I wonder if the guy who first used the word “Bug” to describe the Volkswagen Beetle (itself a nickname) knew what he’d started.
The name’s become so attached to the car that even Volkswagen itself sometimes uses the nickname to describe its own creation.
From the Ford Model T, aka “Tin Lizzy”, to a Rolls Royce “Roller”, slang names for cars have become a major part of popular motoring culture.
And here in South Africa, aka “Mzansi”, we’ve got some of the most flavourful nicknames of all. Here’s a shortlist of some favourites:
Any car with a dog-leg first gear transmission. Sandla semfene translates to “monkey hand” which obviously refers to the contorted wrist angle needed to hook the gear shifter down and over. In the South African market this type of shift pattern was most commonly found in 1980s model BMW 535i’s, but can also be seen in other cars such as the Datsun Pulsar and famed 333i.
A little something on the side. Sidepocket’s a nickname given to a mistress or ladyfriend in SA, but it’s also used to describe the unique stepside body style of Opel’s Corsa Utility bakkie, and its new Chevy Utility relative.
You may have heard the term “VPL” or Visible Panty Line before, but this is a whole new level. Look closely at the tail light and boot lid design of certain E46 shape BMW 3 Series, and you’ll see why they’re known in our country as “G-strings”.
The inward taper on either side of each tail light towards the number plate area is reminiscent of ladies’ panty lines, say those with an eye for this sort of thing. Some say this car also has a magical way of easing removal of said undergarment.
Normally a starter pack is associated with first-time cellphone users, but in the motoring game it’s a reference to entry-level cars such as the Toyota Tazz, VW Citigolf or Opel Corsa Lite.
These three cars have represented first (or starter) transportation for hundreds of thousands of South Africans. They’re true icons of South African motoring, and will stir the emotions of many - more so than less memorable Starter Packs of today such as the Chana Benni, Chery QQ3 or Geely LC.
Late 1990s South African TV series “Molo Fish” is responsible for giving the old Type 2 Volkswagen Transporter its local nickname. The well-known but not often spotted Volksie Bus played a role in the miniseries, and for it is now known as a Molo Fish in Mzansi culture.
Take a look at the front end of an E38 model BMW 7 Series, and you’ll know why it’s known in SA as the Anaconda. The mean-looking bonnet angle over the “snake eyes” headlights is reminiscent of the giant serpent and of course its long body and ability to swallow occupants whole also plays a role. Some consider 5 Series models of the same era Anacondas as well.
Just as in other markets around the world, Volkswagen’s MK3 Golfs and Jettas fitted with the range-topping 2.8-litre VR6 engine have become cult classics. The name Voora is derived from the slurred pronunciation of the title “VR6”, or possibly the smooth sound that VR6 engines are known to emit. Vorooom!
The doughnut king. This nickname’s been given to older E30 or “box-shaped” BMW 3 Series models, and translates into “very fast”. These cars, more specifically in 325i or 325is trim, have become popular in the local “spinning” scene because of their rear-wheel drive layout and easily controllable nature while doing doughnuts and burnouts.
Take it off! Take it off! Not really a nickname for a specific car, but for all convertibles in general.
Silahla means “to take off” or “to throw away”, which refers to a retractable roof section.
South African Olympian Zola Budd became famous in the 1980s for her long-distance running achievements, and her name has become one of the most well known motoring nicknames in SA. Toyota’s Hi-Ace minibus taxi adopted Zola Budd’s name not only because it was renowned for its longevity, but because when it was first introduced here in the late ‘70s, it was a quicker machine than the antiquated minibuses it replaced. Perhaps the more modern Toyota Quantum that’s now widely used in the taxi industry could become the Caster Semenya...
As far as we know there’s no specific explanation for this nickname, but for many, the VW Golf 2 GTI is known as the 20-20 or “Twenty-Twenty”. Actually, the term more specifically refers to two-litre, eight-valve Golf 2 GTI’s with big bumpers.
Shabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni
Infamous South African politicians, and convicted fraudsters, Shabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni have also lent their names to specific vehicle types in BMW’s E46 shape 320i and Mercedes’ first-generation ML-Class SUV respectively. The origin of the “Shabir Shaik” nickname is unclear, but if you google the term “Shabir Shaik BMW” you’ll get numerous links to online classifieds ads with 320i models for sale. The link between Tony Yengeni and the ML is obvious, as it was this vehicle on which he failed to declare a 50 percent discount to Parliament in 2003.
Can I take your order please? In townships today, this car is almost more well known by its nickname of “Kentucky Rounder” (a chicken burger served at KFC fast food joints) than the seventh generation Toyota Corolla it is. We can only assume that it’s adopted this name because of its much more round shape than the Corolla it replaced.
“Simunye” means “we are one” in African culture, and is also a nickname for BMW’s 1 Series.
We’re aware of many other nicknames such as Khumbulekhaya, Mary Decker, Brenda Fassie, Mkhumbi and Caracara, but need your help in identifying them. Or, feel free to add to our list. - Star Motoring