We’ve had a lot of fun on this journey through the topsy-turvy world of cars and their names, haven’t we?
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Before the automotive name of thrones rolls its closing credits, let’s take a look at the awkward bits and pieces swept off the cutting room floor.
You’ve chimed in with some great suggestions in the comments, and it’s thanks to you (yes, you specifically) I’ve got a list of things that either didn’t fit into other categories or I simply ‘forgot’.
Here, in no particular order, are a bunch of loose ends helping prove just how wobbly the practice of naming cars, sharing cars, or trying to force unsuitable cars to fit difficult markets can get.
This week, we’re sweeping all the loose ends off the cutting room floor.
One of the most important aspects of this project was the input and cooperation of carmakers in helping us tell their stories.
It wasn’t possible for every brand to tell us its story, but I posed the question to plenty. Most didn’t respond to my requests for gritty details about their backstories.
History, it seems, is something they keep in a basement and drag out for emotional advertising campaigns or tenuously linked new models with historic names.
The exception, it seems, is Nissan. Thanks to a contact within Nissan’s Japanese head office – who I like to picture sitting at a dimly lit desk surrounded by towering piles of archives – the Datsun/Nissan story was easy to tell.
I learnt Nissan’s very westernised naming conventions were born of a desire to align the company with products and people seen as aspirational at the time. Perhaps more interesting were the cultural influences guiding some of those products.
Nissan’s president at the time, Katsuji Kawamata, made the call on a few of the brand’s more iconic models inspired by his favourite plays.
It’s no real secret the Fairlady was inspired by the Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, which most people probably know from the film adaptation of the same name starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.
In a similar fashion, the Cedric was inspired by the title character, Cedric Errol, of the children’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy. The Bluebird owes its name to Maurice Maeterlinck’s play, L’Oiseau bleu, which translates to The Blue Bird in English. How culturally satisfying.
Because I know you’re going to ask about the Sunny, the story goes a public naming competition was held to give the then-new model a name in 1966. It’s unclear if Datto McDatsunface made the list of finalists, but apparently 8.48 million entries were received before Sunny was selected, making it one of Japan’s biggest-ever naming campaigns.
Do you get the joke, though? While it might be all chrome now, the Nissan (and Datsun) logo at the time depicted the rising sun from the Japanese flag. The Datsun name itself evolved from Datson. The ‘Dat’ part stayed while ‘son’ became ‘sun’ to reflect the stylised logo, and Sunny was simply a cute take on the evolution of the name. Sun, sunny… Get it!? Yeah, as far as puns go it’s pretty bad.
There’s no place like home
Ford took an internal approach when it came to naming its new American flagship in the 1950s. The big Fairlane was your typical acres-of-chrome slice of Americana, although the transparent plastic roof of the Fairlane Crown Victoria Skyliner coupe made it like a concept for the road in its day.
Henry Ford had a rather different vision for the Fairlane, or rather Fair Lane as the property was known. It actually started life as the estate that housed he and wife Clara from its completion in 1915 until Henry died in 1947 and Clara passed away in 1950.
In tribute, the American Fairlane (from 1955–1970) and later the Australian version (from 1959–2007) were named in honour of the family homestead.
While the Fairlane was eventually put to bed, Australian production wrapping as sales fell to a mix of smaller, more aspirational imported luxury cars and the rise of SUVs, the Fair Lane estate passed from Ford’s hands to the University of Michigan before being vacated, all the while being allowed to slip into a state of disrepair.
Thankfully, Edsel Ford II – Henry’s great-grandson – put a halt to the neglect with a restoration project and public reopening of the grounds, which is still in progress after starting in 2013.
Sadly, the long-wheelbase Fairlane Aussies know and love, much like the short-wheelbase Falcon it was spun off, remains completely dormant. Both are likely to remain that way for some time.
Nova? No way!
This might rattle a cage or two, but the story you probably love telling at the pub about the unfortunate naming of the Chevrolet Nova and its lack of success in Spanish-speaking markets is actually a bit of a furphy.
Legend has it Chevrolet entered the Mexican market with the Nova, but couldn’t move metal until it dawned on them that Nova translates to ‘doesn’t go’ in Spanish. Oh the hilarity, you might think – but it might shock you to learn that while no va equates to ‘doesn’t go’, Nova is a distinctly different term.
Think of it as the difference between ‘handsome’ and ‘hand some’ in English. One is an identifiable word and the other, without some kind of context, is just two random words placed side by side.
Worse still, the Chevy Nova wasn’t a flop in markets like Mexico and Venezuela at all, reportedly selling beyond GM’s expectations at the time. Looks like it might be time to find another amusing anecdote to tell at happy hour.
What’s the longest continually used name in automotive history? You might be tempted to bestow the title on the Volkswagen Beetle, but technically that’s incorrect.
Yes, the Beetle first appeared in 1938, and the first generation lived on until 2003 (with two successive generations after that). But the Beetle name wasn’t officially used at first, Type 1 was. Even though the same car stayed in production (with numerous revisions) for 65 years, followed closely by the Kombi – aka Type 2, which racked up 64 years in production (and yes, that’s a very late water-cooled version, below) – it’s not the long-running name in the business.
