Here are some of the stories.
One of the great disappointments of modern cars is names often being traded for alphanumeric identifiers. The advantage of a real name is that it adds to the character of a vehicle. A name can be evocative, even if the origin and what the name means is obscure to the general public. For example, there's a long list of cars named after winds. The Volkswagen Golf was named for the Gulf Stream, Jetta is German for "Jet Stream", and the Scirocco is named after a hot Mediterranean wind, as is the Maserati Levente. We're more interested in the story behind the model names rather than the textbook definition, though. So, here are some of the most interesting origin stories of iconic car names.
There's more than one story out there for how the Ford Mustang got its name, but as far as we can tell, this is the most likely to be accurate. According to Ford designer John Najjar, he pitched the Mustang name based around the World War II P-51 fighter plane, but it was rejected flat-out. He liked and believed in the name, so he pitched it again as being linked to the horse and what mustangs represented. Ford bigwigs liked the idea framed like that, and hence an icon was born, and the Mustang logo includes a picture of a horse. The fact that the Mustang is an American-exclusive breed of horse might have something to do with it, too.
The Pagani Huayra has a particularly cool wind-based origin. It refers to Huayra-Tata, a god worshipped as the "Father of Wind", by the occupants of the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes before the Europeans colonized. Huayra-Tata was revered for both devastating hurricane winds as well as fertilizing rains. The god was represented as a human figure with two heads and serpents coiled around him and said to manifest in the form of a whirlwind. We love this name for a modern hypercar, as Huayra-Tata was worshipped as both a bringer of creation and devastation. Bolivia is also home to the Telmatobius Huayra frog, but that would not be anywhere near as grandiose.
When Chevrolet was ready to show the world the Camaro in 1966, GM sent out a telegram to around 200 journalists saying, "Hope you can be on hand to help scratch a cat. Details will follow..." The details that followed the next day read, "Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28." The obtuse message was a reference to the fact that the Camaro was codenamed Panther through production. However, Chevrolet needed a name beginning with C to keep in Chevrolet's naming convention at the time.
GM was clearly having a lot of fun when the Camaro was first unveiled, and product managers told the press that a Camaro is a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs. It was also reported that the word Camaro comes from a term that translates as "friend" or "comrade" from a French dictionary Bob Lund and Ed Rollett were thumbing through when coming with a name. However, that word is "camarade" in French. In reality, Camaro is a made-up word used because it sounds cool.
If you're curious as to why Tesla naming convention uses letters, but the Model 3 uses a number, the reason is surprisingly juvenile. CEO Elon Musk had been planning for Tesla's model line to start with the Model S and spell out the words SEXY CARS. Unfortunately for Musk, Ford grabbed the Model E trademark before Tesla, and he had to make do with S3XY.
"Like why did you go steal Tesla's E? Like you're some sort of fascist army marching across the alphabet, some sort of Sesame Street robber?" Musk said at the time. Of course, Musk conveniently forgets that he's using the same naming convention Ford started using over 100 years ago and that Tesla has been trademarking letters as well. Ford first applied for Model E back in 2000, and Ford's first production cars were the Model A, B, C, F, K, N, R, and S. We're hoping that Tesla can still get Model A and Model F, though.
There are two main stories about how the Countach got its name, and neither sticks with Lamborghini's tradition of naming cars after famous fighting bulls. According to one, the word itself derives from the Piedmontese dialect word Cuntacc meaning "plague" or "contagion," but is used more to express amazement. According to Marcello Gandini, someone he worked with used it as an exclamation a lot.
The other, and more likely story, is that "Cuntacc!" was the reaction of a security guard when he first saw a 1:1 scale prototype model of the car. According to that story, and Lamborghini, Cuntacc is simply an expression of amazement, like "wow." There's no dictionary definition in reality, but in Piedmontese, it is either a mild or strong vulgar expression similar to "Damn!" Either way, Lamborghini changed the spelling and went with it.
The Dodge Viper's origin story starts with Bob Lutz coming up with the idea to build a modern-day Shelby Cobra. The task of building the car was then delegated to Tom Gale. Later on, when Gale visited Italy to meet with the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro of the Italdesign studio regarding a different project, the Viper got its name. According to Gale via MotorTrend, "We had dinner one night, and I said to Giorgetto, we're looking for a name for a Cobra-like car that we're doing and asked, 'What's a snake name in Italian?' And he says, 'Vipera.' And I said, 'Sh*t. Thanks.' Didn't need to say much more." He then explained, "None of us had thought of Viper at that point, and right there, that's when we had our 'a-ha!' moment."
When Chevrolet brought the Corvette to market in 1953, the brand needed a name beginning with C but didn't want to name it after an animal. Over 300 names were submitted, but none were deemed suitable. Myron Scott was working in Chevy's public relations/advertising department at the time, decided to open up a dictionary and read through the "C" section, and see what he could come up with. He came across the word corvette, defined as a small warship designed for convoy escort duty. The word corvette had come to public attention through World War II and worked perfectly. The name rolls off the tongue, and American men readily made the association of a fast, maneuverable, and aggressive vehicle.
The Beetle has a long and storied history, but from its start in the 1930s and up until 1968, its official designation was Volkswagen Type 1, and simply marketed as the Volkswagen. Where the Beetle name came from is hazy, but the nickname most likely came about in the UK in the early 1950s. John Colborne-Baber owned one of the first Type 1 models to land in the UK, and one of his son's friends nicknamed it "the Beetle". The name started cropping up in magazines referring to the Volkswagen, but with the beetle in inverted commas and without capitalization. In Germany, it became known as the Käfer (German for Beetle), and later on, it was marketed under the name. Finally, in 1968, Type 1 officially became the Beetle.
The Carrera name pops up all through Porsche's history, but the most iconic example is the Carrera GT supercar. The Carrera name first cropped up in 1972, though, and means to race or run. Specifically, Porsche was referring to the Carrera Panamericana Mexican endurance race, where the brand had great success with its 550 Spyder models. The first of the five races was in 1950 and ran on the north-south Mexican section of the then-new Pan-American Highway over five days. It was known to be the most dangerous race of any type in the world, but that didn't stop famous drivers from all over the globe and across the spectrum of disciplines from entering, including European Formula drivers American NASCAR and Indy car racers.
It's a well-known fact that Lamborghini likes to name its cars after fighting bulls. Diablo means "devil" in Spanish, but it's also the name of a particularly vicious beast raised by the Duke of Veragua in the 19th century that fought a long and spirited battle against El Chicorro in 1869. Bullfighting is a particularly barbaric sport, art form, or cultural event, depending on how you dress it. The Diablo is an icon, but we prefer the Reventon name as it was also the name of the bull that defeated a bullfighter in 1943.
It's also worth noting that it was reported that Lamborghini was moving away from naming its cars after fighting bulls and that Huracan is Spanish for a hurricane. The last part is true, but Huracan was also the name of a famous bull that fought in 1879.