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Origins of The Town Car


TAKerry
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Brewster thread had me thinking and I did not want to side track any further so,

 

What is the origin of the open driver compartment on town cars? Does it go back to when the coachman operated the vehicle from outside up front whilst the passengers remained warm and cozy in the coach?

or

Was it a matter of 'I can afford a big fancy car, and you (the chauffer) have to sit in the elements to drive?

 

 

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At least one Brewster Town car has been offered for auction in the past classified as a “ saloon car “.

 

The term “ saloon car “ appears to predate 

the term “ town car “ and came into use

between 1885 and 1890:

 

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/saloon-car

 

 

 

Jim

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2 hours ago, TAKerry said:

What is the origin of the open driver compartment on town cars? Does it go back to when the coachman operated the vehicle from outside up front whilst the passengers remained warm and cozy in the coach?

You're right, Kerry, it goes back to the horse-drawn days.

Back then, it must have been easier to operate the reins

when the driver was in front, in the open air.

 

Here are some illustrations from a 1899 Woods Electric

car catalogue from the AACA Library.  These weren't called

town cars, but the driver of the car was out in the open.

The vehicles truly looked like carriages without the horse:

 

 

1899 Woods Electric theatre bus.jpg

1899 Woods Electric.jpg

Edited by John_S_in_Penna (see edit history)
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I like this site... I think all the manufactures use the terms loosely at best.  

 

https://www.coachbuild.com/index.php/about-coachbuilding/body-types-terminology

 

TOWN CAR – generally a chauffeur-driven automobile with an open front compartment and, sometimes, a metal or makeshift leather covering to protect the chauffeur in inclement weather. The passenger compartment, separated from the driver by a fixed or mobile glass division, usually had exceptionally luxurious appointments. Many town cars had a “speaking-tube” mounted on the “B” pillar, the outlet of which stood close to the left ear of the driver; the driver’s seat and front door panels of most town cars were finished in fine grain black leather; a waterproof foul-weather cover was stored in a special compartment in the division, behind the front seat; it could be pulled out and buttoned on the windshield to protect the driver. Also known as a SEDANCA de VILLE or TOWN BROUGHAM.

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John S. has it correct. The description in coachbuild - well the tops were about as "make shift" as a top on a roadster or touring car in the 1920s and earlier era about as effective as well. I owned a town car with Brewster body ( built to a Hibbard & Darrin style) for over a decade. YOUR PLANNED to get that front compartment enclosed if there was any chance of wet weather. It was helpful if two people got it in place - that is why besides a chauffeur there was also a "footman" riding along as well in the front seat. Many cars had two bodies, a summer (dray weather) one like a town car and a winter one that was enclosed at all four doors. When one body was mounted and in use the other body was being repainted etc. Brewster in NY had a great business doing this and the storage  facilities to do so at its plant at the east end of the 59th Street bridge across the East River from Manhattan.

Walt

Edited by Walt G (see edit history)
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19 minutes ago, Walt G said:

 Many cars had two bodies, a summer (dray weather) one like a town car and a winter one that was enclosed at all four doors. When one body was mounted and in use the other body was being repainted etc. Brewster in NY had a great business doing this and the storage  facilities to do so at its plant at the east end of the 59th Street bridge across the East River from Manhattan.

Walt

I have a small collection of Cadillac Service Man dealer publications from 1932 that include classified ads, I was surprised at how many ads there were for spare bodies wanted or for sale even in the depths of the depression.

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Chauffeurs (back in the day) were stable boys or horse wranglers. They were dirty and they stunk! so they were housed in an open cockpit. Notice that limos mostly all have leather or vinyl front seats and a partition between the chuffer and the VIPs.

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Looking at it from a world-wide perspective, the "town car" was originally referred to as a "Coupe' de ville"  or "Sedanca de ville."  It was called different things in different countries and the terms often had more specific meaning depending on vehicle manufacturer.  Many times, these terms were use interchangeably by owners as well as those who built the vehicles.  In early sales brochures, it certainly sounded more elegant and "up-scale" to refer to them in terms that imparted a suggestion of importance and helped create an "upper-class" impression.   

 

The separate exposed area for the driver was a carry-over from horse-drawn carriages.  Coachmen (or chauffeurs) needed to exit quickly to open doors for passengers, assist moving any luggage, or to attend to whatever the vehicle needed (lighting lamps, etc.).   The term "coupé de ville" actually was used in the 19th century before the automobile.

The term "de ville" is French for "for town" and indicates that the vehicle is for use in town or for short distances. 

 

Due to its use as a chauffeured vehicle, the passenger compartment was normally luxurious and used the finest materials made of the best quality cotton or silk adorned with fancy brocade trim. The same material was also most often used to provide complete curtain coverage for the compartment, and was matched by substantial carpet and fine inlaid woodwork. The driver's compartment had leather seats to endure bad weather. The division between the two compartments often held jump seats for lighter passengers such as children, and it would often accommodate various compartments for notebooks, cigars, make-up, or perhaps even a liquor cabinet.

 

Some versions had a partition between the driver and the passengers. These partitions often had a small slide-back glass window, or were completely made of glass with a manual or electric winding system. The passengers could speak to the driver through a communications tube, or, from the 1920s, through an electrical intercom system.  Some designs included a switch panel in the rear passenger compartment, which contained a speedometer and switches to impart the most common instructions to the driver via a lighted dashboard panel, such as "stop", "left", "right", or "home".

 

"Town cars" were fancy and that name reflected the status of their owners.

Terry

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The open driver's compartment town cars were simply the motorized version of closed horse drawn carriages where the driver sat in the open to control the horses.  Closed carriages were the province of the financially better-off and wealthy.   Controlling horses for transportation was a job considered socially below the masters of the house and his family.  


When the motorized vehicle became available, they were initially available only to the more prosperous, ownership of such was a status symbol.   What better way to display one's wealth and social stature than by a chauffeur-driven town car where the driver was exposed while the owner was safe and snug in the luxurious tonneau?  


Although functionally, the town cars were for transportation, it was also a 'vehicle' no pun intended, to display the wealth and reenforce differences in social standing enjoyed by its owner.  There was nothing egalitarian about the body style.   It began to fall from favor when conspicuous displays of wealth became unfashionable with the onset of the Great Depression.  
 

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