ALL ABOUT CORVETTE T-TOPS
Here at Hobby Car Corvettes, located in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, we are big fans of the Corvette t-top. Last month, we shared a post about Corvette convertibles, and this month we want to share with you everything we know and love about Corvette t-tops.
We find it is not uncommon that many owners of t-tops most unfortunately do not bother removing the panels of their t-top to take full advantage of the sleek design allowing for an amazing open air driving experience. Often owners are worried the process will be cumbersome and they are concerned they will damage the panels. However, once you know how to properly remove, care for, and store your t-top panels, the effort and time is well worth the incredible experience of cruising around “top down”, in your Corvette t-top.
Within this post, we will share with you interesting facts about the history of the Corvette t-top and also helpful tips on how to enhance your t-top owning experience.
CORVETTE T-TOP HISTORY
A t-top vehicle is made with two removable roof panels that when removed, provides a driving experience quite close to the feeling of being in a convertible. Traditional t-top panels are often but not always made of auto grade safety glass. They can also be painted fiberglass, or acrylic; although this is available as an aftermarket option only.
While Chevrolet was the first US automobile manufacturer to introduce a t-top, the first t-top was produced and patented in 1951 by Gordon Buehrig.
GM introduced the t-top option into production in 1968 when they caught wind that convertibles may soon become outlawed due to safety concerns. They knew they needed something that could provide the Corvette driver with a similarly exhilarating experience, while also adhering to legal regulations. The Corvette design team deemed the t-top a perfect option, and they were not wrong.
Going forward, every Corvette from 1968 to 1982, unless purchased as a convertible, had a t-top. The removable panels were fiberglass and the same color as the body, until 1978 when tinted glass panels became an available option.
Because the t-top option was so popular and took away from the convertible sales, it ultimately contributed to the removal of the convertible option in 1976 even though they had never been made illegal.
True Corvette t-tops were produced only during the C3 generation from 1968, until 1982. Post C3 Corvettes were built with targa tops instead of t-tops. The first Corvette targa top would be seen in 1984, since no 1983 Corvettes exist.
One of the most fondly remembered t-tops is the 1970 Chevy Corvette. It was in 1970 that GM rolled off the production line the biggest production engine ever offered in a Chevrolet vehicle. The combination of the still young and popular t-top and the impressive 454 engine made for a good year for Corvettes. It is often said that the 1970 Corvette is credited with making t-tops and open top driving so wildly popular among vehicle enthusiasts.
TYPES OF CORVETTE T-TOPS
Like any vehicle production option, options can come with further options, and the t-top model was no different. T-top buyers would be presented with a variety of choices over the years. Some variances included painted t-tops, glass t-tops, a variety of glass choices, single latch and double latch.
While there would be options down the line, between 1968 and 1977 the only Corvette t-top option was a removable fiberglass t-top coupe. The t-top panels fastened with two latches per top (the double latch) until 1978 when the single latch option would be introduced and maintained until 1982.
In 1977, Corvette option listings included CC1 glass roof panels, which were going to be available for $200. However, these did not see production in 1977 due to a disagreement over rights with the vendor panel. Corvette did not give up and in 1978 released their own glass panels which again could be purchased as CC1, this time for $349. The vendor began selling their panels in the aftermarket under the trade name “Moonroofs”. The Moonroof t-top was a hybrid top with a fiberglass perimeter and glass center.
Similar to Moonroof, other companies saw an excellent opportunity to produce and sell unique panels to Chevrolet for their increasingly popular t-top Corvettes. Saratoga began making and selling transparent t-top panels directly to Corvette owners in 1977. Retailing around $200, the first design had no inner structural frame. In 1979, Saratoga decided to enhance their design, increasing their profit. The new design had a fiberglass frame bonded to a polycarbonate lens. Saratoga continued making and selling t-tops into the 90’s.
Another company making and providing Corvette t-tops is Melrose tops. They began producing aftermarket acrylic t-tops in 1983. Their best selling t-top panels were the everyday smoked panels. These panels sold so well, it led to licensing agreements directly with GM. Melrose T-Tops continues to supply t-tops and roofs for 5 generations of Corvettes.
Between 1978 and 1982, there were 6 different glass types available for a Corvette t-top, 5 of which were broadly called “mirrored tops”. This created some frustration for future Corvette t-top owners who were looking for replacement t-tops. To the untrained eye, many of these glasses look very similar. To solve this problem, one must refer to the “M” code, or “Manufacturer’s Code”, located within the etched stamp on the glass. This allows you to determine exactly what kind of glass your Corvette t-top panels are made of.
CARING FOR YOUR CORVETTE T-TOP
Now that we have gone over the history and facts revolving around the Corvette t-top, we want to share with you some tips about how to properly clean and store your Corvette t-top panels. This is a task that can be stressful and intimidating if you don’t have a clearcut system in place. But with the right supplies and strategies, you can become a master of removing and storing your panels, and enjoy the open road in your t-top Corvette!
First, let’s touch on storage. You should definitely own some kind of bag or suitcase to safely store your panels in. These panels are precious and can cost a pretty penny, so the fear of damage is real. With the appropriate storage case, you can rest easy knowing it will not be damaged.
There are bags designed specifically for t-top panels. You can find original pairs that Corvette owners often seek due to their originality, however, aftermarket bags are much more thick, sturdy, and often lined with a soft cotton fleece. So while having the original bag might be cool, it may not be worth the risk. You can also find what is referred to as a t-top suitcase. This is a padded case that stores both roof panels side by side with a padded divider in between.
If the budget for a bag is just not doable right now, you can carefully wrap your panels in blankets or beach towels, secure with twine or tape and store in a safe place where they will not be bumped or disturbed. The most important thing to remember is that these panels should be handled very carefully, especially glass t-tops, which of course can shatter more easily.
Lastly, we want to touch a bit on cleaning your Corvette t-tops. If your panels are painted, you should wash and wax them just like the rest of the car. If your panels are glass, of course you will use a glass cleaner. If your panels are plastic, you want to keep in mind that this panel can most easily get scratched during cleaning, so take extra care. The safest way to clean plastic panels is using a soft, wet rag. The softer, the better.
If you enjoyed this post on Corvette t-tops, you should check out our last post on Corvette Convertibles. We love all C3 Corvettes for many different reasons, and both convertibles and t-tops have a lot to offer! Additionally, if you are in the market for your very own, classic Corvette t-top, we have many on the sales floor to show you!
As always, thank you for stopping by Hobby Car Corvettes. We enjoyed sharing with you everything we know and love about the Corvette t-top. Feel free to cruise through our inventory and have a look at the many t-tops we currently have, just waiting to find their forever homes. It could be your garage!