Legends are born and christened, and their successors have to work hard to live up to it. Before they became icons, they were just ordinary names. We tracked the roots of these legendary cars and found some very interesting stories behind how they were christened.
Ask anyone who knows a thing or two about cars about the origin of the Ford Mustang’s name and chances are they will tell you that it was inspired by the wild horse of the American West. But that isn’t entirely true! Funnily, there is no documented evidence of how the car got its name and that has made room for a lot of stories. The most plausible one though is the Mustang’s co-designer John Najjar’s account. When the car was ready for production and needed to be christened, Najjar suggested the name Mustang in remembrance of the P-51 Mustang airplane to his boss R.H. Bob Maguire. The name was rejected on grounds of being too ‘airplaney’. Najjar however, wasn’t happy with the rejection and suggested the name again, this time with an American horse association. Maguire agreed immediately, and that’s how the iconic Mustang was christened.
A name that is probably among the favourites of enthusiasts are experts alike, is possibly the most impromptu one in the history of automobiles. Porsche had initially planned to christen this car 901 and that was how it was first presented at the 1964 Paris Motor Show. But soon after the show, the Stuttgart-based car maker received a notice from Peugeot claiming that the name 901 was in violation of copyright and they had been using ‘0’ in the middle since 1929. Porsche was forced to change the name of the car while it was in the middle of the model launch phase. With brochures, manuals and badges already finalised, the easiest way for Porsche was to use the existing font created for the number ‘1’ twice. Who would have thought that a car that was titled off the cuff would go on to etch its name in the history books?
Lamborghini’s obsession with bulls
The thing about naming a car is – you never know when or how it might come to you. For Ferruccio Lamborghini, it came in 1962 when he made a visit to Don Eduardo Miura’s cattle ranch in Sevilla. Ferruccio was so inspired by the fighting bulls there that he not only adopted a raging bull in the Lamborghini logo but also named a car after the Miura family. Lamborghini’s obsession with fighting bulls didn’t end there. Islero, Urraco, Jalpa, Murcielago and the Gallardo were all named after fighting bulls. And the tradition has continued even with their new age models like the Aventador and the Veneno.
Although Lamborghini was known to draw inspiration from fighter bulls for its car names, not all were christened like that. Countach, in Piedmontese dialect, is an expression of amazement and roughly translates to ‘Wow’ or Holy Shit. The apocryphal legend behind the Countach name is that car design icon Nuccio Bertone uttered the word when he first saw the Marcello Gandini-designed prototype.
The Jeep brand as we know it today, has its roots deep in history when it helped win a World War. During the time the brand was called Willys and their car was officially called MB. Commonly referred to as General Purpose or GP – the acronym stuck and it was later shortened to one syllable by calling it a jeep. Some legends say that a character from the popular cartoon Popeye the Sailor, Eugene the Jeep, also was an inspiration behind the name. The Jeep brand was trademarked in 1950 and since then, it has been synonymous with SUVs.
Nissan released its first ever sports car with a rather unimaginative name – S211. But when the time came to launch its successor, Nissan thought it needed a new name. At the time, the then President of Nissan, Katsuji Kawamata was in the US and happened to watch the Broadway musical My Fair Lady. Moved by the success of the musical, he thought it would be a good idea to name the Datsun sports car SP213 as Fairlady.
Just like the 911, the Shelby GT 350 also got its name in an extremely extemporised fashion. When the new Shelby Mustang needed a name, Carroll Shelby wasn’t concerned about naming the car at all. Needless to say, it was mandatory for Ford for legal and marketing reasons. Lots of names were tossed around but no concrete decision was made until finally Shelby turned to engineer Phil Remington and asked him the distance between the race and production shops. When Remington replied 350 feet, Shelby said: “That’s what we will call it – GT350”. Carroll Shelby always believed “the name wouldn’t make the car, and if it is a bad car, the name won’t save it”.
Dig deeper into the inspiration behind some of the Volkswagen car names, and soon enough you’d notice that the company has a strong liking for winds. While the Jetta refers to the jet stream, Passat is a trade wind, and Sirocco is a Mediterranean wind. Similarly, the Golf has been inspired from the Gulf Stream – and going by Volkswagen’s nomenclature this would have been the observable story behind the name. But recent revelations hint towards its name was inspired by a horse. Yes, you’ve read it right! Volkswagen’s Head Purchaser, Hans-Joachim Zimmermann, working under Chairmen Horst Münzner and Ignacio Lopez from 1965 to 1995, often used to ride his horse called Golf. A few days after Chairman Münzner first saw Zimmerman’s steed, showed him a brand new compact prototype with the name Golf on it. While a lot of names were being considered for the car, including Blizzard or Caribe, Münzner was so overwhelmed by the politeness of the horse that he finally decided to christen it Golf!
Nissan Skyline GT-R “Godzilla”
Hear Skyline and the first image in your head will be that of an R34. Not many would know that the ‘Skyline’ moniker was used and had built a reputation even before that. The first Skyline was produced by Prince Motor Company (which later became part of the Nissan-Datsun brand) in 1957. Built as a luxury saloon, it gradually earned the nickname Godzilla, after it appeared in several Toho/Fuji Media films in the decade following its launch. But once again, this isn’t where the inspiration to call the GT-R (as we know it today) Godzilla took birth. Export of the GT-R commenced with the R32 and the first market to receive it was Australia. The car was homologated and entered in the Australian Touring Car Championship where it pushed the respected Ford Sierra Cosworth off the podium. This was when the Australian media started addressing the GT-R as “Godzilla, the monster from Japan.”
Some of the stories we have read so far reveal just how much thought manufacturers put in naming their product. But the Volkswagen Beetle probably was the easiest car to name in the history of cars. In fact, when the car was first during the world war era, it didn’t even have a name. It was simply called the Volkswagen or VW and for the company, it was Type One. The first time the ‘Volkswagen’ was ever called the Beetle may have been in England when the classmates of John Colborne-Baber’s son called it that in 1950. This was just one of the many occasions when the car was called by its nickname. Thanks to its shape, the nickname really stuck with the car and soon enough even publications started using the name but with a ‘b’ and inverted commas. So when Volkswagen expanded its product with newer engines and was finally christen the car, they didn’t have to put much thought into it and called it Beetle.