Vehicles Found in France in the 1700 and 1800s: A-Z

There were a variety of vehicles found in France in the 1700 and 1800s. Here is the list A to Z.

Ambulance Volante – This translates to “flying ambulance” and was developed by a French battlefield surgeon named Dominque-Jean Larrey so that the wounded could be quickly transported from the battlefield to field hospitals. They were so named because of their speed (or ability to fly) when they carried the injured off the battlefield and to the rear where surgeons could more effectively deal with their wounds. The ambulance volante was manned with a trained crew and a horse-drawn wagon modeled after the “flying artillery.” Crews assigned to each ambulance included a doctor, quartermaster, non-commissioned officer, a drummer boy (who carried the bandages), and 24 infantrymen functioning as stretcher bearers. There had been a long-held tradition of waiting to collect the injured until after the battle ended, but after 1797, flying ambulances were always present with the army’s advance-guard and cared for the wounded on the battlefield. These ambulance volantes proved so effective and so serviceable to the critically wounded that they served as the forerunner to the modern military ambulance and triage system eventually adapted by armies throughout the world.

Ambulance Volante (Flying Ambulance) developed by Larrey to quickly transport the wounded from the battlefield to field hospitals. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Barouche – Among the vehicles found in France was this vehicle whose name was derived from Latin bis rotum, Italian biroccio, French calèche, and German barutsche. It was a member of the Coach family, and, in fact, a cut-down coach that consisted of an under-carriage and lower quarters of a coach, including the lower half of a door with a hood covering the back seat, in place of a full-paneled top or Landau top. Author, inventor, and locomotive engineer, William Bridge Adams once said, “for fine weather the Barouche is one of the most delightful of all carriages.”[1]

Barouche. Public domain.

Barouchet – Diminutive of Barouche. A member of the Coach family and essentially a Barouche with a “Coupe” body and commonly called the Couplélet was more properly called the Barouchet.

Berline – Called in German a Berlin, the Berline was a member of the Coach family. Derived in 1770 “from Berlin, the capital city of Prussia, whence they were introduced,”[2] it flourished during the 1700s. It also marked an important era in the mechanical development of the Coach. It had a double perch and thorough braces and belonged to the period of gaudy ornamentation, when coaches were elaborately carved and gilded. In the 1800s, it was vaguely used to apply to a full-paneled Coach. This was also the type of coach that Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and children used in their flight to Varennes.

Berlinet or Berlinette – A smaller version of the Berline.

Braeck – This was the same term used in Germany and was a corruption of the English term Break. It was a member of the Phaeton group and described as a heavy driving vehicle. It obtained its name in England being literally used to “break in” colts or unruly horses because its weight, substantial build, and high driving-seat gave the driver the required control. In the 1800s, the term was applied more generally to a heavy phaeton used by gentlemen with two insides seats placed vis-à-vis, and a raised seat at the rear for grooms and therefore might more properly termed a Drag Phaeton. It was generally driven with four horses when out for an airing in a park and only two horses when used in a chase. Such a carriage could accommodate from six to eight persons, including the driver and servants. 

Brett – This term was applied to a Barouche, having a Briska pillar or other relic of the Britska; but, by the late 1800s had no special significance.

Briska – The English equivalent was Britzka and the German equivalent Britzschka. An alternative spelling was Britzska, commonly pronounced as if spelled bris-ka. It was derived from a Russian word said to be derived from the Polish bryczka, a diminutive of bryka, the freight wagon. The Briska was a member of the Coach group and said to be a variation of the basic Barouche. It was essentially a traveling carriage used throughout Europe during the first part of the 1800s. There were numerous accommodations for traveling in it and an endless variety of contrivances for sleeping, eating, reading, and carrying luggage. Author, inventor and locomotive engineer, William Bridge Adams claimed it became one of the most common of all carriages. “The reason,” he explained, “is its exceeding convenience, and adaptability to a great variety of purposes.”[3] Adams also described it in 1837 as follows:

