Without much in the way of horsepower but plenty of élan, the humble little Citroën 2CV provided transportation for a nation. Buggy headlights, rounded shape, molluscan pace. Calling it a snail was a term of endearment.
The BMW E9 coupe was a lovely thing, svelte and simple and beautiful. Then the racing team got hold of 'em. Flares. Wings. Spoilers. Splitters. The competition-spec 3.0 CSL’s outlandish appearance, and raw speed, earned a classic nickname. Also, a European Touring Car championship and class win at Le Mans.
Panzerkampfwagen: a weapon of war. Now turbocharge it. The result is the Porsche 917, the trickiest, most effective racing car ever. Ripping down the back straight at Mosport, some 1,500 horses at full gallop, it was a handful and a half.ISC Archives via Getty
The hulking modern Nissan GT-R goes by Godzilla, too, but it didn't earn the nickname. That happened three generations ago, when the R32-chassis Skyline GT-R showed up for Australian touring car racing with all-wheel drive and a fire-breathing twin-turbo six-cylinder. The motoring press dubbed the Japanese invader “Godzilla”; the motoring officials promptly banned it from racing.
Volvo: Safe, Swedish, serious. The province of professorial types in cardigans, Eighties Volvo was all about Irish Setters and Architecture Monthly and driving the speed limit and—wait, what the hell's this? Bouncing off race curbing, taking to the air. That’d be a Group A 240 Turbo and, aerodynamics be damned, it was a little Viking show of force.
Here's a case where function dictated form, and results in beauty. The Mercedes-Benz 300SL's race-bred chassis wouldn't work with ordinary doors; undeterred, engineers simply hinged them at the top. So perfect, it became a colloquialism for the model itself.National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
If you hear someone musing about ‘simpler times,’ remind them we used to stuff zeppelin engines into rickety cars to go racing. Built in 1911 to beat the Land Speed Record, the Fiat S76 made 300 hp the old fashioned way: displacement, and lots of it. At 28.5 liters, the engine is tall as a grown man and sounds like Satan stepping on Lego blocks. Beastly indeed.
A simple abbreviation of its factory name, the Taco is everyone's favorite lunch-sized truck. And we do mean everyone: from California beaches to the Syrian desert, the Toyota Tacoma is tough and durable and right-sized for both play and work and (apparently) civil war.
Commissioned by a Count and built by the man responsible for the Ferrari 250 GTO and Lamborghini V12, this one-off racing car has a certain pedigree. Modified from a 250 GT SWB, the Breadvan's reworked aerodynamics made it look half racecar, half delivery vehicle. At Le Mans ’62, it beat the pants off Ferrari’s factory team before driveshaft failure took it out of the race.Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images
“I've got a ’34 wagon and they call it a Woodie...” You can hear the crash of the Pacific rollers mixing with a twangy electric guitar. First a basic structural element in the Ford Model A, the wood-sided look became a luxury element by the Forties. It died an ignoble death as vinyl on the sides of horrible Eighties minivans, but we remember it best as a surfing icon, the Fifties Ford Wagon.Underwood Archives/Getty Images
A military vehicle built by Lamborghini during the anything-goes Countach years: What could go wrong? Powered by a front-mounted V12, the boxy, burly LM002 handled dunes with relative ease, but was useless in snow or wet. It sold well in OPEC countries, and won over many with prancing Stallone styling.
Thar she blows. The Porsche 935/78 was possibly the most extreme, most turbocharged 911 of all time. Fitted with wild bodywork, including a rear spoiler to dwarf all whale-tails, this 845-hp leviathan had insane top-end space. The single car entered at Le Mans set fastest lap, quicker than the ground-up custom prototype racers.
Not the first, not the best, but the Model T brought motorized transportation to the masses. It earned a few affectionate appellations along the way, too. People called the Ford “flivvers” for a while, but then along came Noel Bullock and ‘Old Liz’—a haggard, unpainted Model T set up to race at Pikes Peak. It shocked everyone by winning. The Tin Lizzie moniker stuck.
The modern 911 Turbo is the application of the ideals from the 959: everyday driveability, effortless pace, weatherproof traction. Any 911 with a GT2 badge on the back is the diametric opposite, a throwback to the over-boosted beasts of the past—tricky to drive, eager to kill.David Taylor/Allsport
Pontiac wanted people to associate their overpowered mid-sizer with a Tiger, but the GTO would make its own legend. Packing a 389 cubic-inch V8 meant a little humor could be afforded, so fans called the cars “Goats.” The last GTO got an equally cool (and actually official) nickname: The Judge.