Race, Daily, Restore: 4-Door Pillarless Hardtops

Rollover safety requirements, CAFE standards, and the quest for quieter cabins have killed the pillarless hardtop, especially the four-door variety. But having been allowed to drive my family’s 1973 Pontiac Bonneville 4-door hardtop throughout my teen years, I can assure you that the automotive world is the worse for it. There is a uniquely blissful feeling about piling three of your best friends into a big four-door hardtop — comfortably, without having to crawl over one another — rolling all four windows down, and cruising wherever your desires lead while the warmth of a summer evening rushes in to caress you through the huge open expanses on either side.
Today, we celebrate this sensation not with a Pontiac, but with three other cars equally (or more) deserving of your consideration:

  • The 1960 Dodge Dart Phoenix This 4-door hardtop from Mopar was still fairly early in the game for this configuration, and yet it is already moving away from the initial intent to mimic the lines of a ragtop convertible. The car is equipped with a 318 “Power Pak” V-8 and a Torqueflite automatic transmission.
  • By the time this 1967 Ford LTD came along, most hardtops had adopted a fairly formal roofline and the side window shape was nearly identical to their pillared sedan siblings, just minus the window frames. It’s up to you if the magic of the 4-door hardtop configuration was waning. This car is similarly equipped to the Dart Phoenix, employing a 289 V-8 and slushbox automatic.
  • Two decades later, very few 4-door hardtops remained in production, but Nissan carried the flame with several models for the domestic Japanese market, including this striking 1982 Nissan Gloria Brougham. Though a turbo was available on some versions, this Brougham has a 2.8 liter normally-aspirated inline six and a floor-shift 5-speed manual.

Now, which of these three hardtops would you choose to:

  • RACE – build into some sort of dedicated racing machine (not street legal) for your choice of competition — any legitimate, sanctioned form of motorsport: road course, rally, drag, LSR, Baja, etc.;
  • DAILY – have as your sole street-registered car, for all your commuting and general transportation needs.
  • RESTORE – do a museum-quality, factory-correct, frame-off restoration, then add to your collection, but not register to drive on the street.

Your choices should be accompanied by your persuasive justification, or at the very least which choice you felt most strongly about. As always, more caveats (there are always caveats) appear after the jump.
IMAGE SOURCES: TopClassicCarsForSale.com, Barrett-Jackson.com, Wikipedia


  1. Assume that you’re given these three vehicles outright, so there’s no acquisition cost, but the cost of race-prepping, maintaining, insuring and restoring them will be on you.
  2. Assume the cars are in “average condition” for their age; neither junk nor in flawless condition.
  3. These are your ONLY three cars. You cannot factor in any other cars you might actually own, e.g., “I’ll daily the MR2 because I have a van I can take the kids in…” Likewise, you can’t sell the restored car to buy another vehicle.
  4. You must assign one of the cars to each category. You can’t say, “I’ll race my street car,” or “I’ll drive that one for a season then restore it.”
  5. You can’t half-ass a car you don’t like, such as theoretically racing Lemons or doing a “20-footer” cosmetic restoration.

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22 responses to “Race, Daily, Restore: 4-Door Pillarless Hardtops”

  1. P161911 Avatar

    Race the Nissan, because 5-speed. Where? Solo II???
    Restore the Dodge, because tailfins.
    Daily the Ford. Why not? If it has A/C and acceptable brakes, I see no problems here.

  2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Not sure about the Dodge or Ford, but I’m pretty sure I could live in that glorious Gloria.

  3. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    The Nissan is the lightest and the manualiest. Race it.
    Restore the Dart. It’s got a look worthy of restoration, yet I have no desire to either drive it or race it.
    Daily the LTD. That is a damned fine looking automobile.

