Tuesday, October 4, 2011


My blog the other day on the new Mercedes-Benz CLS Coupe elicited a response from a good friend of mine, not so much about the car itself but about the discussion of what a “coupe” is.
I emailed David back and told him that he had just written my next blog, but it has taken me a couple more days to get around to it than I thought it would.
Here is what David, who knows more about cars and NASCAR than I could ever hope to learn in a couple more lifetimes, had to say about the subject:
The cars, and the vocabulary we use to discuss them, seem to be ever-evolving.

Originally, you recall, a coupe was a vehicle with a single bench seat -- technically not a two-seater, because three people could fit into the single bench if a couple of them were small enough -- and, usually, a rumble seat. (Wonder how many of today's twenty- or thirtysomethings know what the hell THAT is?)

In the late 1940s, there was the “business coupe” which was kind of like today's extended-cab pickup in that it had a very small storage space behind the single bench seat. (Unlike the typical extended-cab truck, the business coupe did NOT have largely useless “jump seats” crammed into the corners of the too-small space. Common sense was a whole lot more prevalent back in the day.)

Then, with the revolutionary new 1949 Ford, there was a two-door sedan and two-door coupe, both with a back seat but the sedan having much more legroom thanks to a longer roof and extended passenger compartment on the same wheelbase as the coupe.

Ah, then came the 1950s and the “hardtop” -- the moniker applied to those steel-top models with both two and four doors that did not have any B pillar (or “post,” as we hot-rodders called them).

The period 1960-69, I believe, was the last full decade in which cars were actually interesting in a traditional sense. It would be impossible for me to pick my all-time favorite car from that decade. Saw an immaculate 1967 GTO (red, which white interior, 421 and four-speed) in St. Charles that I really, badly wanted, and could have bought for $12,000; that one would be right up there at the top.

The ’70s were barely under way when first pollution control and then gas shortages ended the golden days of automobiles. Then the 20th century came to an ignominious end with NASCAR racing four-door models. Of course, they really didn't have ANY doors, and hadn't for some time, but that's a whole different discussion, I suppose.

Side note: Remember the scene in the movie “Bonnie and Clyde” when Bonnie asks C.W. Moss if he knows what kind of car she and Clyde are driving, and Moss answers, “A four-cylinder Ford coupe” (with the French pronunciation “koo-PAY”) and Bonnie corrects him -- “It's a STOLEN four-cylinder Ford coupe.” Both of them are wrong; it’s a roadster -- or cabriolet, as roadsters were also called. I loved that movie, but that particular gaffe always bugged me.
David mentions a rumble seat and whether anyone in the younger generations would have a clue as to what it is.
I’ll save a couple of thousand words here and just show you pictures.
When I was a kid I always wanted to ride in one and though my great-grandfather (yes, he was still alive when I was born) had a car that had a rumble seat, I never did. They still look like fun, but I can imagine what the safety gurus would think if they saw a kid riding around in one today.
The word apoplexy comes to mind.
As David mentioned, automotive terminology is an ever-evolving thing. A few years back, David and I both worked for a magazine editor who didn’t allow us to use the term “crossover vehicle” to describe the genre that was just coming into vogue. Now it’s pretty common.
Better they should have brought back rumble seats.

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