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Whatchamacallits on Wheels

We were talking about car names.
“I don’t like cars with ‘V’ names.” Me speaking: Generalizing on a crotchety prejudice.
“You don’t like ‘Viper’?”
“Viper’s different. It’s a real word applied to a car. It’s the made-up ‘V’ names I don’t like, or ones that sound made up. Like Volvo. But for that matter I don’t really like Viper much either.”

OK, so Volvo means “I roll” in Latin or some such. (Actually, I think it means “I’m very safe so I can mosey out in front of you whenever I want.”) Anyway, it sounds made up to me and I don’t like it. I don’t like Vega and Vigor and Valiant either. Even Veyron though the car is fabulous. VW, as initials, is sort of OK.

But mostly I don’t like what Suzuki did to a perfectly good American name with its “V” word replacement. Sidekick, a name with open-space, friendly connotations was replaced with Grand V-something, a name I can’t be bothered remembering. (No, not Viagra, but close.) Apparently this V name means nothing in any language so it is acceptable worldwide. That’s modern car-think.

I don’t like it.

An admirable thing about SUVs have been their names. Generally rugged and descriptive they ring with appropriateness: 4Runner, Pathfinder, Explorer, Navigator, Expedition, Blazer, Bronco, Trooper, Rodeo, Tracker, Discovery, Land Rover etc. Even those named for Indian tribes – Cherokee, Navajo – sound right. And the place names – Yukon, Dinali. The SUV record is certainly better than the sedan names, increasingly computer-generated.

So Sidekick is a perfect moniker for a small, efficient, useful SUV. I’ve got one in my driveway. A 1993 two-door softtop version. Its license plate says PODNAH. (I think I’ve mentioned I had considered BRENNAN or GABBY, the ultimate sidekicks, but I settled for the obvious.)

I realize that it gets progressively harder to come up with new names for cars that are not negatives in some part of the world market. Or that someone doesn’t already have a claim to. The idea seems to be to create a name and let time and performance fill it with meaning. Golly, Camry seems downright comfortable with significance now. Miata sounds even more sprightly Italian/Japanese than when the name was invented. (It is also the RX-5 but I don’t call it that.)

And we turned to alphanumerics versus word names, meaningless or not. Which letters are best – X, J, Q, L, M, C, Z, E, K, T, S, R – hey, make your own list of hot ones. Some programmer-type could probably come up with a weighted list of letters most often used in car names and those slighted. (Where would W and Y fit I wonder?)

We agreed that letters that stand for something are best. Like GTO, at least it meant something when Ferrari used it (Gran Turismo Omologato). Pontiac just up and borrowed it though I recall no Pontiacs ever being homologated as a grand touring race car. (But then General Motors does have this sneaky penchant for bouncing its image off of other people’s trophies. For shame.)

Some alphanumerics are easily remembered; some are not. I for one tend to recall names more readily than numbers (I can still recall old New York phone numbers with exchanges like Chelsea, Pennsylvania, Butterfield etc. and forget pure numbers.)

And of course there’s the matter of how “RL” replaced “Legend” at Acura. What were they thinking? They said that “Legend” was overwhelming the Acura name. That’s right, if something is successful kill it before it gets out of hand. So never mind what Juliet enunciated from her balcony, a rose by any other name – call it Clyde - is no longer a rose. (Send her two dozen red Clydes.) And please stop using computer-generated “V’ names on cars.

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Hi Denise. Sure to be a popular topic.
You probably remember Ford’s Mekur (bad enough to start with) XR4-TI. I though that wsa the limit until Subaru’s WRX-STI.
My pet peeve is the overuse of the letter “Z” ever since Chevrolet took it from their RPO list and stuck it on a Camaro’s cheek. I guess the plain “302” the first year was too subtle. Detroit doesn’t do subtle.
Honda is the latest offender with the CR-Z.
The Italians get a pass for Zagato.

Posted by Dick Stewart on November 26, 2011






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