JOHANNESBURG - Car names can stir several types of emotions. Words like Firebird, ‘Cuda and Cobra spring to mind immediately, and they make petrolheads like me giddy with excitement. For some people, a combination of words and numbers make them heady: for instance M3, RS6, 288 GTO.
It can be argued too that a car’s name can make it or break it when it comes to sales success, and if one has to look at some of the oddball names that have been given to vehicles in the past, there’s a good reason why car makers spend a lot of time deciding on what to call a new model.
Sometimes, a manufacturer can deliver both hits and misses when it comes to naming their cars; Mazda standing out for me as one of them. Would you buy a van called a Bongo Friendee? Or, better yet, would you part with hard-earned cash for a hatchback called the Carol Me Lady? I’m not making this up. These are actual Mazdas from only a few years ago.
So, to celebrate the value of a good car name, let’s take a look at a few vehicles with the coolest names ever (in no particular order or preference):
According to the dictionary, mustang means ‘an American feral horse which is typically small and lightly built’. No more apt a word could have been used to describe the car that lays claim to creating the ‘pony’ car, vehicles that boast massive engines and a whole load of wheel-spinning potential. At the time of the original Ford Mustang’s arrival in the early 60s, car names were becoming, simply put, epic. In fact, the Mustang can be credited with giving license to other manufacturers to call their cars by cool names. The Chevrolet Camaro, the Pontiac Firebird and the Plymouth Barracuda followed in the Mustang naming tradition, surely.
Wow, a flying car! That’s what I thought the first time I saw the Lamborghini Countach in the film Cannonball Run. Dripping with presence and with a rear wing large enough to serve as a chef’s table, the Countach’s name is said to be an expression of excitement or astonishment (in Piedmontese, an Italian vernacular); and it works. To this day, if you’re lucky enough to spot one of these legendary V12 supercars on the road, it retains its excitement. Sure, most Lambos have cool names, including the Diablo (Devil), but the Countach is heralded as the raging bull with the best name by petrolheads around the world.
RUF CTR Yellowbird
No no, this Yellowbird has nothing to do with the yellow bird that Sylvester the Cat is always trying to eat in those Warner Bros cartoons. This is a snorting, grunting and blisteringly fast Porsche that has been fettled by German car maker RUF. Based on the 1987 Porsche 911 Turbo, the RUF CTR Yellowbird produced 350kW and 553Nm, and only 29 of them were built from scratch at RUF’s assembly facility in Pfaffenhausen. According to sources, the CTR gained its Yellowbird moniker during performance testing by Road & Track magazine due to the contrast created by the car’s yellow paintwork against the overcast skies on the day of the magazine’s photoshoot.
Chevrolet El Camino
Initially based on the Chevrolet Chevelle (another cool name by the way) platform upon its launch in 1959, the El Camino is quite frankly one of the coolest bakkies ever made. Its name, in Spanish, translates to ‘the way’ or ‘the road’. Among the performance engines offered in the El Camino were a 4.6-litre Turbo-jet V8 (with two- or four-barrel carburetors) and several Turbo-Thrust 5.7-litre V8s (with four-barrel or triple two-barrel carburetors). Hot Rod magazine conducted a test of an El Camino equipped with the hottest powertrain combination available in early 1959; a 235kW triple-carb, solid-lifter 5.7-litre V8. It cracked 0-100km/h in seven seconds, topping out at 210km/h. Eat that, Ranger Raptor.
If Jaguar called their large sedan ‘the four-door’ instead of the XJ, it just wouldn’t sound right, would it? But, when Maserati does it, it sounds quite exotic. There’s something about the way the word ‘kwaa-trow-portay’ rolls of the tongue that sparks excitement. It also helps that the car is fitted with Ferrari-derived V8 engines (turbocharged these days) to give it the oomph to match its gracious name. Several jokes can be made about the reliability of older generation Quattroportes, but when they run right, they run like the devil is chasing them. Find yourself an older-gen naturally aspirated model, preferably a GTS version, take it to a tunnel and rev it till your ears bleed. You’ll want one for sure.
Ferrari 550 Maranello
There are many Ferraris with very cool names. The 1957 250 GT California springs to mind, as does the newer 599 GTB Fiorano. But, for me, the coolest name on a Ferrari is the 550 Maranello. Built between 1996 and 2001, the 550 Maranello features a 5.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine that produces 357kW and 568Nm. Sources indicate that it took Ferrari 30 months to develop the 550 Maranello, launching it at the Nürburgring racing circuit in Germany. Its name refers to its 5.5-litres total engine displacement and to the town of Maranello, home to Ferrari’s HQ and factory. Its mid-life successor, the 575M Maranello is equally hot, and sounds equally demonic at full tilt. The model is so cool, in fact, that Mike Lowry traded in his 911 Turbo for one in Bad Boys 2.
Few cars look as intriguing as the Stratos HF. The HF in its names stands for High Fidelity, which is a term that best describes what it’s like to drive this car according to the fortunate few that have. Lancia presented the Bertone-designed Lancia Stratos HF prototype at the 1971 Turin Motor Show, a year after the announcement of the Stratos Zero concept car. Stratos comes from stratosphere, and it relates nicely to Lancia’s attempt to reach toward the stars to create a car that would be better than anything that the boys at Maranello were making at the time. Stratos prototypes came with various engines in its early development life, but finally after hard-fought negotiations with Enzo Ferrari, the mid-mounted Dino Ferrari V6 (producing 140kW in road versions) was used. The Stratos will be remembered for is odd egg-cracked-open design and its rally success. But, some also say it will be remembered for its poor reliability. We just know we love it because the name is so cool.