Do you know your Screaming Chickens from your Tin Snails, or your Plastic Pigs from your Flying Bricks?

Over the years, car, motorcycles and their manufacturers have come in for their fair share of name-calling. It's My Classic's been investigating the stories behind the names

Some of nicknames bestowed on car and motorcycle marques and models are amusing, some are affectionate, and some have actually damaged the companies manufacturing the vehicular objects of our love or loathing.

Ford Mustang GT 350 from It's My Classic.jpg
Nickname: The Steel Teddy Bear

Introduced in 1951 as the successor to the equally diminutive Austin Seven, the A30 was nicknamed the Steel Teddy Bear due to its small size and rounded, cuddly looks.

Britain’s first truly chassis-free car, the body pressings of the monocoque construction clearly demonstrate the aerospace pedigrees of its designers, Ian Duncan and Ken Garrett.

Austin's main competition for the A30 was the Morris Minor, launched three years previously. In an attempt to buy itself a slice of the Minor’s market, Austin undercut the price by £62. To achieve that and help keep retail costs down, a second windscreen wiper, passenger sun visor, heater and radio were all optional extras.

Early marketing by Austin named the A30 the “New Austin Seven” which would “delight you with its modern lines, roomy comfort, ample luggage accommodation…”.

Austin A30 Classic British Car

The Motor magazine described the A30 in a 1954 review as “an attractive and neat little car, whose small size makes parking in confined spaces almost a pleasure”.

The first model, although capable of carrying four adults, was the narrowest car on British roads and featured a brand new engine that would go on to become the famous A-Series that would power so many British cars (such as Mini, Morris Minor and MG Midget) and remain production until 2000.

Nickname: All-Aggro

The poor old, much-maligned Austin Allegro has been the butt of many jokes, almost since the day of its launch.

Rushed into production to fill the gap left by the Austin 1100, one its most infamous design features was the almost square “Quartic” steering wheel (so disliked by the Metropolitan Police that they insisted on having every one in their police cars replaced with a more conventional round steering wheel). The Quartic quietly disappeared for the Allegro 2.

Other problems came from wheel bearing nuts that could cause wheel bearings to fail if over-tightened, and an under-powered engine. Probably the most famous story associated with the early Allegros is the one about the rear windows falling out if the overly-flexible car was jacked up in the wrong place.

Austin Allegro 2 advertsing. Pic by John Lloyd_Flickr. On It's My Classic.jpg

By Mark 3, the Allegro’s technical problems had been pretty much ironed out, but the reputation for aggravation had spawned a memorable nickname and the reputational damage was done. Production lasted only nine years and, although around 650,000 were sold, the poor Allegro never reached the sales heights of its predecessor.

Nickname: Frogeye (USA: Bugeye)

It’s really no puzzle to see how this happy-looking little car came by its name – that big chrome smile surmounted by frog-like headlamp 'eyes' on top of the bonnet (the headlamps were originally going to fold back flat into the bonnet but the accountants won out over the designers).

The designers' brief had been to come up with a compact, affordable sports car, with parts being taken from the BMC parts bin wherever possible in order to minimise costs. The resulting design was a revelation for 1958, being tiny, low, lightweight and nippy.

The Frogeye’s power-plant was a tweaked 948cc engine borrowed from the Austin A35 and Morris Minor 1000.

Austin Healey Sprite. Picture by SnottyBoggins.jpg

The Sprite was the first volume-production sports car to use a unitary construction rather than a body-on-chassis design, though the two front chassis legs mean that the Sprite shell is not a complete monocoque.

Nicknames: Knutschkugel (Germany 'Cuddle Couch'), Huevito (Chile 'Little Egg'), Yoghurt Pot (France)

BMW may have started its automotive manufacturing career in 1928 with the little Dixi (a re-badged Austin 7), but through the thirties it built its brand on larger luxury cars and sports cars. By the mid-1950s, however, Bayerische Motoren Werke was rough financial straits.

Cheap, short-distance personal transport was the order of the day, and cars like BMW’s luxury 503 and 507 were simply too expensive to produce or to buy. The company needed a cheap car that could go into production fast.

