The terminology describing body styles is confusing, as manufacturers use body type names to differentiate them from the competition. Most is based on the terminology of coach-building at the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, the same word has often meant different things to, say, an Englishman, a Frenchman or an American. Various combinations of these terms were used and it all became so confusing that the US magazine 'Motor' attempted to standardise the useage of terminology in 1921

However, below is a simple vocabulary from the early days of motoring:

BERLINA - Rarely used before the first World War. In general it meant a closed luxury car, often with a small window which permitted the occupants to see but barely to be seen.


CAB - A term taken directly from horsedrawn carriage vocabulary and used to define a vehicle in which two passengers were enclosed while the driver was situated some distance away, usually in front and unprotected. But there were also electric cabs with the driver seated high up at the rear.

CABRIOLET - A word used to describe a car with collabsible hood, with two or four seats.

CONDUIT-INTERIEUR (FR) - INNENLENKER (DE) Interior-Drive Limousine Enclosed-drive limousine

COUPÉ - Originally a vehicle 'cut' by a glass division, fixed or moveable, behind the front seats. The driving position was only partially protected by the roof whilst the totally enclosed rear was very luxurious.

COUPE-CABRIOLET or DOUBLE CABRIOLET - A long vehicle, the front part of which was designed as a coupe, whilst the rear part had the collapsible hood of a cabriolet. There were often two supplementary seats.

COUPÉ-CHAUFFEUR - A coupé with the driving position completely covered by a fixed roof, which was an extension of the rear roof.

COUPÉ DE VILLE - A coupé with the driving position completely open.

COUPÉ-LIMOUSINE - A vehicle with a totally enclosed rear and with the front part closed on the sides only.


DOUBLE BERLINA - A lengthened berlina with the driving position enclosed but separated from the rear part of the vehicle.

DOUBLE LANDAULET - A lengthened landaulet with two permanent seats plus two occasionals in the rear, and a driving position in front.

DOUBLE PHAETON - A phaeton with two double seats, including that of the driver.


DOUBLE TONNEAU - A lengthened tonneau in which the front seats were completely separate from the rear.

FAUX CABRIOLET - lit.: false cabriolet; French for Coupé :-)

INSIDE-DRIVEN BROUGHAM - similar to a coupe

Inside Driven Brougham

Inside Driven Brougham


KING OF BELGIANS (Roi des Belges)

King of Belgians

King of Belgians


LANDAU - A cabriolet limousine in which only the roof behind the rear windows was collapsible.

LANDAULET or LANDAULETTE - A small landau with only two seats in the closed collapsible roof portion.




LIMOUSINE - 1. A lengthened coupe with double lateral windows in the rear part. 2. The limousine had a closed compartment seating three or more passengers, but the driver was seated in front at the mercy of the elements

LIMOUSINE-CHAUFFEUR - A limousine with the rear roof extended forward to cover the driving position.


PHAETON - A term again taken from the days of the horse-drawn carriage. In the early days of motoring it described a light car with large spoked wheels, with one double seat and generally a hood.

Side Entrance Phaeton

1906 Walter Side Entrance Phaeton


RUNABOUT - An open sporting type of vehicle, generally with only two seats and simple bodywork.


1906 Olds Runabout

1906 Olds Runabout


SKIFF or CAB-SKIFF - An open sports car with streamlined, light bodywork.

SEDAN - Another word for Saloon


"GLASS" SALOON - A large closed vehicle, generally similar to a double berlina but with very large windows.

SALOON - A vehicle with the driving seat inside the enclosed car with no separation from the rear seats.


TORPEDO - A long sports vehicle with hood, which was attached to the windscreen.

TONNEAU - An open vehicle with a bench seat in front and a semi-circular seat behind. A part of the seat was built into the rear door.

TOURING CAR - A car suitable for touring. It was longer than a phaeton to allow for a tonneau (the rear compartment behind the driver's seat)

Touring car

1906 Touring Thomas Flyer



Town Car

1906 Studebaker Town Car


VICTORIA - Another term derived from the era of horses. The Victoria was long and luxurious with a separate driving position and a large rear seat, and was equipped with hoods and sidescreens.

VOITURETTE - Used to describe an early touring car with two seats only and no hood.

WAGON-SALOON - A particularly luxurious saloon used in America for official purposes.

[Based on a list in: History of the Motor Car - New English Library, and compiled from various sources including The Autocar (various issues 1919-1921), The Handbook of Gasoline Automobiles 1904, 1905-1906 - Dover Publications reprint 1969]

This glossary is work in progress - I have added some illustrations to make the differences and similarities a bit clearer.

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