The Coolest Car Names and The Stories Behind Them

The tales behind the coolest car names are often as good as the cars themselves. Discover the true stories behind the the coolest car names ever and the astounding origins of these famous motoring icons. Check out our list of the world’s most famous car names!

Motoring Automotive History Petrolhead Zone
17 February 2021

Performance, styling, even colour are designed to make an impression. Getting these three factors right can make or break the success of a car – as can its name.

The right name is crucial to a car’s success, the right name can inspire the public’s imagination while get it wrong and you’ll leave potential buyers feeling flat at best – or have to deal with a potentially ruinous translation issue at worst. That’s why best names for cars are a result of long hours in the marketing department trying to hit that one inspirational epithet which lives long in the memory.

Some of the most famous car names are animals – Viper, Stingray, Jaguar, Cobra. There are motoring icons such as Chiron, Veyron and Senna, even number and letter combos like M3, F1 or 250GT, and these well-known badges perfectly represent the iconic cars they adorn.

What’s absolutely clear is that the coolest cars deserve the coolest car names. You certainly don’t want to admit you drive a car with un unfavourable name such as the Mitsubishi Lettuce, a Vauxhall Adam or a Ford Probe – but you’d be happy to say you drive an Aston Martin Vanquish or a Dodge Charger!

Having gone back to the earliest days of motoring heritage, we’ve compiled an outstanding list of the world’s most famous car names and the stories behind them.

Ford Mustang

1965 Ford Mustang Convertible. (Photo by Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images)

Not only is the Ford Mustang one of the coolest cars ever made, but it is also the owner of one of the most famous car names. The early 60s brief from Ford’s higher-ups to legendary car man Lee Iacocca was to design a car that embodied the new-found freedom of expression of the post-war American spirit. Early name suggestions included Allegro, Aventura, Cougar, Thunderbird, Torino and Cougar (many future classic Ford names) but it was designer and executive stylist John Najjar who suggested ‘Mustang’.

He was fascinated with a World War II fighter plane called the P-51 Mustang – widely considered to be best American fighter of its age. In fact Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring allegedly said of the P-51, ‘The day I saw Mustangs over Berlin I knew the jig was up.’ In Najjar’s mind, nothing embodied the American spirit more than the plane that helped to win World War II and as such would make one of the best car names ever.

The Ford hierarchy felt the Mustang name was too closely associated with the plane and rejected the initial concept but Najjar wasn’t going to lose this fight. He proposed the same name but tied it in with the horse – the noble, untamed steed known for roaming free all over the American West. This was a concept they could use.

Account executive Frank Thomas famously said that Mustang won the day because ‘it had the excitement of wide-open spaces and was as American as hell!’ After a half-century of wondering, how did one of the coolest car names come about? Was it the plane or was it the horse? The most likely answer is a little bit of both!

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Porsche 911

A vintage 1963 Porsche 901 sports car, photographed at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Daniel Pullen/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

One of the most famous car names in the history of the automobile, the 911 defines the brand. Think Ferrari and you think of the Testarossa or the F40. Think Lamborghini and you think of the Miura or the Countach but think Porsche and it’s 911. That’s the difference, but it almost wasn’t the case…

The flagship Porsche – the successor to the stunning 356 – was unveiled as a prototype at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show as the 901. Naturally, it was a hit, 82 pre-production models were built and the finished car was presented at the 1964 Paris Auto Salon. Then they got a letter from Peugeot.

The French carmaker asserted that they had trademarked all three-digit numbers where the middle number was zero, including 901. Indeed they had already sold a number of models using that numbering convention (and still do to this day).

Porsche had already ordered the metal 9s, 0s and 1s for the badges so they simply changed 901 to 911, and one of the coolest car names in history was born.

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Lamborghini Countach

The Lamborghini Countach was styled by Marcello Gandini of the Bertone design studio, the same designer and studio that designed the Miura. (Photo by Martyn Lucy/Getty Images)

Lamborghinis have some of the coolest car names in the business. Often seen as a classic player in the great Ferrari-Lamborghini battle, the stunning 1960s Miura was named after Spain’s most famous breeder of aggressive fighting bulls, Don Eduardo Miura. The Murcielago and Reventón models were named after two of the most famous bulls, but it’s the Countach, the bedroom poster of choice for all 80s dreamers that comes with the best story.

One of the few Lamborghinis to break free from the bull-naming convention – still some of the most famous car names – the Countach was ostensibly designed at night, after hours. Ferruccio Lamborghini wanted a stable of long, fast grand tourers but the design team wanted to do something off-the-scale radical.

Working into the small hours required equal amounts of strong Italian espresso and jokes to keep up team morale. One of the guys that made the locks was, in the words of head designer Marcello Gandini, ‘two metres tall with two enormous hands’ and spoke only Piedmontese, a language more French than Italian. On seeing the mock-up of the car, he yelled ‘countach’, a Piedmontese expression of amazement, just like saying ‘oh wow!

