there can be some tricky spots to install a Landau top.

You’ll want to take your time laying the new top out on the vehicle. It’s very important to make sure everything’s aligned correctly before you do any trimming. After the top is laid out and trimmed, it’s time to apply the glue. The adhesive should be applied to one side at a time, that will make working with the top easier. You’ll need to work from the center of the area to the edges of the top. Make sure there’s no slack to prevent air from being trapped under the top. With a roller, you’ll want to apply firm pressure as you roll the vinyl from the center to the edges. This process will remove the trapped air and assist with adhesion. The A-pillars and sail panels should be the last things glued down to the roof.

Now that everything is glued down you’ll need to remove any extra vinyl before you reinstall the trim and glass. This is just a very high-level summary of what goes into installing a landau top, so make sure you look into what it takes to complete this project on your own vehicle. There’s no shame in leaving it to the professionals that’s for sure!

Proper care of a landau top will help it look like new for many years.

Proper care of your landau top will not only keep it looking good, it will also help it last for many years. You need to treat a landau top like paint, it needs to be washed, waxed, and protected from the elements.

Hollenbeck shares what Haartz recommends to keep your landau top looking good.

“We recommend and endorse products made by Wolfsteins Pro-Series. They have a cloth/vinyl cleaner that works great on landau topping.  More importantly, they also sell a vinyl protectant to put on after you clean the top. This vinyl treatment contains UV-blocking absorbers offering the best protection available.”

A landau top adds style to any vehicle. If you’re looking to add a top to your ride or replace a worn-out unit, it’s important to make sure you get the right top for your application. You can always call the experts at Haartz to assist you with the process of purchasing a landau top that will look perfect on your vehicle.

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Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. Brian enjoys anything loud, fast, and fun.
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