The Top 20 Most Unfortunate Car Names

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When it comes to a car’s identity, its name is arguably the biggest defining factor. Yes, even more than the styling; would the Mustang be the smashing success it has been for almost a quarter century if it had been called the KB112-C? Would the Jaguar E-Type still be one of the sexiest cars of all time if it had instead been christened the Diabetic Chestwaxer? We’re guessing the answers are “No,” and “No.”

However, for all the brilliant car names sprinkled across the annals of history, there are some that just make you ask a) “What was the marketing department on?” and b) “Where can I get some?” Here are what we feel are 20 of the loopiest labels in automotive history.

Cadillac Eldorado ETC

Cadillac Eldorado ETC

Around the turn of the century, Cadillac started moving away from cool (some might call them “real”) names like DeVille, Seville and Eldorado to an alphabet soup scheme to bring them more in line with the import makes. (Lincoln has done the same thing of late and, interestingly, both have left their full-size SUVs as the only models with normal names.) While CTS, DTS and STS lack the romance of old names, they work well enough…which was more than could be said for the name that was bestowed upon what was the Eldorado Touring Coupe. Its name was simply shortened into…ETC. If it wasn’t an afterthought before, it was after the name change, and the Eldorado was killed off altogether soon after.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe

BMW 1 Series M Coupe

BMW has just brought out a hot version of its 1 Series coupe. But even though it comes out of the M Division (and features M3 suspension bits), it’s not called the M1. Not wanting to annoy fans of the original M1 (a Giugiaro-penned mid-engine supercar from the late-‘70s and early-‘80s), the motor mavens in Munich instead named it the 1 Series M Coupe. That may placate the M1 fanboys, but it just comes across as an awkward, tacky and verbose cop-out. Besides, what about the fans of the original M Coupes, hmm?

Ford Probe

Ford Probe

In the mid-‘80s, Ford came perilously close to transforming the Mustang into a V8-free, front-wheel drive model co-developed with Mazda. Only after the legions of fans of Dearborn’s pony car went apesh*t at the prospect of a car that made the Pinto-based Mustang II look pure by comparison did company execs decide to keep it true to its roots.

However, the car that was to have been the new Mustang was still released, as the Ford Probe. Now the suits probably thought the name (borrowed from a series of concept cars) conjured up images of spacecraft like NASA’s Voyager and Mariner series. The reality was it didn’t take long for some considerably less mature individuals to think of the word “probe” and its, er, amorous connotation. And no, we can’t confirm that a Mercury version called the Grope was ever considered.

Daihatsu Scat

Daihatsu Scat

Tiny, back-to-basics, Jeep-like SUVs from Japan are quite appealing: Bigger and more roadworthy than a UTV, but not big and full of unnecessary fluff and luxuries. Such a pity, then, that one of Daihatsu’s (Remember them?) early 4x4s had to be called the Scat in select markets. Yeah, we know, scat isn’t just slang for fecal matter, but there are lots of folks who simply can’t pass up a poop joke.

Jaguar 420

Jaguar 420G

When Jaguar heavily redesigned its junior S-Type sedan in 1966, it looked to the engine displacement for a name, something BMW and Mercedes-Benz have done for many moons now (though these days they play it a lot more fast and loose, e.g. a 3.0L twin-turbo straight six yields a 740i). Since the six-cylinder XK engine had grown to 4.2L by that time, Jag brass dubbed the new saloon the 420. The larger Mark X was facelifted and renamed the 420G the same year.

But 1966 was also around the time the drug culture was moving out of the shadows and into the mainstream (or at least, the mainstream if you lived in San Francisco near the intersection of Haight and Ashbury). Eventually, a new euphemism for marijuana emerged that also referred to a sort of holy day among the reeferistas: 420. And to think the VW Transporter still gets all the love…

Volkswagen Thing

Volkswagen Thing

Back in the day, Volkswagen was notoriously unimaginative when it came to naming its products. The Beetle was actually referred to as the Sedan, while VW of America’s marketing department often called the Microbus the Station Wagon. So you can imagine the head scratching that ensued when they were tasked with giving the Type 181 – a slab-sided, four-door convertible SUV-ish vehicle – a name for the U.S. market. Apparently they took a long, hard look at it and finally came up with…Thing. While many will concede it’s cute (us included), it kinda gives the impression that there isn’t much creativity to go around.

