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The most evocative car model names in history

The stories behind some some of the coolest car names ever.

We’ve lamented the demise of interesting car names for a while now. With the proliferation of increasingly meaningless numbers and letters being used to create a model’s identity, it’s refreshing to see the Haval Big Dog and GWM Tank 300 on the list of new vehicles potentially heading to Australia.

We love Big Dog, which conjures up images of a rugged off-roader sitting high on the road while Tank 300 sounds like, well, a tank. Cool.

Which got us thinking. Car names weren’t always a string of letters and numbers that held little meaning. The history of the automotive world is littered with names that evoke emotion, that leave no room for ambiguity, that are so apt sometimes, they spawn a whole new segment.

Here then, are some of our personal favourites.

Ford Mustang conjures up images of wild horses galloping freely on American prairies. And that’s exactly what it’s intended to evoke.

However, when the name Mustang was first mooted at Ford’s HQ in Dearborn, it was supposed to draw inspiration from the famous US World War II fighter plane, the P51 Mustang. Management apparently didn’t like this but when it was pointed out the Mustang was also a breed of wild horse, the board rubber-stamped the nameplate.

So successful was the original Mustang for Ford, it spawned a host of imitations, giving rise to the ‘Pony’ car segment. Adding 'Mach 1' was just the icing on the cake.

Unlike the Mustang, the Triumph Spitfire very definitely draws its inspiration from the legendary British fighter plane of the same name.

Sure, the Spitfire paled as a car compared to its bigger sibling Triumph TR6, but where the TR6 badge didn’t drink at the well of emotion with its bland combination of letters and a single digit, the Spitfire name oozed charisma and invincibility.

The Dodge Viper name was coined by legendary Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. The story goes when Dodge was planning to build a modern take on the iconic Shelby Cobra, Tom Gale was tasked with the project.

Gale, the Dodge and Plymouth design guru, was in Italy, working on a different project when he met with Guigiaro for a casual dinner. As Gale later told MotorTrend: “We had dinner one night, and I said to Giorgetto, we’re looking for a name for a Cobra-like car that we’re doing and asked, 'What's a snake name in Italian?' And he says, 'Vipera.' And I said, 'Shit. Thanks’.”

Sorted.

The humble Volkswagen Beetle wasn’t officially called that until 1968, long after its genesis in 1930s Germany. Prior to the official name change, the Beetle was simply known as the Type 1. Boring.

No one is 100 per cent sure where the Beetle name originated but one of the longest-lasting apocryphal tales around its likely origins dates back to the 1950s in the UK where John Colborne-Baber, the owner of the UK’s first Volkswagen dealership, enjoyed a Type 1 as his personal car.

That Type 1 was also one of the first ‘Beetles’ in the country and according to legend, its nickname was bestowed on it by his son’s school mates who thought the Type 1 looked like, well, a beetle.

Soon, the name Beetle started appearing in English brochures for the car and it didn’t take the Germans long to follow suit, dubbing the Type 1 Der Käfer, German for beetle.

Finally, in 1968, mainly to avoid confusion in VW’s increasing vehicle line-up, the Type 1 officially became known as the Beetle.

And then there's the Citroën DS.

Wait, what? What’s a car with just two letters in its name doing in this list? Let’s find out.

When Citroën unleashed the heart-achingly beautiful DS onto the world in the 1950s, it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Its curvaceous body married to technology that belonged in the aerospace industry made for an instant showstopper.

And so it proved, with Citroën taking 12,000 orders for the revolutionary car on the opening day of the 1955 Paris Motor Show.

But, what of the seemingly boring name? Well, DS was a play on a word, specifically déesse, which is French for ‘goddess’. Yep, that works.


What are some of your favourite car model names, ones that instantly fire up the passion and enthusiasm for driving. Let us know in the comments below.

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