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10 Classics Car Names and their Origins

Updated on November 14, 2010

What's in a name?

The majority of classic car manufacturers and their marques are normally named after the company founder.

Everyone is familiar with Enzo Ferrari, what would Henry Royce have been without Charles Rolls and David Dunbar Buick, all world famous for vintage cars. After owners, the places the cars where manufactured is also a popular choice,

Vauxhall from the district in London where the company was originally founded. The Pilgrim fathers on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth Rock, despite the Chrysler logo, did not  give rise to the well known Chrysler marque but a simple agricultural brand of string. While an American, Wilbur Gunn, from Ohio called his vintage vehicles after the river flowing through the town of his birth – Lagonda.

Here are some of the more exotic stories behind a few household names in classic cars.

An early Bentley badge
An early Bentley badge

Alvis – A British car manufacturer whose name was created by shortening aluminium to AL and adding VIS the latin for strong.

Cadillac and De Soto, both American car companies who chose explorers for their inspiration. Frenchman, Antione Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac discovered the famed “Motorcity of America”, Detroit. While Spaniard, Hernando De Soto again gave his name to an adventurous brand of motor vehicle.

Jaguar – This sleek, speedy cat was originally a brand for the Swallow Sidecar Company more commonly known as S.S. but this was considered to be a poor name after World War Two and synonymous with Hitler’s troops. So they adopted the name of their already famous feline instead.

LincolnNamed in honour of American President, Abraham Lincoln. The lifelong hero of Henry Leyland, the company’s’ founder. For many years the Lincoln became presidents’ choice of car.

Morris Eight
Morris Eight

Mercedes – While trying to break into the French car market, Daimler and Benz agreed to name their new series after the daughter of Emil Jellinek, one of their distributors who aided them overcome French bureaucracy.

Pontiac – As reflected in the badge mounted on the front grille of their cars until 1956, Pontiac was a Native American chief who organised one of the largest stands against colonial invasion.

TVR– When Wilkinson started his company he quite simply took three letters from his first name to form this classic brand – TreVoR. I am not so sure the Trevor would have had quite the same impact.

What’s in a name? You just never know.

Other Hubs in this Series

 History of Famous Car Logos

The Iconic VW Camper


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    • profile image

      tucks 3 years ago

      what's initals SM very ole car looks simaliar to a morris

    • Karl  VanGuilder profile image

      Karl VanGuilder 6 years ago from North Eastern USA

      i'm very into motor vehicles and have thought of a way to convert autos on the roads today to run on electric power and generate much if not all the power need to operate on as they are driven .

      I feel othes have had simular ideas but may have been put off doing things about it by those in places that would lose massive amounts of money .

      the cost would nominal and could be worked to be a good fit with most internal combustion engine vehicles .

      tell your ideas and we may

      have working cars in our lives

    • profile image

      Mico 6 years ago

      The Bentley is like a rare treasure.

    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks for the pointer CharlesP, I will amend the piece accordingly. I do think that the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock story is more interesting than a bit of string but who can tell why things are called what they are.

    • profile image

      CharlesP 7 years ago

      Interesting article. Thanks! However, I wish to point out one small error. The name for Chrysler Corp's Plymouth didn't actually come from Plymouth Rock; that's a popular urban legend, and a very understandable one, since Chrysler actually promoted the marque with allusions to the Rock and used the ship the Pilgrims came across the Atlantic from Plymouth, England on, the Mayflower, as a symbol, hood ornament, etc. for Plymouth cars. However, the name actually came from Plymouth Binder Twine, a product well known by American farmers, a target market, when the low-priced marque was introduced in 1928. I see that I'm not permitted to post HTML links. Pity. But, if you google 'How Plymouth Was Named', you can probably find an article which gives more information.

    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks for that Neil. Now duly corrected. I wonder just how many other great names in British engineering now lie beneath the car parks of a supermarket.

    • profile image

      Neil Campbell 7 years ago

      Not entirely accurate i'm afraid - Vauxhall was named after the Vauxhall district in south London where the company was founded and had its first factory. When General Motors took over Vauxhall, they moved out to Luton where they built a larger factory. The original Vauxhall Motors factory in Vauxhall is now a Sainsburys supermarket.

    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks MK, glad you found it to be of interest, I've always been interested in why things have particular names and cars models are a great point in fact.

    • mktanny profile image

      mktanny 7 years ago

      what n informative hub,I wud have never thought of these car names in this way,thnx a lot .

    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Happy memories of driving around North Wales in an MGB back in 1986. Classic car, lovely lines, they just don't design style like that these days. Thanks for you interest MD.

    • Somesh Dutt profile image

      Somesh Dutt 8 years ago from India

      Good hub knell63.

      Lincoln info was not known to me...

    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 8 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks for your support DeBorrah, I agree on the Jag, just love those old cars, especially the little ones. Mini, Fiat 500 and Beetle. The old badges also seem to have a class of their own, designers just don't seem to be able to pull it off these days.

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 8 years ago


      Great information,

      Rolls Royce, Jaguar and Cadillac are my favorites.

      All beautiful cars in there own way...

      Thanks for the memories and the history.