1920 Essex Coach and 2010 Ford Focus
There are two once-common automotive body styles that have become extinct: the two door sedan and the two door station wagon. We covered the history of the two door wagon here, whose life span was considerably shorter than the two door sedan’s. Although the two door sedan had a 90 year lifespan, it too is obsolete. Let’s take a look at its history, from beginning to end, including the last of its kind built by make and model by US market post-war manufacturers.
Part 1: Definition and the First Two Door Sedans
First, let’s review the definition of a two door sedan as we use it here, and as it should be used everywhere: it’s a two door version of a four door sedan, and one that shares the same roof; as in all or much of the actual same roof structure and/or pressing.
As we can see, that very much applies to the 2008 – 2010 Focus (NA Market only), despite it being repeatedly referred to as “coupe”. Well, who would refer to a car as a 2-door sedan in 2011? That was so 1900s. Admittedly, there’s going to be some gray areas as well as likely disagreements. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between a genuine 2 door sedan and a coupe, especially as that name came to be used more extensively since it sounded much more appealing than “two door sedan”, which had acquired the image of a cheap, stripped fleet car.
Before we go on, let’s briefly touch on the coupe. The definition of a coupe is a body style that is differentiated from the corresponding sedan, in having a roof that is shorter, lower, or perhaps fastback, or otherwise clearly different than that of the sedan. It originates from the French word couper which meant “to cut”. It’s a sedan that’s been cut down, literally or stylistically. Or is just a two-passenger fixed roof body.
During the pre-war era, that was most commonly a two-passenger body style, with perhaps a rumble seat.
In the post war era, some stayed that way for a few more years, like this 1949 Dodge.
But more commonly, they became something in between, a business coupe (top) with either just a cargo area behind the front seat, or a smaller rear seat.
Around this time, the hardtop coupe arrived and soon became very popular. Within a few years, the business coupe was gone, and the hardtop coupe would become one of the most popular body styles for American cars. That is, until the new era of roll-over regulations and the popularity of air conditioning essentially killed it.
Which created a new era of coupes, many of which were essentially two-door sedans, although their manufacturers certainly weren’t calling them that anymore. A good example of this gray area is the Dodge Aries, which is identified as a “two door”, but based on our strict definition, it’s not quite either coupe or sedan, as it has the same roof line of the sedan, but a different C pillar. So maybe just “two door” is an appropriate hedging by Chrysler in this case.
Enough about coupes, and back to sedans:
The sedan body style takes its name from the sedan chair, which may look like a coupe, but that’s beside the point.
Enclosed car bodies originated in France—this 1899 Renault Voiturette being the first—and adopted many of the French terms as used in horse drawn coaches. There were a number of early enclosed body styles, but sedan came to be adopted in the US for a fully enclosed car that used the full length of the available room on the frame for passengers.
At this point we need to clarify that we are using the terminology as used in the US. In the UK and many of its former colonies, saloon would be comparable. In German, it’s a limousine. In French, berline is the most common term, although sedan might also be used.
The enclosed car took a big step forward in 1905, when new longer and more powerful chassis on the style of the first Mercedes became common, and town car body styles suddenly proliferated, like this 1905 Renault. In the US, Simplex and Pierce-Arrow also fielded similar sized and styled town cars.
I’m going to use the Ford Model T as a proxy for so many other cars of the time, as its body styles reflected the changing market, typically a few years behind. In addition to the open roadster and touring cars, there was a coupe and these two enclosed cars starting in 1909. They’re essentially identical, the difference being that the Town Car generously gave the chauffeur some protection from the elements, unlike in the Landaulet (these terms generally differ from those used in Europe). Clearly these body styles were designed for the use of the wealthy, and not as family vehicles. In its early years the Model T had not yet become affordable to the working class.
Starting in 1911, a new body style, termed the sedan in the US, was suddenly the hot new thing. The idea was that a relatively affluent owner-driver could now enjoy the sociable experience of motoring with three other companions in enclosed comfort. One of the first and most influential was the 1911 Rambler (this was the first incarnation of the Rambler, built by the Jeffrey Company from 1897-1914).
It should be noted that these early sedans typically had only one or two doors, which might be mounted in the front (as in the Rambler) or in the middle. Entry was more like into a small airplane than a car. Technically, these were one or two door sedans, but since there was no four door version, it’s our first gray area. They’re not two-door sedans in the mold we know and will be focusing on here.
Packard also fielded a new sedan in 1911, which it called The Single Compartment Brougham.
Only one year later, the 1912 version sprouted two more doors, making it possibly the first four door sedan in the US, but I’m not certain.
The interior of the Packard Single Compartment Brougham makes it quite clear that this was a very luxurious place for four people to motor sociably.
There were so many manufacturers back then, it would be a huge undertaking to determine just who had the first sedan, two door or four door. But what’s pretty obvious is that for its first decade (the teens), the sedan was typically a two door model, commonly with center doors, except in the upper end of the market. Ford’s first Model T sedan, which arrived in 1915, reflects that. But the price, $740, was 70% higher than the four passenger touring car (folding top). Sedans were not yet common or generally affordable, even if it was technically a two door.
That all changed drastically in the twenties, thanks to Essex (owned by Hudson). In 1920, it brought out two sedans, a four door (above), and a two door (below), with prices that had a substantially lower premium over an open. Essex anticipated the shift to enclosed cars, and invested heavily in efficient production facilities to build them more economically.
As is quite obvious, this two door sedan version of the 1920 Essex is essentially identical to the four door, and as far as I can readily determine, is the first of its kind. It was specifically built to reduce its cost, which became the key feature of all two door sedans henceforth. As such, I’m calling it the first American two door sedan that meets our definition fully.
