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What is a Notchback?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A notchback is a type of automobile that is in the more general three-box style category. Like other vehicles with three-box styling, notchbacks may be identified as having distinct engine, passenger, and cargo sections when viewed in profile. The term notchback specifically refers to the way that the slanted rear window meets the trunk lid, since it may appear as if a notch had been cut away from the rear part of a two-box station wagon. Most notchbacks are either sedans or coupes, though there are some exceptions. Hatch or liftbacks may belong to the group if they possess any kind of a horizontal deck lid that can identify the vehicle as three-box in design.

The notchback design movement can be seen as an extension of the three-box style, which itself grew out of the type of ponton or envelope styles that became popular in areas like Europe and the United States during the 1930s. Ponton styling typically consists of design elements such as integrated fenders, a lack of running boards, and the sort of enveloping body styles that are still prevalent in modern auto design. Three-box styling incorporated these same features, but created vehicles with well defined engine, passenger, and cargo compartments. All notchbacks are three-box designs, but the reverse may not be true. Some vehicles with three-box styling may have rounded rear decks or other design features that could preclude them from being considered as notchbacks.

As a descriptive term, notchback is very general and may apply to a great variety of vehicles produced since the 1940s. It has also been used as a marketing term at times, usually to differentiate vehicles within the same line. The same vehicle may have been available in either hatchback or notchback editions, for instance, and notchbacks were typically sedans rather than coupes. Other vehicles may be marketed as sedans or coupes while still exhibiting classic notchback styling.

The angle at which the rear window meets the rear deck is not necessarily important when defining a vehicle as a notchback. In most notchback vehicles, the rear window forms an obtuse angle with the deck lid when viewed in profile. Others can form an acute angle, and may also be known as rakebacks. Some variants may also have a rear window capable of rolling up and down, or a convertible top, as these are not typically seen as defining features for the style.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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