Hooniverse Fastback Friday: What is Your Definition of a Fastback?


Welcome to another edition of Hooniverse Fastback Friday. Almost seven weeks have passed since I did a Fastback Friday posting, and that was all about the Isuzu Impulse and Piazza. That my friends is way too long, so for this edition of Fastback Friday, I thought it would be fun to try and find out what a Fastback really is. There has been fierce debate within the Verse that is Hoon about this very topic since we debuted this feature, and now its your turn to decide once and for all how to define the term “Fasback”….


There is no doubt that the above image of a 1949 Cadillac Coupe is the quintessential early 50’s fastback. The roof trails off right down to the rear bumper in a graceful manner, with an eye toward aerodynamic efficiency. Rear visibility has been compromised, but who cares… just look at that style and grace, how the rear end is framed by the newly introduced tailfins, which would later on grow to gigantic proportions. We are agreed that this is in fact a fastback coupe, right?

At the very same time period, Nash introduced their Airflyte Statesman and Ambassador Sedans. There is no doubt that these cars were aerodynamic, but are they true “Fastback” designs. Notice that the roof tapers down toward the rear bumpers, as on the Cadillac, but abruptly changes curvature at the very back of the car. If the car was longer, then the taper could be more gradual, again as with the Cadillac. Would you call this a fastback sedan then?

Sticking with the same period, this Packard Eight also carries an Aerodynamic theme, only there is a distinctive roofline that that isn’t present in either the Nash, or the Cadillac. The rear window treatment is raked, giving all the disadvantages of a fastback during this time period, providing a sleek and streamlined appearance, with a hint of formality. Still, could this be defined as a fastback, at least when compared to the Packards of the pre-war period?

The Fastback style fell out of favor during the fifties, only to come roaring back in the mid 1960s, with the advent of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray coupe. This was a very distinctive car that help to define the new “Fastback” style, in which a car with a fastback roof was fast, sporty, and distinctive. The Corvette was all three, but is it really a fastback?

Another game changing automobile was the 1965 Ford Mustang, and it introduced its own version of a fastback, the Sports Roof. It certainly was distinctive, eye catching, and very sporty, but is it really a fastback? The roofline does taper to the rear, only to come to an end just before the trunk lid.

During this time period, another styling hallmark became popular. The roofline was designed to look like a fastback, but the backlight was a bit more upright. This was known as the Flying Buttress, and became popular for a short period of time during the Muscle Car Era. This Dodge Charger illustrated this style better than most, but could the “Flying Butress” roofline be called a fastback?

Ford seemed to offer a fastback in every model during the late 60s and early 70s, and they were as rakish as anything ever produced. However, they became less common on the full sized Galaxie, and increasingly more common of the midsized offerings like the Torino. General Motors used the fastback roofline on all of their intermediate two-door cars, like this Skylark, but you can see that there is a hint of a formal roofline making an appearance.

However, the era of the Fastback was once again on the decline, except for a new subcategory of cars with a rear hatch. Introduced by General Motors in the fall of 1970, the Chevrolet Vega debuted the three-door hatchback model, along with a two-door sedan, and a three-door wagon/panel van. Ford quickly followed suit with their Pinto, and soon there were a myriad of fastback hatchbacks. But is this a true fastback?

Curved windows are a great way of producing fastbacks from ordinary two-door coupes or sedans. one of the earliest was the 1964 Plymouth Barracuda, in which a large rear window (and some other styling touches) transformed an ordinary Valiant into a competitor to the Mustang. (it was actually introduced before the Mustang, but that’s not the point). One of the largest rear window fastbacks was the 1971 to 1973 Buick Riviera, but would you really call that a fastback?

During the 70s, the fastback body style was once again falling out of favor when the personal luxury car was king of the road. The General Motors Colonade hardtop was offered in a raked roof version, offered by all divisions throughout the 70s, but this style suffered from the same identity crisis that the first Mustang fastback did… the roofline didn’t taper all the way to the rear of the car (it stopped at the trunk lid). Can any of the GM Colonade cars be called fastbacks?