BMW Isetta. Pic by Gerhard G. On It's My Classic.jpg

BMW found a solution at the 1954 Turin Motor Show on the stand of Iso Rivolta, an Italian manufacturer of refrigerators and micro-cars. It was the Iso Isetta – a three-wheeler with a huge front door. BMW bought not just the manufacturing rights to the bubble car, but also all of the production equipment.

Almost remarkably, two adults could fit inside the tiny body – very snugly, hence the 'Cuddle Couch' nickname – side by side beneath the canvas roof that wasn't truly the luxurious sun-roof it might appear, but rather, in an accident, the statutory emergency exit.

BMW’s technical team, more accustomed to designing performance cars, set about refining the Isetta so that, when production started in 1955, the Isetta motocoupé boasted four wheels and a modified single-cylinder, 250cc, 12hp four-stroke engine from the R25 motorcycle.

The Isetta was cheap to produce, affordable to buy, a practical city car, and could be driven on a motorcycle license. It soon became a cultural icon. By heading back to the company's small car roots, 'Das Rollende Ei' (the Rolling Egg) probably saved BMW’s commercial bacon.

Nicknames: Flying Dustbin & Tin Snail, Student’s Jaguar (Denmark), Ugly Duckling (Netherlands)

When seen from the side, how the 2CV became nicknamed the Tin Snail isn’t too much of a mental leap, but calling it a Flying Dustbin seems simply unkind.

Rather like the Isetta, the 2CV was designed to meet the demand for a simple, affordable, effective post-war vehicle for the masses. France’s rural economy, however, demanded something rather more roomy and functional than a bubble car and which, famously, could transport a tray of eggs across a ploughed field without scrambling them.

The 2CV had started life as a TPV (Toute Petite Voiture – Very Small Car) during the latter years of WW2. Around 47 prototypes were produced, each one showing an obvious styling connection to the production 2CV. The 2CV was launched at the 1948 Paris Motor Show.

Citroen 2CV Picture by Jean Photosstock. On It's My Classic.jpg

The initial engine was designed to fit into the deux chevaux-vapeur (two horsepower) French taxation class – a 375cc, flat two-cylinder.

By 1990, more than five million 2CVs had been built in a number of styles, including a van, and this quirky car had developed a devoted following, a high-speed run in a Bond film, and a whole raft of (mostly) affectionate nicknames.

DKW (any)
Nickname: Deek

DKW traces its history back to 1902 and Jörgen Rasmussen, a Danish engineer who studied in Germany. 'Rasmussen & Ernst' manufactured exhaust-steam oil separators for steam power plants, vulcanisation equipment, centrifuges, and vehicle mudguards and lighting.

Rasmussen experimented with a steam-powered car during the First World War. The Dampfkraftwagen (Steam-Driven Vehicle) ultimately had to be abandoned as uneconomic. The company went on to develop a small two-stroke engine – Des Knaben Wunsch (The Boy’s Wish) in 1919, originally intended to power a children’s toy. 

In 1921, the company changed its name to Zschopauer Motorenwerke J.S. Rasmussen OHG. The following year, Rasmussen registered 'DKW' as a trademark and a modified version of the toy engine was transplanted into Das Kleine Wunder (The Little Marvel) motorcycle under the DKW brand.

DKW KS200. Pic by Peter Dargatz on It's My Classic..jpg

In June 1932, Audiwerke (Audi), Horchwerke (Horch), Wanderer and Zschopauer Motorenwerke J. S. Rasmussen AG (DKW) merged to form Auto Union.

DKW was retained as a specific, named brand within the group, manufacturing motorcycles and small cars. The latter included the versatile DKW Munga off-road vehicle.

The final European DKW was the two-stroke F102. It didn't sell well and DKW was ultimately passed on to Volkswagen.

Nickname: Duesy or Doozy

Duesy/Doozy is a fairly predictable nickname for a marque that produced racing and luxury cars that are still amongst the most beautiful and prestigious in the world.

The marque became renowned for big, beautiful, craftsmanship and luxury. The Duesenberg Model A was the first American production car with a straight-eight engine.

The now-famous Model J was a 3.6m-long work of art powered by a seven litre straight-eight engine. Even though it was launched only eight months before the stock Market crash that heralded the Great Depression, 445 of the luxurious Model J’s were built.

