Home Cars Into The Jungle: Ferocious Cars That Were Named After Animals

Into The Jungle: Ferocious Cars That Were Named After Animals

Vukasin Herbez October 21, 2023

From the beginning of the car industry, automakers have always looked for ways to make their cars seem faster and more appealing. One of these ways is naming them exciting names, which helps create an allure of performance in people’s imaginations. One way manufacturers made their cars stand out from similar machines was to name them after animals.

Animals symbolize something majestic, powerful, and beautiful and that’s exactly what car brands wanted. They believed naming a car after an animal – and the wilder the better – that success would come. At least, so it seems. Today, we’ll showcase the best cars named after an animal. In some cases, carmakers even used mythical ones. Let’s head into the jungle below.

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AMC Hornet 360

The early ’70s was the start of the end for muscle cars with engine downsizing and tightening emissions and safety standards, AMC was one of the first companies to realize that a new breed of muscle cars was needed to keep power-hungry customers happy. So in 1971, they introduced the Hornet 360 (via Auto Evolution).

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Based on a regular economy car called the Hornet, it was equipped with better suspension, sharper steering, and a 360 V8. This Hornet turned from an ordinary compact into a proper muscle car. Power wasn’t that big at 245 hp. But those horses could make the Hornet fly in its lightweight body. The rest of the muscle cars offered in 1971 all had problems with size and weight. They also had engines that didn’t create much power anymore. But the Hornet 360 was one of the fastest cars on sale.

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Plymouth Barracuda

Introduced just two weeks before the Mustang in April of 1964, the Barracuda was the first Pony car ever made. It was based on the standard Valiant platform. Since the automotive world was anticipating the Mustang due to reports coming from Ford, Chrysler decided to introduce a car in the same segment (via Cuda Brothers).

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The Barracuda had pretty modest underpinnings with three engines available. It featured two straight-sixes and one V8. So designers had to develop an exciting design to attract buyers. The 1964 Barracuda had a big panoramic rear glass and a sleek fastback body line. This was pretty advanced for the period. The best Barracudas were 1970-71 models, which could be ordered with the mighty Hemi.

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VW Beetle

Officially, the production of the VW Beetle started in 1938 and ended in 2003. During that time, more than 22 million cars were made in 14 countries around the globe. The Beetle was the first global car in popularity, affordability, and presence (via Volkswagen).

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Interestingly, the official name of the VW Beetle was the Volkswagen Type 1. But “The Beetle” was a nickname that was globally accepted and soon used by Volkswagen in its official literature and magazine ads. The design of Type 1 was reminiscent of a beetle, so the name stuck.

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Ford Mustang

The first Mustang was so successful that it started a new class of cars – pony cars. It entered the history books as one of the best first-year sales ever. Over the years, the Mustang became an automotive symbol of America and one of its finest and most respected automobiles worldwide (via Ford).

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So, what’s the secret of the Mustang’s appeal? A good amount of performance with a V8 engine and good looks in an affordable package with a long list of options. Of course, don’t forget the image and the name, which suggested images of wild horses running through the prairie.

Stutz Bearcat
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Stutz Blackhawk

The early ’70s saw the return of one of the most famous classic American brands – Stutz. The company was resurrected by New York banker James O’Donnell, who invested heavily in marketing and design. Designed on the Pontiac Grand Prix chassis and using its drivetrain and 455 V8, Stutz commissioned various Italian coachwork companies to produce unique, retro-inspired bodies (via Robb Report).

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The first car was the Blackhawk, which entered production in late 1970. Due to its unique style, strong marketing, and celebrity endorsements, Stutz soon became one of the most exclusive American cars. Although it cost over $20,000 in 1971, which was close to the price of a new Rolls Royce, O’Donnell found many customers. This kept his company in business for almost 20 years.

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Ford Bronco

Everything started in the mid-’60s when Ford realized the market for compact SUVs was emerging. Ford invested a lot of effort and money into constructing the Bronco. Finally, it was equipped with straight six and V8 engines, giving it enough power and performance. The name was perfect since a Bronco is a young and powerful horse. It resonated perfectly with people who needed utilitarian vehicles for farms or with hunters (via Bronco Tuned).

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The Bronco was very compact, which helped it be very maneuverable on and off the road. That made this Ford quite capable when the asphalt ended and trails began. The small dimensions mean the interior was cramped. But buyers loved it nonetheless and sales numbers went through the roof.

