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A bucket seat is a kind of seat found in motor vehicles that is intended for a single person and is usually defined in contrast to a bench seat, which is a seat that is intended for multiple people. A bucket seat can be thought of as an easy chair for cars in comparison to a bench seat, which can be thought of as a couch for cars. Most sports cars, compact cars, mid-sized cars, station wagons, minivans, and sports utility vehicles have two seats of this type in the front of the car: one for the driver and one for the passenger. The seats in the backs of most of these kinds of cars are usually bench seats with the exception of minivans. Minivans may have bucket seats, bench seats, or both in the back.
Another main difference between the bucket seat and the bench seat has to do with head and neck support. A bench seat usually only reaches up to about the shoulder level of an adult sitting on it. The bucket version, on the other hand, is often outfitted with a head rest. In some cars that are outfitted with all of the bells and whistles, the back of this kind of head rest has a built-in screen that can be used to play movies and video games.
While the bucket seat is the most common kind of driver's seat for the types of vehicles described above, they are not always used for driver's seats in trucks. Many trucks are designed with a bench seat in the front. One reason for this is that a truck only has passenger seating in the front and a bench seat allows, in many cases, for three people to sit abreast. This maximizes the space as two bucket seats only allow for two people to sit within the passenger area.
In addition to appearing in various types of motor vehicles, the bucket seat is also used for passenger seating in modern aircraft. The main difference between a seat for a car and one for an airplane that is built for an airplane is that an airplane seat is usually higher off of the floor than a car seat. Just as with cars, a bucket seat for a nicely-outfitted airplane may have a screen built into the back of the head rest.
I guess technically, most of the seats in cars these days are bucket seats, but as Grivusangel noted, they're a lot different now. I drive a modest four-door compact sedan and it has what are called bucket seats, but they're nicely padded and much more comfortable than the old kind.
It used to be when you looked inside, say, a Camaro, you saw these sexy bucket seats, the stick shift in the floor (surrounded with the obligatory leather bag) and a dashboard with enough dials for a 747. Cars did have a cachet then, for sure. They're a little more generic, now.
Bucket seats used to be what auto manufacturers put in sports cars, or pony cars, like Mustangs. If a car had real bucket seats, it was probably a two-door sporty model.
Then, the seats were low and really padded on the sides. They also leaned back a little. You really did feel a little like you were sitting down in a bucket in those late 60s and early 70s models.
My dad sold cars for Ford for a few years in the early 70s, and one afternoon, he brought home a bright yellow Mustang Cobra with black bucket seats. He loaded up me and my sister and we took a fast trip on the back roads to my grandmother's house. We squealed with excitement as he rounded some of the curves. His instructions were, "Don't tell your Mama about this."
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