Duesenberg. Pic by David Mark.jpg

Costing around $12,000 new, Duesenberg Model J's are now so rare, and still so stunning, that they change hands at well over a million dollars on the rare occasions one comes to market.

"It's a doozy" became part of the American language, meaning something extraordinary and the best of anything.

Nickname: Fix It Again Tony (or ~Tomorrow)

Founded in 1899, Fiat really does stand for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, honestly, even if many are far more familiar with the 'Fix It Again Tony' backronym.

Production of the first Fiat-branded car began in 1899 and, by 1903, the company was doing well enough for Fiat to be listed on the stock exchange. In 1910, the highly successful Tipo began rolling off the production lines.

Fiat 130 Berlina. Pic by Emslichter.On It's My Classic.jpg

Like many automotive manufacturers, Fiat recognised the technical and marketing advantages of racing, winning the 1911 Grand Prix of America with the Fiat S61.

The 1930’s, marked by the austerity of the Great Depression, saw a demand boom for small, utilitarian cars (see When Smaller Became Big). Fiat responded with the Topolino ('little mouse'). It may have been one of the world’s smallest production cars, but over half a million were made before it was replaced by the Fiat 600 and 500 (the latter selling nearly four million units by 1975). These little city cars were functional, reliable and desirable, so where did it all go wrong?

Coined in the 1970’s and 1980’s, 'Fix It Again, Tony' is an example of a backronym that actually did some damage. Like British Leyland in the same period, Fiat went through a period in the seventies and eighties when their cars were plagued by reliability issues. The media was quick to pick up on customer discontent and use the catchy backronym headline with gleeful abandon.

By 1983, the damage done to Fiat’s reputation in America was such that sales had dwindled and the company withdrew from the US market, not returning until 2009.

Nickname: Dog Bone

The origin of this particular moniker is pretty obvious from a single glance at the square-ish bone-shaped front grille of the early Ford Escorts.

The Escort was launched in the UK to replace the highly successful but ageing Ford Anglia, becoming so popular that it would have been difficult to find a residential street in seventies Britain without at least one parked on it.

Ford Escort 1st Generation. Pic by Staffan Andersson_Flickr. It's My Classic.jpg

The Escort came in a multiplicity of body designs during its lifespan - two and four-door saloons, cabriolets, estes and even a van. There was something for everyone.

Dagenham ‘Dog Bone’ Mk1 wasn’t actually the first Ford in the UK to carry the Escort name. That was held by the Escort 100E, a rather curious and slightly dumpy, lower spec version of the Ford Squire estate car that few today would associate with the Escort name (1955-61).

Just over 33,000 of the 100E's had been sold, but that was a drop in the ocean compared to the new, American-influenced, ultra-modern, rear wheel drive Escort.

In less than six years after the Mk1 Escort was launched onto British roads, Ford (Europe) had produced two million of this game-changing small family car.

Nickname: Deuce Coupe

The deuce nickname comes from the two in the year of this model’s production (deuce being American slang for two).

In the 1940’s as the popularity of hot-rodding exploded in America, the readily-available and easily customisable Model B’s and Model 18’s were common donor vehicles (both of which were available in a variety of open and closed body styles, including coupés).

Ford Model T 18 Deluxe Roadster 1932. Pic_German Medeot. It's My Classic.jpg

To outdo his four-and six-cylinder competitors, Henry Ford included for a 221cu.-in., 65hp V8 engine option for the ’32 models, giving them significantly better acceleration than their competition.

As the V8 models were only marginally more expensive than the four-cylinder ’32 Fords, the V8 option inevitably became the best-seller.

Ironically, in the post-war hot-rodding boom, installing inexpensive high-compression engines such as the Chevy V8 'small block' into Ford ’32 coupes became commonplace.

The less common three-window Ford De Luxe Coupé with its suicide (rear-hinged) doors would become the basis for what has become the archetypal California-style hot-rod.

Nickname: Tin Lizzie

The 'Tin Lizzie' nickname for the Ford Model T has been around for so long that its true origins are shrouded in history and mythology.

