/Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

Citroen Traction at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

Throughout automotive history, there are a few cars that are not remembered by their official name, but by their popular nicknames instead. “Cobra”, “Frog Eye”, “Breadvan” or “Strawberry Basket” are just a few examples, but the list is a lot longer, including both nicknames used worldwide or only on several important markets. So let’s check them out and see how car enthusiasts praised or mocked some of the world’s most popular models.

1. Volkswagen “Beetle”

This is perhaps the most famous car on this list and even children know it by its nickname. What most people don’t know is that when production started in 1938, the car didn’t actually have a name. It was simply called Volkswagen, which is German for “the people’s car”. Its internal name was the Volkswagen Type 1, while its informal name was the Volkswagen Bug.

2013 Volkswagen “Beetle” 600x300 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

However, the car quickly became known in Germany as “Kafer” which means “beetle” and the name became so popular that it was soon adopted and translated by almost all markets: “Bug”, “Fusca” and “Maggiolino” are just a few examples. What’s also interesting is that even though the current generation’s official name is Volkswagen Beetle, in some countries is still being marketed using its nickname. For example, in Italy, the car is sold as the Volkswagen Maggiolino, while in France we have the Volkswagen Coccinelle.

2. Ford Escort – “Dog Bone”

The first generation of the European Ford Escort was produced between 1968 and 1974 and was an extremely popular model, especially in the United Kingdom, where most units were built. By today’s standards the car might not seem like much, but in the late ‘60s it was considered great option. Its main stylistic highlights were the “Coke bottle” styling that was also used on several other Ford models and its famous “Dog Bone” front grille which also gave the car its legendary nickname.

Ford Escort Mk I 1972 600x314 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

3. Volkswagen T1 –“Bulli”

Almost as famous as the Beetle, the legendary Volkswagen Transporter T1 entered production in 1950 as the Volkswagen Transporter (or Type 2, since it was the second model Volkswagen built after the Beetle). Just like the Beetle, the Transporter was a very popular and loved car, being given a lot of nicknames throughout its history. Among the most popular are Volkswagen Bus or Hippie Van, but by far the most used one was “Bulli” (or Bully).

Volkswagen T1 Bulli 600x472 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

What’s interesting is that this was actually supposed to be the car’s official name, but the German carmaker was forced to drop it by a farm tractors company who produced a popular tractor called the Bulldog. Instead, Volkswagen chose to market the new minivan as the Volkswagen Transporter or the Volkswagen Kleinbus, but the “Bulli” nickname is still used by a lot of people.

4. Volkswagen Type 181 – “Kubelwagen” (“Bucket Car”)

During World War II, Volkswagen built a special vehicle for the German military that was officially called Type 82. The car was based on the Volkswagen Beetle, was designed by Ferdinand Porsche himself and was the German equivalent of the Jeep. However, the car quickly became known as the Kubelwagen, which is German for “bucket car” or “bathtub car”, since many compared it to a bathtub on wheels.

Volkswagen Type 181 – Kubelwagen 600x450 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

More than twenty years later, the German carmaker built a successor for the Kubelwagen, called Type 181, also meant to be used as a military vehicle. However, many potential customers expressed interest in the model and a street version was launched soon, not too different from the military one. The car was marketed under several names, Kurierwagen (Germany), Trekker (United Kingdom), Thing (United States) and Safari (Mexico), but is still mostly known as the Kubelwagen.

5. Austin Healey Sprite – “Frog Eye”

The small roadster was built by BMC starting with 1958 and is probably one of the most “distinct” cars in the world. Responsible for this is the front part of the car dominated by the two large headlights, the similarity to a frog being more than obvious and giving the car its popular nickname, “Frog Eye”. Almost 130,000 units were built during the production run that ended in 1971.

Austin Healey Sprite – Frog Eye 600x450 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

6. Volkswagen Type 147 – “Fridolin”, “Contergan”

In 1961, the German Postal Authority asked Volkswagen to build a commercial vehicle that was going to be used for transporting and delivering mail and packages. Since the Beetle was too small and the Transporter too big, the German carmaker commissioned the project to a company called Franz Knobel & Sohn, which later changed its name to Westfalia Werke and became one of the best known companies specialized in camper van conversions.

