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A coupé or coupe (from the French verb couper, to cut) is a closed car body style, the precise definition of which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and over time. Coupés are often hardtopped sports cars or sporty variants of sedan (saloon) body styles, with doors commonly reduced from 4 to 2, and a close-coupled interior (i.e., the rear seat placed further forward than in a standard sedan) offering either two seats or 2+2 seating (space for two passengers in the front and two occasional passengers or children in the rear). Before the days of motorized vehicles, the word referred to the front or after compartment of a Continental stagecoach.


In Europe (including the United Kingdom), the original French spelling, coupé, and a modified French pronunciation ( k'oo- ), are used. The stress may be on either the first or second syllable; stressing the first syllable is the more Anglicized variant. Most, but not all speakers of North American English, at this time, pronounce coupé as "coop" ( ) and spell it without the acute accent (coupe). This was a gradual change from the original French pronunciation occurring prior to World War II. A very North American example of usage is the hot-rodders' term Deuce Coupe ("doose coop") used to refer to a 1932 Ford.


In the 19th century a coupé was a closed four-wheel horse-drawn carriage, cut (coupé) to eliminate the forward-mounted, rear-facing passenger seats, with a single seat inside for two persons behind the driver, who sat on a box outside. If the driver had no roof over his head then it was a coupé de-ville. Commonly, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment, The driver was protected from road dirt by a high curving dashboard. A landau is a coupé de-ville with a folding top. Where only the passenger compartment has a folding top but the driver remains covered, the style is known as a landaulet.

Through the 1950s opening-roof convertible automobiles were sometimes called drop-head coupés, but since the 1960s the term coupé has generally been applied exclusively to fixed-head models. Coupés generally have two doors, although automobile makers have offered four-door coupés and three and five-door hatchback coupés. Modern coupés often have the styling feature of frameless doors, with the window glass sealing directly against a weather-strip on the main body.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) distinguishes a coupé from a sedan (saloon) primarily by interior volume; SAE standard J1100 defines a coupé as a fixed-roof automobile with less than of rear interior volume. A car with a greater interior volume is technically a two-door sedan, not a coupé, even if it has only two doors. By this standard, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ferrarimarker 612 Scaglietti, and Mercedes-Benz CL-Class coupés are all two-door sedans. Only a few sources, however (including the magazine Car and Driver), use the two-door sedan label in this manner. Some car manufacturers may nonetheless choose to use the word coupé (or coupe) to describe such a model (e.g., the Cadillac Coupe de Ville).

Alternatively, a coupé is often distinguished from a two-door sedan by the lack of a B pillar to support the roof. Sedans have an A pillar forward at the windscreen, a B pillar aft of the door, and a C pillar defining the aftermost roof support at the rear window. Thus with all side-windows down, a coupé would appear windowless from the A to the C pillars. These fixed-roof models are described as a hardtop or pillarless coupé. Though, to confuse things even further, there are many hardtop/pillarless two and four door sedans. Targa top, or just 'T'-top models are a variation on the convertible design, where the roof centre section can be removed, in one or two sections, leaving the rest of the roof in place. Yet another variation on the convertible or drop-head coupé is the fully retractable hardtop. In this form the car has all the adantages of fixed-head vehicle but, at the touch of a button, the entire roof lifts off, folds and stows away in the trunk (boot). Though retractables were tried many years ago by Peugeot, in Europe and Ford, in the US, with the Fairlaine Skyliner, it is only in the 21st century that there has been an explosion in the popularity of this bodystyle.

During the 20th century, the term coupé was applied to various close-coupled automobiles.

Manufacturers have used the term coupé in several varieties, including:
Club coupé: a coupé with a larger rear seat, which would today be called a two-door sedan.
Business coupé: a coupé with no rear seat or a removable rear seat intended for traveling salespeople and other vendors who would be carrying their wares with them.
Opéra coupé: a coupé de-ville with a high roofed passenger compartment such that the owners could be driven to the opera without the need to remove their large hats. These often had 'occasional' rear facing seats that folded downward for use by children or extra passengers. These cars most closely approximated a motorised version of the original horse-drawn coupé. Often, they would have solid rear-quarter panels, with small, circular windows, to enable the occupants to see out without being seen. These 'opera windows' made a brief re-appearance on US automobiles in the 1970s.
Sports coupé or berlinetta: a body with a sloping roof, sometimes sloping downward gradually in the rear in the manner known as fastback.
Four-door coupé: a sedan with classic coupé-like proportions. The designation was first applied to a low-roof model of the Rover P5 from 1962 until 1973, but was revived as recently as 2004 by the Mercedes-Benz CLS.
Quad coupé: Quad coupé is a marketing name for cars with one or two small rear doors with no B pillar.
Combi coupé: Combi coupé is a marketing term used by Saab for a car body similar to the liftback.
With the growing popularity of the pillarless hardtop during the 1950s some automakers used the term coupé to refer to hardtop (rigid, rather than canvas, automobile roof) models and reserved the term sedan for their models with a B pillar. This definition was by no means universal, and has largely fallen out of use with near-demise of the hardtop. Similarly, a Rover P5 saloon model came in a body style with a lower roof that was called a coupé. Technically, it was cut, as the original definition required, but it was not a shorter car body.

Today coupé has become more of a marketing term for automotive manufacturers, than a fact of the vehicle's design and technical makeup. They ascribe the term to any vehicle with two, three, and now even four-doors, for the term's perceived luxury or sporting appeal. This is because coupés in general are seen as sportier than sedans; hence a coupé would be marketed as a sportier vehicle than a two-door sedan. As well, while previous coupés were "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", new coupés often have different sheet metal and styling than their four-door counterparts.


Image:SC06 2006 Bentley Continental GT.jpg|The Bentley Continental GT Coupé.Image:Royal Carriage; collection of Leopold II.JPG|Gala-Coupé of Leopold II, Brussels.Image:Rover 800 02.jpg|1997 Rover 800 Coupé.Image:Rover P5 coupé.jpg|Rover P5 Coupé, a traditional four-door coupé.Image:SunbeamAlpineFastback.jpg|1970s Sunbeam Alpine fastback coupé based on the Hillman Hunter.File:Fiat Coupe vl blue.jpg|1999 Fiat Coupé.File:Matador1.JPG|The 1974-1978 AMC Matador Coupe was a completely different design than 4-door models.Image:HPFirenzasideview.jpg|1971-75 Vauxhall Firenza was a 2-door coupé variant of the VivaFile:Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.jpg|1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Coupe.File:Cadillac Coupe de Ville 1954 front.jpg| 1954 Cadillac Coupe DeVille

See also

Notes and references

  1. H. L. MENCKEN (1936), American Language (ed. 4) vii. 347, "I for coupé".
  2. "Quad coupe" Urban Dictionary, December 10, 2006, retrieved on February 22, 2009.

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