Chapter 4: Animal Behavior
Part 3: The Felines
There’s nothing like a cat. They’re agile, quick, smart, and beautiful. They can be laid back at times but if you tempt them, they will become nastily aggressive.
Car companies have been naming their cars after these felines ever since motorcycle sidecar manufacturer Swallow Sidecar Company started making passenger cars, of which the first was called the SS Jaguar. In 1945, they changed their name to Jaguar Cars Limited and have been solely making cars ever since.
For almost 30 years following the first Jaguar, there were no copy cats (pun intended), but in 1963, another cat was born.
The Chevrolet Cheetah was a project by successful Corvette racing driver who started tuning Chevies like the Corvair & Chevy II. In 1963, he decided to turn his attention to building a new car based on the Corvette to compete with Carroll Shelby’s Cobra. The result was a funky, long-nosed, muscular car that fared well on the race track.
Around the same time the Cheetah came out, the Buick Wildcat was released. It had previously been a sportier subseries of the Invicta and only available as a coupe for its first year of production. It was long and sleek and was finely dressed with chrome trim and for its time, it was a bit wild.
In 1966, Puma (of Brazil) began manufacturing a car based on the DKW GT Malzoni chassis. It had a cute little cat-like body hinting to the Jaguar E-Type & Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto. Volkswagen took over the Brazilian DKW operations in 1967 and changed the base model to the Volkswagen Brasilia in the mid-70s. Puma ownership was transferred to multiple companies and new models were built including the GTB and AMV.
The Mercury Cougar was introduced in 1967 based on the Mustang but with more of a feline fascia, nose-piece, and a grille resembling whiskers. Throughout its lifespan, the Cougar took on many forms, including a more luxurious attitude in the ’70s and back to sporty in the late ’80s up until it was discontinued in 1997. Production restarted in 1999 and ended for good in 2002.
The only Italian cat to hit the streets, one wouldn’t have too much trouble seeing a crouching cat ready to pounce in the De Tomaso Pantera’s body. The Pantera was rear-wheel drive and powered by a 351 Ford V8 engine. From 1971-75, Ford actually had the car imported into the U.S. and was sold at Lincoln dealerships. The car had the unpredictable attitude of a cat and would certainly bite you if your guard was let down.
Some other kitties of the auto industry include the Mercury Bobcat (sister to the Ford Pinto) & Mercury Lynx (sister to the Ford Escort), and the Ford Puma which was built in Cologne, Germany and was only available in Europe from 1997-2001.
Can you think of any that I may have missed?
You can see all previous “The Art of Naming Cars” chapters here and a continuous write up here. Check back soon for Part 2 of Chapter 4: Animal Behavior. Photos via Corvette Fever, Wikipedia, & various other sources.