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How Did Classic Cars Get Those Names

Some of the most interesting stories from automotive history concern the naming of particular models. Many, many vehicles have been named in quite arbitrary, last-minute ways and here are a few of them:

Ford GT 40: One of the most legendary grand prix racing cars of all time, the Anglo-American GT40 vaporized European manufacturers' historic hold on the LeMans title, sweeping victory after victory, year after year, and the first race car built to break the 200 mph barrier on the infamous Mulsanne Straight at LeMans. One of the biggest problems in the car's development was that of finding a name. Eventually, no decision could be reached and the designers settled on the arbitrary idea of naming it for whatever its overall height was: forty inches! The GT 40 was born.

Sunbeam Tiger: This little classic car from the now-defunct Rootes Group of England went through a number of names before its final one. First, it was referred to as the "Alpine V8", then "Project 870", then "AF", meaning Alpine Ford. "Thunderbolt" was almost the name given to the car, but at the last minute was rejected when Rootes people found out another manufacturer owned it. "Tiger" was selected at the last minute, in honor of a record-breaking V12 Sunbeam racer from the 30's.  The Sunbeam Tiger was born.

Shelby GT 500 Mustang: On the heels of his stunning successes with the AC Cobra and the GT 350 Mustang projects, Carroll Shelby found himself in need of a bigger powerplant for the cars he was building. All the other U.S. manufacturers were now installing huge, powerful engines in their "muscle" cars and if his Mustangs were to remain competitive, big-block engines would be necessary. His final decision went to the 428 cubic inch engine from Ford and that meant heavier suspension and drivetrain components to mate with the big V8. The final car was exactly 500 pounds heavier than the GT 350 and the ever-pragmatic Shelby figured that was enough reason for the name - GT500.

Oldsmobile Toronado: The 1966 Olds Toronado was the first modern GM front-wheel drive car and still the most powerful one to date. The 385 horsepower, 425 cubic-inch engine required a massive development effort to mate the GM automatic transmission for the front-drive application and, fortunately, it was successful. One of the hardest tasks was the naming of the car.  After many, many meetings on the subject, the design team had almost given up when Chevrolet's Bunkie Knudsen dropped in for a look at the prototype. When he was told about the name problem, he offered a rejected Chevy name, " Toronado." The name doesn't mean anything, but "Toronado" will forever be associated with Oldsmobile's terrific car.

Ford Taurus: Ford's Taurus design drew lots of skeptics when it was introduced in 1986. The car was planned to carry the name, "Aegean". As the Aegean went through development its name was changed to "Taurus". Why? Well, two top-level managers at Ford were married to women who were heavily interested in astrology. Both women's sign was Taurus, and the rest is history.

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