14 Vehicles With the Longest Running Nameplates
The automotive landscape is constantly changing, with makes and models coming and going at all times. But there are a few nameplates that continue to be renewed generation after generation. Here are 14 of the longest-running nameplates in the U.S.
In 1976, Honda introduced a compact car that was larger than the Civic. The company chose the name “Accord” because its goal with the model was to achieve harmony between society, people, and the automobiles amid the 1970s oil crisis. The first-gen Accord was offered as a hatchback, with a sedan model added in 1979. Many different body styles have been offered since then, including coupes, wagons, and the crossover-like Crosstour, but the Accord is at its best as a midsize sedan.
It’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a BMW 3-Series, but before 1975, the acclaimed luxury sport sedan didn’t exist. The E21-generation 3-Series was the successor to the popular 2002. It was larger but—initially—not any more powerful because of stringent emissions regulations. A six-cylinder engine was eventually offered in Europe, but the U.S. had to wait until 1982 to get the inline-six that the 3 Series is known for today. The model comes in many flavors, including the performance-oriented M3.
Sold in the U.S. as the Volkswagen Rabbit until 1985, the Mark 1 Golf arrived in 1974 as a replacement for the venerable Beetle. The Golf was fundamentally very different from the model it was intended to replace, given its status as a front-wheel-drive hatchback with a water-cooled inline-four engine. But the car proved to be a hit, selling 1.5 million first-gen units in the U.S. The formula hasn’t changed much today, either.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class model has many iterations since it arrived in the early 1970s. The big, comfortable cruiser has been a signal of refinement and luxury ever since. Every time Mercedes releases a new one, it seems the bar for luxury is moved up a big step. The current S-Class is still the benchmark in its class and is offered in a number of guises, including high-end Maybach and sporty AMG trims.
The Honda Civic arrived in 1973, just in time for the oil crisis. Like its big brother, the Accord, the Civic offered economical transportation at a time when high gas prices and choking emissions restrictions made other options less attractive. Since then, the Civic has become a compact segment staple, offering a good blend of fuel economy, handling, and value.
The Z car helped put Nissan (then Datsun) on the map when it arrived for the 1970 model year. It also helped elevate Japanese cars as a whole—they were widely considered second-rate at the time. The Z had a six-year gap in production between the 300ZX and 350Z models, though production of the Z32-generation 300ZX continued in Japan until 2000. The Z car’s mission changed over the years, but the basic formula of a rear-drive, six-cylinder two-door carries on today.
The Corolla was introduced in 1968. Following the naming convention started by the Toyota Crown, the Corolla is named after an ancient headdress. The model began life as a tiny rear-wheel-drive coupe but is best known today in the U.S. as a front-drive, compact sedan and hatchback. Not only is the Corolla an old nameplate, but Toyota claims it’s also the best-selling nameplate ever.
With more than 50 years under its belt, the Ford Mustang can safely claim to be one of the oldest continuous nameplates in America. First introduced at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair, the Mustang was available as a coupe or convertible. A fastback model was added later, along with higher-performance variants like the GT, Mach 1, and Boss 302.
The Porsche 911 arrived in 1963 as a replacement to the 356. The original car made the mold for all models that followed, with its streamlined coupe body, rear-engine layout, and flat-six-cylinder engine. Today, 911s are no longer air-cooled, and they come in turbocharged and all-wheel-drive flavors. That said, the lineage is still very easy to see.
The SL nameplate dates all the way back to 1954 with the famous gullwing-doored 300SL coupe. The letter designation stood for “Sport Leicht,” or sport lightweight, referring to the car’s aluminum body and tubular space frame. A roadster version came in 1957, and from that point on, just about every SL has been a convertible.
The Corvette, which debuted in 1953, has the SL beat by only a year. The first-generation model, or C1, was offered only as a convertible with an inline-six or V-8 engine. A coupe model didn’t come until a decade later, with the C2-generation in 1963. Eight generations later, and the Corvette is still going strong. Even better, the C8 finally made the switch to a mid-engine layout, making it a true American supercar.
Toyota Land Cruiser
The Land Cruiser’s been on sale for more than a half-century. Much like the modern Jeep Wrangler, the Land Cruiser evolved from a military vehicle, which is where it gets its extremely rugged reputation. Over the years, the Land Cruiser has grown significantly, becoming more luxurious but still boasting impressive off-road capability. The now-departed FJ Cruiser was a tribute to the Land Cruisers of old.
Ford’s F-Series pickup family dates back to 1948, with the F-1, F-2, and F-3 models. By the second generation, the F-Series adopted the naming convention we’re familiar with today. Today, the F-Series is by far Ford’s best-selling product line, with 896,526 units sold in 2019—not far off the cumulative number of cars Ford sold last year.
The Suburban is undisputed as the oldest surviving nameplate in the U.S., dating back to 1935. The first Suburbans were essentially station wagons built on truck frames. In 1955, the Suburban name was also used on a GMC truck called the two-door Suburban Carrier. Today, the Suburban is among the largest passenger vehicles on the road.
This story was originally published on February 23, 2015.
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