5 Fastest American Cars Named After Animals


Ford Mustang driving fast on country road

Carmakers have historically used all kinds of odd inspirations for naming their cars (the Geely Rural Nanny anyone?). If you want the car model name to reflect speed and agility, or command respect on the racetrack or stoplight, then animals are an obviously great choice for inspiration.

From the fast to the dangerous, here are five American car model names inspired by animals

 

Cheetah by Bill Thomas

Cheetah

Ask any child "What is the fastest cat" and they’ll immediately say “cheetah!” So naturally, when you’re thinking of what to name your race car, Cheetah is the perfect choice. To be honest, It’s amazing the name was still available by the 60’s.

That's exactly what Chevrolet tuner Bill Thomas thought in 1963, while he worked with a covert group inside General Motors to create the Cheetah out of all American parts to compete against the Shelby Cobra. The production cars had fiberglass bodies and a steel space frame.

What Thomas created was definitely beautiful, and indeed fast. Unfortunately, it wasn't the easiest car to drive and ended up being prone to crashing. Not only that, the engine was notorious for overheating.

When the car did make it around a corner, it was nearly uncatchable on the straights thanks to its Thomas-built 6.2 L, dual air-meter, fuel-injected Chevy small-block V8 based engine.

According to some sources, the car reportedly posted faster numbers than the 427 Cobra at the drag strip. Unfortunately, it's aversion to corners and hot-running engine meant it had mixed racing success.

 

Shelby Cobra racing on a racetrack

AC Cobra aka Shelby Cobra

Speaking of the cobra, it would be a huge disservice to not mention quite possibly the second most well-known animal based sports car, the Shelby Cobra.

When Carroll Shelby first drove the British-built AC Ace two-seater, he immediately saw huge potential for the car. He thought two more cylinders than the Bristol straight-6 it came with would do nicely, so he wrote to the company to ask for a body that could fit a V8. They agreed. Now, with a body secured, he needed an engine, so he worked with Ford to source the right one.

Thus was born the AC Cobra, later called the Shelby Cobra, and the beautiful long-lasting relationship between Ford and Shelby.

Cobras aren’t known for being fast snakes, but they’re dangerous, so naming a race car after an animal that can strike fear in your competitors makes perfect sense.

 

The Dodge Viper breaking records at the Nurburgring

Dodge Viper

Continuing the trend of cars named after reptiles, no list of fast American sports cars would be complete without the Dodge Viper. In fact, in 2014 the Viper was named number 10 on the "Most American Cars" list because 75% or more of its parts are manufactured in the U.S.

Americans are known for building incredibly powerful engines, and so are the Italians. Fortunately for us, Chrysler owned Lamborghini in the 90's, so they were able to help design the V10 that powered the original Viper.

From the beginning, the Viper was built for performance so in addition to the fire-breathing motor, the engineers saved weight by including vinyl windows, a canvas roof, and no A/C. Those creature comforts were added later for customers who wanted widow-making speed and comfort in the same package.

The Dodge Viper also had a successful racing career, which should come as no surprise. In fact, in 2008 the Viper ACR clocked a record beating time at the Nürburgring of 7:22.1.

Of course, when you put a combination of a V10 monster with no traction control or electronic stability control in the hands of the general public, they're bound to get themselves into trouble. That's why the Viper earned a reputation as a "widowmaker".

Vipers are dangerous, venomous animals with long hollow fangs. Smart animals know to stay away from them, but we humans are commonly not so smart, so we embrace the dangerous name and hop into a car that feels like it's actively trying to kill us.

 

1977 Pontiac Trans Am Firebird Screaming Chicken Smokey and Bandit

Pontiac Firebird

When thinking about cars named after mythical creatures, the Pontiac Firebird is at the top of the list, especially when talking about American cars. For most Americans, the Firebird conjures up the iconic images of Smokey and the Bandit and his black Firebird with the gold "screaming chicken" on the incredibly long hood.

Interestingly, the movie almost stared a Ford Mustang instead, but once Hal Needham, the Hollywood stuntman who wrote the film, saw the Firebird he immediately changed his mind.

It was originally built as a pony car to compete with the Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar on the same platform as the Chevrolet Camaro starting in 1967 and ended production in 2002.

The iconic decal on the hood nearly didn't make it off the drawing board. When the designer revealed the original gigantic decal to the the powers that be, they thought it was tacky and shelved the idea for 2 years.

It wasn't until John Schinella drove around town in a Firebird fitted with a Trans Am rear spoiler and hood complete with the oversized phoenix decal, that he was unsurprisingly mobbed at gas stations and drive-ins with people asking where they could get one. At that point, it was obvious to the powers that be that the decal was far from tacky, and instead a huge selling point.

The Firebird name is based on a Slavic mythology of a flaming bird that steals apples from the rich and gives them to the peasants. In some versions of the myth, it drops pearls from it's beak to give the poor something to trade for food. Maybe the name is a metaphor for beating contemporary Ferraris off the line?

(photo by Restoreamusclecar.com)

 

Ford Mustang

Quite possibly the most famous of all cars named after animals, the Mustang is the original "Pony Car" and inspired many competitors. It's influence even stretched overseas to inspire the design of the original Toyota Celica.

The Mustang was originally built on the Ford Falcon platform as a test to see how customers would react to a car built to be personal and sporty. When first year's sales more than quadrupled their estimates by selling 400k, and more than a million sold within two years, they knew they had a hit on their hands.

Fast forward to today and it's clear the Mustang has captured hearts and minds around the world and proven it's staying power.

Mustang horses are known for being wild and fast animals in North America, so the name fits the car. Interestingly, the Mustang was almost named the Cougar, and even Torino and T-bird II were floated. Fortunately for us, focus groups overwhelmingly chose Mustang.

 

Did we miss any important ones in our list? What are your favorite cars named after animals?

 

The Ultimate Taxonomy of Names Of Cars

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