Sitting in traffic on Chagrin Boulevard last week, I found myself staring at the rear end of a Chevy SUV. Its nameplate said “Tahoe,” which is a year-round, outdoorsy multi-recreation spot on a mountain in California just across the Nevada state line.
That much I know about the place, and even though I’ve been there, I have no recollection of it. If it is that forgettable, why did they name a car after it?
Read the auto magazines and you will get a bunch of different explanations about how and why cars get their names. The bottom line is all about the image and fantasies these places conjure in the mind of potential buyers.
Some are named to telegraph an air of class, sophistication and wealth – “the Monte Carlo,” “the Continental,” “the New Yorker.” A good many go for the image of speed, so they borrow names from animals known for their quickness and ferocious nature – the Stingray, Impala, Viper or famous raceways like LeMans, Daytona or Sebring.
These models are brother to the sexy big engine muscle cars. I call them “he-man” vehicles. Take, for instance, the Dodge Ram. Now there’s an action-packed, 100 percent male moniker if ever there was one. But to me the words “dodge” and “ram” together as a vehicle name conjure a drive to the death bumper car ride at Blossom Time or a pile-up on I-271 at the 480 split during the first snowfall of the year.
Back to the traffic stand-still on Chagrin Boulevard. Idling in the lane next to the Tahoe, was another monster vehicle, the Durango, named for the town in Colorado. It sets up scenes of “the Old West” and cowpokes rounding up cattle amid clouds of hoof-stirred dirt. It is all so vivid you want to roll down your window and sing “git along little doggies,” which is appropriate if you are sitting in a traffic jam.
Curiosity got the best of me so I looked up the towns of Tahoe and Durango to find out what makes them car-name-worthy. Turns out they are not very large places and with a head count about the same as Solon, give or take a head or two. So, why doesn’t Solon have a car named after it?
Solon has much to recommend itself to the name deciders up in Detroit. It has top-ranked schools, a healthy industrial base, nice homes and a diverse population. But that’s not what car and truck manufacturers are looking for in a name that will sell. Alas, Solon – a former farming community – is as flat as a flapjack with nary a mountain or ski area. Not even a lake, unless you count the water hole at Grantwood.
In other words, Solon is not sexy, rugged, fast or classy enough to have a car named in its image. Ditto that for Pepper Pike, Hunting Valley, Gates Mills, Moreland Hills, Orange, Bainbridge, Russell or South Russell. All lovely communities, but what car makers are going to name their hot off the line model after a Cleveland suburb?
It might be a stretch but Bentleyville could make a case for having inspired the Bentley. The post office name – Novelty – a zip code representing Chester and one of the two Russells could be a candidate except a car named “Novelty” is reminiscent of those chintzy prizes found at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks.
Darling little Chagrin Falls won’t ever have a car dubbed in its honor, although “The Bubble” has promise if Detroit comes up with a round, transparent vehicle. But as an example, a car named the Chevrolet “Chagrin” is never going to happen. Who names a car synonymous with humiliation and disappointment? Might as well call it “The Trump.”