As a joke, Gandini suggested calling the car Countach and asked mechanic Bob Wallace what the word sounded like to an Anglo-Saxon ear. He said that strangely, it worked. Without hesitation, they came up with the iconic badge and the responsibility of one of the best car names in automobile history lay in the massive hands of a giant lock-maker from Piedmont.

De Tomaso Mangusta

A 1969 De Tomaso Mangusta sits on display at Sotheby's. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

De Tomaso may not be the first name you think of when pondering the most famous Italian sports car makers. Yet the two models they made in the ‘60s and ‘70s are two of the most beautiful cars ever made with the coolest car names – the Mangusta and the Pantera. This is the story of how the Mangusta – Italian for ‘mongoose’ – got its name.

Everyone loves a behind-the-scenes drama and this story of how the Mangusta became one of the most famous car names evokes memories of the infamous slight between Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini. It prompted the latter to make incredible sports cars with some of the best names for cars and the rest is history. A similar thing happened between Argentinian Alejandro De Tomaso and American Carroll Shelby.

De Tomaso offered to help Shelby develop a race car for the Can-Am Series when Shelby discovered that his legendary Cobra – itself one of the world’s coolest car names – couldn’t compete.

De Tomaso was to develop the 7.0-litre V8 engine and Shelby sent Pete Brock to handle the design according to the race series regulations. De Tomaso had serious issues with the design of the car and allegedly failed to deliver the agreed five cars within the deadline for the 1965 Series. The deal was off and so was Shelby who joined the development team of the Ford GT40.

This was a slap in the face for De Tomaso so he went about creating one of the most fist-bitingy gorgeous supercars of the 1960s. A worthy rival to the Lamborghini Miura and not without its similarities. He also gave it one of the best names for cars, certainly one of the cleverest!

After Carroll Shelby signed with Ford, De Tomaso was so enraged he named his Giugaro-designed car the Mangusta, or mongoose. Why? Because the mongoose is one of the only animals in the world that can catch and kill cobras!

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Chevrolet Corvette

A 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

A legend of the car world and the very embodiment of American 50s hardcore muscle, the Chevy Corvette help to define the American car industry. It also gave the world one of the most iconic and certainly one of the coolest car names ever.

After World War II the concept of a true pure-breed sports car didn’t exist. However it did in Europe with the likes of the Jaguar XK120 and the Austin-Healey 100 and it was these Europeans that dominated the American sports car market. Suffice it to say, the Americans didn’t like that much.

Enter General Motors’ visionary head of design Harley Earl who suggested there was a place for an American car in Europe’s increasingly crowded sports car market. He and his team then went about designing one – one that to get noticed – and bought – had to have one of the best car names in the market.

They decided that what has become one of the most famous car names of all time should begin with C and not be an animal. Even after developing the prototype and introducing it to the public they still didn’t have a name for the production model. Turing to their own staff, GM held a competition to see if they could find a suitable name. From over 300 submissions, PR guy Myron Scott was the winner.

During World War II, ‘corvettes’ were fast, manoeuvrable strike warships and Scott thought that the name both rolled off the tongue and would appeal to American men, many of whom had served in the war. When he suggested the name to the GM higher-ups, they knew their search was at an end. The ‘Vette, which shared its nautical namesake’s attributes for speed and manoeuvrability was born and with it, with one of the most famous car names in history.

This timeless classic has become iconic and features in everything from classic lists of motoring favourites to modern screen icons, even featuring as one of the best loved Fast and Furious cars!

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Citroën DS

A photo taken on February 3, 2016 shows a 1967 Citroen DS 21 cabriolet Le Caddy on display during a sale of vintage cars and motorcycles at the Grand Palais in Paris. (Photo: JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP via Getty Images)

At first glance, DS are simply two letters that sound good together but the story of the First Lady of French motoring is a little more nuanced and gave birth to undoubtedly one of the coolest car names.

When the covers were pulled off the DS at the Grand Palais des Expositions during the 1955 Paris Motor Show, the crowd stopped in their tracks.  In the first quarter-hour after the cover came off, Citroën took 743 orders. By the end of the day they had sold 12,000. They had never seen anything so jaw-droppingly beautiful. As France was still reeling from the trauma of World War II, the Citroën DS ushered in an age of French ingenuity, design and technological advancement.

The DS needed a name to reflect its beauty and the marketing department made the perfect choice. Déesse is French for ‘goddess’ and it’s fitting it has one of the best car names since it adorns arguably one of the most stunning pieces of design ever created.

You don’t see many on the road and you see fewer on car customisation TV shows but the Goddess is one of the 20th century’s greatest cars not just for its looks but also for its futuristic mechanics. In fact it came third behind the Mini and the Ford Model T in the Car of the Century awards.

The best names for cars are ones that add to the character and theatre of the metal they adorn and the DS does exactly that.

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