Did the Vinyl Roof ever really go away?

I remember once sitting in rendering class (rendering is the manual application of light to a drawing using various media) when my elderly professor, Frank, sketched up a car and applied a bright shine to the tires. A girl in my class asked Frank why tire shine ‘was a thing’. Frank–who is in his seventies–took his fine brush of white paint off of the paper and looked at her, confused. Nobody had ever questioned the merit of having glossy black tires. After thinking for a moment he said, “Because it looks sharp!”

I only remember this because It reminded me of when my Dad explained vinyl roofs to me when I was a kid. Initially, he told me and my brother that the vinyl roof was meant to make a regular coupe look like a convertible. We said that didn’t make any sense, because not only were convertibles lame (I was wrong in that regard, obviously), but the car in question was obviously not a convertible–especially if it had four doors and was not a Lincoln Continental.

My dad clearly saw our point, but seeing as we are all from New Jersey, we argued about it for the rest of the drive. Finally, he relented and just repeated the same thing my professor Frank said.

Does it look sharp?

On plenty of cars from the 1960s and 1970s, the vinyl roof doesn’t look out of place. Cracks began to appear in the 1980s and 1990s. The styling of American cars changed–mostly for the worse. The vinyl roof that once made a car seem elegant and ‘sporty’ now just looked like a bit of black plastic stretched over the car’s roof. It seemed the trend was being kept alive solely by retirees.

I mean, in theory, you wouldn’t even need to use a vinyl covering at all. You could just paint the roof of a car black, and get the same effect. In fact, that would probably look even better because it would be glossier. It would probably be cheaper, too, and I think if you d-

A Tweeted Prophecy

Most things on Twitter are not worth reading, but needless to say most of the car-related content is. That’s really where this whole theory came from:

This tweet is from Joe Ligo, who runs the excellent AutoMoments Youtube channel. He’s somewhat obsessed with AMC and other defunct automakers, which is why the vinyl roof is likely floating around in his mind constantly. His cheeky assumption is that the return of the vinyl roof is only a few years away, but I don’t think it ever really left.

There’s a lot of examples.

Apparently, every single Mini Cooper comes with the option of a blacked-out roof, free of charge. I didn’t really believe this, so I went on their website to spec one up. Mine’s British racing green, of course. I got the white stripes on the hood because I’m a dumb kid and I could probably get away with it.

Anyway, I’m not really sure why I was so skeptical the whole black roof thing was true, but it is. I looked through every model (even the deuce and a half-sized Countryman) and there are multiple color options for the roof. Another thing I noticed was that even the most stripped out, base model Cooper (or the top-trim John Cooper Works) wasn’t available with a stick. I’m not a Luddite or anything, but shouldn’t a Mini be offered with a stick? I could be wrong, but I remember that just a few years ago they sold the most manual cars as a proportion of their total sales. The explanation they give for the lack of a stick is pretty piss-poor also:

What does that even mean? That’s pretty much like saying, “because it do be like that.”


Other cars to have modern vinyl roofs that Joe mentioned are the Camry and Rav4. Land Rover also offers every single one of their models with a black roof. This includes the new Defender:

Motor1 actually wrote an article about this. It’s not that extensive, but it lists a lot of cars you wouldn’t think to have this sort of thing. The most surprising one for me (I wasn’t that surprised but whatever) is probably the i3. You can get those used pretty cheap now. Maybe I’ll buy one and nail some vinyl to the roof–see if anybody notices.

What do you think of my theory?

Did the Vinyl roof ever leave? I don’t think it did. I think black roofs have always been cool and it’s just adapted into paint instead of an actual covering. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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20 responses to “Did the Vinyl Roof ever really go away?”

  1. Batshitbox Avatar

    Driving around in my Scout 80 with my pal and his 10 year old kid we were both stumped when kid asked, “Why does the windshield fold down?” (Apparently IH asked themselves that very same question, and the feature was dropped for the Scout 800 model.)

    Vinyl tops may not have ever gone away, but Mod Tops did. Sing it with me now! “M… I say M-O… M-O-D… M-O-D-D-…M-O-D-D-T-O-P-P Mod Top! (yeah yeah-yeah yeah!)”


