In the car business, there are a lot of models that seem to come and go in just a few years, or never seem to really make it off the lot in their first year. For every Ford Mustang, there are a dozen other models whose names are lost to the vagaries of history. In this quiz, we'll see if you can recognize some of the most successful cars from a chronological standpoint. Which of these models with major staying power can you identify?
What makes a long-selling car? Quality workmanship helps, of course. When you can still find 30-year-old models of a certain car on the road today, it's a safe bet this year's model of that roadster is on sale at your local dealership. Sometimes, Hollywood can lend a hand. In the '60s and '70s, the muscle cars that appeared in movies like "Bullitt" and "Smokey and the Bandit" started flying out of dealerships almost as soon as the movies premiered. That led to today's market, where car companies actually advertise when their cars are in various movies.
But whatever the magic behind the metal, in this quiz, we'll see how many cars you can identify from the ranks of the longest-lived models!
Mercedes’ SL “sport lightweight” Series is one of the longest-selling nameplates around. It debuted way back in 1954 with models such as the 300SL with gullwing-style doors, although most since then have been convertibles. In recent years, Mercedes has been equipping SLs with boosted engines including a twin-turbo V-12 edition.
Debuting as a 1964 1/2 model, the Ford Mustang became an instant hit. The little 2+2 ponycar soon developed some real muscle, including big-block engines, before taking a performance break in the 1970s. Since 1982, however, the Mustang and its GT variant have only grown sportier.
Barring the occasional gap year or nine, the Chevrolet Impala has been a steady presence on American roads. It all started in 1958 with a sleek, full-sized passenger car that was long and available in a convertible variant. Today, an Impala is still a full-sized vehicle, but features front-wheel drive and a hybrid electric/gas engine option.
The Mitsubishi Lancer has been a four-cylinder, (sub) compact car since its inception in 1973. The plucky little car was sold under a variety of names including the Dodge and Plymouth Colt, and was occasionally available with a turbocharger. At this writing, the Lancer will live on primarily in the Chinese market.
During the Cold War, a particular car came to symbolize Communist East Germany: the durable Trabant. Built from 1957 until 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the distinctive little car chugged along with its 26-horsepower, two-stroke motor. It had its quirks, to say the least, but in 1957 its front-wheel drive and recycled cotton-and-resin body panels were ahead of its time.
As its marque has come to symbolize, the Cadillac DeVille (1959–2005) offered a luxurious ride in a full-sized coupe, sedan or convertible package. In 1985, like many American cars, it made the switch from front-engine, rear-wheel-drive to a front-engine, front-wheel-drive platform. Cadillac retired the DeVille nameplate after the 2005 model, which came with the 4.6L Northstar V-8 motor.
Over 10 generations (so far), the Honda Civic has endured as a fuel-efficient compact that doesn’t leave out the fun. It debuted in 1973 during the Oil Crisis, when drivers were keenly aware of the miles-per-gallon cost of bigger “gas-guzzlers.” Today, it’s available with hybrid and standard drivetrains, and in hatchback, coupe, and sedan variations.
Toyota’s Corolla has changed a lot since 1968, but it’s still cruising along. The compact car originated as a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, but today--12 product generations later--it’s a thoroughly modern, front-wheel-drive hatchback. It’s been adapted and rebranded into many international variants over the years including the Geo Prizm, Chevrolet Nova, and Pontiac Vibe.
It’s odd to think that the VW Type 1 / Beetle, beloved by millions of surfers and college students, got its start with Adolf Hitler. The German dictator ordered Ferdinand Porsche to create a “car for the people,” and in 1938, the Volkswagen Type 1 took shape. The iconic “Bug” ended production in 2003, but its name has lived on in the stylistically similar but thoroughly updated New Beetle, now in its second generation.
When adoring fans sigh that they want “a Jag,” they’re usually talking about the Jaguar XJ. The British luxury car has been representing the company in all the posh places since 1968. In its latest incarnation, the big cat comes in diesel or gas form, with V-6s and V-8s available with turbos or superchargers.
Mass-produced to be sold to the masses, Ford’s Model T was pretty much the first big automotive hit among the buying public. It started chugging along in 1908 with its 20-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine, and didn’t stop for a couple of decades. In 1927, Henry Ford started his nomenclature over with the radically improved Model A.
BMW launched its bread-and-butter 3 Series in 1975 with the 318, 320 and other models. Initially powered by a four-cylinder engine to meet emissions targets, the German sports car soon made the transition to the inline-six for which it’s become known. Want the sportiest edition? Look for an M3 model.