The 1922 Essex Coach further brought down the price, and it was now only 25% more expensive than the open version. It was a hit, and propelled Essex to great growth in the 20s, all the way to the #3 spot in 1927, behind Chevrolet and Ford. And Ford soon followed suit with Essex’s strategy.
In response to its dealers, Ford replaced the center-door sedan with new sedans; the 4-door Fordor arrived in late 1922.
It was followed by the 2-door Tudor in 1923. These follow the Essex model, in that they are largely the same except for the doors and side windows. Prices also dropped, and enclosed cars rapidly became an ever larger percentage of the Model T. The 2-door sedan was now a mainstay of the American car. It offered less convenient ingress and egress to the rear in exchange for a lower price. Initially, these bodies were made of aluminum, to keep the weight down for the rather modest Model T chassis, which had not been designed for enclosed cars. Later, steel replaced the lower body sections.
To document all the first use of two door sedans by other makes would be a massive undertaking. But suffice it to say, the model set by Essex and soon followed by Ford became essentially universal. The exception was with the luxury brands, which soon eschewed the two door sedan (or never built them) as it quickly began to be seen for what it was, and as such was not suitable for their brands.
Luxury makers typically had coupes, or club coupes/club sedans (four-five passenger coupes, with shorter bodies). Or in the case of these 1935 Pierce-Arrows, it was called a “Club Brougham”. There was no consistent naming standard. One could argue that it is a two-door sedan version of the Club Sedan, but that was really more of a four door coupe, and had a somewhat shorter body than the sedan. In this time, a sedan was essentially the biggest and longest passenger car body that would fit, and 7 passenger sedans with jump seats were common. The only thing that separated them from a limousine was the division behind the front seat. Limousines were not typically any longer back then than a corresponding sedan.
Part 2, All the Last American Two Door Sedans is next:
Great post – nice to see two cars I previously owned – at each end of the spectrum. A ’68 Plymouth Valiant Signet which was one of the best and an ’81 Buick Skylark which was one of the worst. Jim.
There absolutely IS a connection between the Jeffery Rambler and the Nash Rambler. Charles Nash bought the Jeffery Company in 1917.
Nash/AMC acknowledged the lineage with the 1952 “golden anniversary” Nashes and the “Great Cars Since 1902” tagline used in some late ’60s AMC publications.
I will fix that. Thanks.
In Europe 2 door sedans were a non starter unless they were sport versions as impracticable for a large family. Ford Corrina s built in Cork were considered an “Irish”car as large enough for 5-6 people and luggage.
GasMonkey don’t like 4 doors. Well it’s the other way here Rich.
Depends on what part of Europe. UK and Ireland, not so much; France even less so but Germany, Central Europe and the Low Countries bought “big” two-doors in large numbers to the point that Ford made not only Taunus but Granada two-door sedans in Cologne and GM briefly created an entirely new marque – Ranger – for rebadged two-door Opel Rekords supplied to Vauxhall dealers in Benelux countries.
I’ve heard a theory that this was an effect of the Beetle only being 2-door – if the “default car” is a 2-door, then many people are going to pick the 2-door versions of other ones.
If this is true, then the popularity of 4-door cars in France could be an effect of the 2CV, 4CV, Aronde and Dauphine all being 4-doors.
In the late ’70’s, early ’80’s Audi had both the 80 and 1000 (4000/5000 in the US) available as two door sedans and eventually added the Coupe (GT) as well as a “sportier” offering with a fastback profile but a real trunk.
Come on, the lowlands were flooded with 2-door sedans, we found it curious to see a 4-door Opel Kadett in France.
2-door sedans were king, Ford Cortina, Taunus and Escort, Opel Kadett through Opel Rekord, Datsun 120Y, Toyota Corolla, Borgward Isabella, BMW 1600 (02) Series, Volkswagen 1500- 1600- 411 & 412. VW Passat, Vauxhall Viva, Austin 1100 Autobianchi Primula. – a few cars that spring to my mind-
The Dutch bought 2 door models because they were cheaper but Italians and French manufacturars made 4-door cars, even a small car like the 2CV and the Renault 4 had 4 doors.(and a hatch of course)
Anyway, the Renault 4 changed the game forever, all of a sudden we discovered the hatchback, which was better and much more practical.
So we went for that.
The world would never be the same again !
Lincoln-Mercury’s last two door sedans would actually have been in the 80s in both cases, as the Grand Marquis and Town Car were available with 2 doors until about 86.
I’d argue that the very last 2 door sedan would be the 2013-2014 Hyundai Elantra Coupe. I’ve had 2 of the 4 door version of the car, and they share wheelbase. The 2 door even has a slightly roomier back seat when it comes to shoulder and hip room as the immovable bodywork intrudes a little less into the cabin.
Dave, the Lincoln and all of the Panther coupes had shorter roofs than the sedans. That makes them coupes.
I would say the ’94 Topaz was Mercury’s last 2-door sedan. It may not share the roof with the ’94 4-door sedan, but it did before the ’88 facelift.
I imagine the comments today will be filled with disputes over many of the choices here. But as noted early on, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a coupe and 2 door sedan.
Love the collection of photos, somehow I never realized that Desoto sold a 2 door version of their fastback sedan.
I also missed, I think, the history of the 2 door wagon so I definitely must go back and look that over.
Even if there are a few mistakes, great article and fun read.
My ideal car is a 2 door with a manual transmission….both rapidly disappearing.
I’m with you Howard! I regret that I didn’t get a new Honda V-6/ 6M/T Accord coupe before they were discontinued! 🙁
If the FWD Cadillac counts then I think the 1985-87 Buick Electra & Olds 98 do too.
You’re quite right. I will add them. Thanks.
