The “Gremlin” by AMC was a great Hot Wheels car. We’d set up parallel bendy orange tracks starting at the radiator in the living room–about shoulder height when we were in third grade–dropping down to the Persian carpeted floor and extending the length of our hallway. (How long was the hallway? Several Christmases’ and birthdays’ worth of Hot Wheels track long.)
These races between my brother and me weren’t about speed, though that certainly helped. They were about perseverance. Would the car go the distance to win. Did that one car that was fastest right after my brother’s birthday in September get a slightly bent axle over the next couple months, giving me the edge on December 25.
My Gremlin Hot Wheels would win. A lot. Beating almost every 2-inch challenger.
And that’s where the comparison between Hot Wheels cars and real ones ends.
Most of us never would have bought the real Gremlin automobile. I mean, even looking at the photo above, you go, “Cool!” But then immediately, “That would be such a cool Hot Wheels car.” ‘Fess up. That’s what you were thinking, too, right?
Invariably, they looked like this, or worse:
My theory — and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to theorize this — is that it was all in the name.
The last Gremlin produced was in 1978. But filmmakers knew a good thing when they saw it: why not leverage that to make “Gremlins” in 1984. When the movie came out, we all remembered what a crap car we either owned or almost did.
A lot of car names have come and gone. Here are some that, mercifully, have gone:
- Horseless (absolutely real name; look it up)
- OctoAuto (Spiderman’s foe on the New Jersey Turnpike)
- Dymaxion (the car that was an early loser to Tesla)
- Dauphine (much like its human counterpart, it ran on expensive Bordeaux wine, which during a dry season would make it undriveable the next year)
- Model III, by King Midget
- Aerobile (some consumers pronounced it with a long “i,” and they opted instead to buy a Dauphine, not realizing a drought was to hit southwestern France the following year)
- the “Janus” is not a bad name but its maker has a clunker of a name: Zunndapp.
- Morgan Plus 8 Propane (can be used for commuting or barbecuing.)
- Iron Duke (not bad, but Mustang drivers always challenged you to a drag race and that quickly got old)
- Multipla (which syllable gets emphasized?)
- Biturbo (what the hell is this anyway)
We all have our favorite cars and names. I’d like to offer some of my own for manufacturers to start working on. After all, brand marketing starts at ideation.
The name was first used by Electrolux for the world’s first robotic vacuum cleaner but that appliance was phased out. Most robotic vacuum cleaners bump into one’s feet and don’t navigate around dog shit — look it up — and therefore have gone the way of the Gremlin.
Stapler Type Z
This sleek car is actually not meant to go anywhere. It is designed to sit in your driveway and make your neighbors envious. (Model in ballgown standing alongside only comes with the EX trim level, and she’s union so…)
Unlike the Stapler, the Saunter does go. But slowly. In fact, it’s designed for the occupants to enjoy their surroundings by being immersed in them. In its inimitable genius, Mercedes has designed a car that can actually ride along a beachfront boardwalk without breaking any local ordinances, allowing its driver and the person riding shotgun to step out at any point and get an ice cream or cotton candy. Or to ride the Merry-Go-Round. The Saunter’s maximum speed is 18MPH, the trunk has room only for a picnic basket and it does not come with a windshield or ABS brakes. In urban areas, it is allowed in dedicated bike lanes if those lanes are wide enough (which is never). It also rides well in planned communities.
There is no radio. Listen to the birds. Smell the roses.