The most popular story is that it’s down to a famous Model T racer that was called 'Old Liz' from 1922. That particular Model T was beat-up, short on paint, and looked much the worse for wear, leading spectators to liken her to an old tin can and changing her name to 'Tin Lizzie'. 'Old Liz' had the last laugh, though, when she won the race.

Ford Model T. Pic_JJ Musgrove on Flickr. It's My Classic.jpg

Whether there’s any truth in the tale is hard to say, especially as the Merriam-Webster dictionary records the first use of "tin lizzie" expression seven years before the 'Old Liz' race.

In fact, it seems just as likely that 'Old Liz' took her name from the earlier Tin Lizzie nickname. It might also have come from Lizzie, a nickname for a household maid (worked hard all week then wore her best dress to go out on Sunday).

Nickname: Leukoplastbomber (Band-aid Bomber)

Perhaps surprisingly, this nickname for the Welsh-sounding West-German Lloyd LP300 appears to have been largely affectionate.

The LP300 sprang onto an unsuspecting world in 1950’s Germany. Very much a product of post-war material shortages, this little car’s body panels were made from plywood covered with a vinyl fabric. Even the chassis was made from wood.

The LP300 could seat four adult passengers and was powered by a transverse 293cc vertical-twin two-cylinder 10hp engine (manual three-speed non-synchro gearbox, front wheels chain-driven) with a top speed of around 45mph. Not speedy perhaps, but an economical little commuter that got people to work and back.

Lloyd LP300 AKA Band Aid Bomber from It's My Classic.jpg

History says that it became a common joke that damaged LP300 bodywork could be readily repaired with medical sticking-plasters.

ThLP300 was around 25% cheaper than VW’s Type 1 'Beetle' and 18,087 LP300s were sold. Lloyd Motorenwerke was owned by Borgward.

Nickname: Aquabella

Produced between 1959 and 1961, the Arabella was Lloyd’s only car with a four-cylinder Boxer engine. It featured a wrap-around rear window and the era’s must-have jet-age tail-fins.

The car went from drawing board to production in just under two years, and this haste may have been the root of many of its later challenges.

Lloyd Arabella vintage advert.jpg

The Arabella roof was bolted on rather than welded and many suffered from leaky cabins when it rained, prompting the Aquabella nickname. Soggy carpets combined with early issues with the forward-mounted Borgward gearbox resulted in embarrassing and brand-damaging product recalls.

These teething problems were rectified soon enough, but the damage to customer confidence had been done and a stock of unsold cars started to back up. The initial costs of producing the car couldn’t be met by sales and Lloyd became bankrupt in 1961. The Arabella continued to be manufactured by Borgward after Lloyd’s demise, production ceasing in 1963.

Nickname: Bullnose (later: Flatnose)

Bullnose refers to the immediately recognisable, forward-thrusting, rounded radiator style (an earlier nickname was the 'Bullet Nose') fitted to two cars produced by Morris.

The 8.9hp two-seater Morris Oxford Light, launched in 1913, was Morris’ first car and was named for the city of its inception where William Morris had founded W.R.M. Morris Ltd in 1910.

Morris Oxford Bullnose 1923. Pic by Graham Robertson_Flickr.jpg

Morris was an early proponent of what would become our contemporary on-demand manufacturing, outsourcing much of its component manufacturing (engines, gearboxes, chasses, wheels, bodies, etc.) and even that famous bull-nosed radiator cowling. As demand increased, Morris shifted manufacturing to Cowley, the site giving its name to the second ‘Bullnose’: the Morris Cowley.

Introduced in 1915, despite Morris’ First World War munitions work, the Cowley was a more sophisticated than its predecessor, with a larger (American) engine, a greater wheelbase, but with that instantly recognisable 'nose'.

The Bullnose was discontinued in 1926, replaced by the more contemporary “Flatnose” that increased the radiator cooling surface by as much as sixty per cent.

As the years went by, and despite the recession that followed WW1, Morris would go on to buy out many of the component manufacturers who supplied his company, so forming the commercial empire that included Morris Radiators, Morris Bodies, Morris Commercial Cars, SU Carburettors and Wolseley Motors.