The project took off and in 1964, the Beetle-based Type 147 Kleinlieferwagen (German for “small delivery van”) entered production. During the 10-year production run, a little over 6,000 units were built and people soon started calling the car “Fridolin”. This nickname’s origins are not known, the most popular story being that when he saw the car for the first time, a Volkswagen worker said: “it looks just like (a) Fridolin”. No one knows what Fridolin exactly is, but everyone assumes it was a co-worker’s name.

Volkswagen Type 147 – Fridolin 600x450 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

Due to the car’s funny looks and proportions, the Germans also called it the Volkswagen “Contergan”. Contergan was a drug used as sedative and for treating morning sickness in pregnant women that was extremely popular in Germany in the 1950s. But in 1962 it was banned because it was discovered that is caused all sorts of forms of birth defects, hence Type 147’s nickname.

7. Ford Model T – “Tin Lizzie”

The Ford Model T is probably one of the best known automobiles in history. It was the car that “motorized” the United States, it was the first truly affordable car, the first one to be built on a production line and is widely considered the most influential car ever built. Between 1908 and 1927, more than 15 million units were built and at one point, 50 percent of all cars in the world were Model Ts.

Ford Model T – Tin Lizzie at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

And since the “Model T” name was considered too boring by some, one of the most popular nicknames the car had was “Tin Lizzie”. The story of this name begins in the ‘20s, when American car dealers organized all sorts of races between cars in order to promote their products. During an event that took place at Pikes Peak, Noel Bullock entered the race with a Model T in an awful shape, all rusty and with the engine hood missing, which he called “Old Liz”. And since most spectators immediately compared the car with a tin can, the “Tin Lizzie” nickname was born. And what probably made this name stick was the fact that the car actually won the race. Today, this nickname is not only attributed to Model Ts, being also used for all old cars in a bad shape.

8. Mercedes-Benz 300SL W198 – “Gullwing”

This car doesn’t actually need an introduction, since it’s probably one of the most famous sports cars of all time. Built between 1954 and 1963, it was based on the highly successful 300SL W194 racing car, with the SL standing for “Sport Light”. Today it’s one of the most wanted cars by collectors worldwide.

Mercedes Benz 300SL W198 – Gullwing 600x453 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

Besides its great performances, the car’s most popular feature were its doors, which open like a bird’s wings, giving it the “Gullwing” nickname. What many people don’t know is that the doors weren’t created this way to look good. The W194 race car had an innovative chassis and if normal doors would have been used, part of the chassis would be exactly in the same place as the lower part of a standard door and would make the chassis unusable.

9. Mercedes-Benz W113 – “Pagoda”

Another famous sports car built by the German carmaker is the Mercedes-Benz W113, which had a tough job, to replace the amazing 300SL “Gullwing”. The same team led the W113’s development, while design was mostly handled by Paul Bracq and Bela Barenyi. They created the iconic hardtop, with a slightly concave shape, that brought the sports car its “Pagoda” nickname.

Mercedes Benz W113 – Pagoda 600x399 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

An interesting fact about Barenyi is that he is also credited with creating the original Volkswagen Beetle’s design five years before Ferdinand Porsche. Barenyi was also extremely interested in vehicle safety and the W113 is the first sports car in the world to have a “safety body”, a group of safety features aimed at reducing passenger injuries in case of a crash.

10. Mercedes-Benz Type 300 W186 – “Adenauer”

Launched six years after World War II ended, the Mercedes-Benz Type 300 was the German carmaker’s largest and most luxurious vehicle of the time. With features such as VHF mobile telephone, Becker radio or dictation machines the Mercedes flagship was used by many officials of the time. And one of the car’s biggest fans was Germany’s chancellor himself, Konrad Adenauer. He was given one of the first units to roll out of production and during his 14-year activity as chancellor he employed no less than six Type 300s. And this is the main reasons the model became known as “Adenauer” or “Adenauer Mercedes”.

Mercedes benz 300 Coupe 600x453 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

11. Alfa Romeo GT – “Bertone”

The Alfa Romeo GT coupe was launched in 2003 and many car enthusiasts (including us), consider it one of the most beautiful cars built in the first decade of the new millennium. Alfa Romeo and Italian design company Bertone have a great history together and the two also partnered in creating this great looking coupe. So it’s no wonder the result was incredible and that the car is on its way to becoming an icon, with fans unofficially calling it “Bertone”.