  4. crank_case Avatar

    Inserting my customary protest on the idea of restoring but never driving a car. https://img.maximummedia.ie/joe_ie/eyJkYXRhIjoie1widXJsXCI6XCJodHRwOlxcXC9cXFwvbWVkaWEtam9lLm1heGltdW1tZWRpYS5pZS5zMy5hbWF6b25hd3MuY29tXFxcL3dwLWNvbnRlbnRcXFwvdXBsb2Fkc1xcXC8yMDE0XFxcLzAzXFxcL2NhcmVmdWxub3cuanBnXCIsXCJ3aWR0aFwiOjY0NyxcImhlaWdodFwiOjM0MCxcImRlZmF1bHRcIjpcImh0dHBzOlxcXC9cXFwvd3d3LmpvZS5pZVxcXC9hc3NldHNcXFwvaW1hZ2VzXFxcL2pvZVxcXC9uby1pbWFnZS5wbmc_dj0zXCJ9IiwiaGFzaCI6IjE2Y2JjZjFmMzc5NmJmYjcxOGVkMzJkYmUzZGQzODI4NzI3Mzg4MWMifQ==/carefulnow.jpg
    I mean seriously, if people are willing to hoon Edwardian cars up the hill at Goodwood, you can damn well put one of these “youngtimers” on the street from time to time.
    That out of the way.
    The Nissans a no brainer as my daily in some ways – the steering wheel is on the correct side for me being JDM, though 80s Japanese cars do rust like crazy.
    Restore the Galaxie (and drive it on the street from time to time, damn the man!
    Race the Dart, ideally in the Carrera Panamerica if I had the funds.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      Cameron Vanderhorst suggested that the third option be crush, rather than restore. But with some cars, that’s just too easy an option.

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      And besides, if you can street-drive the car, then you simply have “race and two dailies.”

      1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

        “Race your three dailies.”

      2. crank_case Avatar

        Not really, I’d classify a daily as a car I drive every day, or at least use for regular things like going to the shops or into the city centre and are in someway dependent on. You’d have a daily and a “Sunday driver/recreational driving car”.
        The acid test for whether it’s a daily would be, if it breaks does it affect your normal rotutine?
        e.g. in my house, my commuting needs are met by a bicycle, so the Mazda 2 Hatchback is the “Daily” because my wife drives it four days a week to work and it’s the one we take if we’re going shopping or into the city, and often longer trips too. My 1997 Eunos Roadster 1.8 (Miata) is my fun car, in that it is only ever really used for recreational driving, we get in and go for a spin for the hell of it. It’s on a classic insurance policy that limits me to 3000 miles a year, which I don’t even cover. I’m not in any way dependent on it, if I decided to strip it down and leave it in pieces for a few months, it has no impact on my life. Sometimes I take it to work, but only because I like to start and drive it once a week at least, leaving a car sitting (it’s outdoors for now, garage will be sorted soon, and even then it’s a damp climate) seems to do more harm than good.
        Cars were designed to be used, even from time to time, it is far better to run a vehicle, and if it breaks, then repair it, far better than the slow decreptitude of non-use, might look shiny on the outside, but cars like people need to stretch their legs from time to time. If people don’t run cars/bikes and break/wear out parts, even slowly, the demand for the skills to repair them dries up too, already a problem. FIVA is actively trying to get young people to take up the required skills needed. With the decline of manufacturing, far fewer people have fabrication skills now. I see the whole leaving a car sitting in a collection thing, not merely as wasteful, but a subtle act of vandalism. Cars have to be preserved as living, not static history.

        1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

          1) There are museums all over the world full of significant cars that are properly preserved and curated but not regularly driven, and I think that’s often appropriate. I would be very upset if somebody ripped The Spirit Of St. Louis down from the ceiling at the SA&S Museum and took it out for a little spin to see how it flew.
          2) There are plenty of non-significant cars that I think are visually jaw-dropping but to which I personally couldn’t be bothered to twist the key, because I know they’re exceedingly ordinary, uninspired cars under the bodywork. For example, the Shamrock Professor Harrell mentioned on Friday. That to me is a car that I’d gladly leave seen and not heard.

