See those two cars there? One’s a thick, dripping slice of American muscle car, designed to murder tires and peel out of Dairy Queens. The other is a clever and boxy little Italian hatchback with an engine that could likely be overpowered by the other car’s starter motor. Two cars can’t really be much more different, yet they have an interesting link. What is it?
The name. The little Fiat on the right is called the Panda, and the Plymouth Barracuda over there was nearly called ‘Panda’ as well.
While this is hardly a secret, it’s not quite as well-known in gearhead circles as you’d expect. While Fiat’s friendly little hatchback, with its two-tone plastic/metal body actually sort of feels panda-like, it’s very, very difficult to imagine a muscle car with the name ‘panda.’
According to John Samsen, one of the Barracuda’s designers, the ‘Panda’ name came from Plymouth’s upper management:
The Plymouth Division people came up with the name “Panda” for the car, and when we designers made a fuss, told us to suggest names. My list of names included “Barracuda”, and it was chosen.
That was probably a good call.
The Barracuda name likely also influenced AMC’s decision to name their first muscle-ish car the Marlin, and the whole pescatarian trend for fast-car naming may have been inspired by the Corvette Sting Ray from 1963.
So, in some ways, almost naming a car after a panda may have led to a small trend of naming cars after fish.