As you all know, I'm an idea man. That rarely equates to good ideas, but still, I'm trying. Recently, I has a strange idea for an auto roof design, something that would sort of fill the gap between a convertible, hardtop, and a jolly. So I drew some quick sketches and then had the head designer over at Jaguar take a look.
That's one of the biggest perks of this job — I can get people who actually know what the hell they're doing tell me how little I know.
But let's get to the idea. Essentially, I was trying to think of ways to get a very open-air feeling while maintaining sun protection, as well as thinking about the concept of a single, centrally-placed roof pillar (well, along with the a-pillars around the windshield). Sort of like an umbrella roof, or maybe a palm frond/spinal cord sort of roof design.
I was thinking this could give a lot of the convertible open-air feel with some real sun protection. Also, I've always been interested in the attempts to make a convertible that wasn't a convertible, like T-tops and Targas and that sort of thing. Pillarless hardtops had some of these traits, as did those Fiat 500 Jolly cars that were used as yacht runabouts and whatnot.
So, my idea had two main forms. First was the more awkward 'umbrella' style, which would have a post mounted exactly in the center of the car to support the roof. All windows would descend, and there may need to be some sort of non-load-bearing C-pillars to close gaps that could fold flat? I'm not sure.
The column could have HVAC vents for the rear and maybe mount LCD screens and whatnot as well. It doesn't exactly look sleek, but I bet for a Jeep-like or Mini-type vehicle it could have a certain funky appeal.
The other alternative is like the one shown up top, the central spine design. This would support the roof from one central pillar at the rear, with all windows being able to drop as well. The roof would be supported by the large spinal pillar, and at the front by the A-pillars flanking the windshield.
I think this one is pretty cool looking, and would make for a striking coupé design that could, when the windows are dropped, become very open-air. Dropping those windows does seem challenging (in my Jag-based design there I pictured the twin rear glasses going up into the roof) but I suspect it'd be possible.
So, I sent these sketches off to Wayne Burgess, the man behind the lovely F-Type and Jaguar's head of design. Incredibly, he took some time to respond, and here's what he said:
Had a think about your crazy single pillar roof schemes, you maniac!
Here are my thoughts:
Aesthetics: the single 'spine' approach which still gives the car a 'coupe like' roof profile, is definitely the more successful. I may have been seduced by the fact you'd traced over an F-Type to illustrate this idea, but it looked infinitely more attractive than the Mini/Beetle idea with the central pillar and the Gazebo roof! Also, importantly, it provides an open roof above the occupants. Which is kind of important!
I guess the question we have to ask with the the central pillar proposal is "if that is the answer, what the hell was the question??" joking aside, given the central pillar route leaves all of the roof panel in place, I'm not sure how much appeal it would have as an alternative to a convertible.
Practicalities: both schemes have a major issue with rear visibility; necessitating either 2 rear view mirrors, (fold down the sunvisors and use the vanity mirrors?) or cameras I guess, as both have a pillar right in the middle of the rear screen!
Structural: again the 'spine' route has more chance of working, due to the greater opportunity of distributing the loads through the chassis, rather than the central pillar which would, by definition, concentrate all of the loads onto one point in a roll over. Human beings tend to prefer to be slowed down gently, rather than coming to an immediate hard stop in an impact!
As for where you'd stow the dropped side and rear glasses with either scheme, you'd be trading a lot of luggage space, and you'd be fighting for package space with things like inner wheel arches etc.
If you designed a car from the outset to use the 'spine' approach, you could probably package your way through this though.
Anyway, I've got twin 2 year olds getting annoyed that I'm not paying then any attention on my day off, so time to go do my Daddy duties!
I suppose his point about "what the hell the question" was is pretty valid. I think I disagree with the visibility issue — there's been plenty of cars with split rear windows, like the first Sting Rays, and they had at least okay visibility. I mean, probably not great, since they later got rid of the split, but still.
Actually, his points are all pretty cogent, if I'm honest. And it's pretty terrific any designer of his caliber would even dignify my ideas with a response, so everyone should keep that in mind when they're making their favorite auto designer collages.
More importantly, I don't think I'm reading too much between the lines to absolutely say the likely upcoming F-Type coupe will absolutely be incorporating my spinal-roof design. How could they resist the challenge of the almost certain massive leaking issues?
I guess they'll just tell me where to pick up my check?