Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

THE NAME GAME

A RECENT brouhaha in the name game got me thinking about questionable automotive monikers. Infiniti has been on again/off again about its 560-hp Q50 Eau Rouge, this sports sedan named after the iconic flat-out (for the brave) uphill sweeper at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps race circuit.

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Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge.

Whether the car reaches production or not, it’s likely to have a different name. Owners of Spa-Francorchamps made it clear to Infiniti that the name Eau Rouge was not available.

It’s curious that, back in the 1960s, the Auto Club de l’Ouest, keepers of the Le Mans flame, made no similar carping about the Pontiac LeMans, variously Le Mans and, in explanatory ads, “Le Manz.”

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This mid-size Pontiac was in production from 1962 to 1981, the name later applied to a subcompact built for GM by Daewoo 1988 – 1993.

The matter of naming the Chevrolet Beretta compact, built between 1987 and 1996, was eventually marked by amiability, though not at first. Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta, the Italian makers of Beretta handguns, shotguns and rifles, sued GM for trademark infringement.

Things were settled out of court in 1989 with an exchange of symbolic gifts. Chevy gave the Italian company a Beretta GTU coupe; Beretta gave Chevy a pair of Beretta shotguns.

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Beretta artistry. Image from www.Cabelas.com.

Between you and me, I believe Chevy got the better deal. Louis Chevrolet’s documentation goes back to 1911. Bartolomeo Beretta’s, to 1526.

Some of GM’s problems with the name game have simply been matters of translation. The Buick LaCrosse was named after the stick-and-ball game of the Native American Iroquois nation. I suspect no one within the company knew that la crosse is also Quebecois slang for self-abuse.

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2014 Buick LaCrosse.

Chevy confidently named its Nova after the astronomical phenomenon showing a sudden increase in brightness. Alas, the word also sounds like no va, Spanish for “no go.” (Others debunk this tale because the Spanish nova and no va are pronounced differently. Nevertheless….)

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1960 Elva Courier Sports. Image from www.slatford.co.uk.

By contrast, when Englishman Frank Nichols founded a company to fabricate low-cost sports/racing cars, he wisely chose the name Elva, from the French elle va, “she goes.” And Elvas do.

Japanese carmakers have a special knack for car names. In its home market, the Nissan Z sports car has always been known as the Fairlady.

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1960 Datsun Fairlady.

Datsun selected the name Fairlady for its sports car in 1960, when My Fair Lady was a Broadway show with international stature.

Mazda was less successful in applying a literary source. Back in 1999, it marketed a clone of the Suzuki Kei as the Mazda Laputa.

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1999 Mazda Laputa.

The name Laputa comes from Jonathan Swift’s 1726 book, Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver discovers a flying island whose inhabitants could maneuver in any direction through magnetic levitation.

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Gulliver discovers a levitating island, Laputa, in his travels, 1726.

Not a bad image for a kei car (Japan’s nimble smallest car class; see http://wp.me/p2ETap-2cc).

However, la puta is also Spanish for a woman of ill repute.

I suspect they’re sorry they didn’t choose something simple and charming, like the Daihatsu Lovibond Rocky. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015

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