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The global success of the Shelby Cobra inspired many American race car builders to build a similar car that could compete on an international level. From this perspective, nobody came close to beating the Cobra. But Bill Thomas, a famous Chevrolet tuner and race car builder, was a serious candidate. Unfortunately, the Cheetah was never given a proper chance because of various circumstances (via Car and Driver).

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Chevrolet and GM pulled out of racing in 1963. Still, several independent race shops worked for GM’s back door programs in which the company supported the private racing teams with racing know-how or particular racing parts. Bill Thomas’ shop was one of those outfits. He decided to build a Cobra competitor with Chevrolet power. That’s how the Cheetah was born and named after a super-fast animal from Africa.

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AMC Eagle

Conceived in the late ’70s, the Eagle was AMC’s answer to the rising popularity of AWD vehicles and SUVs. The AMC decided to combine their compact sedan and wagon lineup with a strict and proven Jeep AWD system. The result was a surprisingly excellent and capable vehicle with the comfort and luxury of a sedan, compact dimensions, and relatively low weight. The Eagle also had incredible off-road characteristics (via Hagerty).

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The Eagle was one of the first, if not the first, crossover models in the world. Only today we can see how important and influential this car was. As expected, the Eagle was a relatively popular car, especially in areas with harsh climates and long winters. AMC even produced coupe, wagon, compact, and convertible versions of the Eagle, all with AWD systems standard.

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Mercury Cougar

The Cougar was built on the Mustang platform. But it was stretched a couple of inches to add comfort and achieve better ride quality. Also, the Cougar was available with V8 engines only. The smaller six-cylinder units were reserved for entry-level Mustangs. The body panels and front fascia with hidden headlights were all unique (via Motor Trend).

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Mercury offered a wood-trimmed dash, leather seats, and all kinds of comforts in the interior. Some could say that the Cougar was just a luxury Mustang, but in reality, it was an independent model and a successful car in its own right.

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Chevrolet Impala

The Impala is a swift, mid-sized antelope from East Africa that can reach almost 50 mph. Unsurprisingly, Chevrolet named its successful series of family sedans after this beautiful animal. However, the Impala SS was the best edition, combining all the Impala lineup styles with powerful engines (via Motor Trend).

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Produced from 1961 to 1969, the classic Impala SS featured 409 or 427 Big Block V8, loads of power and torque, and street credibility amongst racers. The Impala still lasts today.

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AMC Marlin

In the mid-1960s, AMC was known for its economy cars and small sedans. This was before the AMC Javelin and AMX entered the mainstream muscle car class. Named after a big fish, the Marlin’s design with fastback styling resembled the fish’s silhouette (via How Stuff Works).

AMC Marlin
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

However, the company’s management wanted an exciting, sporty car. So they turned to their Marlin model. As a result, the Marlin was a cool-looking mid-size fastback with a design that suggested it was fast and powerful. But the truth was that the car only had mediocre performance.

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Plymouth Roadrunner

When it first appeared in 1968, the Roadrunner proved to be a very influential and essential muscle car. It introduced a new trend of inexpensive and fun vehicles. And it was also a strong seller that affected the whole segment. The entire idea behind the Roadrunner was simple. Present a low-priced but powerful model and attract people with a limited budget but a strong need for performance (via Muscle Cars Illustrated).

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The most appealing thing about the Roadrunner was that Plymouth used the roadrunner from the popular Wile E. Coyote cartoon. There is a real bird called Roadrunner, but Plymouth used the cartoon. Chrysler paid $60,000 for the rights to use the name and design. Everyone thought the company was crazy for doing so. The sales results prove everybody wrong.

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Triumph Stag

The Stag was introduced in 1970 and produced until 1978. The market was pretty impressed by the new model. It featured cool styling and open-top driving (with a hard top) but still enough room for four adults and luggage. The Stag was powered by a 3.0-liter V8 engine with 145 hp, which was enough for decent performance. The name symbolizes grown male deer. With its muscular appearance and V8 rumble, the Stag looked like a luxury muscle car and attracted some buyers (via SOG).

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Unfortunately, owners soon experienced the Stag’s notorious unreliability. Which, along with its higher price, sealed its chances on the American and global market. When production ended in 1978, only 25,000 cars had left the factory.

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Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

10 years after introducing the original Corvette, Chevrolet introduced the second generation in 1963. The Corvette was now an established sports car and a halo car for GM, so lots of effort and money went into the research and development of the second generation. With a new platform, independent rear suspension, engines, and a stunning new body, the 1963 Corvette was one of the best-looking cars of the 1960s (via CorvSport).

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The Stingray got its name from GM’s 1961 Stingray concept and visual resemblance to a stingray shark. With closed headlights, split rear window, bulged fenders, and a round cabin, the Stingray was one of the most fascinating examples of the famed Googie design language.

