Think Of A Number

If big is beautiful, why aren’t there car model names with more than four digits?

1992 Saab 9000000: autopartsrecyclers.co.uk
1992 Saab 9000000: autopartsrecyclers.co.uk

People expend a lot of breath on the topic of vehicle names. Until quite recently many held that a name (Silver Shadow, Miura, Astra) presented fewer challenges to the memory than a number. A distinct minority believed numerical model identifiers (518, 911, 75 and 75) represented a cooler style that suggested greater objectivity.

With the devastatingly consistent sales success of the 3-series, Mercedes letter-series cars and Porsches 9-prefix cars, many firms have thrown out their Brougham, Town Car and Caprice nameplates in favour of cold, shiny three-digit alphanumerics. Renault, oddly, went to names as the 80s ended, ditching their 11s, 14s, 18s and 25s in favour of Clios, Meganes and (for a time, Safranes). Those first two now are celebrating their second decades in use.

Car and Driver are running a Kia K900 long termer. I noticed this name as it reminded me of Saab’s other great saloon the 9000 (I misread the name in the article). That in turn made me think of Pontiac’s very excellent 6000 from the 80s. There have been a few 2000s: the Lancia 2000, BMW 2002, the Triumph 2000, the 2500 and Rover had a 3500. Audi tried to sell cars with a 5000 badge but creeping gears stopped that. Apart from the 6000, 5000 and 9000, these names referred to engine size in some way (BMW was being obscure).

This general consideration of numbers as names makes me ask if there’s an acceptable upper limit to numbers as model designators. This is not the case with names. Skoda sells a very good Superb quite unabashedly. Triumph was a very confident name as was Standard before standard came to mean ordinary. Lotus had an Elite.

So why not a five digit car model designator? Saab’s 9000 replacement should have been the 90000. We’d be at 900000 by now. Is there a 125000 out there? Or  even a 9999? Bootlids are quite wide enough to carry a Cadillac 500000 nameplate, aren’t they? I’m sure more than a few wealthy drivers would like a nameplate commensurate with their salary.

The answer to my question is a fear of hubris perhaps. And maybe getting enough adhesive on to a really long name is a challenge when makers have a hard time getting rubber door seals to stay attached.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

13 thoughts on “Think Of A Number”

  1. I remember Russian cars used to have confusing numbers up to five digits. But I suspect that these were not used as actual names for selling the cars, but it was (or still is?) an internal numbering system to designate different body styles and engine versions.

  2. In the glory days of the 1980s, a German tuning outfit sold a particularly tastefully decorated W126 S-class as 1000 SEL, which I find just as amusing as a friend’s plan to fit a BMW motorbike engine into an E30 body and call the whole concoction a 310i.

    1. I always found it highly inappropriate that Morris felt that lilac was a suitable colour to celebrate the millionth Minor with a special edition.

      I remember most old cars by their particular rust hot spots, but my abiding memory of the Minor is the enthusiasm with which the front suspension collapsed if not properly maintained.

  3. So that’s a factory colour? Goodness. It’s not that good at all.
    We had a Minor in our household for two decades. The rusty, flexy boot stood out among all the rust and quirks.

    1. A friend had an old Minor Traveller which added dry rot to the list of possible woes. I’d grudgingly say it had an endearing character, with sideways fun available at safe speeds on every roundabout, but really it should have ceased production in the 50s. Though I’ve never changed a cylinder head gasket so easily in my life.

      It was certainly an odd colour choice for the 350 special edition cars built in 1961 – but you noticed it.

  4. I have NO idea how to log into my account from an iPhone. And I’m no technophobe. Anyway, if you zoom in on my normal avatar (99johann) you’ll see there’s already a 900000 Yeti in this world. 🙂

  5. I miss the naming convention of designitaing engine size in the numbers of thousands. And somewhere between the 70’s and 80’s there was a change, from a Granada 3000 GXL to a 2.8i Ghia. Whatever happened to a Giulia 1600 or a Rover 3500 or a Triumph 2000 or a Maserati 3500 GT? I miss them all…

    1. Nowadays we even miss 2.8 and 1.6. Often there is only one engine size left that is pushed to different performance levels. So we would have a 2000, a 2000, a 2000 Turbo and a 2000 Turbo. Not very distinctive… Companies that name their cars by engine size as a tradition (BMW and Mercedes) have long turned to fantasy numbers not representing any engine size at all. I quite like what Volvo does – their numbering that was connected (loosely?) to the number of cylinders now appears as a standalone designation, marking the power levels by numbers from 3 to 8.

    2. Glorious, weren’t they? There’s a coffee table book to be done on engine/trim badges. The clunky 2300 and 2800 numbers have a lot of charm. The typography they used shared less with contemporary design than you’d think; it went for commercial appeal, like shop signs of the time.

    3. Magic numbers:
      328 on a BMW 3 meant a straight six;
      Triumph 2600 (ditto)
      Volvo 760 (V6 and top spec)
      Ford Granada 2300 GLX.
      Alfa Romeo 1750 and 2000 berlina.
      These days the boot lid reveals very little (designations have moved to the front wing?).

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