A limousine (or limo) originally meant an “enclosed automobile with open driver’s seat,” and was named from the French limousine (in the Occitan language) that was originally an adjective referring to a region in central France. The automobile meaning evolving from a type of cloak and hood that was worn by the inhabitants of the Limousin region that later resembled the covering of a carriage and much later used to describe an automobile body with a permanent top that extended over the open driver’s compartment.
The term now refers to a luxury sedan or saloon car, especially one with a lengthened wheelbase or driven by a chauffeur. The chassis of a limousine may have been extended by the manufacturer or by an independent coachbuilder. These are called “stretch” limousines and are traditionally black or white. Limousines are usually liveried vehicles, driven by professional chauffeurs. As the most expensive form of automobile ground transportation, limousines are culturally associated with extreme wealth or power and are commonly cited as examples of conspicuous consumption. Among the less wealthy, limousines are often hired during special events (most commonly weddings, prom nights, stag nights, birthdays and bachelor parties).
While some limousines are owned by individuals, many are owned by governments to transport senior politicians, by large companies to transport executives, and by broadcasters to transport guests. Most stretch limousines, however, operate as livery vehicles, providing upmarket competition to taxicabs. Builders of stretch limousines purchase stock cars from manufacturers and modify them, and most are in the United States and Europe and cater mainly to limousine companies. Few stretch limousines are sold new to private individuals. In addition to luxuries, security features such as armoring and bulletproof glass are available.
The first automobile limousine, built in 1902, was designed so the driver sat outside under a covered compartment. The word limousine is derived from the name of the French region Limousin, because this covered compartment physically resembled the raised hood of the cloak worn by the shepherds there. An alternate etymology has the chauffeur wearing a Limousin-style cloak in the open driver’s compartment, for protection from the weather.
The first “stretch limousine” was created in Fort Smith, Arkansas around 1928 by a coach company named Armbruster. These cars were primarily used to transport famous “big band” leaders, such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, and their bands and equipment. These early stretch limousines were often called “big band buses”.
In 1916, the Society of Automobile Engineers defined a limousine as: “a closed car seating three to five inside, with driver’s seat outside.” A berline was defined as “a limousine having the driver’s seat entirely inclosed”, while a brougham was defined as “a limousine with no roof over the driver’s seat.”