Last week, Driving reviewed the new Mercedes SLC, the successor to the stylish SLK. Originally launched at the Turin motor show, in 1996, the SLK was so-named because it was positioned as a smaller —”kurz” (compact) — version of the SL roadster, which stood for “sportlicht, leicht” (sporty, light).
At the time, the stylish SLK was something of a revelation. It featured a novel retractable solid roof which could turn heads from 50 paces and left owners of Aston Martins, Ferrari and Porsches looking on as they tried to suppress their envy. Even the SLK’s big brother, the SL, had to make do with a fabric roof until 2001.
The car and its clever two-piece, electro-hydraulically controlled roof appealed to drivers who wanted to strut their stuff the moment the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. There was nothing else like it on sale. But it wasn’t the first car sold with a folding solid roof.
Do you know which car maker first beat Mercedes to selling a car with a folding solid roof? And which model turned heads, way back in the 1930s? Scroll down for the answer…
It was Peugeot that first sold a car with a retractable hard top roof, way back in 1935. And impressively, the 402 Éclipse featured an automated system that meant all any gentleman driver had to do was open the passenger door for their lady friend, then take to the driver’s seat and press a button — the car opened the roof and the date was off to a flying start.
The car was said to be inspired by the art deco movement, and intended to win over drivers who had been impressed by Citroën’s Traction Avant, of 1934.
It was the idea of Georges Paulin, a dentist from Paris who had a passion for cars. Paulin created the retractable roof model, based on Peugeot’s 301, and sold it privately.
Once word reach Peugeot, the company bought the patent for the roof mechanism and launched the 402 Éclipse in ’35.