Vinnie Barbarino didn’t build a car, but Salvatore Barbarino did

We’re back to play the name game, featuring automakers of the past

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Travolta
John Travolta (left) and the other Sweathogs surround their teacher, Mr. Kotter, in this vintage ABC publicity photo

Last month, I spent part of a Sunday morning strolling through The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile — yes, all 3 volumes and nearly 1,800 pages, though not the nearly 400 pages of the volume on the coachbuilders. 

With no live sports to follow because of the pandemic, my mission at the time was to find car companies that shared their names with sports, such as Badminton Motors, Boxer, Rugby, or the three car companies named Marathon.

However, in addition to finding car companies with sporting names, I also stumbled across some other unusually named automakers, such as:

Affordable — Founded in 1997 in East Hampstead, New Hampshire, to produce low-cost kit-car replicas of the Mercedes 500SL based on either Chrysler LeBaron or Ford Mustang running gear and a Ferrari 308 GTSi design that fit over a Pontiac Firebird or Chevrolet Camaro chassis.

Airedale — A British automaker, though it produced fewer than 100 vehicles, from 1919-1924. The cars and the company that took their name from the breed of dog that took its name from the nearby River Aire. 

Albatros/Albatross — There were two Albatros automakers, one in France, a bicycle and motorcycle maker that in 1912 built a 4-wheel vehicle, and one in England, which in 1923-1924 produced perhaps a dozen cars. The Encyclopedia notes that the company most likely took its name not from the bird of Ancient Mariner fame but in homage to a Mr. Albert Ross. 

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Meanwhile, in 1939, the Albatross Motor Car Co. of New York City was founded by New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, who apparently planned to produce and sell speedsters and town cars but may have built only a single vehicle, a 4-seat convertible that Arno drove as his personal car.

Banker — Promoted as “A Chicago Car for Chicago People,” the Banker was a 4-seat tonneau built in 1905. However, the Encyclopedia notes, “Evidently not many Chicago people bought Bankers, for the make did not survive into 1906.”

Barbarino — You most likely know the Rivolta car company, and while I found no automaker named Travolta, there was a car company that shared its name with the character a young John Travolta played on Welcome Back, Kotter, the 1970s television show. Not Vinnie, leader of the television show’s Sweathogs, but just Barbarino was founded in 1924 in New York City by Salvatore Barbarino, a designer and engineer who took over a defunct Richelieu and created the Barbiarino, a small car, of which he produced around 10 in 1924 and 1925.

Beechcraft’s hybrid car was a large vehicle

Beechcraft — Did you know that in 1946 Beechcraft, the airplane manufacturer in Wichita, Kansas, produced cars? Actually, it built only 2 prototypes, but they were interesting engineering exercises that used aircraft engines to power a quartet of electric motors, one in each wheel. Yes, it built a hybrid! Actually, 2 of them, but the cars were deemed too expensive to go into production.

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The Beechcraft also was luxury vehicle that the aircraft company realized would be very expensive to build and for people to buy

Buffalo — There were two Buffalo car companies, both located in Buffalo, New York. In 1900-1902, Buffalo Automobile & Auto-Bi produced the 3.5-horsepower Buffalo Junior and 6-hp Buffalo Senior. Buffalo was founded by Erwin Ross Thomas, who changed the company’s name to his own in 1902 and renamed its products as Thomas cars. Among them was the Thomas Flyer that won the 1908 New York to Paris Race.

The other Buffalo automaker was Buffalo Electric, founded in 1901, closed in 1906, was resurrected in 1912 and in 1915 merged with 2 other companies to produce Babcock Electric vehicles.

Black — Actually, there were car companies named Black — 2 of them — as well as Black Baron, Blackburn — again, 2 of them — Black Crow, Black Diamond, Blackhawk — yes, there were 2 of those as well — Blackjack and Black Prince.

At this point I’m only mid-way through Volume 1 (A-F) and this list could go on seemingly for, well, for 1,800 pages. 

But this is it for today, though we may resume the litany in the future if (a) there are so many favorable Comments demanding more or (b) if there’s a second wave of the pandemic that drives us all back out of our own cars and into another lockdown.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Pretty interesting read – there were alot of car makers back then ! Actually there were more electric car companies back then also ! That beechcraft looks pretty far ahead of its time – like a tucker in a way

  2. If you had a ball peen hammer, some sheet metal and some time on your hands, you were in the car business. Design aesthetics, however, were not always a strong point (the Beechcraft looks like the front end of a B52 bomber).

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