dVb logo What's in a name?

Why was Uno so called? What do the letters HPE stand for? And how do other manufacturers choose names for their cars? Find out below.

Fiat/Bertone X1/9 Fiat Uno Lancia HPE Vanden Plas Princess Nissan Prairie

Mercedes A-class

Naming themes

Coming soon...

Ford Cortina

Toyota Corolla

Fiat/Bertone X1/9 BACK TO TOP

    In the mid-1960s, Fiat's head of design, Dante Giacosa, adopted a new numbering series for development projects: the X0 series was applied to engines, X1 to cars and X2 to trucks. The X prefix was chosen to impart a sense of mystery and anonymity, considered important in keeping these projects secret not only from from the outside world, but also from bean counters within Fiat!

    Rod Shimwell (in his 1977 book, "FIAT", from the Great Cars series), states that the X stood for experimental, although Giacosa himself merely acknowledges the idea of using X as having originated with the general manager of Zastava, the Yugoslav Fiat off-shoot. Either way, the first car to be developed under this scheme was, of course, code-named X1/1.

    X1/1 was lauched in 1969 as the Fiat 128, and was to form the basis for a mid-engined sports car, code-named X1/9, to replace the Fiat 850 Spyder. It appears that this name was seen as having a certain cachet, as the car was launched as the X1/9 in 1972, thus becoming the only car from the X1 series to retain its development name in the marketplace.

    So when is a Fiat X1/9 not a Fiat X1/9? When it's a Bertone X1/9. The Bertone company (see panel, right) had been responsible for the design of the X1/9, and for constructing the bodyshells, which were then passed to Fiat for final assembly. When, in 1982, Fiat decided to cease production of the X1/9, Bertone felt that there was still a viable market for the car, and thus began manufacturing it themselves, alongside the Fiat Strada/Ritmo Cabriolet and, later that decade, the convertible versions of the Vauxhall Astra/Opel Kadett. The X1/9 was relaunched in 1983, and reached the UK as the Bertone X1/9 VS (version speciale), with two-tone paintwork and a leather-trimmed seats and door panels.

    As an aside, it's a little-known fact that the X1/9 had a close namesake in the French Panhard X19 of 1912, which admittedly had little else in common with the Fiat.

Code-name Launched as...
X1/1 Fiat 128
X1/2 Autobianchi A112
X1/3 Fiat 130
X1/4 Fiat 127
X1/8 (later X1/20) Lancia Montecarlo
X1/9 Fiat X1/9
X1/30 (later X1/38) Fiat Ritmo (Strada)


The coachbuilding firm of Bertone (pronounced bear-tawny) was founded by Giovanni Bertone (1884-1972) in Turin, in 1912.

He was succeeded by his son, Giuseppe (known as Nuccio), who continued to run the company until his death in 1997. The X1/9 VS carried a dashboard plaque bearing an imprint of Nuccio Bertone's signature.


    Like the X1/9 before it, the Uno was a Fiat which was launched with its development code-name (or at least part of it) attached firmly to its boot-lid. The Uno spearheaded a major development programme within the Fiat group, and as such, was developed under the code-name of Tipo Uno, or Type 1. While this may sound a little prosaic, it could be sign that Fiat had taken to heart the gentle ribbing it received for developing the Panda under the code-name Rustica, a name which can surely have had purely bucolic overtones only in Italy.

    In fact, the Panda had originally been labelled Tipo Zero, indicating a blank-sheet design, and the launch of Tipo Uno was to be followed by that of Tipo Quattro (Type 4), Tipo Due (Type 2) and Tipo Tre (Type 3), in that order. Incidentally, Fiat's naming policy for these models was a little quirky: while Tipo Uno had been launched as the Uno, Tipo Due was launched simply as the Tipo.

    As if deliberately to confuse the issue, the Tipo Quattro was a joint development programme with Alfa Romeo and Saab (providing the 164 and 9000 respectively, in addition to the Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema), thus leading many observers to assume that the "Quattro" referred to the four marques involved.

    Bearing in mind the amount of effort that car companies put into ensuring that their model names do not have any derogatory connotations in various languages, it’s a wonder that something sounding suspiciously like "Ooh, no!" in English-speaking markets got through at all. Then again, most people I encountered insisted that my car was a "You know", so perhaps it wasn't such an issue after all. Mind you, such considerations didn't stop Fiat from launching the Punto in 1993; punto is Italian for point, implying a sharp car (for sharp people?). Trouble is, it can also mean period, or full stop - not an ideal name for a car! This rather calls to mind Chevrolet's decision not to market it's Nova under that name in South America when it was pointed out that no va translates as "doesn't go".

