For a few years now, you’ve probably been hearing about a particular feature common to many vehicles—the moonroof. But you might be wondering things like “just what the heck is a moonroof?” “How is it different from a sunroof?” And “does it involve night driving?” Well, those are all fair questions! So your friends here at Team Ford decided to give you a quick crash course on the history of the moonroof, so you can be the smart one at your next trivia night!
Evolution of the Chauffeur Cabin
To understand the difference, we need to go way back to the invention of the automobile. Back in the early days, most passenger automobiles weren’t driven by their owners. They were designed like a carriage or coach, with a covered passenger compartment, and a separate chauffeur cabin, which was usually either open to the air (as having a chauffeur was a status symbol, and you wanted to show that off.) However, as vehicles became more ubiquitous and road speeds increased, driving in bad weather became more of a concern. Many automobile owners started to take pride and pleasure in driving themselves—especially as companies like Ford began producing more affordable vehicles for the average buyer! This necessitated an evolution of the chauffeur cabin to shelter the driver. At first, temporary tops were the solution (what we might recognize today as a convertible roof), but eventually, the passenger and driver compartments were both joined together inside an unbroken roofline.
But what about a driver who still wanted to be open to the air, but didn’t want to have to remove the whole roof?
Introducing the Sunroof
To facilitate this desire, many vehicles began to offer a removable panel over the front seats. While this was a fine option, it wasn’t perfect. Bentley gets the credit for coining the term “sunroof” in the 1930’s, when they introduced a sliding panel over the front row. The beauty of this new design innovation was it didn’t need to be fully removed, making it convenient for the driver to quickly slide it closed if the weather turned. Sunroofs also began to be offered in regular consumer vehicles, rather than just the high-end luxury models.
Evolution of the sunroof design would continue over the decades, including a mechanism which allowed the sunroof to be locked in position. Tilting pop-up roofs were also introduced, allowing for a vent over the cabin space—many could be removed like the panels of old if you wanted to open the vehicle up. Eventually, the proliferation of more electronics and automation within the vehicle allowed for powered sunroofs which could be retracted with the push of a button. We also see the first few examples of what will eventually be called the “moonroof” as early as the ’30s… but it was Ford which would coin the term, and popularize the design, several decades later.
Seeing Through the Moonroof
The sunroof was a great feature for a driver who wanted to let a little of the outdoors into the cabin of their automobile. But what if you wanted to let in the natural light of the outdoors while the weather was bad, or it was cold (like we experience here in Edmonton, brr!) This is where the big difference comes in. You see, a sunroof is a removable panel over the cabin of your vehicle.
The moonroof, though, is transparent!
As we mentioned above, a few transparent sunroof designs made the rounds even as early as the 1930’s. But there weren’t as popular as the basic sunroof, and the limitations on technology made them expensive. Things had changed by 1973, though, and the world was ready for more light in their vehicles! Ford marketing manager John Atkinson is credited as the first to use the term to describe a transparent sunroof at the introduction of the Ford Continental Mark IV. The term stuck, and today any sunroof which lets in light while closed is generally referred to as “a moonroof.”
Today’s moonroof has become more ubiquitous, due to a combination of further advances in technology, more cost-effective manufacturing, and consumer demand for a roof panel you can see the stars through! Glass and plexiglass are both used, and they come in a variety of styles (and sizes!) depending on the make and model of automobile you’re looking at.
So, there you have it—all moonroofs are sunroofs, but not all sunroofs are moonroofs!
We have a huge selection of Ford cars, trucks and SUVs here at Team Ford, and virtually all of them have an available moonroof! Come check out the latest models today.