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What’s in a name?

Everything, as it turns out.

It is easy to forget the new XYZ 2.0T – or whatever the alpha-numeric designation of the last transportation appliance you owned was. Who remembers the model number of their last microwave? Who even knows the model number of the microwave in their kitchen, right now?

After all, it’s just an appliance.

And so have cars become.

Not all, not yet. There are still a few – that are new – that have names. Not coincidentally, they are the only ones with personality – and thus deserving of the individuation that comes with naming a thing as opposed to categorizing it.

Mustang, for instance. Say that name and everyone knows what you mean – irrespective of the particular model. The same goes – well, went – for Beetle. Say that name and practically everyone has a story, a memory.

It is hard to remember where you parked your XYZ 2.0T – especially if it is painted appliance white. There are so many just like it. Probably why, at least in part, the push-button key fob was invented. Not so much to unlock your appliance but to help you find it, among all the others.

Naming cars was once a big deal, even though less attention was not infrequently paid to the naming than should have been. Even as regards some of the great names, in terms of the automotive Hall of Fame.

Nova, for instance.

That was the name of Chevy’s new (at the time) compact (mid-sized, by the standards of our time) economy car, which made its debut in 1962 and became as common a sight on American roads back in the ’70s and ’80s as XYZ 2.0Ts are on our roads, today. The problem arose when the Nova was exported to Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico, because Nova sounds a lot like no va, which means (roughly) it doesn’t go.

Which, at least among the Novas I had any experience with, was perfectly accurate.

Then there was Banshee – a Pontiac that never made its debut, because GM higher-ups weren’t about to let Pontiac offer a two-seater with gull-wing doors that looked a lot like a Corvette take away any Corvette sales. So the Banshee was shelved, which avoided what would have been a big problem if anyone decided to look up the meaning of that name. It means harbinger of death in old Irish idiom.

Some names were just numbers. Z28, for instance. It had emotional mojo as much as Trans-Am, another name almost everyone remembers even though no Trans-Ams have been made in the last 20 years. Both worked because each was individual. Chevy never intended to use “Z28” as a car name. Rather, it was – originally – the ordering code that people in the high-performance know used to spec out a Camaro with an ensemble of road-racing equipment, which was what the original Z28 (in 1967) was all about. As word got out – and lots of orders were being placed – Z28 became a name rather than a number.

Trans-Am was a name that became a car.

One almost inevitably gets attached to things that have names, because by naming them they subtly become something more than just things. This is probably why people who raise animals for food generally don’t name them. It is easier to eat a thing than it is to eat Bessie.

Ahh, but therein lies a chicken-or-egg kind of question: do we get attached to them because they have names, or do we give them names because we’re attached to them?


6 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. They dropped Big Blocks into Novas in the mid sixties. Those cars exploded off the line.

    We used to name cars to match the car. So people loved both the name and the car.

    Then Greenies and Nader killed the performance car and the name and the car went separate ways.

    After all, how do you rename a Nova as a Slug? People wanted a Nova. Greenies gave us a Slug.

    No amount of marketing could get around that point. Maybe GM would have been better off using Truth in Advertising and renaming the Nova as Government Mandated Slug.

  2. The Pontiac Trans Am paid the Sports Car Club of America big bucks for many years. Enough that the annual national championships were funded by that plus Champion Spark Plug and Valvoline $$$. When I earned an invite in 1978 my cost of entry was $50. Today I believe it is well over a thousand, more than 3x even adjusted for inflation.

    The ’67 and ’68 Camaro Z/28’s were not badged as such. In 1969 the order code Z28* became a badge on the car. I had one, my first new car. Small block 302 rated at 290hp and actually delivered with about 375. The 290 kept the power to weight ratio under the insurance trip point.

    *General Motors uses codes starting with Z for all options.

    1. I am a Chevy fan, but I always thought the Pontiac Trans Ams were more aesthetically pleasing than their same year Camaros. Especially the front and rear grille and applied lines. Plus the 400 and 455c.i. engines were no slouches.

      But I don’t recall Pontiac having anything like a Chevy Mouse motor for power and lightness. From the Camaro Z/28 and the 302 to Grumpy Jenkins winning Pro Stock with a small block (350?) Vega, the Mouse could roar.

      1. The Firebird in Trans Am decoration was a pretty car. There was very little difference in the Firebird and the Camaro of course. I’m partial to the Z/28 edition with the all the trimmings (mine had the RS package, color keyed vinyl roof, gauge package, houndstooth check interior, cold air induction hood, and the very famous Muncie 22 – the “Rockcrusher”).

        Sure wish I’d hung on to that one.

        The 302 wasn’t a rocket off the line as it was a road racing motor. The advertised 6K RPM redline was a joke. It easily made power up to 7K. The camshaft profile kicked that motor in at about 4300 RPM. You could actually feel the power come on at that RPM.

        There are two things we can say – 1) I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself or someone else, and 2) My father had a lot of faith in good luck.

        Unfortunately we didn’t take a lot of pictures back then. But here is one after bathing. Headlights exposed for cleaning.

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