“It is very convenient carriage of traveling in foreign countries, especially for those who experience a difficulty in finding convenient beds, or who may be obliged to travel by night; there is ample room to lie at full length; and the step is placed outside, in order not to incommode the interior. A projection behind is adapted for bedding, and the front part is an elongation for the limbs. In addition to the ordinary lamps, a ready lamp can be attached behind to the back light, — an important convenience for traveling. One or two servants may be carried on the boot behind; and attached to the locker before is a board, which, when let down, forms a foot-board; a seat being placed on the locker, an arrangement is thus made for driving. An imperial can go on the roof; and, if the hind boot be taken away, one or two large trunks may be substituted. The front foot-board may also be let down to a horizontal level, and thus carry a large trunk.”[4]

Brouette – By the late 1800s this term was obsolete. However, it described a French vehicle, the body of which resembled a Sedan Chair, mounted on two wheels, and drawn by a man. Brouettes were the contemporaries of Sedan Chairs, and the proprietors of the latter interfered to get Brouettes prohibited. They were successful for a time, but, in 1671, Brouettes were in general use in Paris as public hacks.

A sedan chair designed by Robert Adam for Queen Charlotte, 1775. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bouget – English equivalent was buggy and German buggie. The first mention of buggy occurs in the 1796 in the “Treatise on Carriages,” published in London by coachmaker William Felton. Felton said:

“A Buggy is a cant name given to Phaetons or Chaises which can only contain one person or one seat; they are principally intended for lightness in draft, for the rider to sit snug in, and to preclude the possibility of an associate; mostly used with out-riders. They are built like other Phaetons or Chaises, and, to ascertain their value, is to subtract one-twelfth from the statement of a common sized carriage, finished to any pattern.”[5]

The buggy of the late 1800s was a member of the Phaeton family and was a typical American vehicle of primitive form and simple construction that consisted of a box body, accommodated one or two passengers, and mounted on four wheels. There were many types of Buggies including: Britton Buggy, Coal-box Buggy, Monitor Buggy, Tray-body Buggy, and Yacht Buggy.

Cab – An abbreviation for Cabriolet and modification of the Cabriolet, thereby allying it to the Coach Family. It was a two-wheeled public vehicle. The term Cab was first used in France when the original two-wheeled Cabriolet became the street hack of Paris. Although the term was applied to a large variety of vehicles, it should be restricted to two-wheeled, one-horse, low-hung vehicles intended for public use.

Cabriolet – Another of the vehicles found in France was the Cabriolet, which in French means “to caper” or “to prance.” This vehicle superseded the Curricle and ran on two wheels. It was related to the coach family because of its springy suspension. It was well suited for town but not for country driving. It was invented by a Frenchman named Colonel Grobert. The Cabriolet was doorless and held two people and their baggage comfortably. It was more elegant and showier than the Curricle. It also had a moveable head that could be opened or closed, small windows on either side, an apron to shelter people from inclement weather, and a removable tiger seat. Additionally, it was both heavy in weight and draught. Two horses were always required and sometimes three were used. They could be drawn abreast if desired or according to the traveler’s wishes.

Cabriolet. Author’s collection.

Calèche – Of French origins it was a carriage with a leather top, portable glass shutters on the sides, and a paneled front, with a sliding window. The whole front could be removed in a few minutes turning it into an elegant open Barouche, with a half-top over the back seat. It weighed about 1350 pounds.

Cariole – Also carriol or carrioli, from the French carriole,and a diminutive of the Celtic or Latin carrus. It was a nineteenth century vehicle that was small, light, and uni-axial. It was also open, horse-drawn, and usually for one person.

Carrabas – Among the vehicles found in France was a lumbering, jolting vehicle from the 1700s that held about twenty people and was described in the 1890s as a wretched and cheap means of traveling because its rate of speed was said to be “but two or three miles an hour.”[6]

Carosse-Coupé – See Coupé.

Chaire – An old French form for the word Chaise.

Chaise – The old Chaise was nothing more than a seat or chair mounted on wheels and drawn by one horse. The term was later used for a great variety of vehicles, but always confined to two-wheel class vehicles, with the exception of the Post-Chaise, which was originally a two-wheel vehicle and retained its old name when mounted on four wheels. See Post-Chaise.