The collectible Chevy Corvette debuted as a convertible in 1953, with the famous split-window coupe following in 1963. Later it came to personify American horsepower in a more exotic package than the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird, and Dodge Charger & Challenger. A 1983 hiatus notwithstanding, the ‘Vette has thundered along ever since.
For more than 40 years (1963–2003), Mazda’s Familia filled a niche as a compact car for a small family. Over the years the ubiquitous car grew sleeker and less boxy, as well as more powerful and fuel-efficient. Also known as the 323 and the Protege, the Familia even played the role of the Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer for a while in the 1990s.
In 1948, a few years after World War II, the UK came up with its own version of the military Jeep with a 50-hp 1.6-liter engine. The Land Rover, later known as the Defender, sold to armed forces and civilians all over the world until early 2016.
The Cutlass proved to be very versatile for Oldsmobile during its 1961–99 run, spawning the well-appointed Cutlass Supreme, the street brawling 442 and Hurst/Olds, and the popular Cutlass Ciera. Like several other American cars, the Cutlass made the move from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive in the 1980s. Interestingly, the midsized car actually started off as a compact in its earliest years.
Lincoln’s Town Car assumed the full-sized luxury mantle from the lengthier Continental in 1981, and served the company in that capacity until 2011. From the start, the less-large car helped to introduce fuel injection to American V-8s, although its 5.0L/302ci engine was necessarily a big change for Lincoln buyers used to big-block torque. Lincoln actually used the “Town Car” name as a trim package for the Continental for a number of years before launching it as its own model.
Two doors, six cylinders, and rear-wheel drive: That has been Nissan’s Z cars from the beginning. The company’s affordable sports car made its first appearance as the 1970 240Z (aka the Fairlady Z in Japan), using the Datsun name for export models. The 280Z and hugely popular 280ZX followed, including turbo models, and later the 300ZX, 350Z, and 370Z.
Instantly recognizable, the Porsche 911 has been eating up the Autobahn, motorways and highways since 1963. The aerodynamic German sports car has long featured a flat, boxer-style, horizontally-opposed, six-cylinder engine capable of quick, smooth revs. The short version of all that? It’s very quick, and very fast.
Quick, think of a hippie car! ... Chances are good that you thought of a Volkswagen Type II Microbus, possibly with a mural on the side and a few peace signs for good measure. The German icon debuted in 1950 with a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, and came in a variety of body configurations including a unique-looking pickup truck. Today’s descendant of the Type II is VW’s Transporter T6.
The Honda Accord started out in 1976 as an economy car slightly bigger than the popular Civic, but it evolved from a hatchback into its now-familiar sedan form. In 1982, Honda opened its Marysville Ohio plant, and the Accord became the first Japanese car to be built in the US. Today, of course, the bestselling Accord is everywhere, including a popular hybrid version.
The Buick LeSabre’s production run spanned the years 1959 to 2005. Initially sporting prominent fins both fore and aft, the entry-level, full-sized LeSabre eventually gave up some size and weight for better fuel economy. It also made the transition from V8-powered rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive and a 3.8L V6.
Looked at one way, it’s remarkable that the Mazda RX-7 was only built from 1978–2002: Its rotary Wankel-style engine, with a simple and compact design, was supposed to revolutionize the automotive industry. Viewed from another angle, in light of the rotary engine’s flaws (high emissions, low fuel efficiency, oil consumption), it’s surprising that the sports car lasted as long as it did. Its RX-8 successor held on until 2011.
This luxury compact line from Mercedes-Benz has passed the quarter-century mark. The C-Class started off in 1993 with models such as the C180 and C220, and soon offered a wide variety of engines, both diesel and gas-powered, some with turbos or superchargers. Today’s C-models offer premium safety features and an available plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Australian automaker Holden produced the Commodore sedan from 1978 to 2017, but the nameplate will live on in an Opel-manufactured 2018-on car imported from Germany. (And in point of fact, Opel had been employing the Commodore model name since 1967.) It’s had station wagon and even “ute” (utility) variants resembling the Chevrolet El Camino or Ford Ranchero.
Volkswagen certainly loves to keep a nameplate around. The Golf economical compact, also known as the VW Rabbit, emerged in 1974 as a front-wheel-drive hatchback to replace the aging Beetle. The award-winning Golf has been a relatively early platform for a variety of technologies, including fuel injection, anti-lock brakes, and turbocharged direct injection in its diesel engines.
