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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

October 24, 1997

Animal rights is a hot topic for media attention nowadays as is its companion subject, wildlife protection. Both have cropped up lately in the nightly TV news and it's been pointed out that many species of wildlife in this country designated as endangered by the federal government have nonetheless disappeared completely.

Being a car guy as I am, those TV spots got me thinking about the automobiles with wildlife names that have become extinct over the past couple of decades and how their elimination is like the human-engineered depletion of many of their flesh-and-blood animal colleagues. When they outlived their usefulness, they were eliminated. These are some that come to mind from various fauna families and a brief history of each:

COBRA - Carroll Shelby's personal attack snake, the Cobra most assuredly lived up to the name that he attached to it. The tiny, mild-mannered English AC Ace roadster was an early example of Anglo American automotive gene splicing when it showed up with a 260 cubic inch Ford V8 engine under its aluminum hood. It was as quick as a real life cobra and sometimes as unpredictable. Snake charming became the dream of many sports car fanatics around the world and it 427 version was like a ophidian Frankenstein, as much to be feared as adored - something like snake worshiping. It saw it's last days of freedom in 1967. Ford has put the Cobra name on some of its Mustang models but that's akin to putting a real cobra's hood on a garter snake.

FALCON - As much a predator in the wild as the Cobra, the Ford Falcon developed a Jekyll/Hyde character after it was introduced onto the Ford showrooms in 1960. While it was usually equipped with a tame six cylinder engine, it occasionally showed its talons when its Sprint version was fitted with a high performance 260 cubic inch V8 engine and a four speed transmission. Ironically, this was the same engine/ transmission combination that Shelby put into his first Cobra roadsters. The car was also the mechanical basis for its wildly successful Ford stable mate, the non-endangered Mustang. The Falcon too reached the end of its useful life but was reincarnated in another more domesticated animal entity, the Maverick.

HORNET - As in " mad as a ..." Actually there were a couple of Hornets and while their species was so designated almost 20 years apart, they shared a common evolutionary background. The subspecies Hudson Hornet did, indeed, contain a stinger that irritated its contemporaries when it showed up on stock car race tracks in the early to mid-fifties and showed the short way home to Oldsmobile, Chrysler, et al. Quite an accomplishment for the very small Hudson company. As happens to most animal life, the Hornet (and Hudson itself) became part of the corporate food chain and was gobbled up by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) conglomerate in the '60's. The Hornet name hibernated until 1970 when it shook off suspended animation and resurfaced as the AMC Hornet, a prosaic little buzzbox designed for flitting around town. There were a few dormant killer genes left, however, and the AMC Hornet SC/360 of that second AMC revival year sported almost 300 wild horses that brought back memories of its insect ancestor of 20 years previous. Alas, the end finally came 1977. Since Chrysler now owns the name and all that goes with it, time will tell if the Hornet will resurface.

BARRACUDA - Plymouth made its Barracuda for nearly a dozen years and originally this "personal" sports car was to be Plymouth`s answer to the lively Mustang. In the late '60's it evolved into a rip-snorting Muscle Car that lived up to the predaceous reputation of its Sphyraena role model. It was smooth, fast and prone to eat up the competition at streetlight drag races. Like its namesake, it had a voracious appetite - but for gasoline, in this case - and the Plymouth Barracuda became extinct in 1974. By that time, most of its fangs had been pulled.

BOBCAT - "...common name for any of the wild carnivores constituting the genus Lynx.." is the way that Funk & Wagnalls describes the name that Mercury attached to its Ford Pinto clone. Hardly a carnivore by any stretch of the imagination, the Bobcat was a pussycat under the skin. The fate that befell its equine twin happened also to the Bobcat. Not a great performer and it might better have been better named Tabby. Tabby followed its lookalike, the Pinto, into oblivion in 1980. Birds of a feather.

LYNX - Another Mercury, this time attaching to a clone of the forgettable Ford Escort. All the shortcomings of an ill-trained kitten but none of the lovability. The Lynx was humanely put to sleep in 1987 as Mercury learned that it was best to leave the wildlife designations to its cars that are more in keeping with the image - like the adaptable and quick Cougar, another autocat that will soon bite the dust.

There were lots of other automotive "species" that ran to the end of their evolutionary string and became extinct. Wildcats, Larks, Tigers, Rabbits, Marlins, Gazelles, Hawks, Bees (both Super and Honey) and a menagerie full of others have come and gone.

But there's one automotive animal that seems impossible to kill off. One company's pest seems to be the public's favorite and the ever- present Volkswagen Beetle lives on in Mexico and other third-world countries in spite of the corporate desire to go high-tech.

That Bug is one animal that truly sticks up for its rights.