Nicknames: Moggy, Moggy Minor & (Australia) Morrie

Why a ‘Moggy’? Despite much debate, no-one really knows for certain exactly how or when the nickname came about. Perhaps, like a family cat, lots of British homes had one? Or it could be as simple as, like the A30 ‘Steel Teddy Bear’, Alec Issigonis’ post-war Minor was curvy, friendly-looking and charming.

The Morris Minor was in production from 1948 (its wartime development was codenamed Project Mosquito) until 1971. The Minor 1000 (the ‘Moggy Thou’) arrived in 1956.

Issigonis once said of the Minor his aim had been to produce an affordable car that “the average man would take pleasure in owning, rather than feeling of it as something he'd been sentenced to”.

A radical design for its time, the post-war Minor was set to become one of Britain’s all-time favourite small family cars, and the first ever in Britain to sell over a million units.

Morris Minor. British classic car on It's my Classic

There were 14,922 licensed Moggies in the UK in 2021, more than Morris, Austin Morris and Leyland Minis combined.

Morris’ founder Lord Nuffield, however, was certainly no fan, grumbling that the prototype looked more like a poached egg.

The Minor has come to represent quirky Britishness the world over. Just as an afterthought, fans might also argue that it’s called a Moggy because when a Minor is happy, its little engine purrs…

Nickname: Woody

Although the Morris Minor Traveller estate is popularly known as ‘the’ Woody in the UK, woodie is also a generic term for visibly wooden rear-bodied or rear-framed estate cars in the USA (such as the Ford Model A station wagon, 1940 Ford DeLuxe station wagon, and 1949 Mercury station wagon). The Minor Traveller with its structural ash rear-body framing was launched in 1952 to join the two- and four-door saloons.

Morris Minor Traveller. British classic car on It's My Classic
Nickname: Fire-O & Plastic Fantastic

The mid-engined and now highly collectible Fiero was intended to re-energise the Pontiac brand, bringing it out of the stylistic doldrums by appealing to a new audience. The cost-cutting imposed on the designers by GM, however, would bring a legacy of issues that would haunt Pontiac.

The engine – the heavy four-cylinder "Iron Duke" – wasn’t the aluminium V6 the designers wanted and it couldn’t squeeze into the sleek lines of the Fiero. The smaller oil pan engineers had to graft onto it to make the engine fit would come back to haunt Pontiac.

Suspension components and brakes were also dragged out of the GM parts bin which may have been good for cost-cutting, but not so great for creating a great-handling, brand-invigorating new sports car.

Poor Fiero. Despite its sleek lines and five-star frontal crash NHSTA NCAP test rating, mix together oil leaks, petrol leaks, hot engines and fibreglass panels and you have a really great recipe for spontaneous vehicular combustion. In 1987, 1989 and 1990, Pontiac was forced to recall thousands of Fieros due to the risk of "an engine compartment fire [that] can spread to the passenger compartment and injure occupants".

Pontiac Fiero. Pic by Dave7_Flickr. On It's My Classic.jpg

The 1987 NHTSA recall commented that “due to an interaction of the engine compartment environment and maintenance or service related factors, there is an unreasonable risk of connecting rod failure and engine compartment fires”.

Pontiac clearly never really managed to get a grip on the problems, because the 1990 recall notes the “unreasonable” risk of fire due to “pcv grommet oil leaks, transmission oil cooler leaks, piston connecting rod failures breaking through engine wall causing oil spillage, fuel rail leaks, coolant leaks, rocker cover oil leaks, and maintenance or service related factors”.

The 1989 recall affected 244,000 Fieros, the 1990 one a mere 102,162 vehicles. It has been estimated that as many as twenty a month were doing fireball impressions at one point. Production began in 1983. The last Fiero rolled out in 1988.

Nickname: Screaming Chicken or Screaming Eagle

How do you mortally offend a Trans Am owner? Simple: refer to the golden Firebird on the bonnet as a Screaming Chicken.

It appears that it only the poorly-informed refer to the graphic as the Screaming Eagle.

Although GM’s management initially loathed the concept, Pontiac’s optional Firebird ‘Trans Am Hood Decal’ may just be the world's most widely recognised car graphic.

