Shameless and Nameless

Cadillac XTS

It’s been a while since you heard the pedantic ramblings of an obtuse old man, but I’m back so here ‘goes!!

In recent years, I have seen lineup after lineup, car after car change their name. Legendary names like: Fleetwood, Cordoba, Zephyr, Mark V, Skylark, and Park Ward have been snuffed out in exchange for nomenclatures, dashes and digits.

Vega GT

I am sure there are those that will say the reason is to keep us competitive in leagues where buyers see image having letters instead of names. Let’s face it – it is easier to say ATS than to say Sedan de Ville. Names make you work to remember and help you stand out from the crowd. Imagine if the NBA Championship winner would be introduced as: “LBJ-1”. Doesn’t sound as good as Lebron James. All of this is said to make U.S. manufacturers more competitive with their European rivals. Who says Europe got it right?

My contention with this is that we are changing to face off with an adversary that has not changed. BMW and Mercedes have always had numbers for names. They included engine displacement, horsepower and plain ‘ol cool-sounding numbers. Let’s face it; the only place M1 and C111 sound cool are on the back of a German show car. There have always been 928’s and 240D’s in foreign car lineups. American manufacturers don’t have such a lineage.

Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser

Cars produced on U.S. soil have always had men with loosened ties and inordinate numbers of coffee cups in front of them emerge from dark corner offices filled with a sense that they have come up with the perfect name. One that will evoke images of speed, power and purpose. Ford Country Squires and Oldsmobile Vista Cruisers were named for just how our fathers used them: travel across country and tow fishing boats. When you swung open your garage door on a Sunday afternoon, a neighbor asked you: “Whatcha got there?” You couldn’t spew out a bunch of numbers and letters — You’d be laughed at!! Only animals would suffice. Cougars and Barracudas were names that caused lesser vehicles to change lanes and little boy’s eyes to light up in wonder. Places like Ford Motor Company single-handedly ran a zoo and a rookery full of Falcons, Mustangs, Pintos and Thunderbirds. Adding another name denoted more prestige for a particular model. You were more proud to have “Royale”, “Brougham”, or “Estate” displayed on your vehicle and even more proud to say it.

Even our least-memorable cars had people pouring around a meeting table to come up with a name that would belie their meager existence. Catera, Fiero, and Dart were names that are still synonymous with certain models. Vega, Pacer, and Capri were names that lingered in the minds of baby boomers as reliable middle class transportation (or embarrassing deathtraps) that shuttled them to baseball practice and won them their first kiss.

Oldsmobile 88 Holiday Coupe

Sure. We had GTO and LSC, but they were, once again, patterned after names from across the ocean that the average Texan wouldn’t even bother to pronounce (for the record, AMX was thrown in because we ran out of time). Don’t throw Oldsmobile’s 98 and 88 in my face. They were properly adorned with names before and after the numbers. Read the decklid, my friend. It says 98 “Regency” and “Delta” 88. By the way “Deuce and a Quarter” was slang for “Electra” 225 and a 442 was a “Cutlass” by origin.

I am the first to admit that we’ve had our share of duds like the Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan, Turnpike Cruiser, Flex and Probe, but we were not the only ones to flop. How would you like to roll up to the dealer and ask to test drive the new “Wiley Elf” or  “Super Snipe”? I still don’t know how we have gone from LeCar to LaFerrari.

Why have we reduced this grand tradition of regal (as in Buick Regal) names to meaningless codes like MKC and XTS? Our Japanese contenders followed suit with this nonsense and now we have Acura throwing “X” at the end of TL’s and RL’s to make them…better? How much research and discussion went into taking a perfectly good G37 and changing it into a Q50, selling them side-by side and having two cars that filled the same niche? Sounds like alphabet soup to me.

Buick Riviera Silver Arrow

Who says that grand (like Grand Marquis) names like Riviera and Eldorado couldn’t exist alongside the monotony of 535i’s and E55’s? Ciel could allow Cadillac to have a presence across from an XJ at your local auto show any day.

I’m campaigning to bring back car names and dispense with all of this code crap. I think America should go back to name-calling – at least with cars. It set us apart and showed the world that we put thought into the image we wanted our cars to portray. We have brazenly dispensed with our rich car name heritage and gone from prominent titles to being shameless and nameless.

Should we return to using names for our vehicles instead of letters and numbers?


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