All the Removable-hardtop SUVs04/01/2020
The 2020 Jeep Wrangler and the soon-to-arrive 2021 Ford Bronco are the only SUVs with removable hard tops these days, but the market was once full of them. Some of these tops were more removable in theory, requiring lots of tools, patience, muscle power, and possibly new weather strips to remove and reinstall (and just imagine doing it in the pre-YouTube era), but their sales brochures promised sunshine and fresh air while romping up a dusty trail. Here’s a list of all the factory removable hardtop SUVs sold in the U.S. that we could think of. Please let us know if we missed your favorite.
1961-1980 International Scout
International Harvester’s answer to the Jeep CJ was the 100-inch-wheelbase Scout 80. The early ones featured fold-down windshields and a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, and they were also available as a pickup or a wagon with either a soft top or rigid “Traveltop.” This hard top spanned from the windshield header back. In 1966, the Scout 800 Sportop model got a sloped rear window and continental tire kit. All Scout II hardtop models (1971-1980) featured a sportier slanted rear end treatment.
1965-1996 Ford Bronco
Ford’s answer to the Jeep and Scout arrived looking a lot like the Scout, with a fold-down windshield and a choice of pickup, wagon, or doorless roadster configurations, riding on a 92.0-inch wheelbase that split the difference between the CJ-5 (81.0 inches) and the Scout. All featured four-wheel drive. The full pickup and wagon tops must have been reasonably easy to remove because one sees early Broncos photographed topless much more often than the second-gen full-size Broncos. These 1978 and later models featured a fixed roof and B-pillars, with a removable section over the rear seat and cargo area, though from 1991 to ’96 the instructions for top removal were deleted from the manual and bolts were changed to a torx tamperproof design requiring special tools in hopes of discouraging top removal for safety reasons.
1966-1973 Jeepster Commando
As the more civilized Scout and Bronco gained popularity relative to the CJ, Jeep revived the Jeepster name on a 101.0-inch-wheelbase model that aped those newcomers by offering roadster, convertible, pickup, and wagon body styles—the latter two got one-piece metal removable hard tops. The windshield did not fold down, but four-wheel drive was standard (unlike the earlier 1948-1950 Willys-Overland Jeepster, which was rear-drive only).
1969-1991 Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy
Always based on shortened full-size pickup truck architecture, these early-gen Blazers started off with full windshield-back hard tops. They were cumbersome, but once off they provided full convertible sunshine and wind through 1974. Starting in 1975, only the section aft of the B-pillars came off, increasing commonality with the pickups while improving weather-sealing and reducing wind noise. The 1969 models all got four-wheel drive with a live-axle front suspension. A rear-drive option arrived for 1970 with an independent front suspension. No Blazer since the 1992 GMT400 generation has offered a removable top.
1974-1980 Dodge Ramcharger/Plymouth Trail Duster
Based on a new-for-72 Dodge Ram pickup minus 9 inches of wheelbase, the Ramcharger and Trail Duster also started out with full windshield-back hard tops, but only the early 1974 models got frameless door glass. The rest used the pickup truck doors. Billed as basic utility vehicles, the standard vehicle included no roof and only a driver’s seat. A dealer-installed fabric top or a metal hard top with flip-up rear window were options, as were front passenger and rear bench seats. Sadly, the second-gen model built from 1981 to 1993 (’96 in Mexico) went to a fixed roof. Fun fact: There was a third-gen Ramcharger built in Mexico based on the big-rig-nosed Ram pickup for 1999-2001, but its top didn’t come off, either.
1976-2006 Jeep CJ7/CJ8 Scrambler/(YJ/TJ) Wrangler
Somehow it took three model years between the demise of the C104 Commando for Jeep to offer a removable plastic hard top on the longer-wheelbase CJ7. The later CJ8 Scrambler pickup also featured a removable hard top, as did the YJ- and TJ-generation (square and round headlamp) Wranglers. All were one-piece affairs, typically attached with six bolts along the sides and two over-center clips at the windshield. And the tops and doors are largely interchangeable between generations, though some require minor alterations to door strikers, windshield header channels, and the like.
1984-1989 Toyota 4Runner
The first Japanese attempt to mimic the topless pickup truck-cum-SUV formula was Toyota’s Hilux-based (they were just called Pickup here) 4Runner SUV. As on the Big Three’s big two-door utes, the 4Runner used pickup doors and a fixed roof over the front seat, with a removable section behind. Toyota’s was fiberglass and initially only came in black or white, with color matching arriving later for some blue, red, and gold vehicles. Also like the yanks: Four-wheel-drive models started out with a live axle in front, switching to independent in 1986. This also freed up room for an optional V-6 engine in 1988. Fun fact: 1984-1986 models were mostly imported without a rear seat, qualifying them for Chicken Tax evasion.
1994-1995 Land Rover Defender 90
After selling 500 Defender 110s in the U.S. during 1993, Land Rover switched to the shorter 90 model for 1994-1995 fitted with a 3.9-liter V-8 and a manual transmission. Billed as an upscale alternative to the Wrangler, the early ones all came with soft tops and roll cages, though a very rare factory fiberglass removable hard top eventually became available, as did the full metal hardtop wagon variant.
1998-2006 Land Rover Freelander
The original “baby Land Rover” was mostly sold with four-door closed bodywork in the U.S., but Land Rover offered a two-door model that featured a removable section over the rear passenger heads and cargo area. Removal only required undoing two over-center latches at the front and two more at the rear. (Models with luggage bars required their removal via two torx head bolts on either side.)
2007-2020 Jeep (JK/JL) Wrangler/Unlimited
With the advent of the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, both the JK and JL generation Wranglers offered two hard tops, each of which features two independently removable Freedom Top panels above the front seats, greatly simplifying the task of introducing wind to the top of your head. Tops and doors do not interchange between these generations, but top removal has grown considerably easier with this latest JL generation. New Wranglers come equipped with the tool needed and stowage for each of the bolts that secure the top, but it still takes two to wrangle the top off and into its storage location.
What About …
- 1973-1975 Volkswagen 181 (Thing): Wikipedia says a fiberglass hard top was available as an option, but having never seen one in the flesh, we suspect the ones we’re finding on Google are aftermarket jobs.
- 1986-1995 Suzuki Samurai: A soft-top version was offered, and several aftermarket companies sold removable hard tops, but at least in this country there does not seem to have been a factory offering.
- 1989-2005 Suzuki Sidekick/Vitara, Geo/Chevrolet Tracker: Here again, the aftermarket offered the option of a snug, cozy hard top, but the factory doesn’t appear to have offered a hard top.
- 1995-2000 Toyota RAV4: The two-door versions of the original RAV4 design could be had with a fixed roof or a folding soft top, and here again the aftermarket handled the removable hard top.
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