VW sheds light on evolution of the sunroof

Panoramic roofs are hot items with buyers craving more natural light

Published: October 22, 2017, 5:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:06 PM

VW Polo panoramic sunroof

Despite an investigation into their propensity to shatter more easily than their smaller brethren, panoramic sunroofs are hot items with new buyers craving for more natural light in their vehicles’ interiors.

Volkswagen is shedding a little light into the evolution of the sunroof, reminiscing back to the original full-roof fabric-covered opening in the Type 1 that would become fondly referred to as, and later renamed, the Beetle.

Beetle sunroof history actually goes back to 1950, with a full roof folding fabric top, though the history of the sunroof dates back to a 1937 option on a Nash sedan. Historically, sunroofs are roof panels that can be tilted, moved or removed, either manually or electrically. The glass roof came along in ’70s, with Lincoln reportedly coining the term moonroof to differentiate the glass panel on the Lincoln Mark IV’s roof, which was developed by American Sunroof Corporation (ASC).

In the early days, many manufacturers farmed out sunroof installations to aftermarket companies, which also sold the components directly to consumers. Today, sunroof installations are performed on the assembly line, and more and more models are fitted with full glass roofs, featuring one of more movable panels. Volkswagen offers panoramic roofs for all its models.

The company showed off a full glass roof in 1994 on its Concept One, which would be developed into the New Beetle (now just Beetle). The full roof could open rearwards, sliding under the rear window, to open up the entire cabin (without obstructing rear view through the inside mirror). The new-look Porsche Targa at the time came to production with the same design sliding full-glass roof.

Interestingly enough, the folding fabric roof had a renaissance at around the same time, in the mid-’90s, carried on in retro models such as the Fiat 500. However, most models with sunroofs over the past couple decades have used glass panels. And since the mid-’90s, more and more full glass roof models have been offered to the point of today, where any car that offers a sunroof is almost certain to have glass over the entire roof panel.