12 band names inspired by cars
There’s nothing quite like the musical harmony of a finely tuned engine. Bonus: the song is instrumental, so you don’t have to learn any words. Perhaps looking for similar auditory perfection, countless musical groups have turned to the automotive industry for inspiration when naming their bands.
No, the Beatles didn’t get their famous name from the Volkswagen Beetle. And the Fab Four has nothing to do with cylinders. But since no list of significant musical groups is complete without mentioning John, Paul, George, and Ringo, we went for it. You’re welcome.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s chat about the best-known bands with car names.
Where else would we start? The Cars—made up of Ric Ocasek, Benjamin Orr, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, and David Robinson—were on the leading edge of new wave rock in the 1970s. Rolling Stone wrote, “They have taken some important but disparate contemporary trends—punk minimalism, the labyrinthine synthesizer and guitar textures of art rock, the ’50s rockabilly revival, and the melodious terseness of power pop—and mixed them into a personal and appealing blend.” Appealing indeed. Formed in Boston in ’76, The Cars rocketed to stardom. The group’s debut album sold six million copies and the band was named Rolling Stone’s “Best New Artist” in 1978.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2018, The Cars’ appearance at the ceremony was their last reunion before Ocasek died of heart disease five months later.
Appropriately enough, one of the band’s biggest hits was Drive, released in 1984.
As the story goes, keyboard player Neal Doughty was taking a History of Transportation class at the University of Illinois in the fall of 1967, and he learned about the REO Motor Car Company’s Speed Wagon truck the day before his new band began looking for a name. Thank you, Ransom E. Olds. Although the original band members didn’t stay together, Doughty and Illinois classmate Alan Gratzer carried on with other musicians as REO became a commercial success in the 1970s. Doughty is currently the only remaining original member.
REO Speedwagon has sold more than 40 million records and has 13 Top-30 hits to its credit, including Keep On Loving You and Can’t Fight This Feeling. Five decades after it started, the band is still touring, proving there’s still plenty of life in that old REO.
This heavy metal rock band was formed in Texas in 1981. That’s a long way from Italy, but the mid-engine 1971–93 DeTomaso Pantera does have an American heart (a 5.8-liter Ford V-8), so there’s that. Named for guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell’s DeTomaso, the band recorded nine albums in 17 years, but it never found mainstream success. Coincidentally, the DeTomaso never did either—although those who love them, love them.
The lettering is slightly different, but this Ohio Christian rock band admits its name is based on the Plymouth Reliant K car that guitarist Matt Hoopes owned when the group got together in 1998. Relient K has produced nine studio albums, won two Dove Awards, and received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Gospel Album in 2004.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Another Texas band, these blues rockers have been performing since 1974 (although lead singer Kim Wilson is the only remaining original member). While the band’s name seems like a Ford tagline from the mid-1950s, the Fabulous Thunderbirds are actually named for a mythical Native American bird, which gets its name from the belief that the beating of its wings causes thunder and stirs the wind. That didn’t stop the group from playing up the car connection, however. Check out the cover of their T-Bird Rhythm album above.
Born Bo Martin Erik Erickson, this Swedish “Eurodance” musician has been performing as E-Type since 1991. And yes, he did name himself after the Jaguar sports car. The fact that most of us in the U.S. have never heard of him doesn’t change the fact that he’s popular in Sweden, where he’s had five #1 singles and five albums reach #1 or #2, as well as Finland, Norway, and Israel. Interestingly, the Brits overwhelmingly prefer their own E-Type classic over the E-Type musician.
Pontiac or Ferrari? Who cares? When a late-1960s all-female group named Girls Together Outrageously (produced by Frank Zappa) began using the letters GTO, it was an obvious nod toward one of those super cool cars. In fact, we’re guessing the abbreviation came first, since Girls Together Outrageously sounds like something Yoda would say. Here’s hoping that music fans didn’t start calling the ladies “goats,” like Pontiac GTO owners do their cars.
Jesus Chrysler Supercar
Yesssss. Props for cleverness. This Arizona alternative/hard rock group, formed in 1993, combined two well-known entities—Chrysler Corp. and the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar—into one rad (and alternative) band name. As if there was ever any doubt about the group’s automotive origin, band members performed in NASCAR jumpsuits.
More rock, more cars. The Illinois band was originally formed in 1995 by brothers Pete, Sam, and Joe Loeffler, who are collector car enthusiasts and named the band after their dad’s favorite car. The alternative metal group has recorded eight studio albums, including This Type of Thing Could Do Us In, which was certified Gold. Chevelle is still touring—both the car and the band.
Mord Fustang, born Rauno Roosnurm in Kose, Estonia, is a technopop dance artist whose stage name celebrates his favorite car, the Ford Mustang. He was selected as Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the fifth annual Beatport Music Awards in March 2012, and his music is almost as fun as driving a classic Mustang—if you enjoy that sort of thing. Check out one of his songs from 2011.
Another alternative rock band, Galaxie 500 was named for the car but lasted nowhere near as long as the Ford luxury car did. Formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1987, the trip called it quits four years later after releasing three albums.
There’s no evidence that Triumph was so named for British cars or motorcycles, which means we’re cheating a bit here. But the band is from Canada, after all, and Canada and England have a strong bond, so it’s at least plausible. Of course, Triumph—the band—wasn’t known for its unreliable electricals, and the guys never leaked oil (that we know of), so maybe not. Formed in 1975 and popular into the 1980s, Triumph was inducted into the Canadian Music & Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2008, and it was added to Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2019.
Yes, there are more to consider—a lot more. Like the Valiants, Road Runners, Lincolns, Avantis, Tempests, Rivieras, Ferraris, and Gran Torino. And how ’bout Booker T and the MGs? And Mike and the Mechanics? Of course, there’s also Chubby Checker (Cab), Eddie (VW) Rabbitt, and Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Kelvinator). OK, never mind.