    If nothing else, the Uno's name was to prove prescient, as the car quickly snapped up first place in the 1984 Car of the Year competition (one of the most controversial decisions in the award's history), and went on to dominate the Italian and European sales charts for the remainder of the 1980s. The name also found expression in the Uno's tendency to be equipped with only one of various items which on most cars would come in pairs (windscreen wiper, washer jet nozzle, hatch-lifting strut, steering column stalk). Only a hardened cynic would believe that this inspired design philosophy could possibly have had anything to do with cost-saving.

Code-name Launched as...
Tipo Zero (Type 0) Fiat Panda
Tipo Uno (Type 1) Fiat Uno
Tipo Due (Type 2) Fiat Tipo
Tipo Tre (Type 3) Fiat Tempra/Lancia Dedra
Tipo Quattro (Type 4) Fiat Croma/Lancia Thema


Fiat is one of the oldest names in the motor industry. It was formed in 1899, as F.I.A.T., standing for Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino (Italian Automobile Manufacturer, Turin), although this acronym later developed into the single word Fiat, as used today.

The company was founded by a group of nine people: Emanuele Cacherano of Bricherasio, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Giovanni Agnelli, Roberto Discaretti di Ruffia, Michele Ceriano-Mayneri, Luigi Damevino, Alfonso Ferrero di Ventimiglia, Cesare Goria-Gatti and Carlo Racca.

Agnelli emerged as the driving force behind the company, and as the company grew, the Agnelli family became one of the richest and most powerful families in Italy.

Fiat celebrated its centenary in July 1999.


    At the time of its launch in 1975 as part of the Lancia Beta range, the letters HPE stood for High Performance Estate. As such, this was the first (and, until recently, only) estate car built in-house by Lancia - what others there were having been converted from saloons by external coachbuilding firms.

    But is the HPE really an estate car, or is it in fact a fastback coupé with a rear hatch, in the style of the MGB GT, Reliant Scimitar, Volvo 1800ES and BMW 2002 Touring, all of which preceeded it? It's a moot point, but of these cars, only the Lancia's hatch reached down to bumper level, in true estate-car style. For that matter, with a top speed of just 116mph and a 0-60 time of over 10 seconds (for the original 2.0 version), even the "High Performance" part of the designation was a little dubious.

    As the HPE neared the end of its production run, Lancia seemed dissatisfied with the "Estate" designation, and decided to market the cars instead as the High Performance Executive, perhaps in the hope that such people would buy them...

    Production of the Beta HPE ceased in 1985. However, it is still possible to buy a new 'HPE', as Lancia revived the name on the second-generation Delta, launched in 1992.


Born in 1881, Vincenzo Lancia had been working for a small Turin-based workshop called Welleyes, when it was annexed by the newly-formed Fiat in 1900. Lancia, still only 19, was made head of inspection for the new Fiat factory. When Claudio Fogolin joined the company two years later as an inspector, he and Lancia formed a strong friendship, eventually leading to their decision to set up their own automobile company.

Lancia & Co. was founded in Turin towards the end of 1906 by Lancia and Fogolin, and the company began producing cars the following year.

Over the years, Lancia gained a reputation for quality, innovation and sporting prowess. However, in 1969, the company faced bankruptcy and was bought by Fiat.

Vanden Plas Princess BACK TO TOP

    The Princess name can be traced back to Austin in the immediate post-war period. Although famed for its small cars, in particular the legendary Austin 7 (or Baby Austin), Austin also had a tradition in building large cars and limousines for the carriage trade. In 1946, the coachbuilding firm of Vanden Plas (see panel, below right) became a subsidiary of Austin as part of an arrangement whereby the former would build a top-of-the-range saloon on the latter's new six-cylinder chassis. This car was launched the following year as the Austin Princess A120, later to become the A135 with an increase in engine size.

    In 1952, Austin was merged with Morris (who already owned Wolseley, Riley and MG) to form the nationalised British Motor Corporation (BMC). Later that decade, BMC began its practice of passing production models over to Vanden Plas for upmarket re-trimming, and the Princess name seemed to stick, being applied to almost all such models (with the exception of the 1959 Austin A105 Vanden Plas). Thus, by the mid-1960s, Vanden Plas's range comprised the Princess 1100, Princess 3-litre (based on the Pinifarina-styled Austin A110) and the Princess 4-litre R (similar to the 3-litre, but with a larger, ex-Rolls Royce engine), in addition to the Princess IV DS7 limousine (successor to the original Princess) which often saw service at weddings and funerals.

