Places: Oxford, Cambridge, Blenheim, Hereford, Somerset

And Westminster. Quite a list for those interested in cars named after UK destinations.

Image: veikl

Editor’s note: On behalf of the editorial team, I’d like to wish all our readers a very happy Easter. This article first appeared on DTW in December 2016 as part of the ‘Places’ theme.

They don’t do that anymore, do they? Yet the Americans are still happily driving around in their Aspens, Tahoes, Malibus and Colorados. Seat, to my knowledge still sell an Ibiza, Ateca and Leon. The French and Germans are less willing to use their place names for their products[1], are they not?

The case of the United Kingdom is curious. The French and Germans never really went in for celebrating their lovely towns: Bamberg, Bordeaux, Aix-en-Provence, Miltenberg, say. The Spanish are still doing it. The British did and gave up. That change makes it an interesting case. What has happened to the British (I am not British, by the way) to make them feel like their entire country is ‘uncool’?

Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster are still respectable places, for various reasons. Yet it seems unthinkable to name a car after them today. Then again, what car would fit such a moniker? Minis are British but have their own nomenclature and anyway a car as purportedly small as a Mini would not fit a big name like Westminster (but in 2030 it will be able to).

Jaguar cars are fitted with useless two-letter codes to make them sound like an order from a supplier of suppositories, or like trim levels from an Infiniti or Honda. Nissan have a set of wholly-made up namoids and they are Japanese. Rover has gone the way of Austin, Wolseley and Humber (there is another name).

Image: veikl

A few weeks ago, our very own blue oval stalwart was discussing Granada limousines. In the ye good olden days of bygone yore, Coleman-Milne could unselfconsciously call their vehicles names recalling the great London hotels: Dorchester and Grosvenor. The latest limousine has the anodyne name of Rosedale. I accept Rosedale is a place in Yorkshire. It could also very well be a road in a housing estate or the name of a retirement home: cosy and bland. Roses can be grown anywhere. It’s a curiously reluctant name, and it might be the last British place name on a production car (apart from Vauxhall which is also viewed as a liability).

[1] Post script: the Ford Taunus and Eifel sprang to mind and then the VW Westphalia camper van. Are their others? Not so many…

Author: richard herriott

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

62 thoughts on “Places: Oxford, Cambridge, Blenheim, Hereford, Somerset”

  1. Porsche Cayenne?

    Or the demonymic Hanomag Harburger van? Then there’s the Glas Isar, named after a river, rather than a settlement.

    The German car manufacturers do seem to have an aversion to place names. on the other hand Blaupunkt’s in-car entertainment catalogue was a veritable geography lesson. Just about every city in Germany except Bielefield, since, of course, it doesn’t actually exist.

    The only Japanese car with a Japanese place name I can think of is the Mitsubishi Sapporo. The UK Mazda importer chose to re-title the 78-82 626 the ‘Montrose’. The eponymous Angus port and industrial town has many virtues, but they don’t include any sense of exotic glamour.

  2. Westphalia is a company, rather than a model range.

    Frontrunners for giggle-inducing German cars-named-after-towns would have been the Lloyd Itzehoe and the NSU Kirchheimbolanden. But all we got in real life was the Bertone Garmisch…

    1. I’ve just thought: Opel Ascona (as mentioned previously) and Olympia. Not German, but at least places.

      The BMW E3 2500/2800 was sold in the USA as the “Bavaria”.

      (Scratches head for cars named after their place of origin): Alfa 75 Milano, Fiat Mirafiori, Volvo 200-series Torslanda, Morris Oxford, Hillman Imp Caledonian.

      There must be more out there…

    2. Always liked the Riley Monaco myself – if you’re going to name a car after a place it needs to be somewhere interesting…

    3. Does Lancia Montecarlo count, since they spelled it as one word instead of two?

  3. I tried really hard to think about French cars with place names – they seem even more averse to this than the Germans. But there are some, like Simca’s Versailles, Cambord, Beaulieu and Marly. On one hand, these are trim level designations of the Vedette, but they also seem to have been used on their own.

    1. Renault Floride and Hotchkiss Anjou.

      There is something of a French – and also Ford – tradition of naming engines after places: Renault Cléon and Ventoux, Simca Poissy. I don’t think “Douvrin” was ever an official title for the PRV V6, but it’s widely used.

      Oh, and another place of origin name. How could we forget the Ferrari 575M Maranello?

    2. Think „Douvrin“ is the colloquial description for the alloy inline four found in the Renault R20, 18, 21, 25, Fuego and Safrane, as well as the Peugeot 505 and Citroën CX.

      The PRV V6 built and used by Peugeot/Renault/Volvo was/is dubbed either, well, „PRV“ or the „Euro V6“.

    3. Renault engines are named after the town where they are made, Douvrin, Cleon, etc. Ford did this with it’s engines hence Kent, Cleveland, Windsor, Essex, Romeo, etc.

