Jebediah Wilbury: Smell On Wheels

(Editor’s note: this is part of a series of postings written by “The Bloggering Wilburys.” See this article for details.)

The car business is big business. Making something that you expect folks to fork over five or more figures for, and then trust themselves, their lives, their family’s lives, and their public image to is hard work.

And even if you make a great car, you gotta give it a great name. You could make the best car in the world, but who the hell would ride around in a Honda Hemorrhoid?

So the carmakers put a lot of time and effort into naming their cars. And it don’t always pay off.

There’s an old story that Henry Ford wanted a whole new line of cars. He was stuck for a name, though, so he hired a bunch of people to suggest names. One poet gave him over a hundred, and the best of the whole sorry batch was “Utopian Turtletop.” Old Henry took the list, tossed it in the circular file, and named the whole shebang after his late son.

Edsel Ford.

Anyway, there have been some really dumb names for cars. I guy I know has a new Chevy Cobalt. It’s bright yellow. And a while ago, Chrysler put out twin cars, the Dodge Shadow and the Plymouth Sundance. Those names aren’t so bad, but when they decided to make a convertible out of one of them, which do you think got the clip job? Here’s a hint: it wasn’t the one people might associate with Robert Redford.

And I’d like to take a brick to the heads of some people at Chevrolet. A “caprice” is a whim. It ain’t got no business on the ass end of the car that wore it — ain’t nothing whimsical about a car that comes in on the high side of two tons of steel and glass and plastic.

Ford once put out a roller skate with baby-stroller tires. It was a version of a tiny Mazda, and they called it the “Aspire.” Like it hoped to some day be a real car.

Ford also once put out a little sporty thing they hoped would appeal to women. They called it the Probe — nothing too Freudian there. I was waiting for Mercury to put out a version they could call the Speculum.

And just to kick Ford once more, they once they had a great idea and named a car after the ships that hunted and sank submarines during World War II. After all, it worked great for the Corvette. They kinda overlooked that in the decades since the war, the term “Escort” was now more associated with prostitutes.

Sometimes the names are too damned good. Acura had a great car with a great name in the Legend. But then the marketing weenies got nervous that more people knew the car name than the brand name, so they killed it. In fact, they killed the whole name business and replaced them with random letters and numbers. The Integra became the RS, the Legend the RL, and they just haven’t been the same.

Cars used to have great names. Nowadays, the only ones that have any real life in them are the ones still left over from the old days. Most everything else is a made-up word, a misspelled word, or some unpronounceable mixture of letters and numbers. (Yeah, Mercedes, I’m looking at you. BMW, Jaguar, Volvo, Infiniti — don’t look too smarmy. The shoe fits you, too.)

Wanna know why you’re in the toilet, Detroit? This ain’t the reason, but it’s gotta be a part of it.

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