What's In A Name?

July 08, 2014

Check out a few brief back stories behind some of the most famous names in classic automobiles and feel free to share those you'd like to see profiled in future installments in the comments section below. 



When it comes to star-aligning good fortune and success, few stories in American automotive history play out better than that of the Corvette. And that includes how Chevrolet happened upon what to call the first mass produced, post-war American sports car.

As the story goes, after the naming process originally stymied GM executives a call was put out for suggestions that began with the letter “C.” Hundreds of names were submitted and considered, but the one that ultimately stuck came from Myron E. Scott, a man in GM’s public relations division.

According to the Corvette Hall of Fame website, Scott searched the “c” section of the dictionary until he stopped on the name of a small, fast and light attack ship first used by the French Navy in the 1670s. As a sleek and deadly ship that could run circles around larger carriers, destroyers and submarines, modern steel-hulled Corvettes gained renewed notoriety in WWII as escort/patrol ships and, thus, the name fit perfectly for a car originally targeted to appeal to America’s sizable population of male veterans.



Officially, the Ford Motor Company named the Mustang after the P-51 Mustang, a legendary WWII fighter plane. So what’s the deal with the horse emblem on the grille?

The most interesting (and far-fetched) explanation came just last year in a Southern Methodist University news release announcing a football rematch between the SMU Mustangs and the Michigan Wolverines. The game marked 50 years since the teams first met in Ann Arbor in 1963, the year the Ford Motor Company was set to release what would become its most popular car since the Model A. 

According to the release, Ford President Lee Iacocca attended the original game while considering other names for the car — among them Cougar, Thunderbird II, T-Bird II, Torino, Turino, and T-5. Despite the Mustangs losing 27-16, Iacocca was supposedly so inspired by the flair exhibited by the undersized team that he swept into the locker room to let the dejected team know that he was going to name a car after them.

Then-head coach Hayden Fry (who also dubiously insisted that he bought the first Mustang to ever roll off the line) remembered the episode most vividly. But a later investigation by Automotive News reporter, Nick Bunkley, failed to uncover any evidence to corroborate the claim.



Originally designed as a competitor for the Ford Mustang in 1965, the Camaro was code named “Panther.” Chevrolet ultimately decided to stick with their string of successful “c-name” cars when it came unveiling this popular American classic.

Chevrolet Merchandising Manager, Bob Lund, and GM’s Vice President Ed Rollett are credited with coming up with the name, which they discovered in a 1936 copy of Heath's French and English Dictionary. Meaning "friend and pal,” Camaro was deemed a perfect fit symbolizing the comradeship between a car and its owner.



First developed under the code name “E car” (experimental car) in 1955, the Ford Motor Company decided to go against Henry Ford’s wishes when they unveiled the supposedly advanced and much-hyped Edsel on “E-Day” in 1957. While cherished by collectors today, the car named in honor of Ford’s son has the dubious (and maybe a bit unfair) distinction of being a marketing case study in failure thanks to two years of hype, overpromising and under-delivering to the automotive-buying public and an unfortunate market downturn. 




  2. Steve Burk United States

    OK, so how did the Corvair get it's' name?

  3. Beep Beep Somewhere in the south

    No Road Runner? This is story is incomplete at best and lame at worst.

  4. David Madigan Boynton Beach FL

    How about -- ALLANTE Thanks DM

  5. Harry Radtke Sterling Heights, Mi

    Great article. I would love to have you analyze and research how various name plates came about, even the obvious, Olds, Pontiac, Plymouth and heaven forbid the MKX,the g-8 and the other indescribable names that have surfaced in the last 20 years

  6. Russ McDuffie Albuquerque, NM

    @Steve Burk - the Corvair was given it's name (as I understand) as a combination of the CORvette and BelAIR cars at the time. It was a melding of the sportiness of the Corvette and the family feel of the Bel Air line of cars. I am the proud owner of a 1965 Corvair Corsa Convertible, one of the best cars ever designed from that era.

  7. Rich United States

    I own a 1941 Plymouth Coupe. Plymouth was a type of string / twine that was used extensively on farms in the 1930 s and '40s...A friend of Chrysler , Henry Kaiser , suggested the name for the new lower priced car in the beginning, to compete with Ford, and Chevy...

  8. Wayne Canada

    What about the Beetle. Pretty hard to find anyone the whole world over that does not know that name. I have a 1971 Convertible Super Beetle and I can't take it anywhere without people wanting to talk about it, young and old alike!



  10. Gil Libin Calgary Alberta, Canada

    I own a 1972 Cougar XR7 converible which I bought new. I know there were very few convertibles made, but exactly how many Cougar convertibles were made in '72? I have only 72,000 miles on it.

  11. Kim Devlin Allen, Tx

    With regard to the Mustang, I believe that FoMoCo paid SMU for the rights to use their "running pony" as the emblem for the car. The two emblems are identical.

