Five great names for terrible cars

23rd March 2022
Henry Biggs

Names, as we have pointed out before, can be key to a car’s success or failure. We have had some of the best and some of the worst. And some cars of course are so bad that the name is entirely incidental – alternatives proposed for the Edsel by poet Marianne Moore included ‘Utopian Turtletop’ and ‘Mongoose Civique’. There is another option however, cars that really didn’t deserve, or earn, the names they were gifted by their makers, some of which we have lined up here.


Seat Alhambra

Ah the Alhambra, a magnificent palace and fortress complex located in a commanding position on an outcrop of the Sierra Nevada in Granada, in the Andalusian region of Spain. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was begun in 1238 and continuously added to over the centuries. It became the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, sponsors of Christopher Columbus’ expeditions across the Atlantic. After falling into disrepair, it was rediscovered and restored; now one of Spain’s biggest tourist attractions it is genuinely breathtakingly beautiful.

So, what kind of car would you imagine deserves to be named after such a magnificent edifice, with its mosaics, courtyards and reflective pools? Perhaps an elegant and impossibly low and long coupe from the interwar period, dripping with architectural details? Maybe an imposing SUV; it was a fort after all. If you’re Seat however, the most fitting use for the name (which admittedly has the very prosaic meaning of ‘the red one’ for the colour of the walls) is on an uninspiring MPV, and not even an original one at that but a rebadged Volkswagen Sharan.


Ford Mustang II

Mustang is arguably one of the most famous, fanciful and revered nameplates in automotive history. Such is the love for it that it has even survived its transposition from adorning successive generations of pony car to a modern-day all-electric SUV. It in fact gave rise to the term ‘pony car’ for junior muscle cars in the 1960s, despite being named after the plane rather than the wild horse. Of those many generations, however, one has gone down in history as undeserving of the name.

Despite being a sales success with more than a million examples sold, the Mustang II has almost entirely missed out on classic status. In response to the growing size of Pony Cars, Lee Iacocca ordered the creation of a smaller, lighter Mustang-based this time on the Ford Pinto. More compact it might have been but Edmunds Inside Line wrote of it: "It was too small, underpowered, handled poorly, terribly put together, ill-proportioned, chintzy in its details and altogether subpar.” The reason for its subsequent sales success was serendipitous timing; its launch coincided with the 1973 Oil Crisis and suddenly its lack of a V8 was a selling point.


Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard

This would have been a moniker to go straight into our Best Car Names feature had the product it was attached to not been so at odds with the magnificence of ‘Mysterious Utility Wizard’. Even abbreviated as it generally was to ‘MU Wizard’ still elicits curiosity. What do the letters ‘MU’ stand for? Is it an acronym or a reference to quantum physics? And what was the meeting like in which the name was proposed and approved?

Unfortunately, the car it was affixed to could best be described as ‘capable’ of being a mid-sized SUV of an age when those were still able to depart the tarmac. It is better known here as the Vauxhall Frontera but was also sold as the – deep breath – Isuzu Rodeo, Isuzu Cameo, Isuzu Vega, Isuzu Frontier, Opel Frontera, Holden Frontera, Chevrolet Frontera, Honda Passport and finally Chevrolet Frontier. If we have missed any, please don’t tell us in the comments. None of these is as magnificent as its original name and unfortunately, the prefix was eventually dropped; the second generation just being known as the Isuzu Wizard.


Dodge Rampage

There aren’t really any circumstances where the word ‘rampage’ doesn’t include a negative note; even a birthday rampage implies cake trodden into carpets and first-degree candle burns. You would imagine therefore that any car badged thusly would be very powerful, very tough, overengineered and possibly offensively large. Something like a modern take on a Lamborghini LM002 perhaps. Not a Dodge Rampage in other words, a car which can best be described as ‘cute’.

The Rampage was what the Australians would call a ‘ute’ or utility vehicle. Essentially a small pick-up truck based on an existing car platform, in this case, the Dodge Omni. Front-wheel drive with a lethargic four-cylinder motor and four-speed manual or three-speed automatic and 500kg payload rating the Rampage was anything but. Its sister car was the much more appropriately named Plymouth Scamp.


Austin Apache

Putting aside the potential for questionable cultural appropriation the name Apache has to be most closely associated with the famed helicopter; death from above delivered by whirling blades, spinning Gatling guns and sidepod mounted missiles. The South African made and sold Austin Apache was not that. 

True, it was styled by Michelotti but based on the Leyland AD016, better known here as the Austin and Morris 1100 models. By the early 1970s, the platform’s veritable cornucopia of badge-engineered variants were flagging in the sales charts but Leykor, British Leyland’s South African division chose it and the Michelotti prototype for production. The car had some elements of the Triumph Dolomite and used the venerable A-series engine. There was a hotted-up version boasting a heady 75PS but a far cry from an attack chopper.

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