Cabriolet or Spider: A Thin Difference Between the Two

Porsche 550 speedster

Convertible cars let us feel the wind in our hair as we cruise down open roads. Some models even have an intriguing second name – the “spider.” Where did this unusual term come from, and what does it really mean?

The origin traces back over a century, with confusingly similar variants like “spyder” also used interchangeably today. Yet subtle differences set them apart. As we explore the backstory on these roofless ride names, we’ll uncover why manufacturers choose one over the other and if they can be used interchangeably.

In modern usage, “spider”, “spyder” means a “cabriolet” / “convertible” and are generally synonymous when talking about cars with retractable soft tops or removable hardtops. But you’re most likely to encounter “spider” referring to:

  • Classic European roadsters
  • Small, nimble sports cars
  • Lightweight racing-inspired roadsters
Renault Spider racecar
Renault Spider racecar. Photo by Markus Spiske.

The History of the Term “Spider” for Convertibles

Harkening back to a bygone era of horse-drawn carriages, the spider phaeton first emerged in the late eighteenth century – an elegant open-air carriage featuring large wooden wheels. It was created as an evolution of the classic phaeton carriage design, made lighter and airier by its signature delicate circular wooden wheels.

Early 1900sThe “spider” term emerges in France to describe open-top convertible cars
1920sUse spreads to Italy, where convertible cars gain popularity
Post-WWIITerm sees broader adoption describing roofless European sports cars

The nickname grew in popularity through the 1920s as convertible cars rose in popularity in auto-crazed Italy. By the years following World War II, “spider” had cemented itself across Europe as an endearing term for any small open-top sports car.

So that darling Fiat Spider you ogled as a teenager can officially lay claim to the name thanks to these longstanding automotive traditions.

“Spyder” vs. “Spider” – What’s the Difference?

While “spider” has its roots in Europe, the slight variation “spyder” emerged in America. Sources debate the exact origins, but most agree prolific automotive engineer Lotus founder Colin Chapman coined the “spyder” spelling in the 1960s.

Abarth 124 on Coilovers and Forged Titan 7 Wheels 17x10
Read more about this modified Fiat 124 Spider in our special feature.

Key Takeaways So Far

Chapman likely drew inspiration from historic twin-seat racing roadsters, but the precise etymology remains murky. The new “spyder” spelling quickly gained traction in the American sports car scene. Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari and others soon adopted it for their lightweight open-speedsters across the Atlantic.

While “spider” has its roots in Europe and “spyder” emerged in America, today the terms are often used interchangeably when describing convertible cars.

The Interchangeability of the Terms

So in casual conversation, you can safely interchange “cabriolet”, “convertible”, “spider” or “spyder” when talking about fun cars with folding roofs. But knowing the subtle distinctions helps shine light on these umbrella terms.

Porsche Spider
Porsche 356 Speedster. Photo by Paul Harris.

Why Some Manufacturers Still Use “Spyder”

Many prestigious sports car makers consciously choose “spyder” over “spider” in their model names. This likely nods to:

  • Brand heritage for makes like Porsche with historic “spyder” race cars
  • Emphasizing higher performance aspirations
  • Appeal to American buyers more familiar with the “spyder” spelling

By using this name, automakers subtly hint at racing pedigree and power under the hood, for example: Ferrari 488 Spider and Lamborghini Huracan Spider.


Whether you call them “spiders”, “spyders”, or simply “convertibles”, these terms essentially refer to a sporty open-top roadster. As we’ve seen, the history behind these fun nicknames reveals some subtle differences, that faded away with time.

For more tips on keeping your beloved drop-top in peak condition, explore our other convertible care resources. Here’s to many more years of wind-in-your-hair motoring!

Ferrari 488 Spider
Ferrari 488 Spider. Timou Turner.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a spider and a spyder car?

Historically, “spider” emerged in Europe to describe small open-top sports cars, while “spyder” was coined in the 1960s in America, more associated with racing models. The terms are often interchangeable today.

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Are cabriolet and a spider any different?

The terms are often used interchangeably, but “cabriolet” tends to refer more broadly to any convertible or open-top car. “Spider” is typically used for smaller, sportier roadsters evoking images of the web-like suspension or a small creature.

Why do some brands use “spyder” instead of “spider”?

Using this word hints at racing heritage and high performance capabilities more so than “spider”. Brands want to emphasize power under the hood.

What cars are typically called spiders?

You’ll most often see small, nimble European roadsters and sports cars like the Fiat 124 Spider or Porsche 356 Speedster referred to as spiders, playing off the origins.

Do all convertible models qualify as spiders or spyders?

While nearly any car with a folding roof could loosely qualify, “spider” and “spyder” tend to describe sportier open-top models. Luxury four-seat convertibles are less likely to carry these monikers.

Can a luxury convertible be called a spider?

While it’s less common, there’s no hard rule – some makers have used “spider” to add flair to the name of a high-end drop-top model. But most luxury four-seat convertibles are simply labeled “cabriolets.”

Do cabriolets emphasis comfort and spiders driving experience?

Generally, yes – “cabriolet” brings to mind refined four-seat open-top luxury, while “spider” focuses on agile sports car handling and sensation. But you can find comfort-oriented spiders and performance cabriolets bucking the norms too.

Could a vintage car be called both spider and cabriolet?

Absolutely. An older European roadster like an MG or Triumph could accurately be described as either an elegant cabriolet or nimble spider. The model name or regional preferences often decide which term gets used more regularly.

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