Santa's reindeer but make them cars | Axon's Automotive Anorak

22nd December 2023
Gary Axon

Dear oh dear oh deer. Suddenly out of nowhere, Christmas is here. The long-range weather forecast for the UK currently predicts that rather than the idyllic snow-covered crisp and even winter scenes, as depicted on the dream-like Christmas card that will be tumbling through your letter box, it is far more likely to rain.


With Santa getting older and feeling the cold more, this year, to help cope with the wet and windy conditions he’ll face far away from his North Pole residence, there are rumours that for this Christmas, he is considering swapping his traditional sleigh, pulled by his nine faithful reindeer for nine other suitable forms of transportation that will be warmer, dryer, less exposed, more comfortable and faster. Santa might choose nine cars, suitably named after varieties of the reindeer from the caribou family, so that he still feels at home and can at least remember some of their names.

With reindeer not known for being the most eco-friendly of creatures, they being rather flatulent, Santa will be keen to reduce his carbon footprint. Frustratingly, as yet however, no electric car or other modern low-emission vehicle has a long range sufficient to travel around the world administering festive gifts in a very tight time frame, and smoke-stake chimneys are not at all good for the environment either.

So, given this dilemma, Santa is rumoured to be having some fun this Christmas by opting for nine classic cars, each one with a deer-related name. Although none of these cars can fly, he can at least stay comfortable and warm, whilst entertaining himself listening to Jingle Bells and Christmas hymns on the in-car audio system, use the sat nav to help guide his most efficient route, and have a decent amount of secure luggage space to safely store his copious bundles of toys and other gifts.

Santa will need to quickly learn a few new reindeer names, but at least four of them will be very familiar to him. Alphabetically, these are…


1. Comet

The 1960-68 Mercury Comet was a more expensive, premium version of Ford’s economy ‘compact’ 1960s Falcon sedan. After being dropped from the North American range in 1968, Mercury revived the Comet name from 1971-78, this time basing the model on the more modern 1970s Ford Maverick range. In its initial form, the entry Mercury soon became a surprisingly unlikely performance machine, powered by a wide selection of six-cylinder and V8 engines, including drag strip specials with lightweight GRP and allow panels, these now being highly sought collector's items. Prior to the 1960 Mercury model, Ford had previously used the Comet name (as Comete) for its French-built subsidiary, with a rare but handsome Facel-made coupe.

2. Dashe

The Volkswagen Dasher was the North American name given to the first-generation Passat. Sold in North America from 1974-81, the Dasher (Passat) was the first of a trio of landmark Giugiaro/ItalDesign-styled Volkswagens, launching ahead of the subsequent Scirocco coupe and standard-setting Golf of 1974. The range-topping Dasher/Passat was also the first VW-engineered water-cooled, front-engined, front-wheel-drive model for the Wolfsburg marque. When the second-generation Passat was introduced in 1981, VW USA dropped the Dasher model name and fell in line with the rest of the VW world by applying Passat badging. 

3. Rudolph

The Rudolph Perfect Roadster GmbH might seem an odd name for a car company. Rudolph was founded in 1992 as a German self-built specialist sports car maker, based in Mechernich. For more than 25 years, most of Rudolph’s limited production focus on was on an accurate self-build glass fibre toolroom replica of the second-series Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Convertible, called the Rudolph Classic Roadster. It was appropriately built around a Volkswagen Beetle chassis, with a choice of a VW Beetle or Subaru boxer engine. Rudolph also later added a pleasing Porsche 550-inspired Spyder S and C two-seater roadster to its range, this being powered by a modern Audi 1.8 turbo motor. By way of contrast, it then introduced the wild Rudolph Diardi, a modern roadster take on the classic Lotus Seven theme, powered by BMW 3-Series-sourced four-or six-cylinder motors, ranging in power from 150-343 PS. With self-assembly kit cars being something of a rarity in Germany, Rudolph threw in the towel and stopped making cars in 2018.

Image by Foshie

4. Vixen 

First seen in 1967, and built in small numbers (less than 750 examples), the purposeful TVR Vixen survived until 1973 via four Series updated forms as a close-couple GT coupe. An evolution TVR’s signature chubby 1960s coupe, the bolt-on GRP-bodied Vixen sat on an extended Grantura chassis, but used a variety of more-affordable five-bearing Ford Cortina GT 1.6-litre engines, with a few earlier examples adopting the 1.7 MGB motor. Over time, the Vixen evolved with more luxurious specifications, such as standard alloy wheels, trim and ventilation upgrades. 

This quartet of Santa’s reindeer substitutes will be shared by five other cars, each one named to honour a variety of Capreolinea.

5. Chamois

An agile European short hook-horned goat-antelope species. The 1964-70 Singer Chamois was essentially a badge-engineered upmarket Hillman Imp. The Chamois offered buyers wider wheel rims, a more luxurious finish with added chrome and some walnut interior trim, and was externally identifiable by a horizontal multi-barred alloy front ‘fake’ grille. In 1966 Singer’s master, Rootes, added a more performance-orientated Chamois Sport model to help tackle BMC’s dominant Mini Cooper. The twin carb Sport developed 51bhp, up from the standard model’s 39bhp, along with servo-assisted braking and reclining front seats. A lower roof fastback Chamois Coupe was added in 1967, based around the sister Hillman Imp California. Quad headlamps were standardised from 1969, but these versions were very short-lived, as Singer’s (and Rootes’) new owner — the cash-strapped American Chrysler Corporation – killed off the Singer brand in 1970.

