The Memorable Flat-Top Era at General Motors

A Brief but Impactful Period

The flat-top era at General Motors (GM) lasted only two years, from 1959 to 1960, but it made a lasting impression on the automotive world. These distinctive cars emerged during a turbulent time in GM’s design studio as the company transitioned from the legendary Harley Earl to Bill Mitchell. Adding to the chaos, Virgil Exner’s 1957 Chrysler line left GM designers scrambling to innovate.

Rising to the Challenge

In response to these challenges, GM’s stylists wiped their drawing boards clean and introduced some of the most unique cars in the company’s history for the 1959 model year. Among the standout innovations was the bold, blade-like roofline for the four-door hardtops, which quickly earned the nickname “flat top.”

The Birth of the Flying Wing

This striking cantilevered roof design, officially known as the Flying Wing, was conceived by a young Japanese-American GM stylist named Bug Sugano in early 1957. With the help of Carl Renner, who refined the concept for production, the design became a reality. Since GM’s five car divisions shared interior structural sheet metal for 1959, all five brands—Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac—featured their versions of this dramatic roofline.

Unified Design Across Brands

With the flat-top roofline shared across the four-door hardtop models of all five GM brands, the company’s product line boasted a unified appearance that was uncommon in those days. Each brand applied its unique naming conventions: Chevrolet and Oldsmobile called it the Sport Sedan, Cadillac named it the Four Window Sedan, Buick simply went with Four-Door Hardtop, and Pontiac opted for Vista, highlighting the design’s exceptional 360-degree visibility.

The End of an Era

The flat-top cars had a brief but significant run, ending after the 1960 model year. However, the C-Body cars (Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Buick) carried on with a modified version of the design for one more year. For instance, the 1961 Cadillac Sixty-Two and De Ville models featured a version of the Flying Wing with a shorter rear overhang and more prominent rear glass. Despite these tweaks, the design failed to capture buyers’ interest, and sales were significantly lower than the more conventional six-window four-doors, leading to the flat top’s discontinuation in 1962.

A Legacy of Innovation

The flat-top era may have been short-lived but left a lasting legacy in automotive design. GM’s stylists’ daring and innovative approach during this period continues to be celebrated by classic car enthusiasts and serves as a reminder of the bold creativity that defined the golden age of American automobiles.

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