You’ve heard the old expression “What’s in a name?” I was reminded of it as I was sitting on my front porch one day, watching the world go by and thinking about the names that car companies give to their new models.
When the car world was young, if manufacturers happened to build more than one model, they often began with “Model A” and progressed through the alphabet. For example, Henry Ford’s first “Model A’ was sold in 1903, and was an open, 2-seat, 2-cylinder machine. During the years 1903 to 1908, Ford progressed through Models B, C, F, K, N, R and S, before introducing the famous Model T in October of ’08. Some 15 million Model Ts were produced before it was replaced by the equally famous Ford Model A in 1928 (you’ll have to ask Henry why it wasn’t called the Model U, or X, or Z). In 1932, the 4-cylinder Ford Model B, the last of Ford’s lettered models, was introduced, along with the brand new and revolutionary Ford V-8 engine.
During the teens and twenties, many cars were named according to the number of cylinders and the horsepower. For example, the 1918 Moon models were 6-36, 6-45 and 6-66, with the first number denoting the number of cylinders and the second, the horsepower.
Other combinations of letters and numbers sufficed for most cars until the 1930s, although Reo introduced the Flying Cloud in 1927, and Studebaker, the Dictator, President and Commander in 1928. Even earlier was the Jordan, which produced the Playboy and the Silhouette starting in 1920.
Slumping auto sales due to the Great Depression inspired the real beginning of the fancy model names, which manufacturers hoped would attract buyers to the showrooms. Nash introduced the Ambassador in 1932 and the Lafayette in 1934, and Ford, the Lincoln Zephyr in 1936, while Graham had the Prosperity, Bluestreak, Cavalier and Crusader, as well as the Cord designed Hollywood.
Chrysler had the Imperial (1926), Airflow (1934), Airstream (1935),Royal (1937), and later, the New Yorker, Windsor, Newport and Crown Imperial, while Dodge and Plymouth had to make do with New Value, Beauty Winner and Luxury Liner (Dodge), and Deluxe and Road King (Plymouth).
General Motors was all over the map on model names. Buick used Standard and Master during the ’20s, and built the Marquette in 1930. In 1936, the Special, Century, Roadmaster and Limited were announced – names that were used on Buicks for many years. Oldsmobile had a Special, Defender, Autocrat and even a Baby Olds series during the teens. That was pretty much it for Olds until 1940, when the Special, Dynamic and Custom Cruiser hit dealer’s showrooms.
Cadillac, didn’t lower itself by playing the name game before WW II. GM’s luxury car stuck to series numbers, although Fleetwood and Fisher were used to denote who made the bodies. Meanwhile, Chevrolet, the low-priced GM entry, had lots of names: Classic Six, Copper Cooled, Capitol, National and International, during the teens and ’20s, and Universal, Independence, Confederate, Master Eagle, Standard Mercury (?!!), Standard, Master and Master Deluxe in the 1930s. Fleetline and Fleetmaster appeared on Chevies before the war.
After WW II, the proliferation of model names exploded. The Frazer Manhattan, Studebaker Starline, Chevy Bel Air, Dodge Wayfarer, Pontiac Silver Streak, and the hot Olds Rocket 88 and Hudson Hornet all caught the eye of this car crazy teenager. I was able back then to recognize at a glance virtually every make and model on the road.
Today, I can’t tell an Alero from an Acura, from an Aurora. They all look alike to me.
Cars, however, aren’t the only machines that have been given strange names. Even before the first cars were gleams in the eyes of the Duryea Brothers, Ransome Olds and Henry Ford, the nation’s farm machinery manufacturers gave fanciful names to their plows.
Following is a sampling of the sulky plows listed in a 1911 Farm Implement News Buyer’s Guide. Admiral, Ajax, Aunt Rhoda, Uncle Sam, Battle Axe, Best Ever, Best-of-All, Big Injun, Buster Brown, Captain Bill, Daisy, Elk, Express, Gee Whiz, Good Enough, Hummer, Jewel, Iron Negro, Klondike, Koodoo, Little Injun, Little Jap, Lone Star, Ole Olsen, Piasa Bird, Pilot, Pirate, Queen of the Prairie, Quincy Beauty, Red Bird, Rex, Robin Hood, Rough and Ready, Solid Comfort, Spinner, Stag, Success, Torpedo, Triumph, Twin Brother, Victoria, Western Star and Young American.
David Bradley sulky plows, which were sold through Sears, Roebuck catalogs were called “X-Rays,” for what reason I can’t imagine, except that the X-ray was something new.
Riding cultivators were another implement that attracted a long list of strange names. These included: Albion Hammock, Autocrat, Balance All, Ben Hur, Best Yet, Big Willie, Bobolink, Boss, Bully Boy, Busy Bee, Busy Bob, Common Sense, Corker, Corn Dodger, Crown Prince, Czar, Daniel Boone, Dead Easy, Dutch Uncle, Eastern Dandy, Fast Mail, Front Rank, Happy Thought, Hero, Hobo, Korn King and Korn Koaxer, Little Darling, Lucky Jim, Only Way, Peacock, Ping Pong, Plow Boy, Quail, Red Eagle, Sam Houston, Steel King, Teddy, Teeter Totter, The Only, Very Best, Yankee Boy, Yankee Doodle, Yankee Girl and Yankee Maid (all four Yankee models were made by the Grand Detour Plow Company).
Speaking of strange model names, Miss Nancy once owned a Chevy HHR. When we bought the thing, I asked the salesman what HHR meant. He told us it stood for “High Heritage Roofline,” not the catchiest model name I’ve ever heard.
I read someplace that Thunderbird, one of the most popular and long lasting automobile model names, was dreamed up by a Ford auto designer named Alden Giberson. For his efforts he received a new suit worth $95.00 and a $42.00 pair of pants. I wonder if the guy that came up with “Aunt Rhoda” as a name for the sulky plow made by the Sioux Falls Plow Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, got a new shirt from his Aunt Rhoda.