Chaise-á-Porteurs – This was a French term that literally meant “chair by porters,” and was synonymous with the English term Sedan Chair.

Chaise de poste (hired chaise) – It used post horses and was cheaper to travel in than a voiture or Diligence. In France, a chaise or conveyance was not hired from stage to stage, but for the whole journey. After arriving in Paris, the chaise (or cabriolet) was sent to Remise and “stands at the command of the hirer for 15 days.”[7]

Chaise, Porte – A contraction of the Chaise-á-Porteurs.

Chaise Roulante – This is a French term that literally means “a rolling chair.” It applied to vehicles used in the early 1700s in European courts and was used for short trips across a courtyard or from palace to palace, by courtiers and maids of honor.

Char-á-Banc – This French term literally means a vehicle with benches or long seats arranged across the vehicle lengthwise rather than facing the horse, and sometimes tiered to afford uninterrupted views of the road. As many as twenty-four passengers could be accommodated. There were infinite styles, shapes, and sizes, but a true Char-á-Banc retained the previous-named characteristics. Char-á-Bancs were members of the Phaeton family and its English equivalent was the Wagonet.

Charette – Known in English as a cart and in German as a karren. It was applied to a humble two-wheel vehicle of simple and primitive construction and distinguished from elaborately built carriages. There were various types of carts, such as a Dog-cart (an aristocratic sporting vehicle) or a Grocer Cart, Tip Cart, Water Cart, etc.

Cobillard – It was a funeral coach intended to convey dead bodies to the grave, and its the English hearse or the German Todten-Wagen was its equivalent.

Coche – The English equivalent was coach and the German equivalent kutsche. It is generally agreed that the word comes from the “Gypsy Magyars, who traveled about in their vehicles, and in fact lived in them.”[8] Through all its changes the Coach identifies itself with the idea of suspension. There are various coaches, the “glass-front Coach, the “State Coach,” the “Stage Coach,” and the “Four-in-hand Coach.” However, the earliest coach appears to be the coach that Louis XIV entered Paris in about 1650.

“[It] was suspended by short braces extending from upright pillars or posts to the corners of the body: when modified later by the influence of the Berlin, these braces were made to pass clear under the body … and by successive development the perch was gradually curved until it assumed the forms known as ‘swan-neck’ and ‘crane-neck.’ Afterward came the idea of bending giving a little spring to the wooden pillars to which the braces were attached: from this movement originated a series of improvements which resulted in the ‘S-spring,’ afterward in the ‘whip-spring,’ and finally in the ‘C-spring’ used in the late 1800s. One of the most important developments in the construction of coaches consisted in framing the boot into the body; this change occurred in the early part of the present century. Another important change followed the invention of elliptic springs in 1804, by Obadiah Elliot, of England; and later that of platform springs, which led to the abandonment of the perch.”[9]

Coupé – This word comes from the French coupé, which means to cut, and signified cutting a Coach cut in two pieces. The Coupé was a member of the Coach family. The term coupé technically described all forms of cutting down Coach bodies, but was eventually identified with one vehicle that was cut down.

“When the Berlin was naturalized in France, it was there cut down in many ways, with a view to great elegance of shape, and superior compactness and convenience. It was cut longitudinally and latitudinally; it was halved and quartered; the front cut off, the top cut off, and, in fact, it was coupé’d in every manner which fancy could devise. … When the Berlin was cut in halves longitudinally, the resulting vehicle was called the ‘Vis-à-vis’ … in which form it accommodated two persons … When the process of Coupéing was carried still further, and the Vis-à-vis was also cut down latitudinally, … the Berlin was so dismembered that but one-quarter of it remained; this vehicle, accommodating one passenger only, was appropriately called a ‘Desobligeant’ or ‘Disobliger’ whose equivalent was afterward known in England as the Post-Chaise. The Carosse-Coupé or Berlingot, when first used for travel, was called a ‘Diligence,’ on account of the speed with which it performed the journey from Paris to Calais.”[10]

During the late 1800s, the term Coupé in France was widened. It applied to the modern Diligence, the front compartment of a railway coach, and vehicles known in America as Coupés and Broughams. The term Coupé was never really used in England. However, they borrowed from the French one of the early forms of the Coupé, which they called the Chariot and the more compact form was known as the Brougham.

