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A charabanc is a type of large, open-topped bus that is designed for sightseeing and day-tripping. Other types of conveyance have largely replaced the charabanc in the modern era, but at one time, these buses were extremely popular, especially in England. Vintage charabancs can be seen on display in museums, including some very elegant, handmade examples that were designed to be drawn by horses. Charabancs still can be seen occasionally in usage, usually as novelty items.
The term "charabanc" comes from the French char-a-bancs, which means “carriage with benches.” The simple design included rows of forward-facing benches in the body of a carriage, thereby accommodating a large number of riders. A driver sat perched on a seat in the front or rode in a separate carriage that pulled the charabanc. Typically, no covering at all was installed over the riders, although some versions included a canopy as rudimentary shelter from the elements.
Charabancs are most closely associated with outings organized by employers, especially employers of the lower classes. According to some accounts, charabanc rides sometimes got rather rowdy, with employees taking advantage of their liberation from work to drink alcohol and eat large volumes of food. Generally, a charabanc took people on a sightseeing tour, usually ending at a destination such as a fair or the beach.
The heyday of this carriage appears to have been in the England of the 1920s. During that time, both motorized and horse-drawn charabancs could be seen all around the countryside, especially during the summer months. After World War II, charabancs began to be replaced with other buses and modes of transportation that were more comfortable and sheltered for the rider.
In some parts of the world, vintage charabancs are still used to add flair to sightseeing tours, because many people find it to be fun and interesting to tour an old-fashioned village or city in an old-fashioned vehicle. Large wedding parties also might use charabancs to arrive in style. People who are interested in hiring a charabanc should ask around in their region to see where the nearest rental company is. Companies that offer charabanc tours usually advertise them, often allowing visitors to make reservations while they are planning their trips.