History of the Sunroof


By  AIS Windshield Experts

Category:  Sunroof Installation

Types of Sunroofs
Sunroofs have become a common feature in cars today. However, with different styles and terminology, choosing the right type can be confusing. This article explains the key features of various sunroof types so that you can choose the best one that fits your budget, needs, and preferences.

The Origins of Sunroofs

The concept of an openable roof panel traces back over a century before automobiles to 19th-century horse-drawn carriages. These coaches incorporated manually adjustable openings, allowing ventilation and sunlight control inside as 20th-century car design progressed towards enclosed cabins; similar retractable roof panels brought fresh airflow when desired, hence the apt “sunroof” terminology. However, these early functional attempts failed to gain traction in early production cars.

Specialty Creations Establish Exclusive Appeal

With the lacklustre factory adoption of sunroofs initially, the first glimmers of this feature’s appeal shone via specialty coachbuilders creating bespoke models for affluent owners wanting to customise luxury vehicles. Manually operated sliding steel or vinyl panels grew trendy on custom builds from the 1920-40s, targeting upmarket patrons rather than average motorists. Still, the seed was planted for mass-market potential.

Powered Movement Reshapes Mainstream Perceptions

A pivotal moment arrived in 1955 as Ford’s luxury division Lincoln introduced available dealer-installed power sliding glass sunroofs. The comfort of electronic push-button operation proved far more practical than previous manual versions. Integrated powered glass retained handsome styling, too. Success in Lincoln flagships inspired broader adoption dreams. Detroit glimpsed this cabin enhancement’s mass appeal possibilities.

Glass Emerges as a Game-Changing Material

Early factory and coachbuilder models relied on opaque steel or vinyl panels, denying light permeation when closed. However, emerging tempered privacy glass manufacturing enabled translucent overhead windows, allowing sunlight infiltration even sans operational opening. Beyond bolstering the sun-filled ambience of open sunroofs, glass enhanced spatial perception while retaining sound-dampening and climate control abilities. An enduring refinement was born.

Design Targets Form and Function

Early sunroofs constantly jutted upwards externally, even when shut. But engineering refinements facilitated neatly integrated flush-fitting designs. This boosted aerodynamic efficiency crucial for performance aspirations while enhancing sleek aesthetics. Practicality climbed too - low-profile recessed sunroof components proved more versatile for car wash machinery and garage clearance. Overall functionality and owner satisfaction rose in parallel thanks to handsome form.

Advanced Mobility Systems Unlock Positioning Potential

Basic sunroof backwards sliding grew outdated fast as mid-century innovations unlocked multi-axis motion freedom. Pivoting lever and electric actuator mechanisms enabled nuanced glass positioning from subtle ventilation gaps to wide-open cabin airing. Centralised pop-up designs allowed for modulating tilt angles. Low-profile spoilers retracted seamlessly under trailing roof edges to sustain high-speed stability. Custom asymmetrical movement mimicked giant curved panoramic windows. With such expressive flexibility, sunroofs could truly deliver on personalised open-air desires.

Difference Between Sunroof And Moonroof

Among enthusiasts, the terms “sunroof” and “moonroof” are occasionally used when referring to glass overhead panels. But subtle differences exist in their functionality*:
  • Sunroofs - Originally described as opaque movable steel/vinyl panels reliant on external displacement for light entry.
  • Moonroofs - Specifically indicate transparent glass enabling sunlight permeation while closed, but that can also slide open.
  So true sunroofs rely fully on panel retraction outside to enable interior illumination. At the same time, moonroofs incorporate static transparency abilities alongside operational mobility. Yet nowadays, most factory “sunroofs” feature tinted privacy glass with integrated moonroof-esque attributes.

Types of Sunroofs

Beyond baseline pop-up/slide sunroof offerings, automakers now serve diverse preferences with an expansive menu of powered sunroof types:  
  • Inbuilt: Glass conceals completely within the ceiling to maximise opening proportions.
  • Pop-Up: The hinged panel tilts upwards to ventilate without fully exposing the interior.
  • Spoiler: The extension disappears neatly beneath the trailing roof edge at speed.
  • Panoramic: Extra-wide glass spans the entire roofline.
  • Solar: The photovoltaic layer harnesses sunlight to independently power accessories.
  With such extensive styles and functionality ranges, new car customers can discover their perfect balance when optioning factory-integrated or aftermarket sunroof installation upgrades.


When shopping for a new or used car, clarify the exact sunroof style and positioning capabilities upfront by asking our listed questions. And work with providers able to source or custom-fit your desired factory or aftermarket sunroof solution. Driving off with your ideal overhead glass features maximises enjoyment and long-term value from any vehicle purchase.   Get in touch with AIS Windshield Experts for additional details regarding sunroof installation and windshield replacement.

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