Renault Fuego

Renault Fuego

When your cars have a reputation for spotty reliability, it’s probably not a great idea to name them after some sort of destructive force or catastrophe. Renault, therefore, showed a lot of Gaul (*ba-boom…tish!*) in naming its sport coupe of the ‘80s the Fuego. Why? Fuego is Spanish for fire. Ay ay ay

Buick LaCrosse

Buick LaCrosse

You know, it’s funny how a word can mean one thing in one culture and something completely different in another. Take the “lacrosse,” for instance; Buick thought so highly of this sport’s name that they plastered it on their midsize sedan which debuted as a 2005 model. There was just one small problem: In Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec, “la crosse” is slang for, uh, self-gratification. Thankfully, Buick was able to change the GWNDM (Great White North Domestic Market) version of the car’s name to Allure at the 11th hour. Crisis averted!

Monteverdi Hai 450 GTS

Monteverdi Hai 450 GTS

What could be better than a Nixon Era Swiss supercar powered by a mid-mounted Chrysler 426 Street Hemi? Other than sharing sheets with Genevieve Morton and a lifetime supply of Barnum’s Animal Crackers (Surely they must have a little crack in ‘em to be that tasty…), not a whole hell of a lot, if you ask us. But a lot has changed since the Monteverdi Hai 450 GTS arrived on the motoring scene…namely the Internet or, if you’re into specificity, LOLspeak. So if you do drive one, be prepared to field at least a few “O HAI” quips from the peanut gallery. THEN SHO DEM UR HEMI HORSPOWAHZ AND U CAN HAZ TEH LAST LOL.

Ford SYNus

Ford SYNus Concept

You might remember this son-of-a-Brinks from our 25 Worst Concept Car Atrocities list, but it makes its triumphant(?) return on the strength (again, ?) of its headdesk-inducing moniker. The story goes that Ford originally wanted to call this car the Armadillo, but Fiat had recently done a concept car using that name. After considering “Knox” (Heh, Ford Knox…) and “Gorilla,” Ford settled on a contraction of “synthesis” and “urban sanctuary (US).” That apparently not a single soul, at any point during the process of devising the name, figured a great many people would pronounce it “sinus,” is like a grenade detonated atop our frail little minds.

Pagani Huayra

Pagani Huayra

Don’t get us wrong; Horatio Pagani’s second supercar symphony is music to our ears and eyes (and probably noses and fingers, as well. Tongues? We don’t love cars that much…). But that name…oh, that blasted name…

We’re told it’s pronounced Why-ra, and we’re sure anyone with at least a passing familiarity with Spanish phonetics has absolutely no trouble with it. But what about everybody else? Hard-to-pronounce product names aren’t terribly high on the list of smart marketing practices, dontcha know…

Mitsubishi Starion

Mitsubishi Starion

Some things just get lost in translation. Is the name of Mitsubishi’s sports car of the ‘80s, the Starion, one of those things? Mitsu has said it was short for “Star of Orion,” but there are those who claim it was really an Engrish corruption of “Stallion.” The equine mascot used for the home market version supports this theory, as does the well-known struggle many Far Easterners have with the “l” sound. Whatever the case, when a name lends itself to these urban legends, you know that the marketing department could have spent a bit more time brainstorming.

Dodge Demon

Dodge Demon

If history has taught us anything, it’s don’t piss off religious zealots. From the Crusades to the current Jihad du Jour, rattling fundamentalists’ cages, though typically harmless at first, can easily escalate into widespread bloodletting.

