During the Barrett Jackson car auctions at the various locations each year, you hear the guys in the booth refer to a cars’ nickname and I always wonder about the back story behind that name. I decided to compile my Top 5 car nicknames and see if I could decipher the riddles on a few of these………hope you enjoy my favorites!
(Photo I took of an original Shelby Cobra at the World of Wheels Show)
- The Judge (Pontiac GTO) The Pontiac GTO was built from 1964 – 1974 and landed right in the middle of the “muscle car” era of the 60’s and 70’s. Even though the car was enjoying success, a new model was introduced in 1969 called “The Judge” and that name was used in many new advertising slogans, like “All rise for the Judge” and “The Judge can be bought”. After the car hit the streets with its great looks and ground pounding performance, it became clear that this car had been built to Judge all other muscle cars of the day. Just to make sure you were noticed, the most popular color was Carousel Red (a bright shade of orange) and emblazoned with a decal package written “The Judge” on the front quarter panel for all to see.
- The Beetle/Bug (Volkswagen Type 1) This German automobile was produced from 1938 to 2003 and was intended to be a cheap/affordable mass produced car for the people to enjoy driving on the newly formed road network. Adolf Hitler worked with Porsche in the development and design of this car and it was an instant hit. The car quickly became known as Käfer, (which is German for beetle) and I’m sure you can see why from the overall shape of the car. The Volkswagen Beetle or Bug as it’s also been called is one of those cars that everyone loves and it even has a cult type following everywhere you go. Most folks who have owned one seem to have many fond memories in this car and some still own their original cars today.
- Jeep (Willys/Ford GP) The Willys MB US Army Jeep and the Ford GPW were built from 1941 to 1945 as a small 4x4 utility vehicle to be used as a military personnel carrier during World War II. The Willys version was called the GP (for Government Purpose) and the Ford was called GPW (for Government Purpose Willys). How the vehicle got the name Jeep has many origins but I’ll cover a couple for you to decide. Many of the early Army mechanics used the term “jeep” when referring to an untested or untried “prototype” vehicle. Others say that the term was used because of the popular comic strip/cartoon character Eugene the Jeep. He was Popeye’s mysterious/small “jungle pet” who was able to quickly move around between dimensions and seem to always be able to solve problems and get out of sticky situations. The story goes that the Army soldiers quickly coined the term “Jeep” to describe this vehicle after seeing it mimic these same abilities in the field. Nevertheless, the Jeep became one of the most popular off-road vehicle ever and still captures a large portion of SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) sales today.
- Godzilla (Nissan GT-R) The GT-R is a sports car produced by Nissan (of Japan) beginning in 2007 and is still being made today. This incredibly quick twin turbo V6 car has become a benchmark type sports car that all other modern sports car makers strive to match. When it hit the US streets in 2008 the car immediately earned a nickname that fits so well……Godzilla! The heritage of this car came from the Nissan Skyline GT-R produced in Japan from 1969 to 1974 and also between 1989 and 2002. These early cars carried the street name Godzilla because it was large and in charge and tearing up everything in its path. Using all four wheels and 545 HP to power this car from zero to sixty in a mere 3.2 seconds, this car killed the competition worldwide. With numerous lap time records at the famed Nürburgring track in Germany, it was logical see how the green lizard was eating up all the other sports cars who attempted to challenge this Japanese giant! The current GT-R record setting time of 7:18 minutes is 9th fastest of ALL time (Production Street Legal vehicles) and the new 2014 Nismo Edition GT-R is rumored to break that record.
- Cobra (Shelby AC) The Shelby AC Cobra was built from 1961 to 1967 and still remains one of the most recognized and sought after sports cars in the World. This one is not as simple, but the Cobra story begins with the British car builder AC Cars in the early 60’s; they were using a Bristol straight 6 engine in their small two-seater cars. Carroll Shelby sent a request to AC asking if they would modify one of the cars to fit a V8 under the hood and AC accepted the challenge. After some dead ends with Chevy, Carroll finally got Ford to deliver him one of their new 260 cubic in. V8’s (a new lightweight high performance small block V8 engine) to be installed in the car. As testing and development continued it was easy to see how this car was going to be something special. These cars would go on to set records and win a ton of races……making Carroll Shelby a house hold name! Now what did Carroll intend to call this new little hot-rod? The name Cobra is said to have come to Carroll in a dream, he kept a pen a notepad by his bed and many times thoughts and ideas he had during the night would be jotted down to review the next morning. The story is told that he had a dream during the night where he saw the name Cobra on the front of his new car. After waking up the next morning he saw this name and decided that would be the name of this new lightweight car he was producing. But wait- there is more to the story- as it turns out Crosley (an engine maker in the early 50’s) had built some special Copper Brazed (CoBra) parts for a new lighter weight generator engine used during the war. So Shelby tells that they ran into some legal issues with the copyright of the name Cobra as it turned up that Crosley had called their engine a cobra. However, by the time Shelby tried to copyright the name it had been lost in the shuffle of various companies and trademark renewals. In the end Shelby was able to copyright and use the name on his famous two-seater sports car and the rest is left in the history books.
Now this list is just a few of the car names that were the most interesting to me. There were so many other names that had interesting stories. Maybe I will take some of your favorites and do more research and work on a 2nd top 5 list.