I am next week off to the US to drive, among others, the new Porsche 911GTS and as it is not my brief but that of my vertically challenged but tolerably talented near neighbour and co-columnist Christopher Harris to report on such matters, I shall not mention it again.
“Not that long ago Renault revived the Gordini name but reduced it to a mere trim level which would seen steam emanating from the ears of Le Sorcier…”
Except to say I wish car manufacturers would stop pilfering their past and taking in vain names of genuinely great cars. Of course I’ve not yet driven the aforementioned 911 and I am open the possibility of it being quite wonderful, but I know too its press material will aim to evoke the memory of its original 904GTS and as someone who’s had the privilege to compete in this wonder of the racing world at both Spa and Le Mans, I’m confident that save one badge, three letters and six horizontally opposed cylinders, it will have no more in common with the 904 than do I with Herbie Muller.
But Porsche is by no means the worst offender. Remember the Rover BRM? Not the curio that whistled its way to 10th place at Le Mans in 1965 thanks to the combined talents of Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and its gas turbine engine, but the ghastly 1998 Rover 200 BRM with quilted red seats, racing green paint and a hideous orange nose intended to recall BRM Grand Prix machinery raced with such distinction by messrs Stewart, Hill and others. Not that long ago Renault revived the Gordini name but reduced it to a mere trim level which would have seen steam emanating from the ears of Le Sorcier had he been alive to see it; and who can forget the wide-hipped, soft-bottomed and dynamically suspect Ferrari Testarossa, a car that failed in almost every regard to honour the memory of the original Testa Rossa?
Some attempts to pressgang heritage into service are far less offensive than others. I don’t mind Ferrari having a two seat convertible called a California because by far the greatest talent of the original California has proven to be its ability to hoover millions out the wallets of wealthy collectors today. Nor do I mind Rolls-Royce bequeathing names like Phantom and Ghost upon its cars because these are exceptional creations, as were its forebears in generations gone by. They do not insult, they honour. And flawed though it is, a modern Maserati Quattroporte is at least the equal of any from the past.
Even so I admire those who do find new names for their cars. I’ve always been impressed by Lamborghini’s never-ending parade of legendary fighting bulls and Lotus’s recent determination not to re-use names from its past even though Chapman who oversaw two entirely different generations of Elite, wouldn’t blink before doing it. The only time they’ve done it of late is with the Europa and it sank without trace.
But it is getting harder. Bentley has run out of catchy corners at Le Mans (it could hardly call a car the Bentley Porsche Curves) and while the Ferrari LaFerrari really is so good they did indeed name it twice it’s still the weakest point of the greatest supercar I’ve driven. And you can’t even rely on a good old wild cat name because all of them, (including Wild Cat) have already been used before in some form or another. Although now I think about it, ocelot might still be on the shelf. So manufacturers increasingly resort to combinations of numbers and letters that while faceless are also uncontentious, and having spent more than enough time trying to dream up names for my own imaginary creations I can’t I blame them.
Besides you don’t want to choose the name only to discover it means something unintended and unfortunate when translated into another language, or feel forced to resort to a name that’s just terrible even its own tongue: I’ve often wondered how much of its considerable success would one particular car would have enjoyed had it made it to market called ‘Ardent’ as originally intended.