Thursday, May 12, 2016

1940s Small-Backlight Convertible Tops

I've never liked the styling jargon term "backlight."  It refers to the rear window of an automobile, but taken more literally one would think of a light placed somewhere on a car's aft end.  Alas, I'll go along with the jargon, so be advised that this post deals with small rear windows (oops, backlights) found on American convertibles in the 1940s or thereabouts.

I am by no means knowledgeable regarding this detail, so what follows is speculation.

In the images below, you will notice that the convertible tops have rectangular, removable panels that house the small backlights.  Sometimes, convertibles would been driven with their tops up and the panels gone, perhaps to provide better ventilation on non-rainy days.  The reason for the small windows (and here I speculate) is that they were made of glass or a stiff piece of clear plastic for good vision to the rear.  Glass is heavy, and the canvas tops were not strong enough to support large windows.  So convertible backlights had to be small if they were glass or a heavy plasitc.  The downside to this is that small windows greatly restricted the driver's rear view.

Later convertibles tended to feature larger backlights made of thinner transparent plastics.

The following images are of cars offered for sale, usually at auctions.  Presumably, their convertible tops are of authentic design, even though they might be replacements for worn out originals.  I cannot  guarantee authenticity in all cases, however.  That said, what is striking is how similar the backlights are for so many brands over so many years.


1940 LaSalle Series 50 Convertible - Auctions America

1940 Packard Super 8 Convertible - Barrett-Jackson

1941 Cadillac 62 Convertible - Barrett-Jackson

1948 Chrysler Town & Country - auction photo

1948 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet - Barrett-Jackson

1948 Cadillac 62 Convertible - Barrett-Jackson

1948 Packard Custom Eight Victoria Convertible - sales photo

1950 Hudson Commodore Six Convertible - Bonhams

1951 Mercury Convertible - Barrett-Jackson


dberger223 said...

Having owned a few convertibles with the plastic rear "backlights" I can attest to how cloudy and discolored they become after being left in a folded position for any period of time. The glass windows were small enough to be foldable with the top. My two pennies worth.

emjayay said...

Yes, the reason for being small was to be able to fold with the top. Some car later had a hard plastic window with a clear hinge across about at the middle so it could fold. Carpenters and architects call each pane in a window a "light" also.