Just recently the Dan La Lee Retractable Streamliner was covered here, and that car opened up the search for other earlier designs in an effort to try to find the origin of this style of top. The earliest example to be found was by Benjamin Ellerbeck who was granted a patent for his design of a “shiftable top” in 1921.
In 1922, Ellerbeck constructed one on a 1919 Hudson Super Six that was exhibited at a coachwork exposition in New York City. He later was granted a patent on December 9, 1930, for a very unique retractable top for a roadster that featured a second windshield for the rumble seat.
Ten years after Ellerbeck’s first effort, Georges Paulin a French dentist was granted a patent in his homeland for a very refined retractable top design in 1931. The following year he filed for a U.S. patent for the very unusual design, which is covered in detail at the bottom of this post.
It has been reported that between the years of 1934 and 1938 Paulin was body designer for Carrosserie Pourtout; The designers first retractable tops constructed there, called the “Eclipse” and seen above, were built on various models of the early to mid-thirties Peugeot chassis.
Shortly after the Peugeot model was introduced, Pourtout and Paulin produced the coachwork for the Lancia Belna “Eclipse” seen above left, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon. One example of this very interesting car has survived here in the U.S., and a number of years ago its owner John Moir, demonstrated the operation and construction of it to us in person. More can be learned about this Lancia and the coachbuilder at the Red Room.
The U.S. patent application drawing below was filed on December 15, 1932, covering a French patent already granted to Paulin on June 2, 1931. The link to the patent above describes its operation, and the drawings below clearly show how the intricate design was constructed and operated.
The early history of the retractable top along with later developments of it are covered at Retractable Hardtop Online. If you have seen our the earlier post on the Dan La Lee car, you can now see that car in operation in a 1941 movie staring Deanna Durbin.