“Taxi!” India’s Hindustan Motors imported the tooling to make the Morris Oxford III from England, started to build its own version, and called it the 1958 Ambassador. It swiftly became a familiar sight across the country, both as a private car and as a taxi. A recent Ambassador Encore edition uses a cleaner-burning diesel engine to comply with emissions requirements in major Indian cities.
Nissan’s Sentra, alternatively known as the Sunny, Pulsar, or other names depending on location, hit American shores in 1982. Its 43 city/58 highway miles-per-gallon rating was unheard of at the time for a gas-powered car. Although the compact sedan has grown a bit over time, it’s still a four-cylindered, front-wheel-drive staple that can make you forget when you last visited the gas station.
Remarkable. The Morgan 4/4 isn’t only remarkable for its longevity--it’s been in production since 1936, give or take a World War--but also for the fact that it’s still hand-built. (Yes, there is a years-long waiting list to buy one.) The British roadster still features a wooden frame after all these years, albeit one on a steel chassis. Current models employ a 1.6L Ford engine and a Mazda five-speed manual transmission.
About to enter its fourth decade is the Renault Clio, a ubiquitous presence in France. Beginning in 1990, the new hatchback helped to turn around Renault’s fortunes in the market. It was so successful, in fact, that it was twice voted Motor Trend’s European Car of the Year in 1991 and again in 2006. There’s also a sedan version known as the Clio Symbol and other monikers.
Ford’s lightweight Falcon was a fleet (albeit flexible-framed) compact that lent much of itself to the later Mustang, but it was in Australia, not America, where the nameplate flourished. From 1959 to its iconic role in the 1978-81 Mad Max movies (Roadshow Film Distributors, Warner Bros) until production ended in 2016, the Falcon flew high down under.
Like the British Land Rover, the Japanese Toyota Land Cruiser got its inspiration from the Willys MB Jeep. It debuted in 1951 as the Toyota Jeep BJ, then in 1954 it acquired the name that has lasted to this day (albeit on a much more refined vehicle).
The Mercury Grand Marquis (1975–2011) mirrored the Ford LTD but with a touch of luxury, just as other Mercurys offered aesthetic alternatives to their more numerous Ford counterparts. The full-sized sedan was a relatively early adopter of novel fuel delivery techniques among mainstream automobiles, including a problematic variable-venturi carburetor and then fuel injection in 1983. A Grand Marquis in St. Thomas, Ontario ended up as the final car produced by Mercury, as Ford shuttered the division in the first days of 2011.
The Legacy will indeed be a huge part of Subaru’s legacy, as the automaker has sold several million of the small-to-mid-sized sedan since its launch in 1988. From the start, the Legacy has been available with all-wheel-drive, along with Subaru’s signature boxer-style engine with its horizontally opposed cylinder banks. Lately it’s been offered with advanced collision avoidance technology and either a 2.5L 4-cylinder or 3.6L 6-cylinder motor.
We’ve been seeing Volkswagen Jettas on the streets since 1979, and all indications are that we’ll go on seeing them for years to come. Originally developed as a sedan version of the VW Golf, the Jetta has gained a huge following all its own. Today’s models come with high-tech collision avoidance and infotainment options. A 1.4L turbocharged inline four comes standard.
Chevrolet debuted its affordable sports car, the Camaro, in 1967. For many years, the low, wide street brawler had a fraternal twin in the Pontiac Firebird. After an 8-year hiatus, Chevy brought back the Camaro in 2010 in a much-updated form. Today, it’s faster and better handling than ever.
The Dodge Charger debuted in 1966 as a fastback-styled, medium-sized sedan. The most famous example, the “General Lee” from the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, was a 1969 model. Many changes followed, including a 1980s compact hatchback with a turbo model from Shelby itself. After 1987, however, the nameplate had nearly two decades’ worth of gap years, but it returned in 2006 with retro styling and modern tech, including all-wheel drive.
This is the aesthetic and spiritual descendant of the Jeep CJ (itself derived from the Willys MB military jeep of World War II), so much so that many fans simply call it the Jeep CJ Wrangler. The Wrangler was introduced in 1986, and Jeep has produced a new iteration every decade or so.
A very common sight in China (along with other German makes) is the Volkswagen Santana, also known as the Quantum and other nameplates around the world. VW started production in 1984, with motors including a relatively uncommon inline 5-cylinder 2.0L. Today the New Santana lives on in the Chinese market.
Another long-running, popular passenger car is the Toyota Camry, which debuted in 1982 and continues to this day. Originally a variation of the Celica, the Camry soon forged its own identity with sedan, liftback, and station wagon versions sold throughout the world. Today, the Camry comes standard with anti-collision technology, along with options such as a hybrid drivetrain and CVT transmission.