Roadster (automobile)

1931 Ford Model A roadster

A roadster (also spider, spyder) is an open two-seat car with emphasis on sporting appearance or character.[1][2] Initially an American term for a two-seat car with no weather protection, usage has spread internationally and has evolved to include two-seat convertibles.

The roadster was also a style of racing car driven in United States Auto Club (USAC) Championship Racing, including the Indianapolis 500, in the 1950s and 1960s. This type of racing car was superseded by rear-mid-engine cars.


Early roadster competing for the Vanderbilt Cup

The term "roadster" originates in the United States, where it was used in the nineteenth century to describe a horse suitable for travelling.[3][4] By the end of the century the definition had expanded to include bicycles and tricycles.[5] In 1916, the United States Society of Automobile Engineers defined a roadster as: "an open car seating two or three. It may have additional seats on running boards or in rear deck."[6] Due to it having a single row of seats, the main seat for the driver and passenger was usually further back in the chassis than it would have been in a touring car.[4][7](p258) Roadsters usually had a hooded dashboard.[7](p257)

In the United Kingdom, historically the preferred terms were "open two-seater" and "two-seat tourer".[8][9] Since the 1950s, the term "roadster" has also been increasingly used in the United Kingdom.[10][11][12] It is noted that the optional 4-seat variant of the Morgan Roadster would not be technically considered a roadster.


The earliest roadster automobiles had only basic bodies without doors, windshields, or other weather protection. By the 1920s they were appointed similarly to touring cars, with doors, windshields, simple folding tops, and side curtains.[4]

Roadster bodies were offered on automobiles of all sizes and classes, from mass-produced cars like the Ford Model T and the Austin 7 to extremely expensive cars like the Cadillac V-16, the Duesenberg Model J and Bugatti Royale.

By the 1970s "roadster" could be applied to any two-seater car of sporting appearance or character.[13] In response to market demand they were manufactured as well-equipped as convertibles[14] with side windows that retracted into the doors. Popular models through the 1960s and 1970s were the Alfa Romeo Spider, MGB and Triumph TR4.

The highest selling roadster is the Mazda MX-5, which was introduced in 1989.[15][16][17] The early style of roadster with minimal weather protection is still in production by several low-volume manufacturers and fabricators, including the windowless Morgan Roadster, the doorless Caterham 7 and the bodyless Ariel Atom.

IndyCar roadster layout

1957 Kurtis Indy roadster

The term roadster was used to describe a style of racing cars competing in the AAA/USAC Championship Cars series (the IndyCar equivalents of the time) from 1952 to 1969. The roadster engine and drive shaft are offset from the centerline of the car. This allows the driver to sit lower in the chassis and facilitates a weight offset which is beneficial on oval tracks.[18]

One story of why this type of racing car is referred to as a "roadster" is that a team was preparing a new car for the Indianapolis 500. They had it covered in a corner of their shop. If they were asked about their car they would try and obscure its importance by saying that it was just their (hot rod) "roadster". After the Indianapolis racer was made public, the "roadster" name was still attached to it.[citation needed]

Frank Kurtis built the first roadster to race and entered it in the 1952 Indianapolis 500. It was driven by Bill Vukovich who led for most of the race until a steering failure eliminated him. The Howard Keck owned team with Vukovich driving went on to win the 1953 and 1954 contests with the same car. Bob Sweikert won the 1955 500 in a Kurtis after Vukovich was killed while leading. A. J. Watson,[19] George Salih and Quinn Epperly were other notable roadster constructors. Watson-built roadsters won in 1956, 1959 - 1964 though the 1961 and 1963 winners were actually close copies built from Watson designs. The 1957 and 1958 winner was the same car built by Salih with help by Epperly built with a unique placement of the engine in a 'lay down' mounting so the cylinders were nearly horizontal instead of vertical as traditional design dictated.[20] This gave a slightly lower center of mass and a lower profile.

