Today, while we celebrate the independence of our country by blowing up a little piece of it, let’s pause to remember the various noteworthy automotive attempts to capitalize on the country’s name.
When it comes to automobiles named “America,” ya got yer America makes and America models. In the former category, we counted at least 115 different pre-war automakers that used America or American in their name in the Standard Catalog of American Cars, the vast majority of them paper companies from the first decade and a half of the 20th Century that didn’t build a single car. Many of the ones that did built licensed versions of overseas cars, which is how we got American Austin, American Berliet, American Fiat, American Mercedes, and American Pie Napier. Among these vaunted companies we’ll also find the American Chocolate, which technically sold under the name Walter, which was objectively a horrible marketing decision. After all, there’s a higher statistical likelihood of finding somebody who doesn’t like guys named Walter than there is finding somebody who doesn’t like chocolate.
As for truckmakers, maybe a dozen or so called themselves American, including, of course, fire truck builder American-LaFrance.
(We’ll also pause here to note that about five went with Independent or Independence, and at least 16 companies decided “United States” was a good car company name. Perhaps the most successful of those 16 was the Columbus-based United States Carriage Company, which went whole-hog by naming its car the Great Eagle.) (Much to the dismay of Benjamin Franklin’s ghost, no U.S. automaker has named its car or company Great Turkey.)
Less numerous were the automakers who chose America as a model name. We’ll start with the most obvious: the Rambler American that American Motors built from 1958 to 1969. AMC reference books hail Romney’s decision to bring back the compact body – out of production since 1955 – and highlight the Rambler American’s sales success in the midst of the Eisenhower recession, but don’t touch upon how the car earned its sobriquet.
The answer could very well lie in the marque name, but AMC conceivably could also have had an eye on a number of other carmakers that had already introduced Americas for the American market. Maybe not the Edwards America, a San Francisco-based fiberglass-bodied sports car introduced in late 1953 that didn’t surpass single-digit production figures. And maybe not the Talbot-Lago America, the BMW-powered (and later flathead Ford-powered) version of the Talbot-Lago Sport that the company intended to use to break into the American market but ended up selling no more than a couple dozen examples of.
But perhaps AMC executives were aware of a couple other European cars named America specifically to break into the domestic market – cars like the Pinin Farina-bodied Lancia Spider America, a version of the Aurelia Spider B24S, or the Ferrari 340 America, the first in a line of Enzo’s cars dubbed either America or Superamerica. Granted, the production numbers on these two weren’t high, but their profiles were.
And even though it was far less exotic than the above few examples, the Austin America served a similar purpose for the British company. As did the 1993-1994 Porsche 911 RS America, a version of the regular 911 RS that met U.S. crash-test and emission standards. Which makes one wonder: Did American carmakers ever name an export model for the market it was destined?
Of course, there may be more such America/American car models out there that we missed. As always, feel free to fill in those blanks.
To date, we’ve not seen a car company or a car model named ‘Murica.
UPDATE: There also appears to be an electric Moke replica/continuation going by the name Moke America.