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Legends and LeBarons:
The Best and Worst Car Names

December 5, 2012 by Matt

Car Nameplates Emblems Badges

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but I wanted to underscore some of the better and worse car naming efforts over the past 50 years.

Highlights include:

  • Jaguar E-Type – There’s nothing quite so British sounding as a “-Type” suffix on a car’s name, and the ’60s icon exuded British-ness from every sheetmetal gap. The name also drew a connection to Jaguar’s then-recent endurance racing triumphs with the C- and D-Type.
  • Acura Legend – What better way to spearhead Japan’s first foray into the American luxury market than calling your car, with a touch of hubris, the Legend? (It’s legendary! Already?) In spite of Acura’s slight naming overreach, the car was a success, and it will be said “Acura Legend” rolls off the tongue particularly well. It was a shame when the automaker decided to “de-name” its cars and adopt a alphanumeric-only nomenclature scheme.
  • Audi RS4 – Okay, “RS4” just sounds like a cruise missile designation: “Captain, we’re approaching the fleet of aircraft carriers under their radar cover.” “Roger that; launch the RS4s and let’s head back to base!” Perfect.
  • Plymouth Barracuda – In perhaps the best decade for American car names—the ’60s—when automakers were a bit more brave with their names and didn’t subject a sanitized list to dozens of focus groups, the ‘Cuda stands out, sounding for all the world like the cammy idle coming from the Hemi V8 rumbling under the shaker hood.
  • Ford Mustang – Ford captured the “horse theme” and drew a connection to the P-51 Mustang of WW2 renown, an aircraft then only 20 years old and thus fresh in the memories of many at the time of the car’s release.
  • Toyota Avalon – Succinct, easy to pronounce, and perfectly conveys the car’s key attribute: A heavenly, cloud-like driving atmosphere. Spot-on.
  • Audi Nuvolari quattro – Audi has had a string of beautifully-named (and achingly gorgeous) concept cars, with monikers borrowed from icons of the firm’s pre-war racing history, such as Avus quattro and Rosemeyer.
  • TVR Griffith – Props to TVR to mining the “mythological beast theme” with cars like the Griffith, the Chimaera and the Cerbera. The theme is chock full of fearsome creatures whose character seems to transfer particularly well to the late Blackpool automaker’s fast but flawed supercars.

And there have certainly been names that left much to be desired:

  • Triumph Dolomite – It sounds like a vitamin drink. Or something a geologist would be fascinated by. One saving grace, I suppose, was the fact that the name was able to be easily morphed into a nickname: “Dolly.”
  • Chrysler LeBaron – Afflicted with the curse of the “Le-” prefix, much like the Buick LeSabre. Quite apart from the cars themselves, the prefix reeks of an American car company attempting to tart-up an otherwise unremarkable effort by giving it (what they thought was) a foreign-sounding name. Pathetic.
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – A pirate’s dessert confection. Awkward and contrived. No thanks.
  • Oldsmobile Achieva – The absolute worst offender in the category I’ll call “Taking Normal Words and Adding an “A” to the End of Them.” Other members of this category include the Toyota Supra, Nissan Maxima and Altima, Acura Integra and Hyundai Elantra. You really can’t try a little harder to come up with something original?
  • Volkswagen Touareg – For your car to be a success, it helps for the buying public to be able to pronounce your car’s name without a lesson from the dealer, and without fear of embarrassment (“You got a what?”) on subsequent tries. The Touareg and to a lesser degree its later stablemate the Tiguan fail this test.
  • McLaren MP4-12C – It sounds like they actually never got around to naming the car, but simply went with the internal prototype code. The combination of numbers and letter seems so arbitrary that it actually detracts from the “special-ness” of the car—an important quality in a supercar. Furthermore, a car like the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 was able to get away with it because its nickname, the Daytona, superseded all else. But the MP4-12C has no such nickname. McLaren has recently decided to truncate the name to “12C.” Better, but again, hardly special.

What am I missing? Post a comment with a car name (or two or three) you think is particularly apt or inept.

Filed under: Miscellaneous


  1. Ryan says:

    While the vehicle itself is very polarizing (I personally love it and it may be my wife’s next car) the name is simple, yet illustrative and it flows off the tongue quite nicely as well… Ford Flex!

    And I completely agree with you on the McLaren. It’s such a shame they “tarnished” that beautiful looking and performing vehicle with such a lazily selected, IMHO, name.

    • Matt says:

      I’m actually on the fence about the vehicle itself. Don’t love it; don’t hate it. :) But the name is good; I agree. Ford’s kind of unique among automakers at partially (not completely) starting the names of particular classes of vehicles with a specific letter: Sedans with “F” (Flex, Fusion, Focus, etc) and SUVs with “E” (Escape, Explorer, Expedition, etc).

      As for McLaren, it looks like they may improve their naming “convention” (if you can call one car a convention) with their upcoming P1 hyper-exotic. Still not the most romantic name, but it’s an improvement.

  2. areopagitica says:

    The Ford Aspire. Ass Spire? If it aspired to be a car it fell pathetically short.
    The Chevy Caprice. Crap Piece? You want an unruly car, given to whims?
    For that you could go with a FIT, rhymes with Shit.
    The Olds Intrigue. A subversive plot? Or is it a verb instead of a noun?
    The Toronado — not Coronado, not Tornado, maybe a bull that swims?
    Olds Ciera, couldn’t be a Dodge Sierra so they had to invent a new spelling.
    Buick Reatta, Miata, SIATA. The Camry. The Retcho, I mean Echo.
    The Plymouth Satellite Sebring. The Ford Telstar. Bet you didn’t know
    Ford Electronics actually inspired a car named after their communications
    satellite, didja?

  3. areopagitica says:

    Humber Super Snipe. The Mazda Scrum. (was it half a car?) The Veloster.
    The Chevy Citation, just what the Officer was writing you.

  4. areopagitica says:

    Matt forgot that Toyota has all sorts of C names: Corolla, Corona, Carina, Cressida, Camry, there were others besides that I overlooked.

  5. John says:

    The McLaren MP4-12C (name only) has always reminded me of the 80’s German immigrant – the Merkur XR4Ti

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