Flights of Fancy: The Space-Focused Nomenclature of the Jet Age

by James Kraus

1956 Aston Martin DB2/4 Supersonic by Ghia

The weapons of World War II gave the public their first-ever glimpse of the power and speed of jet and rocket engines. As hostilities drew to a close, engineers labored over their drawing boards to harness these new power sources for peacetime use. The rocket-powered Bell X-1 aeroplane broke the sound barrier on 14 October 1947, achieving supersonic speed for the first time. BOAC commenced commercial jet travel in May of 1952. In 1958, commercial transatlantic jet service was inaugurated, and construction began on the Pan Am World Airways tower in New York City.

A number of auto manufactures found it desirable to infuse their products with a bit of this Jet Age glamour and Space Age allure.

Oldsmobile Rocket 88

Oldsmobile in particular took to likening their products to the imagery of the space age. This began with the Rocket 88 of 1949, powered by their new Rocket V8. Later came the Starfire, Jetfire, Jetstar 88 and Jetstar I, some of which could be had with a Jetaway automatic gearbox. In 1965, the Oldsmobile logo itself was updated to a stylized rocket on a field of red.

1965 Oldsmobile Jetstar I

1965 Oldsmobile Jetstar I

The Olds Jetstars shared their name with the Lockheed L-329 JetStar, well known to James Bond aficionados as the preferred aircraft of metallurgist, businessman and SMERSH treasurer Auric Goldfinger.

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Studebaker Starlight Coupe

Simultaneous with the debut of the original Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was the launch of the Studebaker Starlight Coupe, later to be joined by the Starliner.

Alfa Romeo 1900 C52 Disco Volante Spider

In 1952, Carrozzeria Touring built a limited series of Disco Volante (Flying Saucer) Alfa Romeos based on the mechanicals of the Alfa 1900. Nine years later, Ian Fleming chose the name Disco Volante for SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo’s yacht in Thunderball.

Fiat Otto Vu Supersonic by Ghia

Not to be outdone by their Milanese rival, Carrozzeria Ghia built a series of Supersonic models, fitting them to Fiat 8V, Jaguar XK 120 and Aston Martin DB2/4 chassis.

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1966 Pontiac Star Chief

Blending an outer space theme with their traditional frontier iconography centered around Chief Pontiac, Pontiac introduced the Star Chief in 1954.

1961 Ford Galaxie Starliner

For 1959, Ford launched the Galaxie as their new top-range model and a year later picked up the Starliner name that was discarded by Studebaker for a special version of the 1960-1961 Galaxie. The Galaxie Starliner featured special slim C-pillars and a large wrap-around rear window. Like the Olds Jetstar, this Ford shared its name with a Lockheed aircraft, in this case the L-1649A Starliner.

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1961 Mercury Meteor 800

In keeping with the astronomical vein of the space theme, Mercury offered the Meteor and Comet.

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1965 Mercury Comet Caliente

The Comet was a variation of the Ford Falcon originally conceived as a second model for the Edsel line. When that division was eliminated, the Comet was handed to Mercury.

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Bonnet Djet

In 1962, the world’s first series-production mid-engine sports car was launched; the Bonnet Djet coupé. This was offered alongside the Bonnet Missile cabriolet. Matra took control of Bonnet in 1964 and continued to produce the Djet through 1967.

1967 Plymouth Satellite

1967 Plymouth Satellite

Plymouth introduced the Satellite nameplate on their top-range mid-size cars in 1965.

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Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S

In 1967 Toyo Kogyo introduced the rotary-powered Mazda Comso Sport; the name a shortened version of Cosmos.

My personal favorite space-age automotive moniker remains Galaxie Starliner. It still sounds no less futuristic as George Lucas’s Millennium Falcon.

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Rolex Explorer 1016 Space-Dweller

The world of horology was similarly infatuated with space. In the 1960’s watchmakers offered the Breitling Cosmonaute, the Bulova Astronaut and Spaceview, the Hamilton Titan III and Sputnik, the Zodiac Spacetronic and a holy grail among Rolex collectors: the extremely rare Space-Dweller. The Breitling Cosmonaute, with its distinctive 24-hour movement and dial, is still in production.

A disc of l’Explorateur with its distinctive label depicting an in-flight rocketship.

Another space age icon that remains available to today’s consumers is a tasty one. Introduced in 1958, l’Explorateur was one of the first certified triple-cream cheeses in France and has been referred to as the aristocrat of triple-creams. The new cheese was christened l’Explorateur in honour of Explorer I, the first satellite launched into space by the Western powers. The launch of the U.S. craft in January of ’58, following two Russian Sputnik launches, marked the dawn of the Space Race.

L’Explorateur is delectably rich (75% butterfat) and is at its best served with a dry, acidic, artisanal (RM Code) Champagne. Naming a cheese after a satellite orbiting in space might seem peculiar until one remembers the old proverb that the moon is made of green cheese.

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5 thoughts on “Flights of Fancy: The Space-Focused Nomenclature of the Jet Age

  1. The Lancia Raggio Azzura; certainly a most fantastic creation.

    There were so many space-themed names given to concept cars and prototypes that I decided to limit the article to production (albeit in some case quite limited production) vehicles.

    Not only that, I could never figure out if the Blue Ray was born of a deep-space or deep-sea fantasy. Was Blue Ray a reference to an advanced (alien?) space weapon or a mythical ocean creature? The Lancia certainly appears like it would be at home in either environment!

  2. It seems that the US production lent itself more to space and jet age monikers.

    I am at pains to find European production models. In France, there were the Simca Versailles or Peugeot 403, the Panhard Dyna… Not even Citroen with its UFO goddess, the DS, could come up with a name that evoked jet engines or rocket science.

    The Simca Etoile (Star) was probably named the Place de l’Etoile.
    I couldn’t speak about the production in other countries. All I can think of is the Triumph Spitfire, but which looks back at WWII glory rather than jet engine travel.

    Perhaps the Soviet Zaporozhets, if this means anything?
    Interestingly, Matra, maker of the Djet and the Missile, also became a missile manufacturer, later merged into was is today EADS.

  3. Did Ford of France’s use of the name Comete (predating the Mercury Comet version by almost a decade) predispose Ford to use the names of celestial vs technological objects? I know that car was largely developed without the knowledge of the American headquarters in Dearborn. That would be an interesting legacy for Ford of France which was sold off to Simca in mid 1954 or so. Simca continued to produce the Comete and use the name for a few more months after the sale.

  4. In the autumn of 1968, less than two years after Scott Mckenzie urged listeners to wear a flower in their hair should they find themselves traveling to San Francisco, the 1969 Satellite could be had with flowers in its “hair” via the optional Mod Top.

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