Are you sitting down? You probably should be sitting down. I realize that those of you reading this currently strapped into jetpacks or deep underwater, laden with scuba gear may not have such an option, but I suppose do your best to relax and get somewhere safe before taking in this news. Are you ready? Here it is: landau bars seem to be coming back. Stay calm! Please, remain calm. Just hear me out. I don’t have definitive evidence of a coordinated effort to re-introduce landau bars into the automotive design landscape, but there do certainly seem to be signs, ominous signs, that the landau bar is re-emerging from it’s decades-long exile, and is coming back, albeit in a highly disguised new form. Let’s investigate.
First, just in case any of you are unaware what a landau bar is, I’m happy to explain. You’ve likely mostly seen them on cars with vinyl roofs, especially ones where they want to seem like convertibles. Oh, and hearses, too – you’ve definitely seen them on hearses.
These bars were often used to impart some vague notions of “class” or “luxury” to cars, and were even available on their own, as add-on bits that you could buy through catalogs like JC Whitney:
But what the hell are they supposed to be? Just what is this strange S-shaped bit of metal, anyway? Fundamentally, it’s just a hinge! A big, clunky, external hinge used to fold convertible roofs, a design that dates back to the early 19th century, at least. Here’s an example of a convertible car with a functional landau bar-type hinge, compared to a stylized landau bar seen on Shinzo Abe’s hearse last year:
Landau bars had a sort of re-emergence outside of cars designed to hold corpses in the 1960s and 1970s, and perhaps a bit into the 1980s, with mostly Ford building cars with them from the factory and a surprisingly persistent aftermarket stick-on-landau-bar demand. Of course, eventually the world began to wise up, slowly, and landau bars came to be seen as silly kitch on most passenger cars (hearses still somehow get a pass?). At this point in time, the automotive design world sees them as embarrassing relics of the past.
Or do they? Perhaps not. Thanks to the Bishop, I was tipped off to what appears to be a secret, underground trend to re-introduce the landau bar into the automotive non-hearse design vocabulary. The goals of these neo-landau bars are essentially the same as always: provide some bit of visual interest on an otherwise boring expanse of D-pillar area. Only now the landau bar design has been dramatically distilled down and minimized, just an echo of what it once was, but that doesn’t mean that deep down, it’s not a sort of landau bar. Here, just look:
Those are examples from Genesis, Lexus, Infiniti, and two Jeeps. There’s more out there as well. But I think these illustrate what’s going on. This new era of stealth landau bar is usually integrated in some way into the existing brightwork; it’s contiguous with other trim, and yet it still takes on the characteristic diagonal/somewhat S-shaped shape of the traditional landau. It still diagonally bisects the D-pillar space, and the fundamental goals are still the same, to impart some idea of class or luxury or a certain expensive-feeling gravity.
It’s modernized and has been smoothed and shaved down and been forced to flip through countless volumes of Architectural Digest, but what we’re looking at here are still bars of landau. Can we allow these to keep going, to possibly multiply, and expand?
Will they proliferate? And if they do, will the eventually regain enough confidence to shed their forced subtlety, and re-emerge as full, unashamed landau fucking bars on every car we see?
Maybe. But we’ve at least gotten a hint of what’s starting. It may not be too late.