    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Well, that particular Mod Top won’t be coming back…not to its rightful owner.

      Stolen! Steven Juliano’s Super-Rare ’70 Mod Top Hemi ‘Cuda

    2. Vairship Avatar

      “Why does the windshield fold down?”
      How else are you going to ingest your Recommended Daily Average portion of mosquitoes?



  2. mdharrell Avatar

    The vinyl roof of the Mohs SafariKar goes away by pivoting as separate fore and aft pieces, therefore the answer is yes.


    1. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

      The entire body of the Mohs Safari Kar is vinyl covered! Then again that was somewhat common in the 1930s and of course the Velorex had a vinyl everywhere


  3. outback_ute Avatar

    I’m not so sure it is imitating vinyl roofs as much as returning to two-tone, which has been around since the 1920s if not before. For example you can get Minis with white or red roofs, possibly other colours too, the XC40 can have a silver roof.

    I’d think old Land Rovers more often had white roofs to try and keep the interior cooler before AC was available (especially if they had the tropical roof)

    1. Zentropy Avatar

      This is my thinking, too. Vinyl roofs were in my opinion a nod to the styling of a convertible, which is the point of using a fabric over the sheet metal. A painted roof doesn’t really accomplish the same thing on modern cars– it’s just a two-tone. Cars with contrasting paint on the roof pre-date the vinyl roof era, so if anything, the current trend is actually reaching many decades further back.

      I have seen some resto-modded 60s cars with two-tone paint schemes that are designed to give the color contrast or the original vinyl top. Some restorers are using a semi-gloss finish for the “vinyl” sections.

    2. Vairship Avatar

      And some old Land Rovers had red roofs to make them easier to spot from the air in case they got lost or stuck in the desert http://www.rrhobby.ca/pdoxtlr/pdoimages/stuck.gif http://www.rrhobby.ca/pdoxtlr/PDOXTLRs.htm

    3. crank_case Avatar

      Weren’t the roof parts just bolt-on? Cheaper to make them up in white?

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        I don’t think they were all white but yes they could bolt on, not sure if some where welded

    4. salguod Avatar

      The 1960 Thunderbird used the roof for creating two tone versions and it was available in over 60 color combinations.


      1. outback_ute Avatar

        I wouldn’t want to order a car solely off those printed colour representations, given the printing technology of the day.

        Also Sultana Turquoise is not a name association that comes naturally to me!

  4. 0A5599 Avatar

    Vinyl roofs are used fairly extensively in the Professional Car (hearse/limo) industry. Builders don’t have to try to make all the roof curves come together precisely, and vinyl hides a lot of flaws that would have been emphasized by glossy paint.

    Fun fact: all production Plymouth Superbirds came equipped with vinyl roofs to hide the body work necessary when fitting the flush back window. Chrysler learned that lesson after building the Dodge Charger Daytona, which came with painted steel roofs.


  5. crank_case Avatar

    My theory on the popularity of two tone on a lot of modern vehicles is to hide their height and size by visually breaking them up.

    1. salguod Avatar

      That’s a terrible idea, and I want to hate it, but… it kinda works.

  6. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Landrovers with black roofs always look wrong to me. The history is the white or limestone roof is there to keep the vehicle cooler and the black panel would make it hotter.

  7. Maymar Avatar

    First, I think Mini couldn’t get the stick pushed through revised EPA testing or something like that.

    Second, as I’ve said before, as a Canadian, vinyl roofs are a clear sign I’m in a border town. Like, we don’t have dealers putting them on weird stuff like Nissan Maximas, or, I dunno, VW CC’s?

  8. Monkey10is Avatar

    The vinyl roof also helped to conceal the typical weld-line between the bodyside panel and the roof panel.

    At various times this has been hidden by a trim detail, or covered over with a vinyl roof. Few have been as bold as Audi to try to press the roofline and bodyside in one.


    The black roof vs. coloured bodyside is just the latest styling trick to hide this.

  9. Vinyl Shading Avatar

    The vinyl roof, which formerly made a car appear stylish and “sporty,” now appeared to be nothing more than a piece of black plastic stretched across the automobile’s roof. It appeared like retirees were the only ones keeping the fad alive. Thank you so much!

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