          1. crank_case Avatar

            1) Museums, unlike private collections are open to the public and serve an educational purpose, the vehicles collected there like you say are usually curated well, and externally preserved, but in many cases, even in the best museums, due to a lack of funds, don’t actually run, which is a little sad. Pointing out the obvious but – the Spirit of St. Louis is an aircraft and it’s a lot harder to exercise one (not to mention prone to effects of weather) than it is roll a vintage car out onto the road or track if it was a race car. You don’t have to run it at full tilt, though it’s glorious if you do.
            The Spirit of St. Louis is also a unique one-off involved in a historically significant event. So for example, I can understand putting the Lincoln JFK was shot in in a museum, but that doesn’t mean every other 60s Lincoln needs to be hermetically sealed. I mean if we’re talking aircraft, there were hundreds of Avro Lancaster bombers and spitfires built, but very few surviving, running examples. I think most Aircraft enthusiasts would much rather see one at an air display than sat in a museum.
            Putting something like a perfectly useable LTD to only sit in private collections is a bit sad, not only is the owner denying himself the pleasure of usage, but he’s denying others the pleasure of seeing such a vehicle in the wild, whose day hasn’t been made when they’ve had a chance encounter with a classic? How will kids ever get a passion for cars if they don’t see something cool on the street every now and then? I mean on any given weekend, people in the UK and Ireland do trials with vintage (1920s/30s) cars plugging em through the mud, so anything else can take at least a gentle run on a dry day.
            ..or check out these guys driving their Edwardians, diffing them out crossroads, if they were AE86s, they can take it. They have some cosmetic imperfections, but this as a far better preservation of history than any shiny trailer queen. The sounds, smells and vibration deserve preserving as much as the visual aspect.

            2) The Shamrock might be unsignifcant from a US perspective, from an Irish perspective, it’s very historically important, so poor example. Even still, you’re now getting into what’s pedestrian and what is not, which is entirely subjective. Some people will throw the keys of a 1970s 911 back with a resounding “meh”. What was intended to be utilitarian at the time, can later be interesting as the driving experience is removed from modern vehicles. e.g. a Ford Cortina, Ford LTD, Morris Minor were all sensible, conventional cars for their time, but now are far removed from modern driving experience.

          2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

            To clarify, nothing says you can’t start up your your restored car, drive it around a parking lot, parade route, frozen lake or muddy trail with it. You just can’t license it for everyday street driving.

          3. crank_case Avatar

            So the options are actually
            1. Daily
            2. Race
            3. Baja/Trials car? 😀 – so race

          4. Inliner Avatar

            I guess Race, Daily, Parade would be a more appropriate and accurate title for the series …

  5. 0A5599 Avatar

    Drag race the Ford, in a super stock class that favors small block sedans. All the big-engine-in-a-small-car classes are full of competition, but in a weak class with a good handicap, you could blow them all away.
    Restore the Nissan. 1980’s Japanese switches are to be looked at, not depended upon.
    Daily the Dart. It has the most character for a daily motoring experience.

  6. engineerd Avatar

    I would Race the Dodge in the La Carrera Panamericana Historic Class.
    I would Daily the Nissan just for the “WTF” looks on the freeway.
    I would Restore the Ford and lick it every time I walked by.

  7. Victor Avatar

    Restore them all,Switch among them daily and race them all…..Race All The Cars !

  8. Tiberiuswise Avatar

    I can’t play fair with this one:
    1, Race the Dodge in a demolition derby because strong.
    2, Race the Nissan in Lemons because must do something with it.
    3, Pour all available funds into the LTD and restore, race and drive it in all its glory.
    4, ???
    5, Profit!

  9. ptschett Avatar

    Restore the Dodge (but it’s gonna get driven to work on sunny summer Fridays and to local car shows. :p)
    Daily the Ford.
    CrushRace the Nissan.

  10. Maymar Avatar

    In regards to the engine choices, are we allowed to choose anything that was a factory option on that particular vehicle, or is it limited to dealer’s choice to make things trickier? With the LTD, in theory you could get a 427 and 4-speed (at least based on the brochure), but I fully admit that’s an unlikely order form to have been filled out. That said, based on the super scientific method of checking out eBay motors, there’s only two LTDs around that age (a ’66 and ’68), and they’re both 390’s (which I’d imagine are a much more common choice on the upmarket Ford than the 289.
    Not that it makes much difference;
    Daily – the Nissan. It’s the smallest, and best suited to my daily needs
    Restore – the Dart, since it’s so brash it deserves to be looked at
    Race – the Ford, mostly since I don’t like the formal roofline and it’s what’s left.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      You’re limited to whatever money you have and wish to spend stuffing whatever engine you want in there in place of what’s specified.

  11. outback_ute Avatar

    Daily the Ford
    Restore the Dodge
    Race the Nissan – a cage will solve any hardtop body strength issues and I’m sure a Skyline GTR RB26DETT will go in there! Bolt-on flares would make it look more interesting too.

    1. rovingardener Avatar

      I agree with this entirely rational plan.

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