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New york times rabbit exits, as do most animal names.4 3_09


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New york times rabbit exits, as do most animal names.4 3_09

  1. 1. Rabbit Exits, as Do Most Animal Names - Wheels Blog - NYT... April 3, 2009, 5:00 pm Rabbit Exits, as Do Most Animal Names By Phil Patton The 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit. Volkswagen has announced that it will no longer sell its bread-and-butter car in the United States as the Rabbit and will return to the Golf nameplate. The change is a reminder of how few animal names remain on cars. Yes, Impala is still going strong; it has been a Chevrolet model since 1958. But cars now often seem to carry names and numbers generated by computers. Once, there were more powerful, totemic animal names that lent cars personality. The auto-animal may have begun with radiator ornaments, with bulldogs and flying swans and eagles. Animal names for cars are nearly as old as the horseless carriage itself, but today there are surprisingly few. One theory why comes from Timothy Malefyt, an anthropologist who explores the meanings of brands and names as vice president and director of cultural discoveries for the advertising agency BBDO New York. He suggests that animal names have a special function in branding. “Anthropologists claim that distinguishing things can come from estrangement, or ‘making strange’ the familiar,” says Mr. Malefyt. “A powerful way to accomplish this is by animating inanimate objects. This was the case for cars that evoked mythical places, like “Eldorado” or mythical animals like “Mustang.” 2 of 16 8/12/09 5:12 PM
  2. 2. Rabbit Exits, as Do Most Animal Names - Wheels Blog - NYT... The 1968 Ford Mustang. Today, he says, luxury brands tend to use numbers in their naming, to focus attention on the brand itself rather than the model. Mass brands tend toward personalized names like animals. “What’s interesting with the numbers game now and most luxury cars follow this, is that we witness the greater working of the parent Brand,” he says. Cadillac, for example, shifted from names like El Dorado and Seville to letter designations like CTS and STS in 2001. “Luxury cars tend to letter or number themselves, while most mass-market cars do not,” says Mr. Malefyt, referring to cars like the Taurus, a nameplate that Ford returned to after experimenting with a number designation. “Does this suggest some form of elitism of the alphanumeric form of distinction over the animated distinction?” Naming of vehicles is far less scientific than customers might think. The Taurus, introduced in 1985, took its name from the astrological sign of a Ford executive’s wife. And many common animal names cannot be used because they come with trademark restrictions or other legal baggage. The design historian Russell Flinchum traces animal names back to the Stutz Bearcat of the 1920s. “Although I’m not too sure what a bearcat actually is,” he notes. “Before World War II, Jaguar was known as Swallow Sidecar, from the its original motorcycle business.” The poet Marianne Moore suggested Utopian Turtletop to Ford as an alternative to Edsel. It is easy to forget the origins of car names and how often silly they can be, especially animal names. The griffin on Saab’s seal is taken from mythology, the stags on Porsche’s crest come from German aristocratic heraldry, while the muscle car Road Runner comes from the Warner Brothers cartoon. In the 1993 film “Coneheads,” Dan Ackroyd has to explain the name of his car to the ruler of the planet Remulac: “Ford Lincoln Mercury Sable,” he intones, “a personal conveyance named after its inventor, an assassinated ruler, a character from Greco-Roman myth and a small furry mammal.” Here are five favorites: Ford Mustang. Made since 1964, the Mustang was named not directly for the wild horse but for the World War II fighter, the P-51 Mustang. Powered by a G.M. engine, that fighter was known, oddly enough, as “the Cadillac of the skies.” Other Ford horse nameplates were not as successful: Maverick and 3 of 16 8/12/09 5:12 PM
  3. 3. Rabbit Exits, as Do Most Animal Names - Wheels Blog - NYT... Pinto. Chevrolet Impala. The venerable Chevy moniker presents one of the most graceful logos of any car. In an earlier life, it was the more aggressive Impala SS, but today, it more often reminds us that, as on the Nature Channel, the impala is more preyed upon than predator. Mercury Cougar. With Cougar and Lynx in the 1960s, Mercury attempted to give its brand a feline theme to match Ford’s equine one. The last Cougar (1999-2002) was a classy if slow-selling coupe in Ford’s “new edge” design language. The smaller and very cool Puma, subject of ads featuring the late Steve McQueen, was never sold in the United States. De Tomaso Mangusta. The rare exotic (about 400 were made from 1967 to 1971) has had a recent revival, along with other 1970s supercars. Mangusta comes from the Latin for mongoose, the snake killer. Supposedly, Ford had diverted engines set for De Tomaso to Shelby Cobras and the name was chosen in revenge. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. It is hard to leave this one out, because its sheer beauty really did suggest its marine model and because oceanic names are so few. The 1963-only “splitback” is one of the prize collectibles ever. The Stingray was succeeded by a new body shape based on the Manta concept, but without that oceanic name. It was left for Hyundai’s Tiburon to return to the ocean with a shark name in the 1990s.