The original coupe style was created in the era where horse-drawn carriages were still the preferred mode of transportation. It was characterized by front-facing seats instead of both front and rear-facing. This meant that the passenger space available was smaller, used for casual travel instead of work or family. Later, as cars became more and more popular, this coupe style became synonymous with a two-door, fixed roof vehicle. These were often smaller versions of four door automobiles, or even sporty variants of sedans. Though at first the definition was restricted simply to the door and roof configurations, over time it has become looser to include other terms.
The name “coupe” originally hails from the French. In English it translates into “cut”, a reference to its cut-down shape and size. There are two ways to pronounce it, depending on if the accent mark is included in the spelling. Prior to World War II, it was pronounced “KOOP”, though in the 1950’s Chevrolet decided to introduce the Coupe (pronounced KOO-PAY) to distinguish it from other companies’ offerings. Mostly, however, at least in North America, it is pronounced “KOOP”, as in the Beach Boys’ song “Little Deuce Coupe”.
There are several variants of the coupe, going all the way back to the 1910’s with the coupe de ville, which retained a chauffeur’s seat along with the two front-facing passenger seats (usually a bench). Other variations include the business coupe, which was designed to aid salespeople in storing their wares, the club coupe, which had more passenger room, and the opera coupe, which was designed specifically for attendees of the opera, which was made so that the rear seating was easy to access, allowing for a simple step onto the curb as a valet drove the car away. The design elements vary from coupe to coupe, some of which will retain similar looks to their four door counterparts, while others will be molded into an entirely different model.
Coupes are typically not seen as family cars – there is little room to maneuver, and limited seating available. It’s a great car for a younger person who doesn’t have a lot to haul, or an older person who is traveling solo or with a partner. They’re often found at good prices, and some brands are known for their durability (the Honda Civic for example). While they don’t reach the entire populace, they are promoted and advertised to good effect, still quite popular with many individuals who like a simpler or sportier build than the typical four door sedan. I knew plenty of college students whose first cars were coupes, and there were plenty of young families I’ve known that started out with a coupe.
Well known coupe vehicles include the Alfa Romeo GT, the Honda Accord and Civic, the Dodge Challenger, Porsche 911, Audi A5 and R8, and the Nissan 370Z. If you’re curious about the coupe and want to read further, the Coupe Wikipedia place is a great place to start, with lots of resources to continue your research. You can also find plenty of photos, videos, and fan pages online.