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A car being called a whip is actually based in history. When steering wheels were first introduced to the automobile, it was called a whip. Whips were used to control horses drawing a buggy, so, since the steering wheel controlled the car, it was referred to as the whip. The term ”whip” was later used in rap and hip-hop lyrics to refer to expensive automobiles, but has since devolved to refer to any car someone wants to talk about.

Prior To The Steering Wheel

It is hard to imagine a car controlled by anything other than a steering wheel, but the first steering wheel did not appear until approximately 1894 and was installed in a race car. Prior to that every car was steered with a tiller, much like a boat. Many versions were a simple stick. You pushed right to turn left, and vice-versa. This could be confusing and made it difficult to make tight turns. The limitations of the tiller were not very important as most cars of the time did not exceed 2 hp.

In 1894, Alfred Vacheron entered a Pahhard 4 hp into the Paris–Rouen race. He had fitted it with what is acknowledged to be the first steering wheel, but it did not catch on for mass production immediately.  In 1898, Thomas and Charles T. Jeffery, built two experimental cars, called Ramblers, featuring a front-mounted engine, as well as a steering wheel; however, the automakers used the conventional rear-engine, tiller-steered layout for mass production Ramblers during 1902. In 1903, the Rambler Model E was equipped with a tiller early in the production run, but a steering wheel became ubiquitous by the end of the year. In 1904, all Ramblers featured steering wheels. Shortly afterward all production cars in the world had a steering wheel. It only took a short decade, but the tiller had been replaced forever.

From Steering Wheel To Whip

Urban legend has it that early rap and hip-hop artists noticed that the Mercedes-Benz logo resembles a steering wheel. The combination of the logo and the feeling of empowerment gained from owning an expensive car, led to ”whip” meaning an expensive car. Over time and because many people cannot afford an expensive car, a whip has come to refer to any vehicle.


About the author: Jerry Coffey


Jerry Coffey is the financial expert here at A recovered "debtaholic," he now preaches frugal-living and sound money management here and at, where he is the chief contributor. He works for a major automaker.


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