All right, here now followeth the sermon:
In The Beginning, there was The Car. The Car alone, and only The Car. Someone built one, then another bloke came along and did the same, and soon they raced each other. Everyone else was wondering what the heck these things were for anyway, so there's no use in calling them Road Car, Racing Car or whatever. They were simply Cars, but in everyday use they were called a number of things, not all of which was complimentary.
Throughout the rest of the century (that's 19th century, folks!), those vehicles were probably mainly built as joyrides for the rich and famous, and that included, one way or another, racing. New models were introduced with every big race, and subsequently sold off to the "public", who drove them on the roads, dodging frightened horses, and in minor races. Some manufacturers became factories, real companies producing runs of very similar or even virtually identical cars - Stock Cars, if you want. Some were raced, some not. In fact, more and more of them were not raced, and that may have led to the development of the "freak" Racing Car. The 1899 Vallée was perhaps the first one that no one with a right mind would've driven on the road, outside of competition. Many more followed, but the majority of cars used in competition remained, more or less, Stock Cars.
Then, rules became more sophisticated. Early regulations divided cars into classes mainly through (more or less) incidental differences, like number of seats - that way, motorcycles split off from the main tree in 1895 already, but boundaries remained fuzzy for several more years. Overal weight became an issue, and the moment the first car was specifically tailored to fit into one of those weight categories, it became a de facto
Racing Car, even if intended for later road use. Competition cars were now called Heavy Cars, Light Cars, and Voiturettes
- the latter word is a diminutive of the French word "voiture", meaning "car". Those three categories basically survived into the 21st century, as Formulae 1, 2 and 3, although the middle one was called Formula 3000 for many years. Even in Europe, the lines were not always clear, as Light Cars and Voiturettes were sometimes lumped together and called 1500s or 1100s (in the twenties/thirties), or Formula Junior (in the fifties/sixties). For a long time, car/motorcycle mongrels existed in a category called Cycle Cars, or 750s, but we're getting slightly ahead here.
Another effect of the weight limits was the appearance of the "stripped" Stock Car - those cars were technically mostly identical with the Road Cars, but visually much closer to the "freak" Racing Car, and by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the name Stock Car was basically a misnomer - competition cars were getting more and more specialized in appearance and
specifications. In addition to which, homebuilt "specials" were now being added to the mix, meaning "freak" Racing Cars that were being built by individuals, not companies, using mostly motley collections of existing hardware from "real" or "nominal" Stock Cars. Soon, the term Stock Car all but vanished from the scene along with most of the manufacturers around the time of WW1 - it was no longer necessary to create the illusion that "the man on the street" could buy a car that was identical to the one winning on the Speedways. Instead, a number of small companies began building short runs of "production specials", so to speak - out-and-out Racing Cars, in effect. By this time, weight categories had also given way to classifications by engine capacity.
In the twenties, the Stock Car (or, Touring Car in Europe) made a comeback, with stricter rules to differentiate it from the Racing Cars. Again, regulations became more "loose" over time, and this particular tribe became the Sports Racing Car, or Sports Car for short. In the US, manufacturer support for this particular type of racing ended very soon, so here develops a schism, but in all truth, Sports Car racing in Europe over the years (and its many ins and outs in connection with Racing Cars as well as Touring Cars) is every bit as complicated and convoluted as the US counterpart, and perhaps deserving of its own thread, so we'll concentrate on what happened in America instead. Here, with little to no interest by the manufacturers, the sports authorities never developed very much zest in controlling this kind of racing, and it soon became the playground for the "real outlaws", or "outlaw outlaws" as I've seen them called at times.
To paddle back a short distance, let's recall another difference between Europe and the US, namely the question of who's controlling the sport of racing: in the "old world", this was basically done by one single authority, going back to the very earliest days, while in the US the rules of the free market prevailed, for better or worse. This led to a situation where, in the twenties and thirties, one particular group (the American Automobile Assoc., AAA for short) controlled all the major events and many smaller meetings all over the big country, while countless local ("independent") clubs held sway over areas of varying size, sometimes even overlapping with each other. The AAA used to call all these independent clubs "outlaws", as it was in direct competition with all of them due to its own nationwide aspirations. These "outlaw" groups usually staged events for Racing Cars, often with rules that differed very much from those of the AAA, and sometimes with no rules at all. The AAA, itself, sometimes used different sets of rules for different areas, in an effort to gain control by reaching out. A pretty darn good mess, all in all.
All those Racing Cars, running to all those different sets of rules, were still all of one and the same "big family", but there was no common name that was consistently applied to them. Adverts were usually simply for "Auto Races", and names like Speedway Cars, (Dirt) Track Cars, Race Cars or even Stock Cars were used every now and then. Historically, they all evolved from the Heavy Cars of the early days, as other classes of Racing Cars had died away one by one in the US since the mid-teens, and since Sports or Touring Cars were never much of a factor here, there appears to have been no reason to apply any special name to the cars that ubiquitously stood for the sport of auto racing everywhere in the nation. That changed in the mid-thirties with the appearance of the Midget Racing Cars, or Midgets for short, which were basically a mix between Voiturettes and Cycle Cars. These became enormously popular within a very short time, and henceforth the "old type" of Racing Car was now called a Big Car, or sometimes Full-size Car.
Edited by Michael Ferner, 15 October 2011 - 18:23.