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The Stories Behind 20 Iconic Car Model Names

A car name can mean a lot. It can also mean very little. In the day of the wildly self-serious car commercial, hardly less bold in its equation of product to life-or-death importance than the ethereal cologne commercials starring Johnny Depp in 10,000 scarves, it can be hard to imagine that a car model’s name might be anything more than a buzzword conjured up by a think-tank surveying Nielsen chumps at a roundtable.

But some cars breach the line between consumer product and piece of art, and are more likely to be named with the utmost care. Those are the names that are most interesting, rooted in fascinating stories, the passions of their creators. What’s in a name? When it comes to some cars, the answer is: a whole lot.

1. De Tomaso Pantera

Alejandro de Tomaso was a fiery Argentine car designer who wanted to take on the big dogs. How better to do so then with a pack of ferocious creatures of his own? The producer of moderately-priced super cars therefore named his vehicles after beasts, and set out to take down the likes of Ford, Ferrari and Lamborghini.

No, we’re not talking about the metal band from the ’80s and ’90s. De Tomaso’s flagship supercar was the Pantera, which was produced from 1971 to 1993. The name is a clear cognate, the Italian word for “Panther.” A collaboration between Ford Motor and the inscrutable Alejandro De Tomaso, the Pantera was much cheaper than its Italian Supercar brethren, and was not of the same super-high quality. Legend has it that the King, Elvis Presley, owned a Pantera in the 1970s. One day, it wouldn’t start, so he retrieved a hand gun and in frustration, slayed the big cat.

2. Ferrari Dino

Though it never carried the prancing horse logo on its livery, the Dino was a marque that was produced by Ferrari from 1968 to 1976. The model was named to honor Enzo Ferrari’s son, Alfredo, was was affectionately known as “Alfredino” or just “Dino.” Dino died of muscular dystrophy at age 24. In his hospital bed, he was able to describe a small V6 coupe to engineer Vittorio Jano. In his memory, Jano and Ferrari created a line of lower-cost sports car to compete with the Porsche 911.

3. Porsche Carrera

The first Porsche Carrera was the Type 547 four-camshaft engine designed by Ernst Fuhrmann, the chairman of Porsche AG from 1972 to 1980. The name in general refers to racing, but specifically comes from the Carrera Panamericana Mexican endurance race, which Porsche won often with its 550 Spyder models. Watchmaker Tag Heuer and Porsche actually share that common ancestor; Heuer also named its Carrera series of watches after the race.

4. Lotus Elyse

Lotus’s little supercars have a penchant for the letter “e.” The Eleven, the Elan, the Evora, the Esprit, the Exige. The pattern began with a model called “the Eleven.” The marketers realized that the name might be easily confused with Roman numerals and therefore pronounced as “two,” if it was written using digits. So they spelled it out – and the theme stuck. No Lotus model is better known than the Elyse. Like Enzo Ferrari naming the Dino for his son, Romano Artioli named the little super car Lotus Elyse after his granddaughter, Elisa Artioli. Romano Artioli no longer owns the Norfolk company (the conglomerate that owns Lotus) but the Elyse is still in production.

5. Ford Mustang

The legendary pony car that is still pervasive, more than a half-century after it was first introduced. Everything about the beloved Mustang is iconic, including the logo emblazoned on its grill, of the wild horse in full gallop, emblematizing the blazing speed in the American classic car. But some suggest that the car was not named for the horse, but actually a WWII plane. Designer John Najjar says that he first suggested the name Mustang in reference to the P-51 Mustang fighter plane from World War II, rather than the horse. Lee Iacocca, who was in charge of the project, disagrees, and says that they were deliberately going along with the trend of naming cars after animals.

6. Lamborghini Miura

With his third model, Ferruccio Lamborghini paid tribute to the man behind the bulls. The Miura was named after the legendary breeder Don Eduardo Miura, who was known to produce the most challenging fighting bulls in all of Spain. Miura was thrilled when he learned that the car would be given his family name. The fourth Lamborghini Miura was unveiled at his ranch in 1966.

7. Ferrari Testa Rossa

The Ferrari 500 TR was first car to bear the legendary Testa Rossa name. It succeeded the Ferrari Mondial, and eclipsed its competition on the race track, winning 10 World Sports Car Championship races, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1958, 1960, and 1961. In 1984, Ferrari introduced the Testarossa (Type F110), which is a much different, 12-cylinder mid-engine sports car that was in production from 1984 – 1996. The name “Testarossa” means “redhead” in Italian.

8. Lamborghini Countach

The razor-sharp Countach is one of Lamborghini’s all-time classics. The beloved model is one of only a few that stray from the pasture, and don’t have a bullish moniker. Instead, a moment of shock is said to have spawned the name of the legendary car from the 1970s and 1980s. An apocryphal anecdote avers that designer Nuccio Bertone, upon seeing the Countach’s wild design, shouted the word, a Piedmontese slang term that basically means: Holy shit!

