Who started adding letters to the end of car names?

Seems like you can’t buy a car name without “GL” or “GT” or “CXI” or some meaningless letter combination on the end of it. I have no doubt that the folks at Marketing School have determined that customers feel this signifies a “special” model with extra features or something. My qurestion isn’t so much why they do it, but who started this fad? Where did this subcoinscious connection between letters and coolness or “extra-ness” originate?

The Model T?

There are some early examples like the Mercedes SSK (c. 1930) and 540K (1937), but I think the current trend traces directly back to Ferrari. They came out with the 250 GT Europa in 1953 (cite) which led to the 250 GTO in 1962. (250 was the displacement, in cubic centimeters, of one cylinder in the engine. GTO stood for Gran Turismo Omologata (a grand touring car that has passed the production and technical requirements of a sanctioning body for racing)).

In 1964, Pontiac used those same initials for their new muscle car at the behest of chief engineer John De Lorean, which popularized the usage in America.

The initials themselves aren’t always meaningless. Do a little research on the Volkswagen GTI and the Dodge Omni GLH.

A GT was originally a Gran Turismo, or Grand Tourer: a powerful long-distance luxury sports model which could fit one’s girlfriend and a couple of small suitcases to go hurtling across the Continent to break the bank at Monte Carlo, pausing outside to punch a man in a fez. James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 is a good example of a grand tourer. However, marketing departments have diluted the significance of the initials to the point of meaninglessness over the years: now it just means slightly more tacky trim.

Actually, doesn’t just about every damn product in America these days have meaningless initials at the end of their names?

Tagamet HB, for example.

What about the Model A?


The “HB” stands for Hearburn. It distinguishes it from the prescription drug Tagament (no letters) which is used for more serious stomach issues like ulcers.

His point is still valid though; why not call it Tagament Heartburn? No, they did HB like a dang sports car. My thought was that stuff like that is just a carry-over from the car trend.

Well, there’s usually a base model, and then various “trims” to differentiate engine size, additional features, etc. So you get the LS or GT variant, etc. How else should they do it?

Well, in that case, it goes back to Shakespeare; Richard III, Henry V, etc.

The Wright Brothers were designating their aircraft with letters at the end of their names by as early as 1911. I know the mix of names and intials and numbers was popular in designating airplanes, and everyone from Ferrari (logo), SAAB, to BMW (logo) borrowed or was inspired by airplane emblems, names, technology and such.

Types of wings, general purpose and other designations made aircraft names incredibly cool. By the 40’s/50’s, the auto industry took the whole aeronaitcial theme to new levels.

Before meaningless letter combinations became mandatory, we had cars with names like “Dodge Coronet De Luxe” and “Plymouth Satellite Custom.” These designations were, of course, just as meaningless as today’s “CE” and “LE.”

I mean, what actually was “de luxe” about an ordinary four-door sedan with manual steering, stick shift, and no AC? What exactly was “custom” about a car that came off the assembly line with thousands of identical siblings?

Here’s the real issue: Marketers want to be able to offer different grades without putting an explicit label on the lowest option that it’s, well, the lowest. Yes, we want to be able to suck $7,000 more out of you by dazzling you with the Super Deluxe Luxury European Touring trim package. But if you end up buying the cheaper one, we don’t actually want to make you feel bad about it by calling it the Really Ordinary Model Without Anything Special (You Cheap Fucker).

That being said, they could come up with a system that doesn’t seem so arbitrary. (Why would “custom edition” necessarily be cheaper than the “limited edition”?)

Some early aircraft names, of the hundred of cool ones out there was back from the teens to the 30’s:

T-37, A-4, Fiat G91, Northrop N-156, Grumman Gulfstream I/II, XV-6, and XV-4

You are aware, I hope that none of the planes you listed existed prior to 1950? Using numbers rather than names for airplanes date back to the earliest planes and various military organizations have overlaid manufacturers naming conventions with more organized letter/number combinations. However, airplanes had been flying for over 50 years (and had been numbered rather than named for well over 40 years) before any of these ever took flight.
For that matter, the airships built by Zeppelin had numbers before the Wright’s heavier than air efforts got off the ground.

The Model T was introduced in 1908 and was produced through 1927. At that point Ford retooled and created the new Model A, which is one most people think of when they think of vintage cars.

There were earlier lettered models before the T, and though most of them were prototypes, some of them actually were put into production. Even so, the Model T was basically the first one the general public became aware of. The original Model A, from 1903-1905, only numbered 1750 cars.

Try to out-snark me, will ya? :cool:

The letter and number designations meant something, though: for US military aircraft, P for “Pursuit”, F for “Fighter” {post WW11}, B for “Bomber”, and a number designating which one it was in the series.

I think the worst offender was the early Hyundai Excel. “Excel” to begin with sounds like two letters already, and there was one version called GLSE…six in all!


To their credit, as their quality and reputation improves, they seem to be moving away from that.

The Excel doesn’t count. I have an MGB-GT.

Of course all of that means something.

MG = Started out as Morris Garages
B = Model B, as opposed to the A and the T-series, for example
GT = Grand Touring, as opposed to Roadster

What I want to know is why Infiniti and Millenia are spelled that way.

Mercedes used an E suffix for the German word meaning fuel injection, L for long wheelbase, and D for diesel. They were doing so in the 1950s-how much further back I cannot affirm.