The flat-top era at General Motors lasted only two years, but it left a memorable impression.on the automotive world.
The flat-top cars of General Motors for 1959-60 were created during a tumultuous period for the automaker’s styling shop. At that moment, the studio was carefully navigating the transition from Harley Earl to Bill Mitchell as leader of the operation. And meanwhile, the GM designers were thrown for a loop by Virgil Exner’s stunning 1957 Chrysler line, which seemed to obsolete everything they had on the drawing board.
In response to the challenges, the GM stylists cleared their easels and for 1959, they came up with some of the most distinctive cars ever produced by the company. One of the more striking innovations was a bold, blade-like roofline for the four-door hardtops that soon became known as the flat top.
The Flying Wing, as the automaker preferred to call the cantilevered top configuration, was the creation of a young Japanese-American GM stylist, Bug Sugano, in early 1957, with support from Carl Renner, who developed the concept for production. Since all five GM car divisions shared their interior structural sheet metal for 1959, all five brands got their own versions of the simple yet dramatic greenhouse package: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac.
With all five car brands sharing a common roofline, on their four-door hardtop body styles at least, the company’s product line presented a unified look across the price range—not such a common occurrence at GM in those years. Following their existing naming conventions, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile called the body style a Sport Sedan, while Cadillac chose the name Four Window Sedan, having a multitude of four-door styles for buyers to choose from. Buick took the simple route: Four-Door Hardtop. For its version of the flat top, Pontiac chose the name Vista, underscoring the design’s excellent 360-degree visibility (glass distortion notwithstanding). Even after the flat tops were discontinued for 1961, Pontiac continued to use the Vista model name for its four-door hardtop styles.
While the flat top era proper at GM lasted only two model years, Cadillac soldiered on for one more year with a variation on the theme (below). The Four Window Sedan style for the SIxty-Two and De Ville models in ’61 used a modified Flying Wing with less rear overhang and a more prominent rear glass. But sales were poor as the more conventional six-window four-door outsold the flat top by more than a five-to-one margin, and the body style was killed off permanently for 1962. Automotive fashion was evolving once again, toward more formal limousine-style roof treatments.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.