Coupelet – This was the diminutive of Coupé. It was also a member of the coach family and modified by substituting a Calèche top for a paneled top. In addition, it differed from the Landaulet having no standing front. This vehicle would also be more precisely described as a Barouchet.

Daumont, a la – Among the vehicles found in France in the 1700 and 1800s was this vehicle that was driven by outriders or jockeys and had neither a coach-box or driving seat. It did have a small chest called a coffre situated upon the front gearing. Its name is sometimes appended to various vehicles, such as the Coach à la Daumont or Coupé à la Daumont. It used four horses, two jockeys, and usually two footmen in the rear. It was introduced under Napoleon I by an eccentric nobleman named the Duke d’Aumont.

Demi-caleche – Looks like a Coupé but the top is contrived so that it could fall back after removing the door above the belt-rail, making it an open carriage.

Desobligeant – This was a version of the small Chaise and accommodate one passenger. It was common in France in the 1700s. The English equivalent was the “Disobliger.” One man reported “that when he was in Calais, and a lady wished to travel in the same vehicle, as himself, he could not oblige her, at it would seat but one passenger; and so the lady had to wait for another disobliger in order to pursue her journey.”[11]

Diligence – One of the most popular vehicles found in France was the Diligence. It was also called Voitures Publiques because these vehicles were a Frenchman’s main public conveyance and considered to be the most convenient form of travel. In Germany, the French diligence was called eilwagen (quick-coach)” and in Prussia it went by the name of schnellpost (quick-post). They could be found at every street corner departing for Germany, Switzerland, etc. or returning to Paris and there are many tales about it and their drivers. The Diligence falls into the category of a traveling coach and was used in the 1700 and 1800s to travel long distances throughout continental Europe. It was a solidly built coach pulled by four or more horses. One early description of the diligence coach stated:

“The body of the carriage rests upon large thongs of leather, fastened to heavy blocks of wood, instead of springs, and the whole is drawn by seven horses.”[12]

Vehicles found in France - the Diligence

Thomas Rowlandson’s, “The Paris Diligence.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Diligence was often claimed to be a “species of omnibus, having four places to carry passengers.”[13] In total, most diligence coaches carried between “fourteen to seventeen persons, exclusive of the conducteur [sic] and the postillions.”[14] One description of it claimed it was composed of three parts:

“1. the front division, called Coupé, shaped like a charlot or post-chaise, holding 3 persons, quite distinct from the rest of the passengers, so that ladies may resort to it without inconvenience, and by securing a 3 places to themselves, travel nearly as comfortable as in a private carriage. 2. Next to it comes the …. inside, holding 6 persons, and oppressively warm in summer. 3. Behind this is attached the Rotonde, the receptacle of dust, dirt, and bad company,’ the least desirable part of the diligence.”[15]

The conductor rode on the imperial and was responsible “for the comfort of the passengers and safety of the luggage.”[16] When a team of five or more horses was involved, the conductor controlled the rear horses, while the postilions controlled the front horses. For more on the Diligence and how people traveled in it in France, click here.

Diligence-Coupée or Diligence Coupé en Birouche. See Coupé.

Dormeuse-Chariot – This was among the old vehicles found in France and was a traveling chariot used prior to the railway days. Its distinguishing characteristic was that it offered sleeping accommodations.

Duc-Phaeton – This was not driven by outriders or coachmen from the skeleton-boot but rather by its occupant (usually a lady), with an attendant groom behind in the rumble.

Fiacre – Another of the vehicles found in France was the public cab, which is what Fiacre represented. Supposedly, it was named after St. Fiacre or Fiacrius, a son of an Irish King born in the year 600. Seventeenth-century pilgrims traveling to the relics of St. Fiacre adorned their coaches with pictures of him (either outside or inside). Therefore, the coaches were often called voitures de St. Fiacre, which was later shortened to Fiacre.