A great collection, thanks for this massive undertaking. You are right that there are a lot of borderline cases through the ages, including those 1978 Olds and Buick A bodies – is it a 2 door sedan when the 4 door sedan is a wholly different roof? I looked and had forgotten that the fastback 2 doors used frameless front glass, but (apparently) the same roof stamping. The bogs are thick and impenetrable in some locations. 🙂
The execution of that early Packard sedan reminded me of the early Dodge B series vans where that short panel with the extra window filled the spot between the front and rear doors.
And some of those choices surprise me – why some would drop a body style in the middle of the run like the 61 Olds or the 63 Buick (and 69 Ford and Chevy, for that matter). I guess it doesn’t matter how much or little of the tooling is paid for if you can’t sell any of them.
I was thinking of the Chevy/Pontiacs, and totally forgot about the Aerobacks. I used to be convinced that the Malibu’s roof was the same as the sedan’s, but some careful measurements on my big screen shows otherwise. But the Aeroback is a different story.
The Shadow and Sundance were actually hatchbacks ~
Came here to post that a car with a hatchback/liftback/tailgate can never be a sedan.
Right you are. Out it goes…
Hmmm… Why were they called hatchback sedans when they appeared? For me, a sedan (saloon, berline, conduite interieure, limousine, innenlenker)) is a closed car with two rows of seats and four side windows. A coupe would have no back seat or just a some kind of jump seat at the rear.
Chrysler in the ’70s offered a number of two-doors that were structurally hardtops but didn’t have opening rear quarter windows. That’s what the Duster was, and there were brougham top options for both B and C bodies that substituted true hardtop roll-down quarterlights for fixed opera windows resulting in six-passenger “coupes” with quite roomy back seats.
Also, the Toyota you mention at the end is the Echo, not Toyota Focus.
Wow — what an outstanding compendium on this topic! Two-door sedans have always been head-scratchers to me — as in, what exactly is the point? Often frumpy-looking like a sedan, but inconvenient like a coupe. I assume many of the dwindling buyers of such cars in the 1980s bought them out of historical inertia… that they’d always bought two-doors, and would continue doing so.
But of course, being historical oddities, I find 2-door sedans to be intriguing.
I can also add this photo to your collection — I recently saw a 1985 Buick Century 2-dr. T-Type. There couldn’t have been more than 1,000 of these cars made, and except for the bumper damage, this one appears to be in good shape:
From the 30s to the 60s, the main buyers of two-door sedans were families with small kids. You could toss the kids in the back and let them rumble around with no fear of opening a door and falling out. When seat belts and child seats became mandatory, the purpose disappeared.
This also explains why expensive cars didn’t sell the type. For instance, the Plymouth and Chrysler two-door were essentially the same car in the ’40s. It was the most popular Plymouth and the least popular Chrysler, selling in three-digit quantities. Young families couldn’t afford Chryslers.
The other attraction was that early on, the four-door commanded a *substantial* premium over a two-door sedan; in the postwar era the price difference shrank.
Yeah, if you wanted the cheapest body style, the 2 door sedan was the way to go.
Great post! Lots to analyse – this will require a few re-readings to fully digest.
I’m not 100% sold on the Neon, but if you say so… It’s strange that Chrysler / DeSoto gave up the 2-door sedan so early on, i.e. right when that body style had its heyday. Another baffling decision by the unpredictable Mopar.
What do you make of the terms “club sedan” and “sedanet”, btw ? Purely American, AFAIK, but could they be included in the 2-door sedan family?
One thing I’m quite sure of though is that no French person ever used the word “sedan”. It’s strictly a “berline”. A 2-door sedan could be called a “coach” or a “berline deux-portes”. a sedan chair was a “chaise à porteur”.
You reminded me of the nagging feeling about the Chrysler/DeSoto. I think PN forgot about these models after the 1953 restyling. The 2 door sedan made a reappearance, although there are some minute differences around the back window.
But starting in 1955 all 2 doors were hardtops.
I sure did (forget about those). I had an impulse to have you look at this first, because I knew I was going to forget something, especially the Chrysler section.
Those ’53-’54 Chrysler-DeSoto two door sedans occurred to me as well, they were an oddity, you rarely saw one, even in the junkyards later.
Wonder why when Chrysler decided to create the 1961 Newports as price leaders, they didn’t include a two door sedan too. After all, there still was a two door sedan Plymouth & Dodge body to share. Oldsmobile and Buick still had their two door sedan, at least for 1961 and 1963 respectively.
“Club sedan” and “sedanette” were typically used for two-door sedans that had a shorter roof than the comparable 4-door sedan. So yes, they are 2-door sedans in that regard, but not by the definition we’ve chosen. Since they had a shorter roof, they are essentially coupes.
There’ll undoubtedly be many more nits picked here. One that sprang to my mind was the Fairmont/Zephyr twins, which, while the 2 door sedans ended in ’81 were resurrected for at least another year as the Cougar/Granada.
And I don’t care whether the 2 door Neon qualifies or not, I just love its profile. I still lament not buying one in ’96, but finding a low spec one with a manual transmission proved nearly impossible late in the model year.
IIRC the base trim Neon only ever came in a four-door.
I think you’re right. The higher (midline?) trim was the “Highline”. I shopped Neons in late ’96 and was focusing on that trim level, but they were extremely rare without the automatic. I ended up with a Sentra 4-door, which was ultimately a great choice, as it provided great service. Despite really wanting a 2 door the Sentra also served as an adequate backup to the roomier family car as well as my commuter vessel, so it all worked out fine. But those Neon “coupes” were attractive cars.
I knew I was forgetting something with the Cougar/Granada. I even did a whole post on it: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/two-door-sedan-jag-curbside-classic-1981-mercury-cougar-the-only-two-door-sedan-cougar/
Interesting article. A couple of minor notes: the last year for the Focus 2-door sedan was 2010 (all 2011 models were four-door sedans.) And I believe the Fairmont 2-door sedan was available through 1983 (not sure about the Mercury Zephyr 2-door sedan.) And you could include the 2-door sedan variants of the Fairmont-based Granada and Cougar for 1981 and 82.
