The Best, Worst & Weirdest Car Names
One of the best episodes of The Simpsons is 1991′s Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, in which Homer discovers that his long-lost brother, Herb Powell, is the chief executive of a car company.
At one point in the episode, Powell (voiced by Danny DeVito) berates his staff for suggesting that the company name a new car “the Persephone,” after the Greek goddess of reviving crops who was condemned to the underworld after eating pomegranate seeds.
“People don’t want cars named after hungry old Greek broads!” Powell yells. “They want names like ‘Mustang’ and ‘Cheetah’–vicious animal names.”
|Click here for the slide show.
While Ford Motor‘s (nyse: F – news – people ) Mustang has one of the best names in automotive history, some marketers who tried to make their cars more high-culture than they actually were could have used a scolding from a guy like Powell. Did any of Chrysler‘s or General Motors‘ (nyse: GM – news – people ) customers really believe that driving a Dodge Diplomat would make them more ambassadorial or a Pontiac Parisiennewould make them French?
Our companion feature, “What’s In A Name?,” takes a look at how cars are named. Here, our interest was the end result of the naming process–for better or worse. The list of the weirdest names is dominated by Japanese automakers, who tend to endow their Japan-only cars with such delightfully puzzling names as Honda Motor‘s (nyse: HMC – news – people ) Life Dunk.
But the lists of the best and worst names are dominated by Americans, mostly because we can’t fault certain European names for getting lost in translation. We didn’t think it fair to include European names that are difficult to read and/or pronounce (e.g. the FSO Warszawa), and others which have a common meaning in Europe that is obscure over here, such as the Invicta Black Prince Wentworth. (At least we hope it makes more sense over there.)
If a car is on one of our lists, it is not a comment on the vehicle’s quality. All that interests us is the brilliance, stupidity or weirdness of its name.
We’ll begin with the best names. Ideally, the best car names are the ones that have been around for a while and have been able to withstand the test of time. No, the Lamborghini Diablo is no longer in production, but we have included it because it is, as Powell recommends, “vicious.” It gets your blood going, and it suits the car.
You won’t find any alphanumeric names on the list, meaning that we have skipped everything in the current rosters of Acura, Aston Martin, BMW, Jaguar, Volvo, Saleen, Hummer, Nissan Motor‘s (nasdaq: NSANY – news – people ) Infiniti, Toyota Motor‘s (nyse: TM – news – people ) Lexus and DaimlerChrysler‘s (nyse: DCX – news – people ) Mercedes-Benz and Maybach divisions. Notice a pattern there? The brands that give their cars numbers and/or letters for names tend to be upscale. (Some upscale manufacturers don’t use alphanumeric names. Rolls-Royce and Bentley are famous for bestowing their cars with such poetic names as Silver Ghost and Azure.)
A name doesn’t have to be “vicious” in order to be great, however. Some of the best names, such as the Ford Explorer, are utilitarian. At the time of its introduction, the Explorer was a radical new thing–and its functional name implied that you could take the vehicle off-road, a message that Ford wanted to communicate. The Dodge Ram is another practical name given that it is a work truck. Calling it the “Horse” might not have been optimal, but giving it an animal name that doubles as a violent verb was a good move (the Ram is also Dodge’s logo). Similarly, the name Land Rover–and to only a slightly lesser extent, its larger, more expensive cousin, Range Rover–aptly conveys that vehicle’s ability to go wherever it likes and handle virtually any terrain.
The car names we like best, where the name not only best suits the car’s nature but where it also sounds, for lack of a better word, “cool,” include such automotive legends as the AC Shelby Cobra, Chevrolet Corvette, DeSoto Firedome, Dodge Viper, Lamborghini Diablo, Plymouth Barracuda and Rolls-Royce Phantom.
There are other great names out there but you get the idea. The best use for the list above is as a point of comparison against the bad names you are about to endure. We have divided our list of the worst car names into two sections. The first concerns made-up names such as the Oldsmobile Alero and Chevrolet Lumina. They sound like Latin, but they’re not really words as far as we know. In fact, we may get letters telling us that a “Lumina” is a real thing, though we doubt it. The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has no record of such a word. The closest is the Latin word “lumen,” which means “light.” But what does light have to do with this Chevy sedan? Not much.
Then there are just inexplicable misspellings, such as the Chevrolet Luv truck. We know how to spell “love” if you want to spell “love,” but “luv” is not a real word. Ditto for the Pontiac Aztek. Hey, literacy rates are bad enough. We don’t need the car companies making it wurse…
Those car names that just don’t make any sense to us include, among others, the Buick Reatta; Checker Superba; Oldsmobile Achieva, Bravada, Firenza and Futuramic; Pontiac Astre and Fiero and the Saturn Vue.
The other set of worst car names are ones that seem to be a calculated attempt to play upon consumer class-consciousness and social insecurities. These names conjure images of country clubs and glamorous lifestyles, yet, for the most part, are cars that were targeted at buyers of more modest means. The names on this list are primarily examples of carmakers trying to tack $100 names onto $10 cars. We doubt any celebrities ever owned a Chevrolet Celebrity station wagon.
Among the other cars we include in this group are the Buick LeSabre; Chevrolet Greenbrier; Chrysler LeBaron; Dodge Coronet, Crestwood, Diplomat, Dynasty, St. Regis; Ford Aspire; Lincoln Versailles; Pontiac Executive and Rambler Country Club.
The best part of researching this story, however, was the process of combing through the names of cars sold in Japan with odd English titles. There are a couple of European models on our list, but Japanese automakers are the true champions of putting out the wildest car names.
Among the ones that put a smile on our face are the Daihatsu Naked; Honda Life Dunk; Honda That’s; Isuzu GIGA 20 Light Dump and Mysterious Utility; Mazda Bongo; Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear and Pistachio; Nissan Fairlady Z and Prairie Joy; Rickman Space Ranger; Rinspeed X-Dream; Suzuki Cappucino; Toyota Deliboy and Toyopet; Volkswagen Thing and Volugrafo Bimbo. We think it’s a shame that the Honda Life Dunk doesn’t sell over here. Its goofy yet inspiring name would probably attract a fair number of buyers.