6. Impala

A graceful antelope native to Africa, General Motors (GM) first used the Impala name in 1956 for one of the Chevrolet show cars that formed part of GM’s celebrated travelling Motorama future model extravaganza that toured the USA throughout the 1950s. Two years later, the Impala name reappeared in the production 1958 Chevrolet Impala, with its ’low, thrusting silhouette’ as GM’s marketers promoted it. This new Impala joined the existing Chevrolet programme of full-size sedans and station wagons, alongside the lower ranking Delray, plus Bel Air and Biscayne models. The Impala soon became a key part of the mainstream rear-drive Chevy sedan line-up, the badge lasting through twelve generations of models, initially built between 1958-85, briefly revived from 1994-96, and back again in down-sized front-wheel-drive form from 2000-2020, this version including the sporting cult SS models. From 1965 onwards, the Impala played second fiddle to the costlier Chevrolet Caprice top-line models, with Impalas used to supersede Chevy’s Monte Carlo Coupe in NASCAR stock racing between 2007-13. Closer to home, the Impala name was also adopted in the 1980s for a basic rear-engined Fiat 500-based open utility/beach kit car, offered by Foulkes.

Image by Two Hundred Percent

7. Gazelle

Well-respected Coventry car maker Singer was struggling for survival immediately post-war, so the Rootes Group took over this long-established firm in 1955. The first new Rootes-era Singer model was the transitional Singer Gazelle of 1956. Introduced, to the dismay of Singer enthusiast purists, the new Gazelle replaced the dowdy and commercially unsuccessful slab-sided Singer SM1500/Hunter models. Initially still using old 1.5 OHC Singer engines, the Gazelle was a cleverly ‘tarted up’ Hillman Minx, employing added chrome, a traditional upright grille and more salubrious interior trim.

Sold with endless annual updates until 1967, the Mix-derived Gazelle eventually also adopted Hillman’s reliable but dated pushrod engines. In 1967, the Gazelle finally got a much-needed all-new body, a badge-engineered version of the clean-cut 1966-78 Rootes Arrow. When Chrysler consigned the Singer marque to the history books in 1970, the Gazelle name also died along with the brand. The Gazelle name did live on though in the USA through the strong-selling (but tasteless) Classic Motor Carriages (CMC) Gazelle, a frightful 1920s Mercedes SSK-inspired ‘replica’ (if you squinted). kit car, based on a rear-engined Volkswagen Beetle platform and engine. Despite its many shortcomings, the CMC Gazelle sold in its thousands and still lives on today in another rebranded form, also variously sold at times as an Amica, Pageant, Amazon, and so on.

8. Stag

The 1970 Triumph Stag was a stylish Michelotti-designed ‘lifestyle’ GT, aimed squarely at the Mercedes-Benz SL. The exciting open-top V8 Stag featured an unusual T-Bar for added rigidity, plus a standard lift-off hardtop roof. It had a throaty Triumph-developed 3-litre V8 engine, this in-house motor soon proving to be the Stag’s downfall, the range-topping GT quickly going from desire to despair within its own short seven-year lifetime due to well-publicised head gasket failure issues.

Had Triumph simply chosen to use the proven ex-Buick V8 motor from its British Leyland Rover partner, the Stag would have properly enjoyed a healthy reputation and a fine career. The Triumph’s well-known V8 faults, however, were the Stag’s undoing, with the model killed off far earlier than planned. The car also failed to capture the essential North American export market, with less than 26,000 examples being made. A very popular classic car today, by now the Stag’s V8 engine issues are a solvable ‘problem’ that is easily overcome, using superior modern head gasket materials, and so on.

9. Kancil

The tiny Perodua Kancil (L200) city car was named after the Kanchil (a.k.a., the Mouse Deer, although it has no connection with the small rodent), or Malay chevrotain (Ragulus Kanchil) to give it its correct biological name. It is a small single-toed member of the Traguildae deer family, commonly found in the Malaysian jungle, this inspiring the Malaysian-built Perodua logo, as found on the grille of the Kancil. The first 1994-2000 Kancil model was a rebranded version of the Daihatsu Mira kei car. It was sold in the UK as the Nippa, with the Kancil badge subsequently used in the marginally larger one-box mini-mpv model over here, a re-branded Daihatsu Move. Designed by Marcello Gandini, author of more notable machines such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach, Diablo and Lancia Stratos, the original Malaysian 850cc city car was Perodua’s very first model, launched just after the Company’s founding in 1993.

So, look up to the skies on Christmas Eve and you might just see Santa and his packed sleigh being pulled by these nine cars above, depending on how many drinks you’ve already had. Whatever Santa and his little helpers bring you over the Yuletide, please may I take this opportunity to wish you all a safe, happy, healthy and very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Please join again for more fun Automotive Anoraks in 2024…

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