Classic Car Terms and Definitions

Close-Up Of Vintage Car On Taillight
Roman Alyabev / EyeEm / Getty Images

Once you have entered into the classic car world, you may find a language being spoken that is full of jargon and not readily intelligible to outsiders, and it can almost be described as a code or classification that embraces all aspects of classic cars.

Did you know the French used to refer to a convertible as a cabriolet or that the word Classic itself defines cares made between 1925 and 1942, according to the Classic Car Club of America or that doors that open vertically instead of horizontally are known as Gullwing doors?

Discover these definitions and more in the following list of the most common verbiage you'll need to know in order to understand and communicate properly in this very close community, from what generally counts as an antique classic car (before 1917), to the meaning of the slang word Woody.

A - F

  • Antique: Commonly used to describe the earliest vehicles, generally those manufactured through 1916.
  • A-Pillar: The first pair of structural posts supporting the roof and windshield.
  • Bonnet: An English term for the hood of a car.
  • Boot: An English term for the trunk of a car.
  • B-Pillar: The pair of structural posts following the A-Pillars and front doors.
  • Brougham: Commonly used to describe a car with a closed in passenger compartment behind an open driver's seat.
  • Cabriolet: An early French term meaning folding top, or convertible.
  • Classic: The definition varies widely. The Classic Car Club of America states that it refers to vehicles built between 1925 and 1942.
  • Club Coupe: A two-door hard-top with a small rear seat.
  • Concours: A term that refers to a car show of very fine vehicles.
  • Convertible: An open car with windows and a folding soft top attached to the body.
  • Coupe Chauffeur:  An open compartment for the chauffeur followed by a closed compartment for passengers. Also known as a Brougham and a Coupe Limousine.
  • Coupe DeVille: Originally any car with a fixed roof over the rear seat and a convertible roof over the front seat.
  • Coupe: A two door closed body type that is distinguished from sedan by its sleeker body and shorter roof.
  • C-Pillar: The third pair of structural posts following the B-Pillars that supports the roof and rear window.
  • Drag Plates: Metal plates that have a car club's name and logo identifying the vehicle and its driver as a member of that club.
  • Drophead Coupe: An English term for a convertible.
  • Estate Car: The early version of a station wagon.
  • Fencer's Mask: A term used to describe early radiator grills that look like the mask a fencer uses.
  • Fixed Head Coupe: A hardtop coupe.
  • Four on the Floor: The common term for a four-speed manual transmission with the shifting lever mounted on the floor rather than on the steering column.
  • Fodor: A name used by Ford for a four-door sedan in the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Frame-Off Restoration: This is a restoration in which the entire vehicle is completely disassembled and all parts cleaned, rebuilt or replaced as necessary in order to meet the original factory specifications.
  • Frame-Up Restoration: This type of restoration is not as detailed as a frame-off, but usually involves restoring the paint, chrome, interior, and mechanicals without completely dissembling the car.

G - R

  • Governor: A device attached to the carburetor to limit the engine's speed.
  • Gran Turismo (GT): An Italian term, commonly used by US manufacturers, meaning grand touring.
  • Gullwing Doors: Gullwing doors are hinged to open vertically rather than horizontally.
  • Hard Top: An automobile designed to look like a convertible but having a rigidly fixed, hard top.
  • Hood: The American term for the engine cover. In England, the hood is called a bonnet and a convertible top is called a hood.
  • Kit Car: This refers to a reproduction of an existing automotive design sold as a kit that the builders assemble themselves.
  • Landau: Originally described a limousine that had an open driver's compartment, front and back seats that face each other and a two-part convertible roof.
  • Land Yachts: A term referring to oversized luxury vehicles of the late 50s to the early 60s.
  • Matching Numbers: A term used to describe a vehicle whose engine and transmission are marked with the same sequence number as the chassis VIN number.
  • Marque: A model of automobile that has been recognized as a world-class car.
  • Muscle Car: Medium-size cars with large displacement engines built between 1964 and 1972.
  • O.E.M.: Stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and the term is generally used to distinguish between parts made by the original builder and the aftermarket.
  • Opera Coupe: A two-door hardtop with a small folding passenger seat, for easy access to the rear seat.
  • Phaeton: Refers to an open vehicle where the rear seat area is extended for added legroom or for an additional row of seating - typically used in ticker tape parades.
  • Pinstripe: A thin line of paint that is a contrasting color to the body color; originally called a coach-line.
  • Rib: A bow shape of wood or metal that supports a convertible top.
  • Roadster:  A two-seat convertible vehicle without side windows.
  • Rumble Seat: An external seat in the rear of the car.

S - Z

  • Suicide Door: A rear-hinged door, typically for the front seat. It earned the name due to the chance of it opening at any speed would cause the door to whip backward with great force.
  • Targa: A two-door coupe with removable hard top panels over the front seat.
  • Tonneau: Originally the rear seating area, but now the term is usually used to refer to a rear storage area.
  • Tonneau Cover: A fabric cover to protect the Tonneau area of a vehicle.
  • Touring Car: A four-door open design that has no windows or top.
  • Tudor Sedan: Ford coined the word "Tudor" to mean two doors.
  • Trailer Queen: a term used for a collector car that has been restored and is transported to shows in or on trailers with little or no mileage on the odometer.
  • Unibody Construction: Refers to a body and frame that are manufactured as one component.
  • Vintage: Vehicles manufactured between 1916 and 1924.
  • VIN: This is an abbreviation for the Vehicle Identification Number, the car's identification that carries its serial number, model, year of manufacture and basic equipment information.
  • Window Strap: Predecessor to the window crank. A strap attached to the base of a window allowing the window to be pulled up. The strap has a series of holes that can be hooked on an inside pin to hold the window at various levels.
  • Wing: An English term for a fender.
  • Woody: Originally referred to vehicles made out of wood but now is a slang term for a vehicle with wood covering part of the body.