    The 1100/1300 model was to be the last Vanden Plas model to carry the Princess name; its 1974 replacement, based on the Austin Allegro, was known simply as the Vanden Plas 1500. It appears that BL had other plans for the name (see below) which necessitated its removal from the Vanden Plas domain. The 1100 range had been developed under the code name ADO16 (ADO standing for Austin Design Office, although after the formation of BMC, Morris diehards insisted it stood for Amalgamated Design Office), and launched in 1962 as the Morris 1100. The story of how the Vanden Plas Princess version came about can be found elsewhere on this site, but by the mid-1960s the 1100 range was also being sold under BMC's other marque names: Austin, Wolseley, MG and Riley (as the Kestrel). BMC's seemingly curious policy of "badge-engineering" was actually a means of managing the fact that it had inherited a great many individal-marque dealerships, each of which had a customer base loyal to that particular marque. Rather than taking the bull by the horns, and selecting one company-wide marque name (as was to happen much later with the Rover name), it was decided (perhaps wisely, at the time) to make mildly-altered versions of the same car to suit each marque's customers. Additionaly, several re-bodied versions of the car were produced overseas.

    In 1966, BMC merged with Jaguar (including Daimler), forming British Motor Holdings (BMH). Two years later, BMH was merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation (which included Rover, Land Rover, Triumph and a whole range of commercial vehicle manufacturers), forming the mammoth British Leyland Motor Corporation, or BL for short.

    The Princess name re-emerged a couple of years after the demise of the Vanden Plas Princess 1300, in an attempt to sort out the muddle which had arisen following the 1975 launch of the wedge-shaped 18-22 series in Austin, Morris and Wolseley versions. Within six months it had (sensibly) been decided to market the 18-22 series under a single name - Princess. This sounded the death knell for the Wolseley marque, along with the old BMC practice of rampant badge-engineering. However, despite BL's intention that this time round, Princess should be seen as a marque in itself, the new car was invariably referred to as the Austin Princess, perhaps because the name was still familiar from the days of the original A120/135.

    During the 1980s, BL underwent sevral phases of rationalisation. Having already dropped the Riley (1969) and Wolseley (1975) marques, Vanden Plas and MG were the next to go with the closure of the Kingsbury (1979) and Abingdon (1980) factories. BL was then re-organised into two distinct groups: Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph. In 1982, the MG and Vanden Plas names were revived to denote sporting and luxury versions of the Metro (and were later used on other models). Morris was next disappear, in 1984, by which time the only Triumph being made was the Acclaim, a re-badged Honda Ballade (Civic saloon). In 1985, the Triumph marque disappeared when the Acclaim's replacement was launched as a Rover. The following year, Jaguar/Daimler was privatised, with the rights to the Vanden Plas name included in the deal. What was left of the former BL now became the Austin-Rover Group (ARG). This group was bought by British Aerospace (BAe), before finally being rebranded simply as Rover (though retaining ownership of the remaining redundant marques), and sold to BMW in 1993. This led to speculation that various marque names (such as Riley and Austin-Healey) might be revived, as BMW's then-CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder (nephew of Alec Issigonis, who engineered and/or designed the Morris Minor 1000, Mini and 1100), was a confirmed anglophile with a strong sentimental attachment to these names. However, following the ousting of Pischetsrieder from the BMW board in February 1999, this now looks less likely.

Code-name Launched as...
ADO 6 London Taxi (FX4/FL2)
ADO 8 Austin A40 Farina
ADO 9 Austin A55 Cambridge (Farina)
ADO 14 Austin Maxi
ADO 15 Austin Se7en (Mini)
ADO 16 Morris 1100
ADO 17 Austin 1800 / Morris 1800
ADO 28 Morris Marina
ADO 67 Austin Allegro

Vanden Plas

Carrosserie Van den Plas was formed in Belgium in 1898 by Guillaume van den Plas and his three sons, Antione, Henri and Willy, with bases in Antwerp and Brussels. An English subsidiary was inaugurated in 1913, named Vanden Plas (England) Ltd. However, following the 1914-1918 War, this firm gradually foundered, entering receivership in 1923.

A manager at Vanden Plas, Edwin Fox (along with his brothers Alfred and Frank) successfully acquired the name and goodwill of the company, relaunching it as Vanden Plas (England) 1923 Ltd., operating from a former aircraft works at Kingsbury, north London, where it would remain until its eventual closure in 1979.

Vanden Plas became a subsidiary of Austin in 1946, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s built or modified cars based on Austin/BMC components. When Jaguar merged with BMC in 1966, plans were laid for Vanden Plas to assemble and trim the new Daimler DS420 limousine, which remained in production (latterly at Jaguar's Coventry works) until the early 1990s.