I’ve updated the Focus’ last year. And added the Granada/Cougars. Thanks.
A concept that I still do not understand is the recent “4 door coupe” style started by Mercedes and BMW. If it had 4 doors, it can NOT be a coupe.
The thing that strikes me as particularly galling about Mercedes and BMW’s “4-door coupe” is the notion that they invented it, even if I did agree with the label.
There have been rakish 4 doors and 4 door hardtops with bespoke rooflines to their pillared 4 door sedan counterparts 40 years prior to their stupid marketing ploy, and they weren’t called coupes.
I think it was Rover who actually started calling their cut down roof 4 door sedan a coupe back in the 60’s with the P5.
Yes, this “4 door coupe” thing is stupid. Suppose they made a 4 door station wagon, would that be a “station wagon coupe”?
According to Mercedes, yes.
I agree with Ravenuer. Four-door coupé is an logical fallacy. Just because Rover started it doesn’t make it any better.
In the coupé of the old horse-drawn days, it wasn’t just the roof that was cut. It was the whole thing. Lengthwise. The coupé has only one seat (for two). Prewar cars were pretty much like that too, as pointed out in Paul’s excellent summation above.
If anyone sets standards for a coupe it would be the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The current standard is that the rear seat passenger volume should not exceed 33 cubic feet, but the number of doors is not specified. I think the difference between a coupe and a 2 door sedan is esoteric in any case. The four door coupe is a marketing ploy I think.
Just an alternately-styled and more expensive four door sedan.
I disagree. There’s nothing sacred about a coupe having two doors. It comes from the French word couper, which means to cut down. It’s just as possible to cut down a four door as it is a two door. And Rover used it back in the ’60s.
What gets me is even if you use the far back etymology of the word “coupe” most of these modern “4 door coupes” have completely bespoke sheetmetal from bumper to bumper, they’re not simply a shortened/reshaped roofline and/or shortened wheelbase on shared sheetmetal from the beltline down.
What is The BMW 4 series “Gran-coupe” a coupe of? And don’t tell me it’s an extension of the 3 series, a series by definition is a separate run of something.
And even in the 1920s, Nash was fielding a 4-door coupe.
Apart from the Toyota Echo (Platz/Yaris sedan in other markets) there was also the 2-door B13 Nissan Sentra (till 1994), the BMW 3-series up until the E36 when the coupe was differentiated; the Honda Accord between 1990 and 1998 (they were officially called coupes but they looked like the 2-door sedans being talked about here), and there was also a two-door Camry in the early 1990s.
The Accord was made as a 2-dr sedan for 1989 also, with the 1986-89 body style (hidden headlights). I think you could get all the trims, not sure about ‘DX’. I think you could get ‘LX’ (DX and LX were carbureted), and I owned an LX-i (injected). I bought one new. I recall it was built exclusively at Marysville. Not sure if any were exported. I recall seeing an even fancier ‘SE-i’ or something, or was that a Canada model?
It was sold in the States as well. Honda would offer luxury SE or SE-i Accords for the last half year or so before a new generation was about to be introduced, as an inducement to buy the old ones, which I thought was a clever strategy.
That 1969 Chevrolet Bel Air is beautiful. The lack of chrome, hood scoop or vinyl top simply make it look better. It doesn’t even have rally hubcaps, trim rings or stripes. This is how I would have ordered one in September 1968.
Sometimes less IS more!
Yes, we had a 1967 Bel Air 2-door with that same roofline, minimal chrome, and dogdish hubcaps as the family car back in the day. It was turquoise, like the one pictured here.
That’s the ticket! Beautiful car!
A fascinating dive into an obscure topic. My family’s second car when I was growing up was a two door sedan. In my young adulthood, I only owned two door cars with the exception of my Alfetta Berlina, and that seemed the case with most of my contemporaries. As parents and older adults, we’ve had two two doors, albeit either pickups or hatches and whether with kids or just friends or even cargo, find them inconvenient. The biggest flaw with our current Golf is access to the back seat, something we only need about 5% of the time, but still annoying. Perhaps that’s why the two (well, actually three) door Golf is no longer sold here. On the import side, an interesting example was the two door 1st generation Subaru Impreza RS (non-turbo) which was sold in the US as the sporty Subaru before the WRX was introduced here with the 2nd generation. Yet if I’m not mistaken the world market 1st gen WRX was a four door only.
Excellent piece, thoroughly researched. You are definitely firing on all cylinders again after your sabbatical.
The Two-Door SUV is another interesting body style that is all but extinct that should get similar treatment. Two- and four-door hardtops would be an interesting topic as well.
In the Eastern Bloc, there was a rather solid 2-door and 4-door car split.
The economy cars were 2-doorers. Zaporozhetz, 126ps, Trabants, small Zastavas, Syrenas… all 2-door, whether sedans, fastbacks or wagons.
The bigger cars were 4-door models. Ladas, Volgas, Moskvitches, 125ps, Polonezez, Pobedas and the rest of the crowd only came with 4 doors, except for pickup and van versions.
The only exceptions were Skodas, which switched from two to four doors in the 1000MB (except for some coupe models), and two-door wagon, coupe and convertible versions of the early Wartburg.
Last pontiac 2 door full size was 1968?
I had a loaded 1979 Bonneville Brougham 2 door. Bucket seats and a console with the 350 Poncho engine. According to Wikipedia the Bonneville was the full size model.
They were always marketed as coupes, and there’s a case for especially the bent-window Chevy to count as one, but the ’80-up B/C-body “coupes” are definitely two-door sedans.
but the ’80-up B/C-body “coupes” are definitely two-door sedans.
