Happy Birthday, America! Guess what I got you! Give up? Underpants, and this list of the 10 American automakers with the goofiest, weirdest names. Most of these are small, obscure automakers from the beginning of the last century, but it’s still good to remember that once there was far more than the Big Three and poor old AMC.
These are all actual car companies. We all know how much I love making shit up, but that’s not what’s happening here. Off we go.
1. King Midget
This is by far the best-known carmaker on this list. Built in Ohio from 1946 to 1970, the King Midget was really America’s only true microcar to be built in any sort of volume. Even Crosleys were bigger and way more expensive. And, of course, while I’m sort of de-sensitized to the King Midget name, it’s a deeply weird name for a car company, when you think about. it.
2. Kent’s Pacemaker
Sure, the name sounds like what Superman’s alter ego uses to solve his heart arrhythmia issues, but the reality is even weirder. According to Wise’ Illustrated Encyclopedia of Automobiles and a few sources online, Kent’s Pacemaker was a steam car with possibly one of the weirdest four-wheel layouts ever: one in front, to steer, and three in a row at the rear.
The center one was driven, and the outer pair could be raised to permit coasting “like a bicycle,” according to an 1899 issue of The Horseless Age.
Man, I wish a picture of this thing existed.
Grout cars were built between 1899 and 1912, in Orange, Massachusetts. These steam cars had mid-mounted engines and front boilers, but the company switched to gas-powered cars in 1904.
Two interesting things about Grouts: they were among the first cars to have dynamo-powered electric lighting, and they sold a car with a cowcatcher, like on a locomotive.
The company was founded by the three sons of W.L Grout, maker of sewing machines. It was not named after the crap you put in between bathroom tiles.
4. A Car Without A Name
Yep, that’s what this car was called. Or wasn’t called. I’m not really sure how that works. The car was built between 1909-1914, and for the first year, the company chose to give itself and the car it built no name, only referring to itself by its Chicago-area address.
The thinking was the car would be generic, and resellers could brand the cars as they saw fit. This didn’t catch on, and by the next year the cars were called Fal-Car, after the initials of the last name of the financial backers of the company.
I’m pretty sure this is the car the horse was named for in that America song.
Piggins is a funny name for a car. It’s like a variant of the “Porkins” name used for that X-Wing pilot. The Piggins car was a big, expensive (starting at $3500 in 1908/1909, about $88,000 now) seven-seat touring car that came out at a lousy time, right as the Model T was introduced.
While it seems like the Piggins was only produced for one year, it did manage to make history: it seems to be the first car ever to be stolen in Racine, Wisconsin, the city it was built in. The stolen car was a dark red one making 38 horsepower and monogrammed on all its doors.
This Detroit-area company made cars between 1904-1908, four-cylinder ones, and aside from the funny-sounding name, they’re notable for using a factory fire as an ad campaign.
One of the newer companies, here, the Nu-Klea (I’m guessing the name was supposed to sound like ‘nuclear?’) Starlite was built in Lansing, MI for one year, 1959-1960.
The Nu-Klea was electric and kind of stylish, really.
The O-We-Go was built between 1914-1915 and was a late example of a cyclecar, a very cheap, bare-bones sort of car; these were the first real ‘people’s cars,’ but they were generally flimsy and dangerous.
The Model T soon made all of these cyclcars obsolete, even at the low prices ($385) they sold for. Here’s one in action!
Look at the size of that drive chain. Holy crap.
9. American Chocolate
I actually mentioned these guys before, in that post about cars named for food. The company did seem to have made chocolate before cars, and were just bit slow to update to a less confusing name.
I’m ashamed to say that I only realized this name is probably a pun based on the hardworking corsage-flower. Car-Nation, carnation—I get it!
This was another cheap Detroit-built cyclecar, also from around 1913-1914. These were once considered competition for the Model T, but we know how that turned out.
There you go; now when you scream patriotic things at your barbecues or fireworks shows or ceremonial, America-themed black mass, feel free to now yell things like I’d Rather Push a Piggins than Drive a Kia! or something like that.