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What Is In A Car Name?

by Rae Castillon

What Shall We Call It?

I have been in a GTO frame of mind for a while now. Like, I am sure, most motoring enthusiasts I personally have a small number of cars that reside at the top of the tree with my favour flitting from one to the other dependent upon my mood. However due to the recent completion of my “slotcars of Ferraris what I have been in” collection and the serendipitous release of the 250 GTO Haynes Manual this has kept my current thoughts being of a distinctly blood red hue.

Thoughts that have led me to go on and ponder the names of cars that are seen as iconic. Not so much those as given by the manufacturer, after all much consideration has always given over to this, but rather abbreviations and corruptions that somehow add to the charisma of the vehicle in question. Of course I am talking in broad-ish terms and this cannot be applied to every case but on the whole it seems that a great car has a great name, even if it was not initially christened with one.

The first that springs to mind is the Four and a Half Litre Birkin Bentley Supercharged Special – as it perhaps should have been known. Developed as a private venture this was undertaken against W. O.’s wishes and it was only through the convoluted patronage of his company by the conspicuously wealthy racers of the 20’s that it had any official nod at all. It is quite often referred to as the “Supercharged Bentley” and could accurately be called the “Blown Bentley.” Despite this it will always be the “Blower Bentley.” By changing the adjective to a noun adjunct the name is imbued with intent, the incidental irreverence also evoking the dashing attitudes of its pilots.

Sublime To The Ridiculous

From the sublime to the ridiculous, or quite possibly vice-versa dependent on your point of view, the Mini (the actual Mini rather than its bloated Teutonic semi-offspring) was originally launched as the “Austin 7.” The first Austin 7 was a diminutive pre-war device whose moniker suited the world of the Tweed clad middle-class motorist living in an age where a car’s place in the pecking order could be neatly pigeon holed by its horse power. The 60’s though were all about subversion of the status quo and nothing evokes this quite like the Mini. At home equally on council estates and the driveways of country houses it crossed all social strata. Shopping car for Mum (these were the 60’s after all), rally weapon for Dad (ditto) it could not be constrained by its given name so eventually the contraction of Mini-Minor (the Morris variant) was officially adopted.

Let’s finish back with the GTO purely because this uniquely runs the other way. I remember as a youth reading that the seemingly pragmatically named 250 GTO was so called because of a mistake. The story had it that originally Signore Ferrari named it in his usual idiom by applying arcane references to the engine size in the number and then adding “Grande Tourismo Homologato” meaning “homologated grand tourer.” Fate intervened and an American magazine accidentally dropped the “H”, thus the GTO was born. Sadly the inaccuracy of this tale can be proven by online translators showing that “omologato”   means “approved” whereas “homologato” does not exist at all in the Italian language. For once the extra sheen of onomatopoeic mysticism was entirely as intended and incorrectly claimed as being bestowed by fortuitous corruption.  Having said that we have slipped into calling it the “GTO” rather than the “250” or “Omologato.”

I think it fair to say that every era of the motoring epoch so far has had a smattering of unofficial names being adopted in the vernacular with each individual case having the public decide ultimately on what best suits the car. Perhaps with all the money and expertise now spent on such things we have finally moved away from the commonly held nickname or application of the irreverent; so focussed and appropriate being the name bestowed by the factory? A shame I think.

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