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Dodge Viper

This legendary sports muscle car was introduced in 1992 and immediately became an American icon. It had a monster of a V10 engine in the front, a sleek and aggressive body style, and rear-wheel drive. Also, there wasn’t much to protect you from being killed by this car’s sheer power and wild nature. That was just like the venomous snake it was named after (via Motor Trend).

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Under the hood was an 8.0-liter fully aluminum V10 with 400 hp and 465 lb.-ft of torque. This was unheard of at the time and secured Viper’s place as one of the most potent new models on the market. The design wasn’t much different from the prototypes. A long hood and short rear end with the necessary roll bar made the Viper visually dramatic and fast-looking even when parked.

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Buick Wildcat

Introduced in 1962, the Wildcat was one of the first personal luxury coupes. It featured a performance-tuned engine and other go-fast options. Of course, since it was a Buick product, the luxury appointments and upscale options were guaranteed. Even before the Rivera GS or the start of the muscle car craze, Buick noticed that there was a big market for full-size coupes with the performance of a sports car (via How Stuff Works).

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Young, successful people wanted an upscale product that looked expensive. But they also wanted it to have enough power and driving dynamics to make driving fun. In those days, luxury coupes like Thunderbirds or Eldorados were big, heavy cruisers with soft handling. That’s why Buick introduced the Wildcat with a name that suggested more excitement than standard Buick products.

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Studebaker Lark

Today, the Lark is a forgotten model. It was one of the first compact cars from a domestic carmaker and one of the most successful cars in a while. The Lark was built from 1959-1966 in three generations. Most cars featured straight-six engines, but V8 power was also available (via Hemmings).

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Named after the tiny bird, the Lark was just that compared to other American cars of the era. Buick later used the nameplate Skylark. Yet Studebaker was the first and most memorable.

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Shelby Cobra

The story of Shelby Cobra 289 is widely known. But it’s still interesting enough to be told again. In 1962, Shelby used an AC Ace body and installed a Ford 289 V8. This created one of the first Anglo-American hybrids and one of the best sports/racing cars of the period. Cobra become an enormous legend amongst all car enthusiasts. Due to its limited production and high collectivity, prices at auctions go for well over $1 million (via FIA).

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The name doesn’t need a particular explanation. Named after a dangerous and highly venomous snake, the Cobra was one of the fastest cars you could buy in the ’60s and one of the most hazardous machines drivers could operate.

Foto Credit: Auto WP

Pontiac Firebird

The new Pontiac debuted in February of 1967, immediately becoming one of the top muscle cars in its class. Pontiac equipped the Firebird with many options and five engines – two inline sixes and three V8s. Buyers could get a coupe or a convertible, and there was a choice of automatic or manual transmissions (via Haynes).

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Interestingly, the Pontiac had a bit higher price tag than the Camaro. It also had a few more options than Chevrolet. That put the Firebird a bit above the Camaro on the market. With first-year sales of 82,000 examples, it was less than the Mustang or Camaro. But it was still respectable compared to the Plymouth Barracuda or similar models. The Firebird stayed in production until 2003.

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Studebaker Golden Hawk

The Studebaker brand disappeared in 1966 after years of trying to stay relevant in the American market. However, in the mid-’50s, it was still one of the best names in the business with a lineup of exciting models. One of the best Studebakers ever built was the elegant 1956 Golden Hawk (via Hemmings).

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Conceived as a cool-looking personal luxury coupe, the Golden Hawk had a Packard-derived 352 V8 engine with 275 hp. Those figures were impressive for the day. The performance was also significant. The 0 to 60 mph time was less than nine seconds. The Golden Hawk showed the market that Studebaker could still produce exciting cars with a premium feel and looks. Unfortunately, that was one of the last successful Studebaker models. The company closed in 1966.

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Ford Thunderbird

Even though the Corvette was a commercial failure and didn’t earn any money for GM for long, the model proved highly successful in promotional purposes. It was very valuable as a halo car for General Motors. That was why Ford wanted its version and to capitalize on the trend. This is how the Thunderbird was born (via Ford).

2003 Ford Thunderbird
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In 1955, the first Thunderbirds left the factory. And even though Ford tried to present it as a sports car, it was clear that it was not one. The car had two seats and sporty looks. But it rode on a standard platform with comfortable suspension. The interior had many creature comforts. This was Ford’s first personal luxury car with others to follow soon. Ford turned it into one of the biggest personal luxury legends of the American auto industry.

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