Ford gave up its right to the title with Falcon when it pulled the pin on its Aussie-built family car in 2016, but at 56 years in production, Falcon was a long way off being a frontrunner.
The real titleholder depends on what you consider a car. Mercedes-Benz technically takes the passenger car claim with SL, forgetting the fact the current folding hardtop SL is worlds apart from 1954’s ridiculously good-looking 300 SL Gullwing coupe.
You might think LandCruiser outguns it a little, as the legendary four-wheel drive itself first appeared in 1951, but it didn’t adopt the LandCruiser name until 1954 – inspired by the Land Rover. That also means Corvette pips it by one year, having entered production in 1953.
The oldest name of all is Suburban, though. You can debate its place on the list, and whether or not it’s an SUV, commercial vehicle or otherwise, but Chevrolet first used it in 1935.
At that point, the Carryall Suburban (as it was originally known) put eight seats inside an all-steel wagon body, in a period when woodie wagons were still commonplace, built atop a light-truck chassis. Chevrolet wasn’t the only company to trade using the Suburban name, though.
GMC offered its own Suburban, but so did companies like Studebaker, Nash, DeSoto and Plymouth. Looking at that survival rate, it seems like a stroke of absolute luck for Chevrolet to have made it this far.
Although the vehicle itself has adapted to suit the times, it still uses a light-truck chassis – currently GM’s K2XX platform, which also sits under the related Cadillac Escalade and pick-up trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.
Oh, and Mini? Well, like Beetle its claim to the title could only be honorary. Introduced in 1959 as the Morris Mini-Minor (and Austin Seven), Mini was spun into a marque of its own in 1969, ruling it out as a model name.
There’s a runner-up prize for Morgan too, kind of. After introducing the 4-4 two-seater in 1936, then suspending production during World War II, before renaming it the 4/4 in 1955 (punctuation is important!), the car you can buy brand new from a Morgan showroom today is essentially still the same at its core – engines aside – as one you could have bought in the 1950s. That surely deserves an A for effort.
Although it only survived for one generation in Australia, the Toyota Avalon nearly had another name. It started with a C, so as to fit more closely with Corolla and Camry, but it seems Toyota almost made a huge mistake.
It might sound innocent enough, but the mooted Centaur badge could have been a costly error for Toyota. Commonly, a Centaur describes a mythical half-horse-half-man creature, but it was also the name of an Australian hospital ship during the Second World War.
That in itself wouldn’t likely be a problem, except that in 1943 AHS Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Queensland and claimed 268 lives. A Japanese company appearing to celebrate this fact? Not a great look, really.
Of course, Toyota will never tell if Centaur was set to make it into production, but if it were, a supply of American-market Avalon badges available at the 11th hour avoided what could have been a costly mistake in a market brimming with national pride.
If you look outside of Australia’s shores you won’t find a Subaru Liberty, overseas markets call it the Legacy. As a mark of respect, an alternative was found locally.
Legacy is a volunteer organisation here, which was set up to look after the families of Defence Force members who died during or after their active service. To avoid any kind of confusion, Subaru Australia renamed the Legacy to the Liberty.
That’s a fine name, too. It worked without any issues for quite a while, until 2002 when Jeep introduced its own Liberty. In the United States that didn’t pose a problem, of course, but bringing the Liberty here meant Jeep had to find an alternative – and the outgoing Cherokee name was the nomenclature of choice.
That meant American buyers had a break between the Cherokee (1974–2001) and the Cherokee (2013–present) with Liberty in between, while Australia, and quite a few international markets, kept Cherokee the whole way through.
A clash that could’ve occurred but never did concerns the Challenger name. Mitsubishi used it on a Triton-based SUV, but on the other side of the globe, Dodge applies the badge to its Mustang rival.
The Dodge Challenger isn’t slated for an Australian debut (that was a shame years ago, but as the Challenger is old enough to be carbon-dated now it’s less aggravating) – but if it were, Dodge might have some luck hanging onto its original title, with Mitsubishi moving to Pajero Sport for its latest Triton-based SUV.
Everyone’s favourite rebadge
Remember the Ford Festiva, aka ‘the escape hatch’? Possibly marketed as such because after more than 10 minutes in one, you’d pull any lever in the hope of being ejected.
Most of you know – but some of you may not – the boxy first-generation car was a rebadged Mazda 121 built in Japan. By the time the second-generation car arrived, engineering work was a collaborative effort between Ford and Kia using Mazda engines.
The drop in quality was apparent. Slam a door on the second-generation Festiva and you could end up with a door trim in your lap (it happened to me more than once). Everything rattled, creaked and was made of the thinnest-gauge materials known to man, but there are still tons of them on the road.
They’re the cockroaches of the automotive realm. I can’t remember the last time I saw one without paint peeling off the bonnet and roof, but you can’t kill them. You could, reportedly, try your luck getting into one, though, because if you were lucky enough to have a Festiva key, by default you had a key to every Festiva on the planet.
If you’re lucky enough to have two friends with Festivas – or should that be unlucky enough? – why not put it to the test? It worked for my Festiva-owning friends Candii and Belinda (of course I had a Festiva-owning friend named Candii), maybe it’ll work for your friends too?
Isn’t mindless trivia fun? Of course it is – but as you guys are the deepest font of knowledge I’ve ever encountered, add your own tales and trivia in the comments!
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