During the 1980s, the Vanden Plas badge was used as a suffix to denote top-of-the-range Austins and Rovers, in much the same way that Ford applied its Ghia badge. Ownership of the name later transferred to Jaguar, and it now used on top-specification Jaguar saloons in place of the Daimler marque, in export markets where the name Daimler has associations with Mercedes-Benz.

Although originally a Belgian firm, the name Van den Plas is actually of Dutch derivation, meaning literally "of the pond". As such, I understand that the 's' in Plas should be pronounced, rather than silent. However, everyone else I've spoken to about this seems to pronounce it as 'Plah'. If you can provide me with the definitive answer on this matter, please do!

Nissan Prairie BACK TO TOP

    The name Prairie calls to mind images of the wide open spaces of the American plains. What could be more appropriate for a car designed with optimum interior space in mind. There may also have been an implied reference to the wide open space provided by the lack of a pillar separating the front and rear doors, although the currency of this particular association was lost with the introduction of the Mk 2 model.

    Oddly enough, when launched in America, where the name would surely have been most-readily recognised, the car was known not as the Prairie, but as the Stanza Wagon.

    It should be noted that Datsun/Nissan's worldwide model naming policy (in common with those of various other Japanese manufacturers) is frequently chaotic. For instance, the Stanza name was also used in the UK, but for a completely different, 5-door hatchback sold in the early 1980s; this car was in turn marketed elsewhere as the Violet, the Auster or the Liberta!


The name Nissan is derived from Nihon Sangyo Co., one of two companies which joined in 1933 to form the Nissan Motor Company. The other company, Tobata Imono Co., had absorbed the DAT Automobile Manufacturing Co., whose origins can in turn be traced back to the formation in 1911 of the Kwaishinsha Co., makers of the DAT (meaning hare in Japanese) car.

By the time of the merger, Tobata were building a car called the Datson (literally, son of DAT). The name was later changed to Datsun, because Datson sounded like the Japanese word for ruin.

Mercedes A-class BACK TO TOP

    Mercedes had been considering the virtues of having a small car in its range for around 20 years when, in 1993, it relased the Vision A concept car. The significance of the A designation was simply that this car would be positioned on the first rung of the ladder in the Mercedes range. Over the following years, the concept car was developed and honed into the der Klasse-A (A-class), launched in 1997 with a variety of engines - A140 (1.4 litre petrol), A160 (1.6 litre petrol & diesel) & A170 (1.7 litre diesel) - alongside the existing Mercedes models: C-class (Compact), E-class (Executive) S-class (Super), G-class (Geländewagen, a sort of German Land Rover) and M-class (Muddy - no, only kidding; when did you last see a muddy M-class? It actually stands for Mobility).

    Prior to the introduction of these clear class designations, Mercedes cars had been known by an often-bewildering and increasingly meaningless combination of numbers and letters. This naming scheme started out quite logically, with the numbers indicating the engine size and the letters the body style (eg: the 500SL was a 5-litre Sports Lightweight; the 300D was a 3-litre Diesel). However, when the first "small Mercedes" was launched in 1983 with a 2.0 engine, there was already a 200 model in Mercedes' next range up. It was was decided to call all models in the new range "190", regardless of engine size, and thus the old pattern was comprehensively broken.

    Mercedes saloons have traditionally been officially identified by a W (wagen, or "car") number, and the A-class is no exception: in Mercedes-speak, it's the W168.


Mercedes-Benz is the car division of DaimlerChrysler, formerly Daimler-Benz. Diamler-Benz was formed in 1926 by the merger of the companies founded independently by Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz in the late 1880s. It is thought that the two men never met, and when Daimler died in 1900, he left his factory to his two sons and colleague Wilhelm Maybach.

Emil Jellinek, the Daimler agent in Nice at the turn of the century, decided to re-name the cars, as Germanic-sounding names were unpopular in France at the time for political reasons. He used his daughter's name, Mercédès, and the name Mercedes-Benz has appeared on the company's cars ever since the 1926 merger.

Mercedes will soon revive the Maybach name for its new super-luxury model.

Naming themes BACK TO TOP

    Naming new cars these days is a very lucrative business. Manufacturers employ the services of specialist market research and brand identity companies to find names which will "work" in each of the global markets where the car is to be sold. This can sometimes be a tricky business: Toyota had to think twice about selling the MR2 in France, as when pronounced, the name sounded suspiciously like merde; likewise, the Rolls Royce Silver Mist never saw the light of day due to the name's, erm, methanic overtones in Germany.