Le Fiacre by Édouard Manet (1878). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fourgon – An old French luggage vehicle that was later used in England before railway days. In England it was known as a Luggage Van and in America as a Baggage-Car. It usually resembled a Cabriolet body attached to a huge trunk. An attendant preceded it in a traveling coach and conveyed the baggage. By the 1880s, the term fourgon was used in connection with railways.

Gondola – Derived from the Italian word to signify boat, it was so named because of its boat-shaped body that also had a bottom more rounded than the Coach. It was also an old term applied in France, during the early part of the 1700s to a type of Coach that was characterized by its unusual size and could seat a dozen persons.

Hôpital Ambulant – This was a moving hospital and another of the vehicles found in France in the 1700 and 1800s. It was a two or four-wheeled vehicle, mainly used for hospital and war service to carry the sick or wounded. It was generally constructed with easy suspension, a spring bed, and numerous compartments for medical appliances and supplies. Because of the varieties of ambulants they were often named after their inventor. See also Ambulances Volantes.

Landaulet Chaise – A pleasure carriage like the coupé that had above it a head (top) like the demi-caleche that could be thrown open in good weather.

Limonières – These were four-wheeled carriages with poles. They required three horses but only one postilion was necessary.

Omnibus – The Omnibus was another of the vehicles found in France that was a public vehicle used to convey large masses of people. It seemed to originate almost simultaneously in France, England, and the United States, although it appears that France was the first country to introduce them, having accomplished this in 1819. “To these vehicles was given the general name of Omnibus, as a sort of classic invitation to the public to partake of their hospitality.”[17] The Omnibus belonged to the Wagonet class because it had two seat-boards extending lengthwise, with a rear entrance, paneled sides with numerous windows, and a standing top. One article talked about how the French Omnibus announced itself:

“In every part of the northern portion of Paris you are are struck almost incessantly by the music of these carriages, which announces their presence by a few bars of music in a tone closely resembling that of the Scotch bagpipe, and which the driver has … the power of producing, by pressing a spring — a contrivance equally simple and ingenious — and the sounds being audible at a considerable distance. This new mode of proclaiming its presence is unfailing, and is infinitely preferable to the horribly deafening bugling of your stage and mail-coach guards.”[18]

Vehicles found in France. - Omnibus

Omnibus. Author’s collection.

Patache – Among the vehicles found in France in the 1700 and 1800s was this rustic cab that was more like a covered cart, without easy motion where riders expected to be jolted.

Post-Chaise – These were “simply a species of chair suspended between two poles or shafts, and supported by two wheels.”[19] The body of the Post-Chaise was later applied to the Chaise de poste and the resulting vehicle was given the same name, i.e., Desobligeante. The English Post-Chaise differed from the French one in that it was mounted on four wheels instead of two. It was known in England as the Chariot and in France as the Diligence or Berlingot but driven by postillions instead of from the box. Moreover, it was used for public conveyance or let out to individuals who wanted to undertake certain journeys. The Post-Chaise was also distinguishable from the Traveling Coach because it had a Coupé body instead of a full Coach body and was driven by postillions.

Renault Voiturette – Known as the “Renault Little Car.” It was the invention of a French industrialist named Louis Renault and his first automobile. It was manufactured between 1898 and 1903.

Roulette – Another of the vehicles found in France in the 1700s was the Roulette that was also called a Brouette or Vinaigrette. See Brouette for more information.

Tapcu – A French term that meant literally “seat-thumper.” It was applied to various carts in certain parts of France.

Tapissière – Tapissière meant tapestry and this was a class of vehicles with hanging curtains.

Triolet – Another addition to the vehicles found in France was a two-wheeled vehicle modeled after the Coupé that was invented by a M. Avril of Paris on 6 December 1826. It carried three people and the driver, who sat on the front seat over the step.

