It’s All In A Name
Updated: Mar 31
The Italian language, like its people, has a flair and a zest sometimes missing from our relatively conservative little island.
So you might expect this verve and enthusiasm for even the most mundane things in life to be reflected in how Italians name their cars.
Italian cars may often be at the pinnacle of beauty and style but when it comes to naming them, you can often be left with the impression that either time had run out or another lovely lunch beckoned. And yet, dashed off as they often appear to be, thanks to its florid language, Italian car names always sound great.
Here are our favourite Italian car names that master understatement.
It trips mellifluously off the tongue, almost begging you try to use an Italian accent (please don’t). And yet what are you actually saying? Four Doors of course. Its banal and yet beautiful, simple yet complex. But if British Leyland had called the Princess the Four Door we’d still be laughing about it now.
The Strada was Fiat’s big shot at the big time, a Golf beater in every way except execution. The car’s propensity to rot outlived those robot adverts and overshadowed the fact that Fiat had decided to call its new world beater ‘Road.’
There is something poetic about the Alfasud’s name, a lovely mix of vowels and consonants that seems to flow effortlessly.
That was more luck than judgement, unfortunately, which funnily enough is a bit like how the car was built. Because the Alfasud was so named because it was the first Alfa Romeo built in the south of the country and Alfa wanted to distance it from its established northern cars.
When they’re not naming their cars after exactly what they are, where they were built or where they go, Italian car makers resort to simple numbers.
Back in the 60s and 70s at Ferrari at least there was some logic to the number. The 512BB was named after the displacement - 5 litre - and number of cylinders. The rest was equally straightforward. Berlina, because apparently this car was a saloon - or as close to one as Ferrari wanted to get - and Boxer, for the engine layout.
And yet somehow this pragmatic simplicity is so evocative.
Once upon a time Lancia had a well earned reputation as a sort of Italian Citroen. Presumably on the basis that all this cleverness meant the cars would sell themselves, when it came to naming their cars, the firm went for calculated understatement.
Lancia’s approach to car names implied an economy of thought perhaps familiar to drivers of its Gamma saloon and coupe, where questionable engineering caused multiple breakdowns.
Choosing to name its cars after the Greek alphabet was simple but inspired - it implied a sophistication entirely lacking from the bold fact that calling your car Beta equated to the Lancia B.
And so it was with the Trevi, seemingly named after Rome’s lovely fountain but in fact reflecting the car’s ‘three box’ design. Trevi, three box.
Italian car makers have adopted the name Spider with gusto, applying it to virtually any drop top cars and alternating spellings to suit their mood.
The name’s origin is interesting but not exactly prosaic. In the era of horse drawn buggies one design involved a very low open top body with large wheels at each corner. It looked like a Spider. When self propelled motoring came along, Spider became a name synonymous with low, open top cars. For Italian car makers, the rest is history.
In the interests of complete disclosure, and to be fair to Alfa, the firm did intend to call the car the Duetto, but trademark issues scuppered that idea. But it does fit our effort-free narrative that the name they did chose couldn't be used and it wasn't actually Alfa that came up with it. The firm ran a competition, presumably because actually coming up with a name was getting in the way of that second bottle of Rioja.
So Spider. Or convertible in modern language.
In a manner that will be familiar to anyone working in Solihull when Rover launched the SD1, when it came to a name for its ground-breaking new sports car Fiat appears to have been so focussed on breaking new ground that it forgot to think of one.
So the X1/9 was launched with its prototype designation. It describes the car as the ninth passenger car developed using this system. Somehow the X1/9 name works for the car, reflecting its unusual, revolutionary design that made it not quite like any other car before or since.
An added complication for the quirky car was that neither Fiat or the company that actually built it, Bertone, could actually decide what badge to put on it. Throughout the car's life and depending where you bought it, it was a Fiat or a Bertone.
Great Driving Days has an Alfa Romeo Spider and Fiat X1/9 to hire on its fleet. To find out more CLICK HERE.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days. 01527 893733