9. Pagani Huayra

The Pagani Huayra is also made to run like the wind. The Huayra’s name refers to Huayra-Tata, the “Father of Wind,” a Quechuan god from the Andean region who is responsible for the directions of the wind. Huayra-Tata was the cause of hurricane winds and fertilizing rains, a bringer of destruction and creation.

10. Chevy Corvette

The first mass-produced post-war American sports car, the Chevy Corvette holds a special place in the American garage, and in American culture at-large. The name for one of the most iconic racing cars in American history, the Corvette, derives from the name for a small warship. It is the smallest class of vessel in battle. When GM was seeking a name for their new model, they asked their employees to submit suggestions. Out of 300 names suggested, Myron E. Scott’s was the winner: Corvette it would be. Scott thought (rightly) that the nautical name would appeal to the men who were returning from the war, many of whom were naval soldiers. The choice of “Corvette” also led to aquatic variations on the model, like the Corvette Mako Shark and Sting Ray.

11. De Tomaso Mangusta

The less well-known of De Tomaso’s line, the Mangusta was in production for only four years. Its name, “mangusta” is Italian for “mongoose.” The origin? Well, Mongooses (mongeese?) feed on snakes, specifically: cobras. The brazen intention of the De Tomaso Mangusta was to replace the Shelby Cobra. However, Tomaso and Carroll Shelby were personal friends, so the rivalry was mostly in good fun. Either way, the Mangusta did not succeed in its goal to bite the snake.

12. Lamborghini Diablo

The Lamborghini Diablo is another model that belongs to the pantheon of great Lambos. The Diablo was not named for a Miura bull, but named for a vicious bull that was raised by the Duke of Veragua in the 19th century. The namesake Diablo fought in a legendary bullfight in 1869, finally being killed by the matador known as El Chicorro in a battle that lasted for several hours.

13. McLaren Senna

The McLaren Senna is mid-engine sports car released in 2018. The car is named for the legendary F1 driver Ayrton Senna, who raced with the McLaren Formula One Team between 1988 and 1993 Formula 1 seasons, winning three Formula One World Driver’s Championship titles and thirty-five Formula One Grand Prix. Senna passed away after a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix, on May 1, 1994. Senna’s story was immortalized in the 2010 documentary of the same name.

14. Maserati Ghibli

Maserati “Ghibli” has been the name for three different models in Maserati’s history: a V8 grand tourer that was produced from 1966 to 1973, the AM336, a V6 twin-turbo coupé made from 1992 to 1997, and the M157, which has been made since 2013. Ghibli was the name given to Italian scouting airplanes that flew during WWII, but originally, the term refers to a hot desert wind in the Libyan desert, a name that implies speed and heat – two things you could associate with Maserati.

15. Lamborghini Huracán

The replacement for the Gallardo, Lamborghini’s Huracán might seem like a simple translation. Hurricane, right? Actually, the name refers to Huracán, a bull known for its “outstanding courage and strong sense of attack” that fought in 1879.

16. Porsche Targa

The Porsche 911 Targa was named for the Targa Florio, an open road endurance automobile race which was run in the mountains of Sicily from 1904 to 1977.

17. Lamborghini Islero

Islero was a powerful bull that gored and killed bullfighter Manolete on August 28, 1947, in Andalusia, Spain. Known for his powerful right horn, he planted it into Manolete’s femoral artery, causing him to bleed to death.

18. Pagani Zonda

Pagani initally planned to name this model the “Fangio F1” in honor of Formula 1 champion Juan Manuel Fangio. Instead, they named it Zonda in reference to the foehn wind that takes place on the eastern slope of the Andes, in the mountains above Argentina. Pagani initally planned to name this model the “Fangio F1” in honor of Formula 1 champion Juan Manuel Fangio. Instead, they named it Zonda in reference to the foehn wind that takes place on the eastern slope of the Andes, above Argentina.

19. Lamborghini Murciélago

Murciélago was a Navarra fighting bull, who endured 90 sword strokes in an October 5, 1879 before being spared in battle with matador Rafael “El Lagartijo” Molina Sanchez. The name also means “bat” in Spanish. Impressed, Don Miura brought Murciélago into the Miura line, siring him with 70 cows. Nice.

20. Maserati Levante

Like the Ghibli, the Maserati Levante SUV also has a wind-based cognomen. According to Maserati, Levante’s name refers to the “warm, Mediterranean wind that can change from mild to gale force in an instant, mirroring the character of the first Maserati SUV”.

The History And Evolution Of Car Logos

Have you ever wondered why Ferrari’s logo is the prancing horse? Hopefully after reading this novel, you’ll be familiar with Lamborghini’s affinity for bulls. But have you ever wondered about the meanings behind other car logos? Check out the history and evolution of car logos, and get educated.