During the 80s, NASCAR made a resurgence, but the cars were all about as aerodynamic as bricks. Ford made a calculated decision to introduce the newly revised aerodynamic Thunderbird to the speedways with great success. This prompted GM to heavily modify two of their squared off personal luxury cars to do battle with the slippery bird. The Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe was modified from the standard Monte Carlo SS with the addition of a fastback window, and a shorter deck lid. The Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 went a bit further, with an even larger fastback window, a smaller deck lid, and an aerodynamic nose treatment. But are these true fastbacks?

Today, you could make the argument that almost any sedan or coupe could be called a fastback. So, what do you think a fastback is?

0 Comments

  1. The rear window angle must be less than 45 degrees. If the rear rake is fastback, but the window is recessed (Dodge Charger) then you have what is known as a "foupe".

    1. The rear window angle needs to match the profile coming off the roof. Usually that's more horizontal than vertical, but it doesn't have to be.
      <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3059/3029707305_967342ea30.jpg&quot; width=500>
      I agree that the '68 Charger pictured is a near miss when it comes to fastbackness. 66-67 models are the real deal, though.
      <img src="http://americanclassiccarsale.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/66charger-04.jpg"&gt;
      The 69 Charger 500 gets the window right, but there's still the trunk issue…
      <img src="http://wwnboa.org/500-chrgcompare/chrgcompare8.jpg"&gt;

  2. The Cadillac, Nash, Corvette, and Riviera are true fastbacks in that the roofline extends to the rear of the car in a continuous line with no breaks. The Ford XL and Grand Prix 2+2 are very close but not quite there. The other cars except for the Audi are definitely notchbacks. I don't think of hatchbacks like the Audi as being fastbacks in the strict sense.

  3. Is the rear window a part of the trunk lid? If yes, it's a hatchback, if not, it's a fastback. As far a difference between a notchback and a fastback, if it curves out, fastback, if it curves in, notchback.
    Now you've got me thinking about those buttresses on the Charger. WTH is the point with them exactly? To be able to provide a fastback side profile while using Coronet tooling and parts as much as possible?

      1. And when they went to race it: "Oh dammit, it sucks! Quick, grab me a hammer, a torch and some metal!"
        <img src="http://www.musclecarcalendar.com/CarShows2004/LasVegasMopar/MO39.jpg&quot; width="380">
        I think the story for the Charger went something like this: The designer wanted a fastback roof, but Accounting (or similar, or was it another designer, I forget) wanted to keep the rear parcel shelf the same, and this design was how they compromised.

      2. Those cars tend to have rust problems around the rear window, too (even here in TX, where the car in the picture is located).

        1. I was referring to '66-'67 GM A-bodies, but yeah, the Mopars have the same problem. And don't drive the GM A-bodies at high speed with the windows down, and the reveal molding removed from the backlight; I've heard of cases where the glass popped out (it's just glued in with a ribbon seal, like the front windshield), and landed on the road. Not good.

  4. The angle of incidence between the rear glass and the trunk must not exceed 165 degrees.

  5. I dig that '68 Ford (I had an AMT model of it, back in '68), but it's not a fastback. Neither is the '65 Mustang. The original Barracuda was, however.

    1. The gen 1 Barracuda was essentially a fastback Valiant. I even think the early cars had Valiant badging.

  6. I think the two distinguishing characteristics of a classically-defined fastback are:
    1) the slope of the backlight. I would say the cut-off is around an angle of 45° from horizontal. In other words the backlight should be closer to horizontal than vertical.
    2) a straight profile (or perhaps the slightest constant-radius curve, either concave or convex) all the way from the top of the backlight to the back of the car (with perhaps just a tiny lip there). As soon as you change the angle at the base of the backlight to create even a little notch, it's not a fastback anymore.
    Perhaps an illustration would help.
    <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/fastback-diagram.jpg&quot; width="512">
    I would include hatchbacks, er, "liftbacks," if they've got the requisite length and slope, and I'd include cars with backlights that are curved along the transverse axis (so that the glass defines the car's profile rather than sheetmetal, like the early Barracuda), but only if the glass is as wide as the body along its length and still a straight shot, front-to-back, from roof to the rear of the car at a properly flat angle when viewed in profile. I would NOT include tapering "boat-tail" backlights (Stingray, Riviera) or buttressed cars with more vertical backlights (Charger, XJS, Fiero GT).
    EDIT: Yes, I changed my original drawing as I thought this through.