  4. Could I add the Peel, made in Peel on the Isle of Man and for Japanese cars how about the Subaru Tribeca, surely one of the least appealing names for an AWD vehicle.

  5. There are the Cord 810/812 Westchester and Beverly, both body styles of their own, so certainly more deserving of separate model status that a Mostin Oxbridge.

    1. Holden did the Kingswood and Belmont, suburbs of Sydney and Geelong respectively.

      Monaro is a region of NSW, Barina Park is a suburb of Woolongong NSW. Camira Creek is a settlement in the Northern Rivers area of Northern NSW. Torana, thankfully, just seems to be a made up word.

    2. Kingswood is a suburb in western Sydney, but the car is actually named after the suburb in Adelaide where the original Holden factory was. (Or imported from Detroit via the Chevrolet Kingswood, depending on whom you believe.)

      As far as I know, Camira and Torana trace their etymology to Aboriginal words – Camira means ‘wind’ and Torana means ‘to fly’. Having looked up Barina, it seems it is the same – in that case, ‘summit’. Monaro means ‘small hill’.

      Supposedly one of the nixed names for what became the Marina was ‘Monaco’. Interesting to reflect on how that might have tarnished the principality’s reputation if fate had taken a slightly different turn.

      Certain wealthy parts of the US Atlantic seaboard seem to be a reliable go-to for American brands – Chrysler New Yorker, Fifth Avenue, Newport, and Buick Park Avenue.

    1. OK then… How about the Austin Atlantic?
      I’d call that British.

  6. Robertas: Ascona is in Switzerland. Olympia isn’t a place in Germany. The Taunus fits the requirement: a German car with a German model name.
    Arguably Bristol named the Blenheim after the aeroplane and not the mansion.

    1. Blenheim Palace was named after Blindheim in Bavaria, the site of the first of Marlborough’s decisive victories in the War of the Spanish Succession.

      It’s not widely known, but the Austin Hereford was actually named after the cow.

  7. Angus: yes, one of many British cars with a British sort of name. They do seem to have died out though. If I had the time I would make a nice timeline diagram and use it to define the moment Britishness became ironic.

  8. In the 1990’s I lived in Tacoma, Washington, USA, an impoverished and violent city at the time.
    Even locals scratched their heads at Toyota’s decision to name their pickup truck line after said town.

  9. Thinking of recent British cars named after places I came up with the Bentley Mulsanne, Lotus Evora and McLaren Elva. None of these places are located in the UK. I wonder if we will ever see British places on cars again, probably not.

    1. When launching the Evora, Lotus clarified it was a made-up name, unrelated with the city of Évora.
      Like Opel-vauxhall with the Sintra

  10. I was always faintly disappointed that Austin discontinued naming cars after different counties after the formation of BMC, and set their model names in stone. The names seem so evocative, drenched in history and tradition, even to someone like me who’s never been to England, and doesn’t know where his ancestors left from. Austin Staffordshire. Austin Shropshire. Austin Gloucestershire. Can’t you imagine an Austin Worcestershire? Better not export that one, the Americans could never pronounce it. 🙂 Or spell it.
    Wonder if anyone at BMC thought to combine the Austin and Morris names? With a slight spelling variation, they could have had the Mostyn. Should go down well in the Principality…

    1. Didn’t Agatha Christie invent the ‘Mostyn name for one of her characters to drive ? Must be 60+ years since I read her books though.

    2. Could be, Mervyn. It’s over 50 years since I read her myself.

  11. Good morning all. When Kia launched its Telluride SUV (A rather handsome Korean version of the Volvo XC90 by the way) I thought it was a rather odd name for a car, so I Googled it and discovered it to be a former mining town in Colorado, now a tourist destination and Ski resort. Here are both Tellurides:

    Note the number plate on the automotive version: so true!

    1. Heavy Goods Vehicle: not being a native English speaker, I had to look that up. “Telluride” rolls of the tongue nicely, doesn’t it (although the overblown colours on the picture of the town are slightly painful)? It also sounds vaguely like a fictional material from a science fiction film: “we’re down to our last telluride crystal, captain!”

      There really should have been an Austin or Morris Hull, shouldn’t there?

      Not a placename per se, and not named after the true national symbol, the tulip, but still: Daf Daffodil.

    2. Morris Hull? Hmm, I can think of a whole raft of British (and Irish) town names that would be hilariously unglamorous for car model names. Best not to risk causing offence by doing so, methinks…😁

    3. And here I thought it must have been some sort of arcane mineral.

  12. This photo seems to be from a thriller film. Two white cars like phantasmes in front of a black plain tower of flats. The cars look old fashioned in comparison to the building. The building speaks horror. If these were the post war aspirations of people, what could I say.

