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Dictionary of Historic Automotive Terms


A Short Glossary

Automotive body designers often used traditional coachbuilding terms to describe new designs. As automotive styling diverged from traditional coach styles, these terms were often applied imaginatively. Designers took creative liberties with terms which could be contradictory from make to make as did sales managers attempting to create an aura of, for example, sportiness. Terms such as "sedanca" and "deVille" have been applied so broadly to so many different body styles as to render them almost meaningless for exact descriptive purposes. Thus any Glossary has a certain whimsical nature with inherent imprecision.

Abbreviations: Br.- British; Fr. - French; It. -Italian

  ANTIQUE - Most states and many multi marque auto Clubs consider any vehicle that is at least 25 years old to be an "antique."  Purists would argue that the term refers to vehicles made no later than 1915.

ALL WEATHER or ALLWEATHER - a term used in the twenties and rarely in the thirties for a Cabriolet. In England it can denote a four door convertible sedan.

 BARCHETTA - "little boat", a two seater roadster with flowing lines, often applied to the Ferrari 166.

BAROUCHE- a carriage term very rarely used for automobiles. The driver sat in an open front seat with two couples facing each other inside a closed cabin. There was a folding top over the rear seat.

BEACH WAGON - a term for station wagon used mostly in New England.

BERLINE - a sedan

BOATTAIL - a speedster with a tapering (i.e. v-shaped) rear section

BONNET - (Br.) the hood over the front engine

BOOT - (Br.) the trunk

BREACK (Fr.) - station wagon

BROUGHAM - in early motoring a broad term signifying a closed car for two or four persons. In later forms often with an open front driver's compartment. When with sharp lines and flat surfaces it was called a PANEL BROUGHAM.

BUSINESS COUPE - a simple two door coupe without a rumble seat

CABRIOLET - a convertible with windows. Can have an indeterminate number of doors and windows.

As an example, Mercedes offered five variations:
A) two doors, two windows, two passengers
B) two doors, four windows, four passengers
C) two doors, two windows, four passengers
D) four doors, four windows, four passengers
F) four doors, six windows, six passengers

CALIFORNIA TOP - a fixed rigid top applied to a touring car replacing the regular folding top, usually with sliding glass windows for weather protection

CLASSIC - a term defined by the Classic Car Club of America to include only specific important marques built between 1925 and 1948.  Often applied loosely by owners to any car.

CLUB COUPE - a two door closed car with a rear seat.

COACH - a two door sedan

CONCOURS - a gathering or show of the elegant. It is often misspelled "concourse" which means a driveway, promenade or open space as in an air terminal.

CONVERTIBLE - a car with a folding top and windows

CONVERTIBLE ROADSTER - a convertible is an open car with windows; a roadster is an open car without windows, hence a term which contradicts itself. Used by Lincoln, Chrysler and others about 1930 to emphasize sportiness.

CONVERTIBLE VICTORIA - a four passenger two door two window cabriolet.

COUPE - a closed car with two doors for two or three people. May also have a rudimentary rear seat in which case it is usually called a Club Coupe.

COUPE CHAUFFEUR (Fr.) - chauffeur driven car with passengers fully enclosed and the chauffeur exposed. Body has a blind rear quarter.

COUPE de VILLE - "town coupe" - applied imaginatively to various body styles Usually a four passenger two door car with a permanently closed roof over the rear seats and a removable top covering the front seats. But Renault and Bugatti used this term for a Panel Brougham. See SEDANCA.

COUPELET - a term used especially by Ford to describe a Model T two seater Cabriolet.

COUPE LIMOUSINE (Fr.) - chauffeur driven car with the passengers fully enclosed and the chauffeur exposed. Body has rear quarter windows.

COUPE MILORD (Fr.) - See VICTORIA

CYCLE FENDERS - usually a front and sometimes a rear fender similar to that used on a bicycle which follows the curvature of the wheel .

deVILLE EXTENSION - a sliding roof over the front seat with side arms that folded back into the remaining roof thus producing a Sedanca configuration in metal rather than the usual fabric.

DICKEY -(Br.) Rumble seat

DROPHEAD (Br.) - convertible, usually a "Drophead Coupe".

DUAL COWL - a touring car with a rear windshield mounted on a folding cowl which covers part of the rear compartment.

EPICYCLIC - a transmission of two speeds in which a center sun gear is mated to three planet gears and rotates either as a unit or as a lower gear linked to the rotating planet gears.

ESTATE CAR - a station wagon

FAUX CABRIOLET (Fr.) - a fixed head coupe made to resemble a cabriolet.

FINE-LINE (Br.) - a body stripe

FIXED HEAD COUPE (Br.) - a closed coupe

FORDOR - Ford's name for a four door sedan.

GOUTTE d'EAU (Fr.)- a body with a "tear drop" design, flowing down to the rear.

GOVERNOR - a device used with the carburetor to maintain constant engine speed regardless of load.