    Below, I've listed some of the more popular themes for car names, and given examples of how they have been applied by various manufacturers. The list is by no means comprehensive (let me know if you have any worthy additions), and inevitably, some of the names could easily fit into more than one category.

  • Wind & weather
  • Flora & fauna
  • Travel & places
  • The sporting life
  • To the letter
  • VIPs
  • War & peace
  • Myth & mystery
  • Heaven & Hell
  • Words & music
  • The human touch
  • Precious stones
  • Food & drink
  • Reflected glory
  • From the banal...
    • Wind and weather

        Winds have obvious connotations of power and speed, while also often having romantic-sounding names. In particular, Volkswagen and Maserati have favoured such names for their cars. Maserati offerings have included the Mistral, Ghibli, Bora and Khamsin. Volkswagen started their ball rolling in 1973 with the Passat; this name may have been chosen to indicate a wind of change, as the this was the first true VW not to have been derived from the rear-engined, air-cooled Beetle (the K70 of 1970 had originally been conceived as an NSU). Next came the Golf, which is the Germanic equivalent of Gulf (as in the Gulf air stream); however, in English-speaking markets (except the US, where the car was known as the Rabbit) the name was inevitably associated with the game of golf, to the extent that later Golfs even came equipped with golf-ball styled gear knobs, and the pick-up version was given the toungue-in-cheek name of Caddy. After a small hiccough with the Polo (and its saloon derivative, the Derby), VW continued on their windy theme with the Santana, Jetta, Vento, Scirocco, Corrado and most recently, the Bora (having presumably acquired the rights to that name from Maserati).

        Ford gave us the Zephyr, Corsair and Thunderbird and Chevrolet the Corvair, while from Oldsmobile we had the Tornado. British manufacturer Tornado gave us the Typhoon, Tempest (also used by Pontiac) and Thunderbolt, and Toyota the Blizzard, while Lister currently manufacture the Storm (a name previously used by VW on a version of the Scirocco, and also by US GM subsidiary Geo and Indian manufacturer, San). GMC also got windy, with their Typhoon and Sycloone (sic).

      Flora and fauna

        Cars named after flowers are few and far between. The memory of the Daf Daffodil may explain why. There was the Triumph Mayflower (but that was probably named after the ship of the founding fathers), the Nissan Laurel and the Clan Clover, while Alfa Romeo use the designation Cloverleaf to denote sporting models.

        On the other hand, the animal kingdom has been inspiring the choice of names of both marques and models almost since the beginning of the motor industry. The big cats, being both powerful and agile, are particularly popular, with few of their number having been overlooked: we have had the Lynx (from Riley), Leopard (Nissan), Cheetah (Lamborghini), Tiger (Sunbeam/Rootes and Messerchmitt), Cougar and Puma (both Ford), while manufacturers have included Panther, Lion, Puma and Jaguar. Reliant appeared to miss the point with their Kitten. As if it wasn't enough for their 1970s cars to be considered dogs, Leyland took to naming their trucks on a canine theme, giving us the Terrier and Mastiff. Other members of the dog family have included Aston Martin's flag-waving 1980 show-car, the Bulldog, Reliant's Fox, TVR's Vixen, Lancia's Hyena and VW's Lupo (meaning wolf, as in VW's hometown of Wolfsburg).

        Some manufacturers just rise above it all, with names like Eagle (AMC), Falcon (Ford), Kestrel (Riley), BlackHawk (Stutz), Hawk and Snipe (both Humber), Bluebird (Nissan), Robin (Reliant), 7 Swallow (Austin), Swift (Suzuki), Bantam (Singer), Skylark (Buick) and Soarer (Toyota). Snakes are another source of inspiration. Wolseley launched a Viper in 1927. Chrysler's Dodge Viper was so-named with a nod to AC's legendary Cobra, which had previously led De Tomaso to name their riposte Mangusta (or mongoose, a creature which eats cobras).

        Equestrian inspiration has provided the Mustang, Pinto (both Ford), Charger (Dodge), Colt (Mitsubishi), Pony (Hyundai) and Camargue (Rolls-Royce). This may also be true of the Mitsubishi Starion; at the time of its launch in the early 1980s, the motoring press was alight with quite serious speculation that it was to have been called the Stallion, but that something went wrong on the way to the printers...

        The aquatic world has thrown up the Plymouth Barracuda, the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray and Triumph Scorpion (also used by Lancia for the US version of the Montecarlo, as GM already held the rights to that name). Other living creatures include the Triumph Stag, Singer Gazelle (also used by Nissan), Lamborghini's Urraco (named after a fighting bull, thereby paying tribute to Lamborghini's emblem), Opel Manta, Fiat Panda (launched in support of the World Wildlife Fund), Isuzu Kangaroo, and Wolseley Wasp and Hornet.