    1. Let's see…..
      I can see a Mustang in the first one, or manybe something japanese
      The second one is sorta Javelin looking
      the third one is sort of a mashup of a 924 a Laser/Daytona and a Mercury LN7. Dunno what is it.
      The last one is definitely a muscle car from the late 60's or early 70s'…….maybe an early Camaro?

      1. Actually, they're all exactly the same nonspecific drawing, with the back roofline changed. They're not supposed to be any particular car. But your observation does point out how much the backlight and trunk area effects a car's overall style.

  7. Here is my thinking:
    Rule 1 – Roof line flows all the way to the back of the car, or very close and is more horizontal than vertical? Fastback. The Riviara above and the 40's GM cars like the Caddy at the top fit that bill. Second gen Camaros fit here too.
    Rule 2 – Is there a more formal roof line version of the same car? Likely a fastback, assuming the roof line flows properly. The gen1 & early Fox body Mustangs fit here even though they have have a definite trunk, the existence of the sedan makes it a fastback. The Pontiac 2+2 pictures works here as well. To me, that also means that the Skylark, even though the roof line flows, isn't a fastback. A fastback is a special model in a line, unless it fits rule #1 above.
    Rule 3 – Is there definite break between the sloping rook / back light and the trunk, likely not a fastback unless it fits rule #2. The late 60's Charger 500, as someone mentioned, fit here.
    Four doors don't usually fit because they typically don't have a flat enough slope. The A7 is a beautiful exception, but the white 30's sedan in the comments is not. My Mazda3 hatch is not, nor was my Escort hatch before it even though it had a more gradual slope more formal sibling, it wasn't fast enough and didn't go all the way to the rear.
    The colonade cars are odd to me. Yes, GM made a special version with a longer, flatter roof, but it didn't go a lot farther back, there's still a definite trunk and many of them had those formal opera windows. These are fence riders in my mind, not clearly a fastback and not clearly not a fastback.

  8. I'll go with 'it looks like it could be a hatchback*, but it isn't'.
    Galaxie, Cadillac, Nash: Yes
    Packard: No, it's got a notch there. It looks like it should have a trunk, and it does.
    Corvette: Yes; looks like it should have a hatch, and it has nothing at all.
    MkI Mustang, Charger, Buick: nope
    MkIII Mustang: Hatchback.
    Riviera: Yes. I don't think I noticed before how much like a C2 the rear end is. Although if the glass did open that would be sort of absurd.
    *: 'The rear glass opens and it's not a wagon** or SUV'
    **: 'The rear glass opens, and sits (closed) at an angle of greater then 45deg to the car's horizontal axis.'
    That means though, that Civic hatchbacks are in fact shooting brakes***. I'm willing to stand by that assertion.
    ***: 'Two door wagon'.

  9. For the most part, my usage is that a fastback is a closed body with a sloping roofline that forms a single arc extending to either the trailing edge of the decklid (if the car has an integral trunk) or to the lower edge of the body. It does not necessarily have to include either the rear fenders or rear valance/vanity panel.
    As a point of usage, I do usually call the 1965-1966 Mustang 2+2 a fastback, simply to distinguish it from the notchback hardtop, and because that was how it was often described in period literature. To be technical, I'd call it a semi-fastback.
    I would not call the recessed backlight A-bodies or the 1968-1970 Charger (excepting the Charger 500 and Daytona) fastbacks. Likewise the 1968-1972 GM A-bodies, which are not a continuous arc. Again, I'd use the term "semi-fastback."
    A Kamm back is not a fastback, either, although it's designed to have a similar aerodynamic effect.
    I don't consider the presence of a rear hatch to be a determinant either way. There are fastback hatchbacks and hatchbacks that are not fastbacks; it's a matter of shape, not door configuration.
    That's the way I use the term…

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