Alfa GT Bertone 600x377 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

12. Mercedes-Benz W180 – “Ponton”

Launched in 1954, the Mercedes-Benz W180 is widely regarded as the “ancestor” of the modern E-Class. The car is also the first one in a series of models that were nicknamed “Ponton”, as a reference to the car’s ponton styling. The ponton design was a styling trend that appeared in the ‘20s and the ‘30s, the term coming from French and German, where it means “pontoon”. Besides the W180, the “Ponton” nickname was also given to the W128 which was launched in 1958.

Mercedes Benz W180 – Ponton 600x450 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

13. Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet – “Strawberry Basket”

The first generation Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet was built between 1980 and 1993 and was extremely successful, with almost 400,000 units sold during the entire production run. One of the convertible’s elements that caught the eye was the transverse roll bar whose purpose was to protect passengers in case of an accident. And while modern convertibles have this type of structural elements hidden, the Golf Mk1 Cabrio didn’t, which made it resemble a basket handle. Probably combined with the red color that was one of the most popular color choices, made everyone call the car “Erdbeerkörbchen”, which is German for “Strawberry Basket”.

Golf Mk1 Cabrio 600x450 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

14. Citroen Traction Avant – “Gangster Car”

The Citroen Traction Avant (which actually means “Front Wheel Drive” in French) was one of the world’s first front wheel drive cars. Also called the Citroen 7CV, Citroen 11CV or Citroen 15CV (depending on the engine used), more than 750,000 units were built between 1934 and 1957. The model brought important technical innovations such as the cast aluminum alloy transaxle (that was successfully used in motorsport later, winning several championships in competitions like Formula One). The Traction Avant was also successfully used as a military vehicle in World War II. However, its popular nickname, “Gangster Car”, comes from a criminal gang that operated in Paris in the ‘40s and who used an entire fleet of 11CVs for all sorts of criminal stuff.

Citroen Traction Avant – Gangster Car 600x450 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

15. Citroen 2CV – “Deuche”, “Tin Snail”, “The Goat”, “The Ugly Duckling”

A car that is probably as important to the European car industry as the Volkswagen Beetle, the Citroen 2CV was built by the French carmaker for no less than 42 years, from 1948 to 1990. The car became famous for its movie “roles” and for being cheap and easy to fix. And when a car is that popular you can bet it will also get a lot of nicknames. The French called it “Deuche” (short for the car’s French name, “Deux Cheveux”), “La Bete” (The Beast) and “Parapluie sur roués” (Umbrella on wheels). As for the other European countries, many weren’t as cute as the French ones. The British called it “Dolly” or “Tin Snail”, the Germans “Die Ente” (The Duck), the Spanish “Patito Feo” (The Ugly Duckling) and the people in former Yugoslavia called it “Spacek” (The Freak).

Citroen 2CV – Deuche 600x450 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

16. BMW Isetta – “Bubble Car”, “Rolling Egg”, “Coffin Car”, “The Yoghurt Pot”

While Europe was still recovering after World War II, Italian company Iso SpA decided to build a small and affordable car that would go into mass production. Until then, the company only built refrigerators, small scooters and three-wheeled trucks, so the small car was a premiere for them. Using the engine from one of their motorcycles, the car was ready by 1953 and it was called Isetta, meaning “little Iso”.

BMW Isetta – Bubble Car 600x515 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

Iso’s owner soon started licensing the car production to other companies too and the small car was also built in France (by VELAM), Brazil (Romi) and Germany (BMW). Out of all versions, the one built by BMW was by far the most successful. The German carmaker replaced Iso’s engine with one of their own, a one-cylinder unit delivering 13-hp and the car was also heavily re-engineered, to the point that no parts on the original Isetta can be used on the BMW one. All these made the German Isetta extremely popular and with more than 160,000 units sold it is world’s best-selling one-cylinder car.

As you can probably imagine, the car’s unconventional looks brought it a lot of nicknames, some of them not too flattering. The most popular one is “Bubble Car” and it’s not hard at all to guess why. Other interesting names are “Dar Rollende Ei” (Rolling Egg) and “Sargwagen” (Coffin Car) in Germany, “Yoghurt Pot” in France and “Huevito” (Little Egg) in South America.