      Travel and places

        Manufacturers often aim to lend their cars an exotic air by naming them after stylish or popular resorts. Chief proponents of this trend have included Ford (Capri, Cortina, Granada), Triumph (Dolomite, Toledo), Seat (Marbella, Ibiza, Malaga, Toledo), Panther (Rio, Lima), Chevrolet (Malibu, Monte Carlo) and Buick (Riviera). Fiat brought out a special-edition X1/9 called the Lido.

        Austin's county series included Cambridge, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Hereford and Somerset, while others have chosen to reflect the area where their cars are made, like Morris's Oxford and Cowley, Alfa Romeo's Alfasud, Chrysler's Kew and Wimbledon, Jowett's Bradford, Ferrari's Maranello, the Enfield electric car and Bedford trucks. Other placenames have included Austin's Westminster, Ford's Anglia and Alfa Romeo's Montreal. Limited edition Minis have included the Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Park Lane.

        Austin and Bentley looked overseas for inspiration in naming their Atlantic and Continental models respectively, while the Nash Metropolitan and Honda City have a more urban air.

      The sporting life

        Success in motor racing frequently leads companies to place a commemorative name on their models, sometimes as a special edition. Sunbeam's Alpine, Saab's Monte Carlo, Lancia's Beta Montecarlo and Ford's Escort Mexico hinted at wins in those rallies, Marcos's LM500 had competed at Le Mans (as had Singer's Le Mans), while McLaren's F1 speaks for itself.

        Cars named after racing circuits include Riley's Brooklands (also used by Bentley), Austin's 7 Ulster, Alfa Romeo's 155 Silverstone, Maserati's Kyalami, Sebring and Indy, Opel's Monza (also used by Chevrolet) and De Tomaso's Longchamp. Ferrari's 365GT was popularly known as the Daytona. Other references include Pontiac's Grand Prix.

        Althletic contenders include Toyota's Sprinter and Chaser, Rochdale's Olympic, and Leyland's Marathon truck and Olympian bus.

      To the letter

        Some companies seem to take a liking to a particular letter of the alphabet. Lotus have had the Elan, Elite, Eleven, Europa, Eclat, Esprit, Excel and Elise (plus the Etna concept car!). Over the years, Austin and Morris between them gave us the Major, Minor, Mini, Maxi, Marina, Metro, Maestro and Montego. Vauxhall went into alliteration overload with the Victor, Ventora, Viva, Viceroy, Velox and Viscount, before switching to 'C' with the Chevette, Cavalier, Carlton, Calibra and Corsa; they then went back to 'V' for Vectra! Toyota were also fond of 'C' for while, as evidenced by the Corolla, Carina, Corona, Celica, Corsa, Cressida, Camry and Crown. Lancia used to be quite fond of 'A', with Augusta, Artena, Aprilia, Appia, Ardea, Astura and Aurelia, before moving on to 'F', with Fulvia, Flavia, Flaminia. Citroën, meanwhile have been attracted to the 'X'-factor, with Xsara, Xantia and XM.

        Alternatively, why not just use the letters themselves? Lancia started out using Greek letters, and have since used the names Alfa (sic), Beta, Delta, Gamma, Kappa, Lambda, Epsilon, Ypsilon and Zeta, in some cases several times over. Mitsubishi somehow ended up using Sigma, while Vauxhall/Opel have used Omega.


        Cars are often given an air of importance (sometimes laughably) by having an aristocratic name or high-ranking title assigned to them. While Daimler probably got away with its 1950s Majestic, Austin was ridiculed for its 1982 Ambassador (which replaced the Princess, leading at least one wag to observe that for a Princess to give way to an Ambassador was reversal of the normal protocol). Elsewhere, we had Ford's Consul, Opel's Diplomat, Senator, Commodore and Admiral, Humber's Imperial, Vauxhall's Royale, Reliant's Regal (also used by Buick), Renault's Dauphine and Mercury's Monarch and Marquis. Studebaker went a little overboard, having a Commander, a President, a Champion and even a Dictator in its 1930s range. Nissan also had a President.

      War and peace

        The world of war and adventure has proved a rich source of car names. Warriors have included Suzuki's Samurai, Tata's Gurkha, Hillman's Avenger, Gilbern's Invader, Clan's Crusader, Vauxhall's Cadet, Land Rover's Defender, Isuzu's Trooper, Mitsubishi's Shogun, Lancer and Galant, Wartburg's Knight, Chrysler's Valiant, Jensen's Interceptor and British manufacturers Viking and Marauder. What weapons might they have used? Sunbeam's Rapier, Humber's Sceptre, Reliant's Scimitar or Sabre, Oldsmobile's Cutlass, or perhaps Jowett's Javelin (also used by AMC) or Vauhall's Magnum?