The coupes had very distinctly different roof lines than the sedans.
Two door cars were always the cheapest version you could buy we got lots of them out of the UK in small cars like Escorts and Vivas in the 60s and 70s larger models only came in four door here with the odd import showing up in two door, kids these days have the idea the two door stripper sedans were a performance model when they were anything but that.
Great article Paul, and I can imagine it was a ton of work. Interestingly, while we’ve owned a lot of 2-door cars over the years, I can’t think of one close family member that has had a 2-door sedan. They’ve all been coupes or hardtops.
There are a couple of cars that made me ponder a bit. The 1978 Malibu is an interesting one. It is mentioned that it is not a 2-door sedan because it has frameless glass. Is that a requirement for the 2-door sedan definition? GM did call it a 2-door coupe. However, the 2-door and 4-door Malibus appear to have a very similar roofline, albeit their are some minor differences (see the backlite and C-pillar) . So I wonder, is the frameless glass and the very slight difference enough to class as a coupe rather than a sedan? Things certainly became more clear in 1981 though when the sedan went to the formal roofline.
I’d also say on the K-cars that the 2-doors were definitely sedans. Sure there is a difference in the C-pillar thickness, but for me that’s not enough to make it a coupe. Just my two cents.
Vince, I had been convinced for years that these Malibus used the same roof as the sedan. Then I found two good big images on the web, put them on my large monitor, and used a little ruler to measure them: the coupe roof is a bit shorter/different. At least according to my measurements. I’ve convinced myself of that anyway. 🙂
Frankly, given the volumes involved (Malibu and Pontiac), I’m not surprised they could afford to have two roof pressings.
Then I found two good big images on the web, put them on my large monitor, and used a little ruler to measure them: the coupe roof is a bit shorter/different. At least according to my measurements. I’ve convinced myself of that anyway. 🙂
That’s good enough to convince me too!
I’m sure you’re right, Paul. The two door roofline looks faster to my eyes.
You can also see how the coupe rear window wraps a bit, so that it’s actually visible in that outline drawing.
The coupe roof is slightly shorter in length and ‘faster’ there is a fill panel between rear window and trunk not there on 4 doors because of length. A lot of these came through detail side of me shop, also, nephew raced ‘bomber’ dirt track had many of 2 door, wouldn’t buy 4 door too much work to adapt body parts.
I think with “modern“ cars the line blurs a lot, as sedan rooflines had become ever more rakish and coupe-like, rather than functionally upright as traditional. The Focus 2-door sedan for example is as much of a fastback shape as any classic Falcon hardtop (excluding Australian XA/B/C coupes of course), and while it’s certainly economical to share rooflines between door counts, the skinflint stigma isn’t really there for a 2000s design “2-door sedan” compared to a 65 Falcon 2-door sedan.
On that note, Wouldn’t the W body Grand Prix qualify? I’m almost certain the 2 and 4 door shared roofs and back glass.
Hmm. We might be splitting hairs here, but it does kind of seem like you’ve got a point. Could one also make the same argument for the Olds Alero/Pontiac Grand Am then?
I get the differentiation in the 2 and 4 door 78+ Malibu and the 80+ Caprice, et al, in light of the frameless door glass in those cases, but that statement doesn’t apply to either of these more recent examples.
This is starting to hurt my head.
I rather figured that were others I was missing, especially in recent years and cars like this, ones that I never look at or think about.
As I said, it’s a work in progress. Stay tuned for V.2.0
If the Grand Am qualifies, why doesn’t the 1992-1997 Skylark 2-door? Same platform…
Sorry if I missed it, but I saw no mention of the 2008 Toyota Solara Coupe.
Thank you for the writeup Paul.
Where’s the 4-door Solara? It’s got to share a roof with a four door sedan in order for it to be a two-door sedan. That’s the whole gist of this post. The Solara is a classic coupe.
These histories are always fascinating! Well done, Paul.
Thanks for this article and putting the sweat equity into it! I hope long term that all the collected articles on CC can be preserved publicly. There is an awful lot of legitimate automotive scholarship on here.
I’ve wondered what the proper pronunciation of Coupe is. My grandparents used to call them ” Coupa” (a pronounced like the letter a, can’t find the french accent marks), which is probably the french pronounciation. My grandfather was a french language teacher and they had spent some time in France, so I’m not sure if that was their particular thing or if that was a common way to say it back in the 20’s and 30’s.
The life of the strictly defined 2 door sedan is pretty interesting for us car nerds. In the larger sense, though, be they sedans, coupes or hatchbacks, 2 doors of any sort are practically extinct. That is 4 door cars that also are sold in a 2 door version. There can’t be more than a few in the U.S market, where even sedans may have to be placed on the endangered list soon.
Some of the snobbier commercials will pronounce it coo-pay. Commercials for less formal or sportier cars go with coop.
Yeah, I guess coopay is the better way to spell that!
I would say “coo-peh”.
FWIW, only North Americans pronounce it as “coop”.
I believe the last car sold in the US as both a 2-door and 4-door version is the Honda Civic. Excluding trucks, of course. Though one could argue that some vehicles like the BMW 3 and 4 series are also the same car too.
I was thinking Mercedes E and S class might qualify, too
On the euro side, VW’s last 2 door sedan, at least in that segment was the A2 Jetta, last produced in 1992. Also BMW’s last 2 door sedan was probably the E30 3 series bowing out in 1990-91. Volvo’s last 2 door was the 242, last made in 1984, and the related 262 C (basically a 242 with a chopped top and a V6 predeceased the 242 in 1981.
Volvo I sold the 780 Coupe after the 262C.
The Fox body Mustang in the mid/late 80s had a 2-door sedan style beside the 3 door hatch back. This will be newer than your Pinto example.
