Top 10 Silly-Named Cars

What’s in a name? We salute ten cars whose chances weren’t aided by a silly title

Triumph Mayflower

The British motor industry once had a policy of designing cars with the US in mind. Almost all tanked. Legend has it that Standard-Triumph’s notoriously self-directed boss, Sir John Black, chose the name Mayflower in honour of the Pilgrim Fathers who landed in Massachusetts in 1620. He may as well have called the model ‘Plymouth Rock’ for all the good this did. It didn’t help that the so-called ‘razor-edge’ styling proved so divisive. Apparently, Black insisted on such design themes as he wanted the Mayflower to be a luxury small car with the appearance of a scaled-down Rolls-Royce.

AutoFact: More Mayflowers were sold in Ceylon than in North America…

Ford Probe

Ford had already used the Probe tag in the US without so much as a snigger from the media. The Blue Oval foretold the arrival of the Sierra with assorted Probe concept cars a decade later. Scroll forward to 1994, when the already five-year-old, Mazda-rooted Probe went on sale in Europe, and it was a different story. For all the car’s plus points – the styling was clean and the 24-valve V6 version was quick enough, the endless ‘Ford to penetrate the UK’ headlines didn’t do it any favours. It may as well have been called the Ford Proctology.

AutoFact: Sales flatlined following Steve Coogan’s appearance as Probe-driving salesman Gareth Cheeseman in his TV show Coogan’s Run.

AMC Gremlin

You have to wonder what was running through the minds of AMC’s creative types when they came up with the legend ‘Gremlin’. Were ‘Temperamental’ and ‘Intermittent Fault’ already taken? The car wasn’t as bad as history paints it, mind, considering that there was little money to go around at the last of the American independent players, and thus no hope of creating a new model from the ground up. Instead, chief designer Richard Teague took the existing AMC Hornet platform and shortened the wheelbase. What’s more, he reputedly drew the car’s long nose/cropped tail outline on the back of a sick bag during a return flight from Detroit.

AutoFact: Around 670,000 were shifted in eight years. That wasn’t a bad return on a $5m development budget.

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Singer Chamois

The Rootes Group had a tendency to come up with cool monikers; think Sceptre, Tiger, Gazelle, Alpine, Minx, Hawk and, er, Super Snipe. Then there was the tag given to this Imp variant. Naming cars after wildlife is almost as old as the automobile itself. However, problems arise when a) potential punters cannot pronounce a name correctly, and b) they associate the name with something else. Pity the poor Singer, which was so-called after a rather handsome member of the deer/antelope family. Unfortunately, said animal’s soft hide was (and remains) more closely associated with cleaning products.

AutoFact: The Singer nameplate was dropped in 1970.

Nissan/Datsun Cedric

Wrapping occidental tongues around Japanese car names has often led to inadvertent comedy gold. The Japanese motor industry has come up with some absolute corkers, not least the Toyota Deliboy, Mazda Bongo Brawny (or the Mazda Bongo Friendee for that matter), the Mitsubishi Mum 500, Isuzu GIGA 20 Light Dump and the incomparable Yamaha Pantry Boy Supreme. By reputedly naming the model in honour of the principal character from the novel Little Lord Fauntleroy, Cedric Errol, Nissan hoped to evoke a certain type of refined Britishness. Except Errol was American, but hey.

AutoFact: See also Nissan Fairlady, Nissan Gloria, Nissan…

FART Break

OK, so this a bit childish, but the mighty FART (Fabbrica Autoveicoli e Rimorchi Torino) has to be included here because it bears perhaps the best car name ever – or the worst. One of the two. Introduced at the November 1965 Turin Motor Show, the Break – or Breack – was an off-roader featuring half-litre Fiat 500 power, Fiat 600-derived running gear and four-wheel drive. It was a cracking little machine, too, and praised by the media in period for its ability off-road. Fortunately, its Turinese maker became aware of the acronym’s unfortunate connotations, and changed it to Purves Ranger by the time production began in 1966.

AutoFact: London’s Abarth specialist Radbourne Racing was the UK concessionaire.

Peugeot VERA

Just to prove that Nissan didn’t have the monopoly on ye olde British Christian names, Peugeot unleashed the mighty VERA in 1981. The acronym stood for Véhicule Économe de Recherche Appliquée, or rather Applied Research in Economical Vehicles. The donor 305 saloon was significantly lightened, while the body incorporated all manner of aerodynamic aids; the drag figure was reduced from 0.44 to 0.319. Peugeot continued to pile on the comedy value with VERA 2 (tagline: This Time It’s Personal. If only.), which was known more widely as the VERA Plus.

AutoFact: The firm followed shortly thereafter with VERA Profil, which foretold the 309 production model.

DAF Daffodil

Oh, to have been a fly on a wall during the DAF strategy meeting: ‘We’re keen to start exporting cars and want to instil in punters’ minds just how Dutch we are. We are going to rebrand the 750 model, so what shall we call it? The Clog? The Dyke? What other clichéd low countries’ associations are there?’ The thing is, the name Daffodil seemed appropriate for this appealing little car. Essentially a (slightly) better equipped 750, the Daffodil outlived the base model. It went on sale in 1961 and lasted to ’67, introducing the wider world to the firm’s Continuously Variable Transmission.

AutoFact: The Daffodil tag wasn’t adopted for the German market. Instead, the model was known simply as DAF 30, which doesn’t resonate at all.

Shamrock

Much like the Triumph Mayflower, this underpowered and over-bodied device was conceived with the US market in mind. Unlike the Mayflower, it was dreamed up by an American, the hope being that those of Irish descent living in the US would be susceptible to buying something made in the old country. And, just to leave onlookers in no doubt that this was a product of Ireland, it was dubbed the Shamrock. Presumably, Blarney Stone had already been taken. Would-be motor mogul William K Curtis employed Canadian Alvin ‘Spike’ Rhiando to realise his vision with a glassfibre body and 1.5-litre BMC B-series power.

AutoFact: In 1959, there was talk of 10,000 cars being made per year. As few as ten were completed.

Gaylord Grand Prix

Strictly speaking, there was nothing particularly snigger-worthy about this car’s name in period. It’s just that certain words lose – or change – their meaning over time. The thing is, the Grand Prix was a remarkable car. Powering the prototype was a 331ci Chrysler V8, while stylist Gordon Kelly was responsible for the dramatic silhouette with its massive front headlights, vertical grille and scalloped front wings. It also featured a retractable roof. Carosseriebau Hermann Spohn of Germany was employed to construct the steel body. Displayed at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, the car received mixed reviews, and the Gaylord adventure was over by early 1957.

AutoFact: As few as four cars were ever made.

Images courtesy of Rota Archive

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