Roadsters continued to race until the late 1960s, although they became increasingly uncompetitive against the new rear-engined racing cars. The last roadster to complete the full race distance was in 1965, when Gordon Johncock finished fifth in the Wienberger Homes Watson car. The last roadster to make the race was built and driven by Jim Hurtubise in the 1968 race and dropped out early.[21]

Some pavement midgets roadsters were built and raced into the early 1970s but never were dominant.[22]

See also

  • Barchetta, a related two-seater body style designed primarily for racing
  • Convertible, the general term to describe vehicles with retractable roofs and retractable side windows
  • Roadster utility
  • Tonneau cover, a protective cover for the seats in an open car


  1. ^ Pollard, Elaine, ed. (1994). "R". The Oxford Paperback Dictionary (Fourth ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 692. ISBN 0-19-280012-4. roadster noun an open car without rear seats.
  2. ^ Georgano, G. N., ed. (1971). "Glossary". Encyclopedia of American Automobiles. New York, NY USA: E. P. Dutton. pp. 215–217. ISBN 0-525-097929. LCCN 79147885. Roadster. A two-passenger open car of sporting appearance.
  3. ^ Webster, Noah; Goodrich, Chauncey A.; Porter, Noah (1861). "Roadster". An American Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, MA US: G. and C. Merriam. p. 959.
  4. ^ a b c Haajanen, Lennart W. (2003). Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles. Illustrations by Bertil Nydén; foreword by Karl Ludvigsen. Jefferson, NC USA: McFarland. p. 113. ISBN 0-7864-1276-3. LCCN 2002014546.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  5. ^ Porter, Noah, ed. (1898). "Roadster". Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, MA US: G. and C. Merriam. p. 1246. LCCN 98001281.
  6. ^ Society of Automobile Engineers, Nomenclature Division (August 20, 1916). "What's What in Automobile Bodies Officially Determined" (pdf). The New York Times. New York, NY USA. Nomenclature Division, Society of Automobile Engineers. ISSN 0362-4331. OCLC 1645522. Retrieved 2012-05-31. Here it is, with other body types and distinctions, officially determined recently by the Nomenclature Division of the Society of Automobile Engineers:
  7. ^ a b Clough, Albert L. (1913). A dictionary of automobile terms. The Horseless Age Company. LCCN 13003001. Retrieved 1 September 2014.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. ^ Culshaw, David; Horrobin, Peter (2013) [1974]. "Appendix 5 - Coachwork styles". The complete catalogue of British Cars 1895 - 1975 (e-book ed.). Poundbury, Dorchester, UK: Veloce Publishing. pp. 480–484. ISBN 978-1-845845-83-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  9. ^ "The Used Car Problem". Garage Organization and Management. Taylor & Francis. pp. 259–260. Retrieved 2012-10-26. (for the purposes of this British publication) "In order to avoid confusion, however, the universally understood terms 'Tourer', 'Coupé', 'Saloon', 'Limousine', etc., have been adopted, adding the American term 'Roadster' as the two-seater edition of the tourer." Cite has empty unknown parameter: |month= (help)
  10. ^ "Short History of the MGA & Magnette". Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  11. ^ "MGA facts, figures and colours".
  12. ^ "MG MGA ROADSTER For Sale - Car and Classic".
  13. ^ Georgano 1971, p. 216.
  14. ^ Culshaw & Horrobin 2013, p. 482.
  15. ^ "Mazda Produces 900,000th MX-5, Recognized as World's Best-Selling Sports Car". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  16. ^ "History of the Mazda MX-5 - picture special". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  17. ^ "25 Snapshots of the Mazda Miata Through History". Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  18. ^ "The 10 greatest Indy roadsters in history". Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  19. ^ "(USAC) Championship Indy Car Roadster". Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  20. ^ "Brickyard Classic: 1958 Indy 500 – The Salih and Epperly "Laydown" Roadsters". Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Robin Miller". Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  22. ^ "The Don Edmunds Fully Independent Suspended Roadster Midget". Retrieved 14 April 2019.