        The Wild West has prompted such names as Rodeo Bighorn (Isuzu), Wrangler, Cherokee (both Jeep) and Apache (Austin). Other adventurous types include Hillman's Hunter, Trident's Venturer, Riley's Pathfinder, Trojan's Wayfarer, Chrysler's Voyager, Ford's Explorer, Land Rover's Discovery, Vauxhall's Frontera, the Morris Nomad, AMC's Rambler and the Dri-Sleeve Moonraker.

        Peacemakers have included Triumph's Dove, Honda's Accord, Nissan's Serena and AMC's Alliance.

        As a footnote to this section: when Fiat updated their 132 in 1982, they renamed it Argenta (Italian for silver). It reached the UK just as we were going to war with Argentina; sales were slow, to say the least, and the car slipped away after less than two years.

      Myth and mystery

        Rolls-Royce are long-term adherents to the ethereal themes, with Silver Ghost, Silver Spirit, Silver Wraith, Silver Seraph and Phantom. Riley had a Sprite (also used by Lanchester and Austin-Healey), an Elf and an Imp (also used by Davrian and Hillman, who had previously launched the Minx), while from AMC came the Gremlin; from Gilbern, the Genie; and from TVR, the Chimaera and Cerbera. Lamborghini had a Silhouette and Mitsubishi a Mirage. Honda have given us the Legend, and Cadillac the Eldorado. Opel had an Olympia, and Leyland its Titan bus.

      Heaven and Hell

        There have been a few references to Heavenly bodies, of various sorts: Mitsubishi's Colt Celeste, Triumph's Herald, Citroën's DS (Deese is French for godess). Other manufacturers who have looked to the heavens include Ford (Zodiac, Orion, Scorpio and Galaxy), Isuzu (Gemini), Mazda (Cosmo), Hyundai (Stellar), Toyota (Starlet), Vauxhall (Astra), Rolls-Royce (Silver Cloud, Silver Dawn), Nissan (Skyline) and Lancia (Stratos). Appropriately enough, pre-war British manufacturer Star's range included a Planet and a Comet. Jowett's most famous model was the Jupiter, while GM has a subsidiary called Saturn. The sun has inspired the Chyrsler/Talbot Sunbeam, Solara and Horizon and Datsun/Nissan's Sunny.

        References to Hell or fire include Lamborghini's Diablo, Renault's Fuego, Chevrolet's Blazer(!), Pontiac's Firebird and Fiero, Vauxhall's Firenza and Chevrolet's Blazer.

      Words and music

        Saab got poetic with its Sonnet sports car, as did Nissan with its Stanza. Honda has displayed quite a musical bent with its Prelude, Jazz, Quintet, Ballade (sic) and Concerto, as have Hyundai (with its Sonata), Nissan (with the Figaro), Mazda (with the Capella) and Austin (with the Allegro). There was also a little-known UK manufacturer called Opus.

      The human touch

        Every now and then a manufacturer will take a risk by aiming to personify their car. Sometimes this can work, as with Triumph's Gloria; more often than not, however, the effect is feintly ludicrous: witness Nissan's Cedric, Violet and Silvia. Škoda have had the Estelle, and have recently revived their Felicia and Octavia names, while Citroën gave us the Dyane, Mazda conceived Carol, Subaru had Rex, Austin gave us the Kimberley, and Fiat the Marea. Alfa Romeo launched the delectable Giulia and Giulietta in the 1960s. There was even a short-lived French marque called Monica.

        Ford's Edsel was named after Henry Ford's son, while the Range Rover CSK carried the initials of its designer, Spen King.

        On the other hand, Morgan had a Family, Mazda a Familia, Proton gave us the Persona, Mitsubishi the Carisma (sic), and Daihatsu the Fellow and Fellow Max.

      Precious stones

        Jewel-based names are surprisingly thin on the ground. Austin had a run on them for variations on the 1920s/30s Austin 7, with Pearl, Ruby and Opal, and Ford used Sapphire for the saloon version of the Sierra.

      Food and drink

        Another rarity as a naming theme, but there have been a few: Toyota have given us the Picnic, and Suzuki the Cappucino, while Mazda brought out a special-edition MX5 called Merlot.

