Imagine speeding down a sleek and empty highway in a bitchin' new convertible
, the night wind cool and fast, the moon illuminating every curve, every feline contour as you fiercely hurtle through time and space. Man, you're cool. You're Batman
. You're Knight Rider
. You keep your sunglasses on, even though it's night time, and your beautiful machine screeches to a halt in an empty midnight fill station, the attendants scramble from behind their cash registers and concealed porno magazines to gaze in awe at this purring beast
and it's cooler-than-thou master.
"Sweet ride," one grease monkey might utter. "Watcha drivin'?"
You stutter, your bubble burst and your cheeks blushing. "Err," you mumble. "It's a Sebring."
Cricket noises. Tumbleweeds.
Oops. You've just fallen prey to one of the most vicious and unnecessary evils propagated by the American automotive industry – cool cars with ridiculously uncool names. Where are the car names of legend? Where did they disappear to? What would those Comets and Valiants and Ramblers think of us now, atop their cloud-lined aeries in junkyard ever after, looking down upon streets and highways filled with cars with names like Miata, Maxima and Mystique. My God! Those sound like characters from "Dungeons and Dragons." It's blasphemy – pure and simple disrespect for the cars that preceded them.
Car names used to make sense. They described so succinctly, so efficiently the appearance or utility or pure spirit of an automobile without having to borrow latin. We (and by "we," I mean our parents) had the Ford Falcon, the Dodge Dart, the Chevy Impala; cars named after paragons of speed and agility, names that conveyed to the driver a sense of what this car could do if given the chance. These cars could run, jump and fly away. They could outdistance predator and prey alike. They were so fearlessly fast and shamelessly sexy. So American.
You can totally picture some dude sporting a mullet and a muscle tee cruising down a busy thoroughfare in Tulsa or Des Moines blasting REO Speedwagon at full volume from his car radio. At stoplights he probably yells the name of his car over the booming music: "I rock! I rock!" This is what it's all supposed to be about, right? You'll find none of this at your local car dealership, none of the revolutionary spirit and exhilarating idealism of which cars today are in such desperate need. Contemporary car names are wimpy and flaccid, nonsensical but without whimsy. Sure Corvair didn't mean anything, but it sounds like the pinnacle of space-age 1950s technology, like something George Jetson could fold up into a briefcase once he arrived at work. But what the heck is a Sentra? Am I supposed to get excited about my Sentra?
SUVs seem to be the worst offenders these days. The monikers of these urban assault vehicles range from laughably impotent to creepy and unnerving. The hugest car on the road is the Ford Excursion, which supposedly does not fit into the standard American garage. So why does this bad boy have such a sad, depressing, weak name? An Excursion ... as in, "Honey, I'm going on a little excursion to the fabric stores on Melrose." Or, "We need milk and bagels. I'll make an excursion to Pavilions." Seemingly, Ford has named its cars backward, giving their smallest SUV the most adventurous name: the Escape. As the trucks get bigger, the names sadly get punier: the Explorer is smaller than the Expedition which is smaller than the Excursion. What will their new bigger, better SUV be named? The Ford Brisk Walk? The Ford Beer Run?
The SUV has also been prone to some pretty racist names as well. Where does Jeep get off naming its best seller Cherokee? Or Mazda making a Navajo? Naming your car after people who fought desperately to protect their natural homeland from exactly the sort of roughshod, good-ol'-boy capitalism that produces cars like the Cherokee, is like South Africa marketing Mercury Mandela, or China selling a Buick Buddha. I'm surprised Jeep didn't mention in the commercials how perfectly the fold-down rear seat accommodates a tepee or a dead buffalo. Shameless if you ask me. (And furthermore, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo is named after a town in Texas, a state which was never originally inhabited by the Cherokee people.)
The names get more embarrassing still, when we turn from SUVs to regular sedans and coupes. Ford is a major offender here as well, but luckily its least successful car is no longer in production. Behold the Ford Aspire, arguably the smallest car of the '90s. What an exceptionally, and perhaps intentionally, condescending name? Sure, your car is miniscule, but it has goals, dreams and aspirations. The only thing this car aspires to be is an Escort.
And then Chrysler comes along with the Sebring, which is, for all intents and purposes, marketed exclusively for the middle-class white male. I hear the stereo only plays light jazz and the top automatically goes down while touring wineries. To be fair, this is a fairly cool car. A big, lazy roadster for those pining for the El Dorados and T-birds, but why ruin the experience by naming the car a Sebring? It sounds like a facial cleanser, a douche, or something found inside boxer shorts.
Car names are misguided, and worst of all, infinitely sticking with sober alphanumerics. We need guidance and leadership, a Studebaker or Edsel or Henry Ford brave enough to come back from the dead and rename American cars in the spirit of everything that is fast, loud, cool and candy-apple red. We need to remedy this truly embarrassing situation. We need to take action now, or else the legacy you leave your children will be a 1991 Subaru with a rusty hood. And nobody wants that, right?