The Fox body Mustang and the SN95 Mustang are notchback coupes rather than sedans just like the modern Camaro and Challenger.
To paraphrase United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s threshold test for obscenity in two-door sedan terms:
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“two-door sedan”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”
Given the fluidity of body style terms (four-door coupe’, anyone?), I have no quibble with much of anything here. I perhaps go a bit more simply and my scholarship on these terms was developed at a young age by the Editors of Old Cars Publications at Krause Publications in their Standard Catalog of American Cars, published when framed side window cars and frameless side window cars roamed the streets in similar numbers.
So, to wit: A two-door sedan is a framed windowed two door car with a distinct B-pillar, especially if the car is offered as an essentially similar car with four doors.
In my world, that makes a frame windowed 1968 two door Oldsmobile Cutlass is a two-door sedan, regardless of significant stamping differences with its four door counterpart. But, GM generally called this car a coupe’, likely because in a world filled with hardtop coupes’, sedan sounded like something your Aunt Millicent drove. I tend to reserve coupe’ for hardtop versions.
Chrysler’s 1967 two door Imperials (all hardtops) seemed to very likely use the same roof as the four doors, but they called it a Crown Coupe’ instead of two-door sedan, fulfilling a Detroit marketing tendency to split hairs based on if a car had side window frames and a B-pillar, rather than the nature of roof stampings.
A view of what automotive professors were proclaiming in 1982 (From the Standard Catalog of American Cars):
It’s endlessly debatable. But the “professors” sure mangled up their examples, calling the Studebaker Starlight coupe a business coupe (not!), and the example of the club coupe is wrong too. Basically, they mixed the two up, as a club coupe is almost inevitably used to describe a close-coupled but four-seater coupe.
I was just reading the opening paragraph on the guide I attached, and even then they were referencing the fluidity of terminology. To your point, the entire Catalog is loaded with inconsistencies best discovered at three in the morning binging on its 736 pages. Critical review aside, it is an amazing tome, the Wiki of post-war cars before the popular use of the word wiki.
If there is such a thing as a pillarless hardtop sedan, is it possible to have a pillarless 2 door hardtop sedan?
I don’t know if anyone had called it that, buti think the answer is yes. For example, the 1965-66 Chrysler line. The Newport, 300 & New Yorker all offered a 4 door pillarless hardtop using the same roof. Newport & 300 also had 2 door hardtops using a different sportier roofs. The New Yorker 2 door hardtop however used the same roof as the 4 door.
also same roof as ’67-68 Imperial 2 and 4 door hardtops, re Dan Cluely
Jaguar XJ-C? To most a Coupe, but it has the same roof line, albeit on a shorter wheelbase, and was pillarless. And gorgeous.
The 1920 two door coach in the lead image is an Essex, not a Maxwell. It dates in the 1922-’25 years and is one of the significant cars that lead a major change in purchasing habits. A synopsis of the events from the book “A Century of Automotive Style, 100 Years of American Car Design” by Michael Lamm and Dave Holls.
Hudson, with engineering advice and assistance from both Budd and Briggs, developed the two door coach with straight cut wood framing, largely flat surfaces, interchangeable windows and door tooling, plus modular construction. This allowed them to reduce the price differential between the touring car and coach from initially $400 to $200 the following year. For 1924, it was only $100 and finally parity by 1925. It cause Essex sales to explode and tipped the sales of closed cars to more than fifty percent of annual sales by 1925. Other carmakers quickly followed suit to offer the two door coach at a price which made them the preference to open models.
That’s just a stupid typo. If you read the text, I give the Essex full credit for pioneering the affordable sedan body style.
Fine article, I knew you’d notice the Essex credit. Once the club coupe appeared, its a bit of a game to decide which is which at times.
I might dispute 1966 being the last Studebaker 2d sedan; while it derives from earlier 2 door sedans, from 1962 onward the 4 door sedans rode on a 4″ longer wheelbase and I believe the roofline was stretched an equal amount. Studebaker mucked with the rear door, C pillar, and rear window for 1963 and again in 1964, so by 1966 the 2 door never shared the 4 door’s roof. Shared C pillar and same height though, so i guess it boils down to definition here.
I wondered about GM’s full size RWD B and C body coupes from 1980 onward, as they sure look like sedan roofs, but the height and interior head and legroom figures are ever so slightly different so I’ll give them a pass. But why did GM bother making the coupe rooflines different from the sedan’s if they weren’t going to look any different?
Hear hear! If nobody can tell the difference, surely you might as well use the same part. Stylist’s ego? Yet another one of the “Why did GM bother….?” questions that will probably forever remain unanswered.
I might add that from the mid-’20’s until the early 1950’s, the two door sedan dominated the annual sales of the low-priced three and those makes in the next segment above. It wasn’t style that was their strongest appeal, it was practicality. They delivered the most seating capacity inside for the lowest price, therefore they were the choice for family cars.
Once one moves up the price ladder, the two door sedans thin out fast, or if they were still catalogued, returned low volumes until deleted by their maker. The club coupe with nearly the same seating capacity but more pleasing proportions got the nod.
One that doesn’t quite qualify since its a hardtop but does use the same top stamping for the two door as the four door are the 1958-’60 Lincolns, note the huge quarter windows. It shows up best on the 1960 models. The percentages of two door Lincolns sold for 1956 was 47%; 1957: 44%; 1958: 27%; 1959: 22%; 1960: 18%. Clearly, the proportions killed the two door Lincoln sales.
The 1953-’54 Clipper Sportster club sedans, the latter Packard’s term for two door sedan, featured a vinyl and fabric hardtop-style interior with chromed headliner bows, two-tone paint and B-pillar trims. They sold relatively well given they were a few hundred less than the Mayfair and Panama hardtops.