“[It was] suspended on a single half-elliptic spring, the center of which, resting on, was secured to the axle, with the raised ends protruding at the sides. To these ends were attached two upright standards, reaching higher than the roof, and connected by a cross-bar extending across the roof.”[20]

Tumbrel or Tumbril – This vehicle was used during the French Revolution to convey condemned prisoners to the guillotine, such as Madame Élisabeth, the Duke d’Orléans (Louis Philippe II), Eliza de Feuillide‘s husband, Madame Roland, or Charlotte Corday. At one point, it was also used as an army cart used to convey ammunition, tools, etc, and in 18th century England was said to be a synonym for Dung-cart.

Victoria – Called the same in French or German, this vehicle was created by the French in honor of Queen Victoria and was member of the Coach Family. It was a four-wheeled vehicle with a Cabriolet body and hood. It also had a skeleton boot that was usually movable and was generally suspended on elliptic and C-springs. It was also more stately than a Cabriolet and driven with postillions.

Vehicles found in France - Victoria.

19th century example of a Victoria. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Vis-a-Vis – This was a derivation of the French vis-à-vis. It was a member of the Coach Family and applied to all vehicles whose seats were arranged crosswise so that occupants sat face to face, such as the Barouche and the Berline. “The French, in the course of cutting down the Coach in various forms, halved the Coach longitudinally, and called the resulting vehicle, which accommodated two persons only, sitting face to face, a Vis-à-vis.”[21] Since the time of the Vis-à-vis, the term has been applied to various other vehicles who had the same manner of seating.

Voiture – Called carriage in English and wagen in German, the voiture was another of the vehicles found in France that applied to any carriage or coach for passengers. It was also a slow but pleasant mode of travel and usually conveyed up to six people. Later it became a technical term that designated the part of the vehicle that supported or carried the body, the carriage-part, or the gearing. There were many types of voitures as noted below.

  • Voiture de Bains – This was a wagon used to convey a bathtub, hot water, etc., to private residents. It was in common use in France in the 1800s and could be drawn by one horse or by hand.
  • Voitures de Place – During the Regency, these were hackney coaches available for hire from five in the morning until midnight. Fares were regulated and there was an expectation that the coachman would receive a tip from occupants. The first of these coaches was established in the rue St. Antoine, which had for its sign the image of Saint Fiacre. See Fiacre.
  • Voitures de Remise – These were glass coaches and during the Regency period, could be rented by the day, week, or month, along with the coachman and horses. The price varied depending on the time needed, the elegance of the vehicle, or the beauty horses. Smaller versions were known as the Voitures Petit de Remise.
  • Voitures hors de Paris – During the Regency, these vehicles traveled around the environs of Paris and went to such places as Versailles, Saint Cloud, Montmorency, etc.
  • Voitures Publiques – Essentially stage coaches or Diligences. See Diligences above. These vehicles were also considered to be the most convenient form of travel and could be found at every street corner departing for Germany, Switzerland or returning to Paris.


  • [1] Adams, William Bridge, English Pleasure Carriages, 1837, p. 229.
  • [2] The Automotive Manufacturer, Volume 28, 1887, p. 434.
  • [3] Adams, 1837, p. 229-230.
  • [4] Ibid. p. 226.
  • [5] The Automotive Manufacturer, 1887, p. 434.
  • [6] Lowell, Edward Jackson, The Eve of the French Revolution, 1892, p. 174.
  • [7] Englishman’s Vade Mecum at Paris, 1814, p. 2.
  • [8] The Automotive Manufacturer, 1887, p. 498.
  • [9] Ibid. p. 499.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Stratton, Ezra M. The World on Wheels, 1878, p. 228.
  • [12] Mavor, William Fordyce, A General Collection of Voyages and Travels from the Discovery of America to Commencement of the Nineteenth Century, Volume 27, 1809, p. 12.
  • [13] Breckinridge, Robert Jefferson, Memoranda of Foreign Travel, 1845, p. 162.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Murray, John, A Hand-book for Travellers in France, 1844, p. xxvi.
  • [16] Mavor, 1809, p. 12.
  • [17] The Automotive Manufacturer, 1887, p. 707.
  • [18] Atlas, Volume 1, 1828, p. 52.
  • [19] The Automotive Manufacturer, 1887, 708.
  • [20] Stratton, 1878, p. 236.
  • [21] The Automotive Manufacturer, 1887, p. 781.

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