On that happy note, we’re going to regale you the tail of the Dodge Demon, a sporty fastback version of the Dart that was introduced in 1970. Some humor-deficient Christian groups took a great deal of offense to the car’s name and cartoon devil mascot and demanded Chrysler rename it. (Wondering where these puritans were when Lamborghini was making the Diablo? Join the club.) After a couple years of stonewalling, Chrysler finally caved in 1973, renaming the model the Dart Sport. As much as it pains us to say it, we would have picked that over burning at the stake, too.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

The Germans have gotten a reputation (largely undeserved) of being dour and not very humorous. Okay, Mr. Stereotypist, how do you explain the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter? Yeah, that big lumbering van with a V6 engine (gas or diesel) is called the Sprinter. Admit it: Their command of ironic humor is impeccable.

Oldsmobile Jetfire

Oldsmobile Jetfire

In the early ‘60s, jet-powered passenger airliners were still fairly new, and air travel was still best described as an occasion rather than an ordeal. Oldsmobile, meanwhile, seemed to be throwing Jet Age lingo at the wall and seeing what would stick (Rocket V8! Starfire! Jetaway Hydramatic Drive!). Come 1962, they came up with a rather questionable name for the new turbocharged version of the Cutlass coupe: Jetfire. Few were sold anyway over the model’s two year life, but we can’t imagine many pilots or stewardesses (None of this “flight attendant” B.S.) bought them.

Mitsubishi Mirage

Mitsubishi Mirage

With Mitsubishi seemingly down for the count in the U.S. market, you can’t help but wonder where they went wrong. While there are plenty of other, more legitimate reasons, naming their compact car after an apparition for many years probably didn’t help. Seriously: What’s so appealing about seeing what looks like a lake as you’re wandering the desert, only to sprint toward it with what little strength you have left and discover…more sand?

Chevrolet Nova

Chevrolet Nova

The story goes that Chevrolet had a dreadful time trying to sell the Nova in Spanish speaking countries because “no va” means “does not go.” Well, that “no va” translation is accurate, but Snopes.com and other sources have long-since debunked the myth that Latin American car buyers associated Nova (one word and a different pronunciation) with immobility. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the Argentine-made Nova was, at various points, called the Chevrolet 400 and the Chevrolet Chevy. GM hedging its bets? Perhaps.

Honda That’s

Honda That's

You there! Do you live in Japan? Do you love Abbott and Costello-style jokes? Then you should get yourself a Honda That’s. This five-door kei car provides affordable transportation and endless laughs (and/or forehead smacking) by way of its contraction-tastic name. Observe:

“Check out my Honda That’s!”

“That’s what?”

“A Honda That’s”

“Dude, I know it’s a Honda, but what is it? Finish the sentence”

“I did.”

*laugh track*

Princess

British Leyland Princess

The death of the domestically-owned British car industry was long, drawn out, and downright painful to watch. In the ‘70s, British Leyland – the nationalized conglomerate that built everything from Minis to Jaguars – made scores of decisions that would make even a beginning MBA student go, “Seriously?”

One of the real standouts had to be creating an entirely new division: Princess. Named for the Princess models built by Austin and Vanden Plas through 1968, the new brand utilized the mid-size 18-22 fastback sedan platform which was criticized for looking like a hatchback but not being one (and that was probably the least serious quibble people had). But, really, how many male middle managers wanted to drive a car called Princess?

Geely Rural Nanny/Urban Nanny

Geely Rural Nanny

Finally, when naming your pickup truck, even if it rides on small, car based platform, it’s a good idea to give it a name that exudes ruggedness, capability and overall machismo. Names like Ram, Tundra, Silverado and Titan fit this model.

Then there’s Chinese carmaker Geely. It sells its small pickup truck under two names: Rural Nanny and Urban Nanny. Unless “nanny” is Mandarin slang for “bad mo-fo,” we see absolutely no logic behind this. Nada. Then again, China’s auto market is a sort of bizzaro version of our own, where Buick is the best-selling foreign nameplate and regarded as a hip, aspirational brand among the young and upwardly mobile. Go figure…


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