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RPM Blog

The RPM Auto Wholesale Blog provides tips for buying and selling vehicles, humorous stories and narratives from the underbelly of the automotive industry.

Automobile Slang - From a James Dean Hot Rod to the Modern Urban Whip

The American love affair with the automobile began with its’ birth.  As soon as there were automobiles on the road, a rich vernacular sprang up to describe the automobile and the process of buying and selling them.  This post highlights the rich language used to describe our vehicles and 2 later posts, Slang From the Automobile Sales Floor, Part One and Part Two describe the language used by the people who buy and sell vehicles for a living.

Prior to World War II, auto slang evolved from a gangster culture born in Hollywood and the rich cinematic characters associated with it.  It was some time after the Second World War though, that the American Automobile, thanks in no small part to Madison Avenue, became attached to the youth culture and the evolution of the American Teenager.

As is typical of youth, or any other subculture within society for that matter, a slang vocabulary evolved to describe the automobiles of that generation.  It served the purpose of separating those in the know from the general members of society and the language is as rich as the experiences of those expressing their shared values and lifestyles.

Over the years, not much has changed and it seems that each generation has developed its’ own stylistic variations of the same words.  After all, a car is still a car!


The Vocabulary of Our Automobiles


Ride: A substitute word for a car;  Have you seen my new ride?

Chariot: A synonym for a vehicle;  He's out riding in his chariot.

Wheels: A synonym for a car;  I'm picking up my new wheels today.

Rig: Any vehicle but typically reserved for modified trucks; I'm hopping in my rig and heading to the desert tomorrow.

Beast: Typically reserved for fast, muscular vehicles;  The '68 Plymouth Hemi Cuda was a beast!

Eye Candy: A vehicle that is aesthetically pleasing; For my generation, the 1967 Mustang GT Fastback was the epitome of eye candy.

Sled: An older, decrepit vehicle with limited value;  He’s riding around in an old sled

Hoopty: Synonym for sled;  I don’t know how that old hoopty gets her to town. 

Bucket: Synonym for sled and variant of Rust Bucket;  I wouldn’t be caught dead in that bucket

Clunker: Synonym for sled;  She’s sporting an old clunker these days. 

Beater: Synonym for sled;  I can’t afford anything except this old beater

Jalopy: Synonym for sled;  Have you seen that old jalopy

Toad: Synonym for sled;  I don’t know why he keeps that old toad.   

Bomb: Synonym for sled;  You can’t miss her with that old bomb she drives to town. 

Iron: Seldom used today.  A term that referred to a vehicle when they were primarily made from steel (an alloy of iron); I’m slinging iron these days was a phrase often used by a used car salesman to describe his current vocation.

Drop: An expensive car;  That is one expensive drop!  Possible evolution from dropping (spending) a lot of cash on a vehicle.

Drop Top: A convertible vehicle;  Have you seen the new BMW drop top?

Point: A mustang with a 5.0L engine;  I'm getting a point for my new ride.

Boat: A large car, one of enormous size;  I wouldn't want to drive that boat through town.

Land Yacht: Synonym for Boat;  Typically, a land yacht is an expensive boat with many luxury features.

Tank: A large and typically unattractive vehicle; The 1985 Jeep Grand Wagoner was a tank.

Puddle Jumper: Co-opted from aviation slang.  Typically a small vehicle that appears inadequate for the job; You driving that puddle jumper on your road trip?

Deuce Coupe: 1932 Ford Coupe lionized in hotrod culture and inspiration of Beach Boys 1963 hit "Little Deuce Coupe".

Bimmer: Cars manufactured by BMW.  Often confused with beemer which is a motorcycle manufactured by BMW.

Benz: Any vehicle manufactured by Mercedes-Benz;  He's tooling around in his new Benz.

Lambo: Luxury Sport Vehicles manufactured by Italian brand Lamborghini.

VetteChevrolet Corvette;. She's driving the new Vette.

Whip: Inter-generational slang.  First steering wheels were called whips.  Today, a whip refers to an expensive car. Dang nice whip!

Lemon: Any vehicle with mechanical problems.  Derived from Consumer Protection Laws known as Lemon-Laws.

Sneakers: Tires of an automobile; She put some new sneakers on her car today.

Boot: In Great Britain, the trunk of an automobile.  In America, a boot is a wheel immobilizing device attached to the wheel by parking enforcement to immobilize the vehicle until a fine is paid.

4 Banger: A vehicle with a 4 cylinder motor; I picked up this rad 4 banger at the car show yesterday.

4 on the Floor: Does not refer to the rhythm pattern of disco music.  In the days before 7 & 8 speed transmissions, it referred to a floor mounted 4 speed transmission.

Econo Box: Inexpensive and usually poorly made vehicle;  Typically an econo box comes with a 4 banger as standard equipment.

Bottom End: Parts of an internal combustion engine below the cylinder head.  Typically refers to crankshaft, cylinders, pistons and rods.

Top End: Refers to cylinder head and intake manifolds.

Stock: Refers to an unmodified vehicle that is being driven with original factory equipment; He's running that whip stock.

Custom: The opposite of stock.  A vehicle that has been modified in performance or visually to gain attention.

All Show and No Go: A highly modified or custom vehicle that emphasizes form over function;  That Mustang is all show and no go.

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