Back to the Malibu. The 81 Chevy Malibu had 38.0″ of rear seat leg room on the sedan but only 35.1″ on the coupe. Both had the same wheelbase and so I think they moved the rear seat forward to accomodate a slightly different roof line. So, I vote for coupe too.
Couple of things. First, I see Ford touting the use of vanadium steel in its Model T; kind of interesting that Ford then and GM at least, until the mid 1930s or so, still used wood framing for the bodies. Second, I have always been confused about why, say, Ford, in the 30s built three and also five window coupes. Was it because one or the other had a rumbleseat? I recall back in the day, the 1949-51 Fords (and Chevies) had two door sedans and also coupes. I also recall advertising for “convertible coupe” so I guess a convertible was close coupled like a coupe rather than more spread out like a two door sedan. I well recall how hard it was to squeeze into the back seat of a two door sedan back in the 50s although the back seats then had enough room for drive-in theater acrobatics.
What’s to be made of the case of the Ford Maverick? It meets every definition of “coupe” sporting not only a “faster”, SportsRoof-lite roofline but a shorter wheelbase than the four-door, but was explicitly referred to by Ford as a “2-Door Sedan” (as was the trunked Pinto but there were no four-doors in that line);
Maverick is an odd duck, because its four-door counterpart didn’t come out until 1973.
I think one reason the low-priced three, and especially Plymouth kept a full-size two-door sedan in the lineup was a number of state police forces, and some counties and cities, used them as patrol cars. Even to the extent of reverse engineering one out of a hardtop.
I’ve often wondered if the first Gran Coupe came out because some of those buyers unexpectedly shifted to four-doors in 1971, most likely because both Ford and Chevy were out of the market.
For Pontiac, it’s last two door sedan was the 2006 Pontiac GTO. The four door version was sold in the US as the 1997-2001 Cadillac Catera.
While there was no four door Solara. There was a 1994-1996 Toyota Camry Coupe.
The 1995-1999 Buick Riviera was a two door version of the Oldsmobile Aurora but because it had different Sheetmetal I can see omitting it.
2001-2006 Dodge Stratus was the last two door sedan. Likewise the 2001-2005 Chrysler Sebring Coupe. These were built by Mitsubishi but shared a lot of the sedans look. Again I can see reasons to omit these based on that criteria.
I came here to mention the 1995-1999 Chevy Monte Carlo that was a Lumina Coupe but I see the W-Body was mentioned above in Pontiac guise.
The GTO(Monaro)is absolutely a coupe. The roofline is substantially different than the Commodore it’s based on
The Catera was a federalised European Opel Omega.
It’s not a four door GTO as the Holden Commodore that the GTO was based on is a larger car than the Omega. The platform’s the same but Holden stretched it to better match the Falcon for size, having found out the hard way the the big Opel was too small to sell against the Ford. Width 178.6cm (Catera) vs 184.1cm (Commodore), wheelbase 273cm (Catera) vs 278cm (Holden).
i guess I just don’t understand.
“It’s got to share a roof with a four door sedan in order for it to be a two-door sedan.”
Then why is the Crosley a two door sedan? But if the Crosley is a two door sedan even though there was no four door sedan then a Lincoln Mark II LSC is also a two door sedan. Right?
The ’61 Oldsmobile and ’63 Buick look just great; I’d enjoy one of those – especially the 88 with that pretty roofline.
I would argue the 1989-1993 Olds Cutlass Ciera/ Buick Century coupe is really a 2 door sedan. If you look at the 1989-93 2 door and 4 door Century or Ciera, they look very similar to each other. Both the 4 door and 2 door have a curved roof line at the C pillar. The C pillar on both are the same size
While I have no knowledge of the parts on the 2 door and 4 door Ciera, I do know on the 89-93 Century, the 2 door and 4 door use the same rear window and trunk lid
Great article! A couple of years ago, I spent some time studying the many body styles that Chevrolet sold in its standard line from the 1920s on up and trying to understand the distinctions between them. For two-door cars, over the years there were roadsters (with and without rumble seats), coupes (with and without an enclosed back seat, with and without rumble seats, 3- and 5-window variations, and business coupes), two-door sedans (with and without trunks, later fastbacks and utility sedans), two-door hardtops (Sport Coupe, and later, Custom Coupe), then the two-door pillared models that ultimately replaced the hardtops in the post-1976 downsized era. And that’s not even getting into convertibles, station wagons, and utes.
Possible suggestions for future articles: an article similar to this one, covering another body style, or an article taking a deeper dive into all body styles of a particular kind (two-doors, four-doors, or wagons) offered by a particular brand.
I appreciate the analysis in the article about whether or not certain two-door body styles made from the 1970s onward should be classified as coupes or sedans, and read it with interest. Once you get past the point where manufacturers stopped selling both two-door coupes and two-door sedans in the same product lines, though (e.g., GM A-bodies after 1967, full-size GM and Ford products after 1969), I think the distinction between the two becomes more of a matter of semantics, especially in product lines which didn’t include, or no longer included, hardtop coupes. There was no longer a clear distinction between the two, because there didn’t need to be. Manufacturers would typically make a single two-door style, and would call it whatever they wanted. Sometimes this two-door style pretty clearly fits the historical definition or a two-door sedan, sometimes it pretty clearly fits the historical definition of a two-door coupe, sometimes it falls somewhere in between. The only distinction commonly made between two-door body styles was between notchback and hatchbacks.
Wow – what a study and what a considerable amount of work. To criticise is to be pedantic, really.
For UK brands, let’s have a go
Ford – 1979 Escort Mk2 and 1980-82 Cortina Mk 5. We never got 2 door Granadas.
