Theme : Special – ‘S’ as in ……

Driven to Write considers the cream of the motorist’s alphabet

Three in a row. The S's finest moment?
Three in a row for the letter’s finest moment? The Datsun 510SSS: superstreetonline.com

Every niche has its own alphabetical hierarchies. For computers, maybe ‘X’ is the best letter, or perhaps lower case “i”, but top of the motorists alphabet must be ‘S’. ‘S’ is the most Special letter, whatever it stands for. Just seeing an ‘S’ attached to a car’s name lets you know that it will be better and faster than a car that only has an ‘L’ or, horror of horrors, a ‘D’, a letter that offers only parsimony, slipperiness, smell and clatter, unless it is a Citroen.

Here are some significant ‘S’ cars.

Mercedes SSK (standing for Super Sport Kurz)

Mercedes 300SL (standing for Sport Leicht)

Alfa Giulietta SS (standing for Sprint Speciale)

Rover 3500S (surprisingly standing for Synchomesh)

SS Jaguar (standing for Swallow Sidecars, though history gave it a darker meaning hence Jaguar became a brand rather than a model)

Chevrolet Chevelle SS (standing for Super Sport)

Citroen SM (possibly standing for Série Maserati, though disputed)

McLaren 650S (standing for Super)

Datsun 510SSS (possibly standing for the noise the engine made when cooling down)

McLaren 570S (in this case standing for Sport)

Mini Cooper S (apparently standing for S)

Of course, some might say that ‘S’ has had is day. Indeed, over the past few years, the need to appear to be keeping up with the world of IT has seen serious challenges from ‘X’ and, especially, ‘i’ though, being a company rooted in the world of IT, Tesla uses both ‘S’ and ‘X’ for model names.

Possibly the best 'S' badge ever.
Possibly the best ‘S’ badge ever.

21 thoughts on “Theme : Special – ‘S’ as in ……”

  1. That’s a nice Bluebird SSS, or Datsun 1600SSS as the 510 was called in my part of the world. Since I’m currently going through an old Honda phase I’ll contribute fuel-injected Si, and VTEC era SiR to the list.

  2. What a fine bit of information gathering. Honda have their Type-S versions such as the Accord. And of course “s” lives in the subsections of the GL/GLE/GLX set of trim specifications. And one knows that a GLS would be the sporty one and GLXS is the top spec with the butchest suspension. One better would be GLXS-E which is crammed with so much trim and sportiness yo can´t even get into the car. These days it would be called Elite or Panache or Connoisseur perhaps. And so it could just as easily be the bottom of the range without even a smoker´s pack to its name.

  3. I remember “Two and a half men” – Discussing Alan´s new Porsche Boxster:

    “It is the girls version of a Porsche – a Boxster!”
    “No, it is not a girls car – it is a Boxster S”

  4. The succeeding generation of Bluebird had the 160B SGXL, and the 180B SGXLS. Out-Fording Ford? The coupe used the traditional Datsun SSS designation.

    I suspect there’s no truth in the rumour that VW abandoned the idea of an 85bhp Golf Mk 1, to fit between the S/LS/GLS and the GTI, because the logical engine level designation would have been Golf SS.

  5. What about RSs? I know this widens the Venn Diagram to overlap Rs.

    Reversing that, we also have Vauxhall’s long-standing SRi line. Back in the day the SRi was something quite handy but not quite the full fat GSi. Nowadays it is just a upper-midline trim designation.

  6. Ford currently offer the Zetec S trim line. For the Focus this offers little apart from a fussy body kit. On the Fiesta however a nice ST-lite body kit is complemented by the thrummy 1-litre three pot engine that I am so enamoured of, making it a useful warm hatch.

  7. Indeed I didn’t mention Audi’s use of RS and, indeed, as an S6 owner (still, if anyone is interested) it’s odd I didn’t. Also, Audi’s notorious S-Line which, as I understand, gives you all the downside of an unforgiving ‘sporty’ ride, but none of the performance advantages.

    Talk of VAG reminds me that in the last years of the Beetle, it was available in ‘S’ versions with bits of matt black paint and wider wheels.

    1. To help your understanding, the S-line models give you LED headlamps, satnav, nicer alloy wheels and half leather seats in addition to the marginally lowered suspension. It’s not a bad deal for two and a half grand. Audi has dialled down the suspension hardness in recent years. I haven’t noticed the motoring rags describing a sporty Audi as “teeth shattering” or “bone shaking” for a while now.

  8. I also didn’t mention the Fiat 125 which, rather confusingly, was available as a 125S (more power and 5 speed box), a 125P (made in Poland), a 125T (modified in New Zealand) and a 125Z (bodied by Zagato), Did the 125 only cease production when they ran out of letters.

  9. Always felt that the letter R denoted the real full fat double espresso model. S often seems a bit aspirational (when was the last SL that was either sporty or light?) GT-R, R Type both Honda and VW, spring to mind immediately. Putting the two together (RS2000?) would be top of the pile for me

    1. I wonder how much time is spent by product planners working out these names. They must have reems of information on competitors´products and naming systems plus plenty of diagrams of horsepower and torque figures showing their vehicles in comparison with all the others.

    2. Can’t decide if that sounds like a great job or not. On balance I’d certainly give it a try. That said there isn’t a hell of a lot of originality from these product planners. Their job seems to consist of pulling Rs and Ss randomly from a drum and adding figures that correspond to output or engine size or the engine size they think we expect for a given output.

  10. Andy- that’s remarkable product knowledge! I must admit my understanding of cars is simply not fine grained enough and quite possibly models stand or fall on the equipment pricing structure as much as engines and appearances. Do customers ever cross-compare at this level? I am beginning to suspect that they do.
    Anyone studying car history nearly never has accurate price information.

  11. I always found the S-Line nomenclature a bit odd. A top line Audi model is not the S but the RS, so speccing an S-Line kit for your 2-litre diesel is a bit like saying that you are not aiming for the top, but second top.

    Anyway, am I the only person disappointed there is no RS3? I would find endless amusement sticking a letter A in front of every RS3 badge I chanced across.

    1. Careful. Some authors here admire the QX for its discrete charm and Japanese interpretation of rationalist design. The market might not have understood the car, these people would argue, but the QX still has considerable charm. Such proponents might even go on to say the QX is a far lovelier car than the RS3, if you like a refined engine and a velvetty ride quality.

  12. Richard,

    “It exists” was a bizarre advertising slogan used for the QX in the UK.

    I’ve never driven one, but some time towards the end of the last century, commended it to a friend as “a 605 which doesn’t bugger up”. The same could apply to the contemporary Camry. Badge-snobbery killed both for the British market, and probably most of Europe. The Nissan and Toyota both found favour with discerning high mileage drivers, which says something for their resilience, comfort and user interface.

    In many ways it’s like a big Primera P10, a car far better than any of its competitors except possibly the 190E which Nissan used as a benchmark. Since new Primeras could be had for half the money a 190E cost, win to Nissan.

    Modern QX equivalents? Skoda Superb possibly, or the Renault Latitude for the lucky continentals…

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