It is considered automotive historical fact that British auto journalist L.J.K Setright coined the word “supercar” in his review of the Lamborghini Miura. Even I have referenced this piece of trivia.
There’s one huge problem, though! It’s wrong.
One of the benefits of having a huge collection of old automotive magazines is that you learn something new every single time your colon comes a-calling. For my morning constitutional today, I picked up the May 1966 edition of Car Life.
On page 28, Car Life’s road test of the ’66 Chevy II 327/350 V-8 uses the subtitle “Who Needs 400 Inches for Supercar Status?”. The last paragraph uses the word three times. (“More intriguing, however, is the fact that the Chevy II 327 relates more to the present proliferation of Supercars than it does to a counter-Mustang. And in that context, it is well worth a close examination. Unlike some samples from the Supercar spectrum, it maintains a gentleness along with its fierce performance potential; its power/weight ratio is second to none and it is definitely better balanced than most. While admittedly giving a cubic inch advantage away to the more established models, the Corvette engine manages to be just as competitive in pure output. On the basis of specific bhp/cu. in. ratios, as a matter of fact, it stands heads about the Supercar level.”
Gulp…did Car Life indirecly call the Chevy II a Supercar? And did they do it in a magazine that hit the mail before the May 1st opening day of the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, where the Miura was unveiled to the public and press?
But wait…there’s more!
This wasn’t a passing thing in this issue of Car Life. We now turn to page 51. In the comparison test of Pontiac’s Tempest Sprint (with OHC Six) and GTO, there is a caption for a picture of the GTO. “GTO CONTINUES to be a pace-setter in the Supercar crowd.”
Indeed, a little research shows that Car Life had been using the Supercar word to describe the cars in its pages for over a year. In March 1966, a review of the Plymouth Satellite has a picture with caption as follows: “PLYMOUTH 383-cu. in. engine has just enough space around it for easy tuning accessibility, is big enough to give the Satellite “Supercar” status and action. (By the way this was the same issue that covered the Lamborghini’s frame and V12 engine unveiling that would later become the Miura).
It seems Car Life started using “supercar” instead of “muscle cars”. The first use of supercar seems to be in its article on the 1965 Pontiac GTO. Fingering through earlier articles on 409 Impalas, 426 Mopars and even August 1964 articles on the 1965 Corvette and Cobra, there are no mentions of the word anywhere.
Car Life certainly didn’t invent the word, either. Supercar was first used conversation in England in the 1920s, or least that’s what I’ve been told. Since I wasn’t there, I have to believe that, like most elements of automotive history, someone somewhere else used it earlier, but we believe the legend.