  12. Karen Cape Cod

    I have always loved Pontiac's growing up, my first was a firebird in 78. I now own a 79 firebird trans am would love to know how that name came about and the "screaming chicken" as hood art. Thanks,

  13. Paul Bova Stamford, CT

    I remember a story that Caroll Shelby told about the naming of the Mustang GT350. He and his team were sitting around trying to decide what they would name the new model. Finally Shelby looking out the window asked " How far do you think it is to that building over there?" Someone said "about 350 feet" That's it Shelby said " we'll call it the GT350"

  14. Car Collector Chronicles Milwaukee, WI

    The car name Mustang was taken, and without compensation one should note, by FOMOCO from Roy McCarty of WA state who designed and marketed the first Mustang automobile in 1948. One may read all about this turn of events in the July, 2014 issue of Car Collector Chronicles, found online at http://www.scribd.com/D_Yaros

  15. Tom Miller Cleveland

    The Toyota "Tercel" is named after a bird of prey ( pronounced Tur-sul), although everyone pronounces the car as "Tur-sell."

  16. Jack Weiszer Portage, Michigan

    Good article, but I would like to know who the dimwit was that named the Mercur XRATI4. And why.32 What a god awful name.

  17. Tom Wisconsin

    So what about America's first "sports Luxury" car that for it's first few years old sold and out performed the Corvette? I believe every true Auto enthusiast especially those with knowledge of Classics can give the answer without really having to think about it. How did it get it's catchy name that still excites people today and surprisingly many in the younger generations considering that after a few years of "Retro". The marquee has not been produced for almost a decade?

  18. Robert Raymond western massachusetts

    Great article on how these iconic cars got their names. For those of us who are owners of classics like the Corvair, I have a 63' Corvair Spyder convertible, Russ, thank you for that nice bit of trivia. The "Spyder" name as I am told was to give the car a "euro" flair.

  19. Hal Nelson Chandler, AZ

    The early Plymouths had the Mayflower as their emblem...that seems a more likely source for the name than string, imo.

  20. john Boston

    And the "Dart"? I am curious as the name is emblazoned in several locations (8?) on my '64 model!

  21. Jerry Brinnehl tinley park il.

    eldorado biarritz?

  22. MaryAnn United States

    Beep Beep is right; the story is incomplete. What's the reason for the horse on the Mustang if it's named for the P51?

  23. Tom Wisconsin

    Interesting read where you can find where some of the Ford products got their names and interesting facts such as who at Ford was really responsible for the Iconic Mustang and which cars Lee was really connected with. The book is "THE FORDS" by PETER COLLIER and DAVID. HOROWITZ, published by SUMMIT BOOKS. I highly recommend it.

  24. Pete Camerota Weeksville, NC

    For Gil Libin: According to The Standard Catalog of American Cars (1946-1975 edition), there were 1929 XR-7 convertible Cougars in 1972.

  25. Don San Francisco

    Tom, what car are you referring to as "America's first sports luxury car"?

  26. trent usa

    I have a dvd of an interview with Lee Iacocca. In it he says the mustang was named after the horse and that its a myth it was named after the p51. Since he was in chage of Ford at thr time of the Mustangs birth he should knoe.

  27. Tom Wisconsin

    Don. The classification as "America's first Sports Luxury", was given to a car that many Auto Writers of the era called "A true American Hot Rod". But Ford wanting to appeal to a larger market dubbed it "Sports Luxury". Undoubtedly it was THUNDERBIRD. There was an article in a June 1957 Car magazine about testing America 's Fastest Two cars "The Supercharged Ford Thunderbird and The Supercharged Studebaker Hawk". A friend outside Detroit has a copy and likes to read his favorite line in the Magazine, "The Hawk can catch the Bird but cannot get past" Companies like Isky, Edelbrock, Holley and others made a lot of money making parts to help the Chevrolets and most everyone else catch those old Ford 'Y' Block motors, especially the '57's.

  28. Dan Marinacci West Chester, PA

    And here I thought the name Camaro came from CAr Of MARinacci!

  29. BrentF Toronto

    Re: "According to the Corvette Hall of Fame website, Scott searched the ā€œcā€ section of the dictionary until he stopped on the name of....Corvettes gained renewed notoriety in WWII." Speaking of dictionaries, I think you need to look up the meaning of the word notoriety, as it means "the state of being famous or well known for some bad quality or deed." Is that what you intended to say?

  30. michael L Cary, NC

    @ Radtke many of the car companies today are named after the founder, Dodge Brothers, Henry Ford, Ransom Eli Olds (Oldsmobile), Louis and Arthur Chevrolet, Walter P Chrysler. Plymouth was named after landing of the Mayflower.

  31. Jim Kenyon Connecticut

    If like to add that I learned Chevrolet named the Corvair after their two most popular cars of the period... The Corvette and the Belair. I own several Corvairs as well as an Oldsmobile 442. The latter was initially named to tout the 4 speed, 4 bbl, Dual exhaust configuration that was so hot in 1964. All 1964 442's were 4 speeds. An auto trans was not available in the muscle car variant. If you wanted an automatic, you had to go with the F-85 or Cutlass model, which you could get with a V8, 4 bbl and dual exhaust. You could even add some of the "W" options that the 442 included such as Positraction, special suspension upgrades, steering upgrades, etc.

  32. Will G Mass

    To Michael L, the name Plymouth did in fact come from the name of a twine/string that was very popular and well known at the time.