Vauxhall – Chevette (T-car) to 1983, Cavalier Mk2 to 1985 (i think), Astra Mk1 (Kadett D) to 1986, in small numbers. The silhouette was exactly the same as the hatch
Triumph – Herald to 1971, Toledo to 1975
Rover – so long ago no one knows.
Jaguar – never
Morris – 1100/1300 (ADO16) to 1973, unless you count the Marina Coupe, which used the same wheelbase and front doors as the saloon in a different silhouette. Lasted to 1982*.
Austin – Allegro to 1983*
* assumes you discount the Mini, as it was separate brand by then. The original Mini lasted to 2000. Current Mini is a hatch.
MG – 1300 (ADO16) to 1971
Wolseley – Hornet, the Mini derivative, to 1969
Riley – Elf, as Wolseley Hornet, to 1969
Hillman – Imp to 1976 (though with lift up rear window), Avenger to 1977. I don’t think the Talbot Avenger came as a 2 door, but you may know better
Sunbeam – never on the UK market but the name was used in Europe for the Hillman Avenger.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley – not saloons but (big) coupes
I often lament the fact that 2-door sedans and coupes are so rare these days. However I understand one arguement since I’ve owned a mk6 GTI 2-door. Even though it’s a small hatchback, the doors are so bulky and heavy and it makes it a pain to get in and out of the the car in tight parking lots and when parked facing uphill. That plus the ease of entry for rear passengers, especially if you are carting around children. I don’t have any children but when I spend time with my niece I see how that can be a pain. I get it now.
I still like 2-door cars but I understand what has motivated people to sway away from them.
I am so incredibly impressed with this article! Excellent depth of research described here. I have been looking for a book or article on the history of automotive body styles. As a car enthusiast most of my life, I have always been confounded as to the confusing nature of the lack of consistency in the nomenclature of body style terms. Just one query: your comment of Oldsmobile’s Cutlass Ciera as follows: “The Olds Ciera got a new genuine coupe roof in mid-year 1983, so this early ’83 represents the end of the line for the 2-door sedan.” This puzzles me, as the rectilinear roof of the 2-door and 4-door A-bodies look identical to me, until the Olds’ Ciera 2 door received a curvy, unique roofline in 1986. Buick received a similar curvy roof for their Century 2-door A-body in 1989. Mind you, in 1983, the Cutlass Ciera 2-door “whatever-you-call-it”, had a thicker B-pillar. Just for fun, I am including here an image I created showing the 1985 Cutlass Ciera 2-door compared to the 1986 Ciera 2-door “coupé”. What do you think?
I mixed the dates up. Yes, it was mid-1986 when the new coupe roof appeared. I will fix it now. Thanks.
I had a Ford Escort ZX2, great car. Then I had the sedan amd the interior looked huge compared to the coupe.
In the eighties The Opel Corsa was offered as a two door sedan, named Corsa TR…. years before there was a real 4 door sedan,
If we allow the definition of sedan to include frameless glass, the first-gen Subaru Impreza’s 2-door version was a 2-door sedan.
Subaru also offered 2-door sedans with frameless glass in the 1973-79 generation, with three distinct two-door body styles (sedan, coupe and hardtop in ascending order of price).
In 1980 Subaru replaced the sedan with a hatchback and dropped the non-hardtop coupe in that year’s major restyling.
The Phoenix being offered as either a 2 door sedan or 4 door hatchback was such a weird choice of body styles. I can’t think of another car offered only in those two configurations.
I guess I missed this first time around—a real joy to read today. Very nice of the appreciative CC-ers to “crowdsource” a few assists for you, Paul.
I’m not a Buick guy, but felt badly for your forlorn ’82 Century and went looking for another photo—this from a dealer flyer puts a little more shine on it.
Great admiration for your ability to dig this all up, and then do an engaging writeup!
Mercury Bobcat: Wiki and you seem to have it right. “Mercury Bobcat” was Canada only for 1974, and *did* offer the non-hatch sedan (Canadian brochure below). But, beginning 1975, the Mercury is the “3-door” only, as they called it.
Big, all-Bobcat/Canada/1974 brochure here: http://dgv4.xr793.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/1974-Mercury-Bobcat.pdf
In the late 70s I had a friend who had a non-hatch Bobcat, so they were definitely available in Canada. I have no idea what MY it was. She said she bought it because it was the cheapest new car available. She was surprisingly satisfied with it, but her main requirement was for reliable transportation for work, and I guess the Bobcat provided it.
I can’t help but laugh. I had the last two door sedan. In the same color.
2008 Ford Focus. Base model. Great little car. But it was USELESS. Couldn’t put anything in the trunk opening. And fighting anything into the back seat was a pain.
Otherwise it was a great car. Pulled like a freight train compared to the Kia Soul I replaced it with.
Would love to have a fairmont 2 door sedan.
W/r/t Lincoln, don’t both the 1980 Town Coupe and 2-door 1981 Town Car meet the provided definition of a 2-door sedan?
Paul, thanks for a great read. Thinking about it many of the cars of my childhood, ours and the neighbours, were 2 door, Austin A35 & 40, Hillman Imp, Beetle, DKW F12, VW 412 wagon. All the fuss to get in and out, no wonder they went away. Still miss them though! I’ve always loved the ’49 Lincolns, so understated, prefer them to Cadillac.
Am I allowed to laugh? These final days of the two-door models is rich with good humor. Thanks.
Once three-point front seat belts were required in the US (1974), climbing into the rear seat of any two-door car, coupe or sedan, became a challenge of trying not to get feet, necks, arms or other body parts tangled up in the belts. Then came mandatory child seat laws. Getting the increasingly bulky child seats themselves into the rear area and secured, and then getting squirmy kids strapped in, was a quick route to twisted spines and frustrated parents. As someone else pointed out, in the pre-seat belt era, two-door cars were sold as safer for families. That advantage disappeared, and turned into a drawback.