Pontiac Trans Am '73. Pic by Priceman141_Flickr. It's My Classic.jpg

The 'Smokey and the Bandit' movie with Burt Reynolds certainly helped, extending the lifespan of the gold-and-black bonnet branding by bringing it to new audiences and a new generation. 

After the success of the Trans Am ‘hood bird’, others jumped onto the big-graphic bandwagon. Chevy stuck a Royal Knight onto its El Camino, Ford found a giant snake for the bonnet of their King Cobra Mustang, and Jeep adopted a Golden Eagle .

Nickname: Widowmaker

The 911 earned its ominous nickname because of unpredictable handling as a result of lift-throttle oversteer and turbo-lag in earlier models leaving some drivers in the hospital or worse. ‘Widow-maker’ may be something of a hyperbole, but this car could certainly be one heck of a handful in the hands of the uninitiated.

Porsche 911 Targa. Picture by Emslichter. On It's My Classic.png
Nickname: Plastic Pig

Reliant’s well-balanced, fibreglass three-wheeler Robin, introduced to replace the Regal 3/30, is one of quirkiest cars to hit British roads and the butt of countless jokes.

Launched in 1973 and produced in Tamworth, it came in four incarnations – Standard Robin, Super Robin, Robin Estate, and Robin Van. It may have been missing a wheel (and, yes, you do have to have a full car license to drive one), but it joined the market at an opportune moment.

The oil crisis was biting. Unemployment was high. Inflation was soaring. There was even some muttering in the UK about reintroducing fuel rationing coupons.

Into this came the lightweight, front-engined, rear wheel drive, 750cc Reliant. It was affordable to buy. It could do around 70 miles on each gallon. It could take four adults and their luggage. So what if it only had three wheels?

Reliant Robin advert. Pic by Alden Jewell_Flickr. It's My Classic.jpg

The ‘Plastic Pig’ nickname has many legends as to its origin. The pig element could be down to another famous Tamworthian export – the ginger Tamworth pig.

Alternatively, in British slang, something that is a "pig" to do is awkward, challemging or just plain difficult. Combine that with the fibreglass 'plastic' body… Well, maybe. Which backstory is the correct one? No-one really knows.

VOLVO PV444 and PV544
Nickname: Hunchback

This may not be the kindliest of nicknames, but one glance at the side profile of Volvo’s first post-war offerings makes it fairly obvious where the Hunchback name came from.

The PV444 was first shown in public in 1944, but didn’t go into full production until 1947. It may not have been the most modern-looking of designs (it was heavily influenced by pre-war designs), but the new Volvo with its unibody construction was what we’ve all since come to expect from the marque – strong, reliable and durable.

The PV444 was replaced by the PV544 in 1958, with the new model retaining its predecessor’s humped unibody shaping. The cosmetic changes were subtle.

Volvo PV544.jpg

The dashboard had moved closer to modernity thanks in part to the horizontal ribbon-style speedometer and, by losing some padding, three people could now sit in the back. In 1962, the 544 was upgraded to the B18 engine that had been developed for Volvo’s P1800 sports model.

Other Nicknames & Backronyms
Mustang #2 sml.jpg

'Stang - Pony - Rustang

GAZ-21 Volga. Pic by Andrew Bone_Flickr.jpg

Member in a Tailcoat

Harley Davidson motorcycle. Picture by Bernd. It's My Classic.jpg


Lotus Elan. Pic by Bernd Hildebrandt.jpg

Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious

Pontiac GTO. Pic by Ken_Flickr On It's My Classic.jpg

The Goat

Subaru 360.jpg

Tentoumushi (Ladybug)

Triumph Bonneville T120. Pic By Steve Glover_Flickr. On It's My Classic.jpg


Triumph TR7. Pic by Stephen Weblin_Flickr. It's My Classic.jpg

The Wedge

Volvo 240. Pic by Radford Wine.jpg

Flying Brick

Volvo 780. Pic by Emslichter. On It's My Classic.png

Bert Two

Volvo P1800. Pic by More Cars_Flickr. It's My Classic.jpg

Snow White's Coffin

Post-war VW Beetle. Picture by Emslichter on Pixabay.jpg


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