17. Ferrari 308 GTS – “Magnum”

The Ferrari 308 GTB was introduced in 1975, replacing the legendary Ferrari Dino 246 and around 13,000 units were produced until 1985. The car was available in two body versions, coupe (GTB) and targa (GTS), both being extremely popular among Ferrari fans, many agreeing that it’s probably one of the best cars in the Italian carmaker’s history.

1984 Ferrari 308 GTS Magnum 600x295 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

And if that wasn’t enough, the car achieved mainstream popularity by being featured in the famous television series Magnum P.I., where the show’s main character (played by Tom Selleck) drives a 308 GTS. This made the car known among car enthusiasts as the Ferrari “Magnum”.

18. Fiat 126 – “Polski Fiat”, “Bambino”, “Maluch”

The small Fiat 126 was launched in 1972 and it had a tough mission, to replace the iconic Fiat 500. The car was built in Italy until 1979 and in Poland between 1973 and 2000, under Fiat licence. The brand name used was “Polski Fiat” (means “Polish Fiat”), which brought it its nickname, a nickname that was used even for models built in Italy. Another popular nickname given to the Fiat 126 is “Bambino” which is Italian for “little child” (even people in Poland called it that way, “Maluch”, which means the same thing).

Fiat 126 – Polski Fiat 600x400 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

19. Opel GT – “Baby Corvette”

We’re talking here about the first generation Opel GT, built between 1968 and 1973. Even though the car doesn’t have too much in common with the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette, the obvious resemblance and the fact that the Opel was significantly smaller than the American sports car, brought it the “Baby Corvette” nickname. And the sporty Opel didn’t disappoint, because more than 100,000 units were sold during the six-year production run, becoming a success for the German carmaker.

Opel GT – Baby Corvette 600x451 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

20. Trabant 601 – “Trabi”, “Cardboard Racer”

There’s no doubt that the Trabant 601 was the symbol of the automobile industry in the former East Germany. We can tell that just by looking at sales numbers, almost 3 million units sold between 1963 and 1990. The car which is best known as the “Trabi” was popular for its low price, reliability and simple build that made it extremely easy to repair and maintain. Another feature that the Trabant 601 is famous for is its “cardboard” body (thus the “Cardboard Racer” nickname). However, this nickname was given after several inaccurate news reports stated that the car’s body was made of a material based on cardboard. In fact, the Trabant’s body was made of Duroplast, a composite plastic made from recycled materials, which often included cotton or paper.

Trabant 601 – Trabi 600x400 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

21. Volvo P1800 ES – “Snow White’s Coffin”

Many consider the Volvo P1800 to be one of the most beautiful cars of all time and we’re not going to argue with that at all. The car’s popularity further increased after it was featured in “The Saints” television series, where the main character, Simon Templar, drives one throughout the entire run of the show. It was also reported that Roger Moore was so impressed with the car that he bought one.

Volvo P1800 ES – Snow Whites Coffin 600x389 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

However, things are a little different with the P1800 ES, which is the estate version. The car wasn’t that popular, with just a little over 6,000 units sold during a production last that lasted for only two years. But that was enough for the car to get a nice nickname, “Snow White’s Coffin”, which doesn’t have any morbid references, but it comes from the car’s large windows (according to the fairytale, Snow White’s coffin was entirely made of glass).

22. Volvo PV 444/544 – “Hunchback”

Other extremely popular Volvos were the PV444 (1943-1958) and its successor, the PV544 (1958-1966). The PV444 was the Swedish carmaker’s first uni-body car and it featured a very distinctive roof and back line, which made it known as the “Buckelvolvo”, which is Swedish for “Hunchback”.

1954 Volvo PV 444 544 – Hunchback 600x342 at Most Famous Car Nicknames in History

And this concludes our list of the most popular nicknames ever used in the car industry. So, how about you? Is there anything special connecting you to any of these cars. And if you think we might have missed something, please feel free to add it in the comments section below.

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(Journalist) – Vlad Balan is an automotive journalist from Eastern Europe and he has been blogging about cars, reporting from auto shows, taking interviews or test driving cars since 2007.