      Reflected glory

        Why dream up an image for your car when you you can just give it a name that already has one? Could this be the thinking behind those manufacturers who play on links with the aircraft industry (real or imagined) with names like Beaufighter, Brigand and Blenheim (all Bristols), Spitfire (Triumph) and Viggen (Saab).

        And on the subject of seeking glory, for manufacturers to have launched cars with names like Favorit (Škoda), Popular (Ford), Applause (Daihatsu), Renown and Acclaim (both Triumph) might be seen as wishful thinking...

      From the banal to the ridiculous...

        Some of the more insipid names have included the Datsun/Nissan's Cherry and March, Honda's Civic and Today, and Kia's Pride and Mentor. Some cars just want to be your friend, such as the Citroën Ami, the Fiat Amiga, the Costin Amigo (also used by Isuzu in the US, along with Hombre) or the Daihatsu Compagno.

        The 1990s saw a trend for names which had no intrinsic meaning, but were supposed to evoke some kind of recognition in a variety of markets. In this category, we have Ford's Mondeo, Toyota's Avensis and Yaris, Vauxhall's Sintra and Zafira, Subaru's Impreza. Another trend was for names which had initlally appeared on concept cars to find their way onto (often completely different) production models; such cases include Ford's Focus, Renault's Mégane and Laguna, and Porsche's Boxster.

        Those wishing to find the daftest names in the motor industry should look to Japan, whence the following have come: From Daihatsu, the Rugger Field Sports Resin Top and Town Cube; from Isuzu, Mu (standing for Mysterious Utility), Wizard (which is apparenty an acronym for Wonderous Imaginative Zing Adventurous Romantic Dependable!) and Giga 20 Light Dump; from Mazda, the Scrum and Bongo Friendee; from Mitsubishi, the Debonair Exceed; from Nissan, the Priarie Joy and Prairie Liberty (almost sane in this company).

        The last word in ridiculous names has to go to Mitsubishi, for unleashing upon an unsuspecting public the Mini Active Urban Sandal.

    Acknowledgments BACK TO TOP

      The following books have proved a valuable source of reference in compiling the above information. Thanks also to "CarorVan" for e-mailing me some suggestions, which have now been incorporated.

    Title Author(s) Publisher Date ISBN
    Forty Years of Design with Fiat Dante Giacosa Automobilia 1979 n/a
    Fiat Pocket History Ferruccio Bernabò Libreria dell'Automobile 1981 88 85058 05 1
    Fiat Rod Shimwell William Luscombe 1977 0 86002 140 8
    The Automotive Art of Bertone Rob de la Rive Box, Richard Crump Haynes 1984 0 85429 349 3
    Fiat X1/9 Collector's Guide Phil Ward Motor Racing Publications 1994 0 947981 83 7
    Lancia Beta Collector's Guide Brian Long Motor Racing Publications 1991 0 947981 62 4
    The Complete Book of Lancia Ferruccio Bernabò Libreria dell'Automobile 1980 n/a
    Vanden Plas - Coachbuilders Brian Smith Dalton Watson 1979 901465 427
    The Cars of BMC Graham Robson Motor Racing Publications 1987 0 947981 14 4
    Complete Catalogue of Austin Cars Anders Ditlev Clausager Bayview Books 1992 1 870979 26 5
    Complete History of the Japanese Car Marco Ruiz Haynes / Foulis 1988 0 85429 672 7
    Form: Mercedes-Benz Bruno Alfieri Automobilia 1995 88 7960 080 X
    Pictorial History of Australian Automobiles Andrew Clarke Bison Group 1989 0 86124 524 5
    Aussie Cars Tony Davis Marque Publishing 1987 0 94079 01 7
    Lamborghini Urraco & the V8s Jean-François Marchet Osprey AutoHistory 1983 0 85429 672 7
    Encyclopaedia of Autombiles Enzo Angelucci Hamlyn/Odhams 1967 n/a
    A-Z of Cars of the 1920s Nick Baldwin Bayview Books 1994 1 870979 53 2
    A-Z of Cars of the 1930s Michael Sedgwick, Mark Gillies Bayview Books 1993 1 870979 38 9
    A-Z of Cars - 1945-1970 Michael Sedgwick, Mark Gillies Bayview Books 1993 1 870979 39 7
    A-Z of Cars of the 1970s Graham Robson Bayview Books 1994 1 870979 40 0
    A-Z of Cars of the 1980s Martin Lewis Bayview Books 1998 1 901432 10 6
    Austin: The Counties Years Stewart J Brown, David Whyley Arthur Southern Ltd 1992 0 946265 18 6

    Fiat/Bertone X1/9 Fiat Uno Lancia HPE Vanden Plas Princess Nissan Prairie