TASCO was ahead of its time with the T-Top
Hands up all of those who think the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette was the first car with T-Top?
Wrong. Not even close.
Chevrolet certainly popularised T-Toppers and just about every car maker seemed to have a one in their line up during the 1970s.
The real inventor of the first T-Top was Gordon Buehrig.
Yes, that Gordon Buehrig, the same guy who shaped 1930s Auburns and Duesenbergs and the iconic 810/812 Cord.
Gordon’s designed his T-Topped car in 1948 and it is still around.
It sits in a corner on the second floor of the Auburn Duesenberg Cord (ADC) Museum in Auburn, Indiana.
You can easily miss it if you walk by quickly.
The T-Top had its genesis in a sports car that Buehrig decided to build.
In 1948, he 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 TASCO 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 TASCO team also wanted individual mudguards enclosing each wheel and, to add to the engineering and styling complexities, the front guards had to turn with the wheels.
It was not a good idea.
The 2017 equivalent of $5 million was spent to build one prototype which was shown across America to an underwhelming response.
You see, the projected price was $7500 in 1948 money. That’s about $500,000 in today’s money.
If the price was not enough to scare away most prospective customers then the weird styling took care of the rest.
No doubt about it, this was a strange and ugly automobile.
It appeared as if four motorcycle wheels had somehow attached themselves to a canoe.
Very quickly the company folded and Buehrig went to Ford to head up one of their advanced styling studios, designing the first Crown Victoria hardtop coupe.
Buehrig later said he considered the TASCO to be his “personal Edsel”.
Buehrig was granted a patent on the T-Tops idea in 1951.
He tried to interest Ford, Chrysler and General Motors in the idea, 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, without consulting Buehrig.
The original patent was still operable so Buehrig sued GM and won some compensation for infringement of copyright.
With the advent of retractable steel roof convertibles and improved roll over safety, T-Tops have long disappeared.
The TASCO remains in good condition, as befits a car in the care of the folks at the ADC Museum.
And its design lives on.
Oldsmobile stylists gave it a makeover in the late 1960s when they were developing the 1971 Toronado.
The proposal was jokingly called the “four-fendered farkel”.
Then, last year, Roll-Royce drew back the curtains on what they predicted to be the future of high-end luxury transport.
What they unveiled looks like a 21st Century TASCO.
It even has a T-Top, well sort of.
The roof opens up when the door opens.
Mr Buehrig would be pleased.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au