    1. Hi Giorgos. So many automotive photos from the 1960s feature modernist buildings as a backdrop to cars that still looked remarkably old fashioned by comparison, such as these, from the GM archive featured on the Vauxpedia website:

    2. Giorgos, as someone who grew up in those days, in that kind of neighbourhood, those cars weren’t so much aspirational as a way to escape the horror of living cheek-by-jowl in such a suburb. Anywhere else was better, means of escape was good, but at the end of the day you had to go back.
      Daniel, the building has definitely aged better than the car. But then those Victors were always a bit strange. Maybe they shoud have asked the architect to design the car?

    3. There are similarly drawings by Le Corbusier of his proposed ‘Ville Radieuse’, where the architecture looks like Dubai in 2023, and the cars now look ridiculously old-fashioned in comparison .

  13. Does the Alfa MiTo count (Milano+Torino)? And of course the Austin Montego.

    It’s an interesting point about British place names on cars – as a native it’s hard to judge impartially. To me, many towns sound quite homely and comforting – not the image todays thrusting, aspirational brands aspire to associate with.

  14. If Austin and Morris had taken Alfa’s logic in arriving at MiTo, we could have had the Mostin CowBridge.

    It’s a shame that alternative future never happened.

    1. Or, more plausibly(?) how about the ‘Longley’?

  15. In Germany, there was a brand called “Neckar” (a former NSU car factory that was taken over by FIAT, named after the river on which the factory was located) with car names like “Jagst” (a river in this region) or “Weinsberg” (a small town near the factory), or Europa (needs no explanation).

    1. It seems inevitable that whatever you take as a naming scheme there’s a campmobile manufacturer

    2. How about manufacturers that don’t use the name of a town but its coat of arms?
      Porsche – Stuttgart hare and Baden Wurttemberg antler
      Ford – Cologne crowns and ermine
      Büssing – Brunswick lion
      VW – Wolfsburg castle

    3. Dave – you’ve overlooked Borgward, who used the arms of the Free and Hanseatic City of Bremen:

    4. Being no particular Borgwardian I think the four town musicians of Bremen would have been appropriate.

      Lancia Fulvia HFs had valve covers painted blue and yellow, the colours of Turin.

  16. How about old Lancias, named after ancient Roman military roads Via Aurelia, Via Appia, Via Flaminia…

  17. Happy Easter, everyone.

    I thought of Thames (Ford), which is nearly both a place name and a pun (Ford as in river crossing, of course). Also, the Volkswagen Derby, although I suspect that the name refers to the horse race.

    I can think of more brand names than model names linked to British places – Bristol and Bedford (and Lincoln and Nash). Then there are engines – Essex and Kent, for example.

    Sticking with Ford, the Escort was nearly called the Anglia, but it was decided that the Anglia name was too British.

    I recall that the name ‘Newmarket’ was considered for the Mini, but that was because it took the company in to a new market, rather than being named after the place.

    I don’t see why manufacturers couldn’t continue to use British place names for car models. They’d have to be careful, though.

    1. Now that you mention Newmarket: if my memory serves me right I think one of the leather colors at Bentley is called ‘Newmarket tan’.

  18. Thank you Daniel. Happy Easter!
    Let ‘s say that the modern building architecture matches with 70s and 80s cars, when the shapes became more angular. Nissan B310, Corolla E70, Starlet P70, Celica TA6 as examples. Regarding car naming, I prefer the numeric system like in BMW, 316, 520, 735 instead of names. A system like in commercial vehicles, e.g. 1416 being class 1, 4 doors, 1600cc engine, something anonymous like that.

    1. Truck manufacturers use such systems for ages.
      Mercedes Actros xxyy – xx for tons and yy for PS/10.
      A 4463 (8×8 tractor engine for millipede trailers) would be fun.

      Renault used AExxx for their Magnum trucks with xxx for the number of PS. Their biggest ones were AE385 and AE400. CAR once had an article about a trip with the Williams F1 team andctge fun they had with their Magnum AE750 transporters…

  19. More rivers:


    Glas Isar
    Holden Colorado
    Lada Samara
    Morris Isis
    Volvo Amazon
    Yugo Sana

  20. We can add the Ford Eiffel to the Ford Taunus.

    The de Tomaso Deauville is named after a small French town with a beach and a casino. However the car seems more mundane.

    Ferrari’s Portofino and Roma speak for themselves.

  21. Thank you Dave. The Renault system of numbering was to me unknown. It is rare to find Renault lorries in Greece, and French cars are less in numbers than it used to be. For the spotter that is a pity, as Renault lorries are attractively designed. Mercedes-Benz, MAN, DAF, Astra, are more frequent in the lorry scene. Do you happen to know the MAN numbering system? I have never spotted on the road the old Lancia and Alfa Romeo lorries that existed in the 70s. However, there were many Fiat and OM lorries. The OM 2 axle lorries were usually painted red, with blue, green and yellow ones in the minority. Happy Easter!

    1. The currrent MAN scheme is AAA xx.yyy with AAA = model line, xx =tons and yyy = PS.
      An MAN TGL 44.640 is an 8×6 tractor engine for heavy loads transports (that are planned a year ahead and move at pedestrian’s pace, if at all)

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