This churning seascape off the coast of Antarctica, not a place you’d think of as the hotbed of car culture, shows in fact an undercurrent of automotive nomenclature: the katabatic wind. Blowing from the Aleutian to the Adriatic, katabatic winds have inspired a wealth of car names over the past 50 years, names of cars both great and not so great.
Katabatic—Greek for “going downhill”—winds form when air cools at an altitude, becomes heavier, and finds a way to go downhill. The higher and cooler it starts, the faster it gets, and katabatic winds blowing off the 10,000-foot thick Antarctic ice shield can reach hurricane speeds.
There are katabatic winds all over the world, and unlike the ones in Antarctica, most have local names. There’s the mistral, caused by the fact that the South of France is one giant Venturi tunnel, and there’s your first car named after a katabatic wind right there: the Maserati Mistral, a pretty GT from the mid-Sixties.
Most classic Maseratis are named after various winds, and the Bora is another that’s named after a katabatic one, the Adriatic’s famous north-eastern wind. Then there’s the tramontana, another Mediterranean wind, turned into automotive form with a twin-turbo V12, appropriately.
But naming a car after a katabatic wind is not an immediate sign of power and success. Two words: Mitsuoka Orochi. The latter, oroshi, is the name of a katabatic wind in Japan.
That said, naming consultants for future supercars should take note of obscure katabatic winds with awesome names still on the table. There’s the piteraq, which blows off Greenland’s massive ice cap, the largest in the Northern Hemisphere. The williwaw, used to name katabatic winds in both the Aleutian Islands and the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. And, perhaps the most awesome of them all, the karaburan of Central Asia, whose name translates to black storm.
Photo by Dominique Filippi