GRAN TURISMO (It.) - grand touring

GP (Fr.) - Grand Prix (Great Prize)

GT - Grand Touring

HOOD - the sheet metal covering the engine

HOOD (Br.) - a convertible top

HORSELESS CARRIAGE - a term defined by the Horseless Carriage Club of America applying to cars built before 1915

HORSEPOWER - a unit of work. 550 foot pounds per second or .745kw

JUG (slang) - carburetor.  Vintage Volkswagon owners use the term to refer to the cylinder head and chamber assembly

LANDAU- a two seated vehicle which could be fully converted by a two section opening convertible top. Rarely used in automobiles.

LANDAULET - a limousine in which the section over the rear seat opens.

LANDAULETTE (Fr.) - a two door car in which the the top over the rear seats folds down.

LIGHT - a side window.

LIMOUSINE - a chauffeured sedan often with a longer wheelbase and usually with a division between the chauffeur and the passengers.

In the thirties and later, the rear compartment had luxurious features with controls for heating, radio and opening and closing the glass division.

MARQUE (Fr.) (Pronounced "mark") - a make or brand of car

MM - Mille Miglia, a 1000 mile Italian road race from 1927 to 1957

MOTHER-IN-LAW SEAT - a single seat attached to the back of a two seater car, the forerunner of the rumble seat. It can also denote a seat placed on the opposite side of the car from the driver.

MUFFLER CUT-OUT - a valve located on the exhaust pipe between the engine and the muffler. When opened it allowed exhaust gas to pass directly to the open air which made a great noise and slightly increased power.

OPERA COUPE - a two door closed car with a small folding seat beside the driver. This allowed easy passage to a rear seat for two, usually offset to the right in left-hand drive cars.

PANEL BROUGHAM - see BROUGHAM

PHAETON - from the Greek "Phaethon" who drove the chariot of his sun-god father, Helios. A small four door open touring car.

PICKING-OUT (Br.) - a molding color in contrast to a body color

POT (Slang) - a carburetor

QUARTER WINDOW or QUARTER LIGHT- the side window behind the rear door. In very early British usage, the rear window was sometimes counted as a quarter light;

SPORTIF - a very tight or narrow phaeton. Used by Locomobile among others.

SPORT COUPE - a closed coupe with a cloth top and sometimes landau irons resembling a convertible

SPYDER - a light two seater roadster

S.S. - Super Sport

STATION WAGON - a utility car built of wood, typically with four doors.

STRANGLER (Br.) - a carburetor choke

SUBURBAN - a seven passenger limousine

SUICIDE DOOR- a rear hinged door, typically for the front seat. At speed any chance opening would cause the door to whip backward with great force.

SUPERLEGGERA (It.) - super light

THREE POSITION COUPE - A Coupe De Ville which may be presented as a fully closed coupe, a deVille Coupe with the front section open or a fully collapsible convertible.

TONNEAU - the rear compartment of a car body, usually an open touring body.

TORPEDO (Fr.) - an very smooth touring car without horizontal moldings.

TOURING CAR - a four door open car without windows.

TOWN CABRIOLET - A town car in which the covered rear section converts to an open car.

TOWN CAR - a chauffeur driven car with the passengers fully enclosed and the chauffeur exposed. Also known as a SEDANCA de VILLE or TOWN BROUGHAM

TRANSFORMABLE (Fr.) a four door convertible with windows.

TRANSFORMABLE TOWN CAR - see Town Cabriolet

TUDOR SEDAN - Ford's term for a two door.

TWIN SIX - Packard's first twelve cylinder car introduced in late 1915 and produced until 1920. When the new V12 was reintroduced by Packard in 1932, the term was reused for that first year only.

UNDERSLUNG - an automobile whose frame passed underneath the axles. Used primarily by the American Motor Company of Indianapolis from 1907 to 1914

VICTORIA - a close coupled two door sedan or an enlarged coupe with a rear seat. - an opera coupe (q.v.). Also a four door open car with folding top over the rear seat only. Known in France as a COUPE MILORD.

VINTAGE - formerly a term describing cars built between 1915 and 1925 but now used broadly, especially in England, to include cars manufactured between 1920 and 1942.

WEYMANN - a patented body in which wooden frame members were joined by metal strips preventing the wood from touching and squeaking.

WINDOW STRAP - a strap attached to the base of a window which passed inside the body up to the sill and into the interior of the car. It could be used to pull the window up. Holes in the strap could be buckled against an interior pin to hold the window at various elevations.

WINDSCREEN (Br.)- windshield

WING (Br.) - fender

WINTER FRONT - a patented name for a shuttered radiator cover by the Pines Co. which could be opened and closed to regulate engine temperature.

WOODY - a motor vehicle incorporating natural finished wood for structure and all exposed parts of the body.  The term has been loosely applied to any car which uses wood or wood looking material (usually plastic) on the exterior of the body.

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