The Naming Mystery: Why Are Convertible Cars Called Spider or Spyder?

The Naming Mystery: Why Are Convertible Cars Called Spider or Spyder?
Photo by Martin Dufosset

Convertible cars are often referred to as Spider or Spyder, but the origin of that naming is often disputed. Many people believe that the naming dates back to the days of horse drawn carriages and more specifically, the phaeton carriage. Others believe it was due to an Italian reporter's mistranslation of the Porsche 550 Speeder. All we know is that the moniker of Spider and Spyder is here to stay.

Ever wonder why convertible cars are often called Spider or Spyder? I always thought that convertibles were named this way due to their lightweight construction and nimble handling, like a spider, but in fact this is only partially true. Let’s first dive into the origins of the naming, why there’s two different spellings and some of the popular car models that include “spider” or “spyder” in their naming.

The Origin Story

To uncover the unconventional naming for convertibles, we must first go back to the times of horse-drawn carriages. Back then, there were different types of carriages for different uses, with the Phaeton carriage being one of them. A Phaeton carriage was a sporty carriage.

Phaeton Carriage

Some of these Phaeton carriages had a minimalistic design, large wheels, and a “convertible” cloth top. When you combine all those elements together, you can start to see how they resemble a “spider”.

Porsche 550 Spyder

Now some others believe that the naming came from a mistake when translating between two languages. Autoweek did a great writeup on this. The common story is that it was just a simple mix up made from an Italian journalist. The journalist was in America and after spotting a Porsche 550 Speeder, they reported back to Italy and because of language translation, the Speeder became the Spider. All we know now is that this name for convertibles has stuck. Whether it’s called a “Spider” or “Spyder”, the meaning is the same—They’re a convertible.

Is it Spider or Spyder?

While German automakers such as Porsche and Audi have popularized the use of “Spyder” in their convertible naming, Italian automakers have chosen to use “Spider” instead.

In 1953, Porsche released the Porsche 550 Spyder, which is arguably one of the most iconic cars in history. One can argue that due to its success in racing, it influenced the design and naming of many convertibles to follow from other automakers. To this day, Porsche continues to use the moniker across its fleet, most noticeably on the Porsche 918 Spyder, a $2 million-dollar hyper car.

So, the question is, why did Italian automakers choose “Spider” instead of the “Spyder” moniker? One of the simple reasons for this is that the letter “Y” is not in the Italian alphabet. Phonetically, the letter “Y” sounds very much alike to other letters in the Italian language, so it is not typically used or needed in Italian language.

Another reason is due to the letter “Y” being previously associated with fascism and nationalism during the First World War. For these reasons, it makes sense as to why Italian automakers wanted to stray away from using the letter “Y” in its naming.

With the history out of the way, here are 10 popular classic and modern cars that have Spider or Spyder in their naming, beginning with the car that many believe to have started it all.

1. Porsche 550 Spyder

Porsche 550 Spyder

The Porsche 550 Spyder is a convertible sports car that holds a special place in automotive history. It was a lightweight racing car produced by Porsche in the 1950s, with wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana. The 550 Spyder gained significant recognition after actor James Dean, the owner of one of the first 90 Porsche 550’s, tragically lost his life in a crash while driving it. Today, the Porsche 550 Spyder is celebrated for its iconic design and motorsport heritage and has become of one the most frequently replicated classic vehicles.

2. Alfa Romeo Spider

Alfa Romeo Spider

The Alfa Romeo Spider, is a classic Italian convertible that was produced for nearly thirty years across four distinct generations. Its timeless design was created by none other than the automotive designing powerhouse Pininfarina. It’s characterized by flowing lines and a distinctive front grille, which has made it an icon. It’s one of the few Italian classics that can be had for a bargain when you compare it to the others on this list.

3. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 “Daytona” Spider

Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spider

The Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spider is the convertible version of the iconic Ferrari Daytona. With its sleak design and powerful V12 engine, the Daytona Spider became a symbol of automotive excellence, and it remains highly coveted by collectors and enthusiasts alike.

4. Ferrari F355 Spider:

Ferrari F355 Spider

The Ferrari F355 Spider represents the pinnacle of 1990s sports cars with its Pininfarina-designed body lines, creating a sleek yet aerodynamic style. Interestingly, the F355 Spider sported the first automated manual soft-top on a Ferrari.

The F355 Spider’s body lines are estimated to have been created after 1,800 hours in the wind tunnel.

5. Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder:

Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder

When the Corvair was introduced in 1960, it instantly became one of the most revolutionary cars to come from The United States. Not only was the Corvair GM's first unit-body car mass-produced within the US, but it was also the first American postwar car to feature front and rear independent suspensions. The Corvair was also the first mass-produced domestic car to sport a rear-mounted air-cooled engine. Above all, it held the Monza Spyder moniker, making it all that much more unique.

5 Popular Modern Classic Spider and Spyder Cars (Post 2000s)

1. Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder:

Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

Named after a famous breed of fighting bull, the Lamborghini Gallardo is a V10 powered supercar, which was the second car released under parent company Audi. It became one of Lamborghini’s sales leaders and first entry-level Lamborghini in more than 10 years when it was released. The Spyder variant of the Gallardo sported an entirely different power output, a low-ratio transmission and of course a retractable soft top.

2. McLaren 720s Spider:

McLaren 720s Spider

The 720s (and 720s Spider) is the second all-new car in the McLaren Super Series, which is the range of McLaren cars that traces its heritage to their modern age. It features dihedral doors and many of the same design features of the coveted McLaren F1. Unlike other convertibles that need their body structure reinforced due to the lack of a roof, the 720s had enough structural rigidity with its monocoque design that it didn’t need extra bracing.

3. Audi R8 Spyder:

Audi R8 Spyder

The Audi R8 is a mid-engine sports car that is based on the Lamborghini Gallardo and Huracan platform. It sports Audi’s trademark quattro all-wheel drive system as well as its now signature full-LED headlamps.

The Audi R8 was the first production car with full-LED headlamps.

4. Ferrari 360 Spider:

Ferrari 360 Spider

The 360 Spider was the successor to the F355 Spider and sported an all-new aluminum chassis that was not only stiffer but lighter. Its design is once again credited to Pininfarina, and unlike it’s predecessor's design, it deviated from traditions such as the sharp angles and flip-up headlights.

5. Porsche 918 Spyder:

Porsche 918 Spyder

The Porsche 918 is a plug-in hybrid supercar, sporting two electric motors that power it to scintillating speeds. On September 2013, it became the first street-legal production car to break under the 7 minute barrier at the Nurburgring.

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