WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The trend originated from Motor Boats and WWII airplanes found its way into the Custom Car and Hot Rod scene in the 1950s. It is still going strong today.
By Tom Nielsen
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Custom cars have been given names by their owners since the early 1950’s car shows. The practice probably got started in WWII when affectionate names got painted on the nose of military aircraft by young GI’s. Pleasure boat owners have always sought to personalize their water craft by giving them an identity with a special name. So it was only natural that custom car owners would eventually put a name on their “dreamboats” too!
There was a period from about 1958 to 1961 where guys started having the name of the car painted on the quarter panels or some other obvious spot. I think that this went along with the trend for wild and creative pin striping that was started by Von Dutch and continued through the Larry Watson era.
From show cars with names painted on signboards or the sides of the car, the trend quickly spread to having a name painted on everyday driver customs or hot rods. Noted Northwest pin striper Donn Trethewey remembers, “Yes, I certainly do remember car names. I did a number of them. Even on my own ’37; it was The Steel Eel, a name I’d seen in a magazine, so I cannot take full authorship. Blue Angel, Red River Rock, Misty, Cherry Pie, and so on. Mostly in the standard, one-stroke script, lettering style.”
One of the first customs that I noticed with a name was when the sectioned Olds hardtop built by the Valley Custom Shop was on the cover of Hot Rod magazine. It was named “Polynesian” which seemed like a pretty cool name to me. Another name that was especially memorable was Duane Steck’s full custom ’54 Chevy called “Moonglow”. That always seemed like the perfect name for the low, heavenly looking, white and blue’54 Chevy hardtop.
There are lots of options for a car’s name. Appearance or design features are often behind an owner choosing a name. Sometimes a hot engine or special mechanical equipment gives impetus for a car’s name. Rock or popular song titles, movie stars names were used back in the day. Many times the paint colors are where an owner comes up with a car’s name. However, sometimes an owner just wants to make a statement about the car’s persona. There were also times when an owner wanted to make a personal statement about himself in his car’s name.
Here are some examples that come to mind on different car names. There are many names that fit in each category but I just wanted to give a few examples.
Colors: The sectioned 1959 Ford, My Blue Heaven, from Oregon had its name proudly painted on the rear quarter panel. There was a ’57 Ford hardtop in Seattle around 1958 known as “The Pink Lady”. The “Jade Idol” name seemed really appropriate for that ’56 Merc with the multi-green color scheme that Gene Winfield put on it. Joe Bailon’s “Candy Bird” Thunderbird was another great named based on the candy apple paint job. Lyle Lake’s 1951 Buick was appropriately given the “Blue Danube” name. Gil Clifford came up with the name “Red Rage” for his sectioned ’56 Buick. Larry Watson thought up the name “Grapevine” for his grape colored ’50 Chev two door sedan. These are just a few of the color based names I can think of. Naming a car for its color is perhaps the most common inspiration for a name. You can probably think of lots of other examples for this category.
Madame Fi Fi, the Seattle “show queen” , was named for its F. I. (fuel injected 1957 Chevy engine). The outrageous name set the stage for the series of “radical” modifications that would follow in the years after the engine was installed. Joe Bailon appropriately named the customized ’58 Impala “Scoopy Doo” for its multitude of scoops. Dave Stuckey’s “Little Coffin” ’32 Ford sedan had a boxy, coffin shape to it. The Alexander Brothers used the name “Victorian” for their beautiful ’55 Ford named after its Crown Victoria model name.
El Matador was a good choice as a name for Cushenbery’s wild ’40 Ford. It created a statement about the car’s presence, attitude, and bravado. Barris’ name “Aztec” seemed to make a perfect statement for that very famous and radical ‘55 Chev convertible. The “CadZZilla” name combined the make of the car with a statement about its sinister, monster look.
Movie Stars, song titles, etc
John D Agostino has been titling his beautiful custom creations after famous movie stars. Gable, Marilyn, Rita and others give the elite character and a sense of the era that the car’s design fits into. There was a local car from Washington called “Party Doll” after the song title. Lots of rock and roll songs provided names for everyday and custom show cars.
The Hirohata Merc was given the name “Hawaiian”. There was also “Desert Beauty”, Parisienne, Artic Sand, plus many other names that fit into this category.
In the mid to late 1950’s Renton’s Gary McCann owned a cool ’41 Chev coupe. His friend Dan Holms, also from Renton, WA, owned the ’41 Chev next and added some changes and detailing. When Dan entered it in the Fifth Annual Tacoma Rod and Custom Show, he gave it the name “Wicked Ruby”. Mr. Holms has accurately recreated the ‘41 Chev coupe and the name “Wicked Ruby” has been revived!
In summary, naming custom cars has been going on for many years and continues to be an important part of many new custom creations today. We remember cars that we like often more by their name than by the owner or builder’s name.
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