20 November 2013

Cars That Wouldn’t Die: Six cases of shocking automotive longevity

In this age of ultra-short product lifecycles where a three-model-year run unchanged is an eternity, it’s tough to imagine the same basic design being produced for three separate decades or more. Here are six cars well known to most Americans that all had tortoise-like life spans:

  1. 1962-80 MGB: The MG was the sports car Americans loved first, with U.S. servicemen bringing back rakish MG TCs from the UK. The MGB was the first “modern” sports car from MG that included features like actual roll-up windows and (from 1967 on) a fully synchronized manual transmission. When it was introduced in 1962, few thought that it would be the last MG sold in the U.S. Sadly, that’s how it turned out.  After a titanic 18-year run, the B exited the world little changed from the way it entered. The engine and body shell were the same basic units that were being built during the Kennedy administration.
  2. 1954-83 Jeep CJ-5: The CJ-5 was actually a variant of the Korean War-era military Jeep. Far more suited to civilian use than the WWII-era Jeep, the CJ-5 was a hot seller for American Motors, which took over Jeep’s parentage from the old Kaiser automotive group. The CJ-5’s short wheelbase gave it a terribly choppy ride and made it rollover-prone in emergency situations. Nevertheless, it remained in production for an astonishing 30 years, and there is a fair amount of CJ DNA in today’s Wrangler. 
  3. 1949-80 Volkswagen Beetle: For a car that was a virtual orphan cast-off at the end of WWII, the Beetle wound up doing OK. The Allied occupying powers didn’t quite know what they should do with the car, which was commissioned by the Nazis to give loyal subjects mobility on the new Autobahn superhighways. As it turned out, invading Poland and plunging the world into a catastrophic war took precedence over the automobile business, and the Allies found the remnants of a new factory in a new town known as Wolfsburg. They elected to let the post-war Germans keep the funny little car, and the rest is history. Although the last Super Beetle Cabriolets were sold in the U.S. from 1980-81, production of the basic Beetle sedan continued in Mexico until 2006.
  4. 1964-89 Porsche 911 (air-cooled): The 911 celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, but to be fair, we cut this off in 1989, the last year for the original torsion-bar suspension, air-cooled 911. It’s simply amazing how little of the basic car changed over the course of 25 years, from the primitive heating system, to most of the glass, roof and doors, as well as the basic engine design. 911 fans seemed just fine with that as the car outlived its intended successor — the 928.
  5. 1968-82 C3 Corvette: Corvettes through their history had been on a somewhat fast and furious development pace ever since Zora Arkus-Duntov decided to show Chevy how to make it into a real V-8-powered sports car in 1955. The second generation, or C2, Corvette (which many argue was the best of the classic Corvettes) was only around from 1963-67. The car that replaced that version, however, hung around for 14 long years. To be fair, these were tough years for GM, which was getting hammered by imports and two fuel crises. There were several mid-engine design studies that came perilously close to replacing the C3, but it never happened, and the same basic design lasted from LBJ to Reagan.
  6. 1960-82 Checker Marathon: Who doesn’t miss the Checker Marathon? One of the few purpose-built taxi cabs ever sold in the U.S., they were infinitely nicer to ride in than the clapped-out Ford Crown Vics that seem to serve as cabs everywhere in the U.S. Similar in roominess to the classic London taxis still in service, with their handy fold-down jump seats, the Marathon also added a useful trunk to the mix.  Although the vast majority were used as cabs, ultra-practical eccentrics did from time to time buy Marathons as civilian transportation.  Twenty-two years wasn’t long enough.

62 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Carl Sosna Tucson November 24, 2013 at 22:52
    Good article but where is the Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer that was in production from 1962 through 1991?
  • 2
    Tom Mahomet, IL November 25, 2013 at 10:35
    How could you leave out the Mini?
  • 3
    Steve Hedke Santa Clarita, CA November 25, 2013 at 12:20
    1962-1981 Triumph Spitfire
  • 4
    Chazman Northeast December 4, 2013 at 13:10
    And as usual, no mention of the Avanti....
  • 5
    Ron Delaware December 4, 2013 at 13:26
    You forgot one of the longest runs, and most important cars in history, The Original Classic mini. 1959-2000
  • 6
    Dan United States December 4, 2013 at 13:34
    I'd add the R107 Mercedes SL to this list. In production from 1972-89
  • 7
    Dan Kretzer New York December 4, 2013 at 13:38
    Make that 7. The Volvo 240 had one heck of a run from 1974 to 1993. 2.8 million units sold (Wikipedia) Add 8 years to that if you count the 140 starting in 1966, which evolved into the 240 with many mechanical changes but the still recognizable original shape.
  • 8
    Rod Indiana December 4, 2013 at 13:42
    Don't forget the Marathon was also chosen as the Limo for the governor of Illinois (Thompson) as he needed extra leg room.Besides these things were fun to drive with there six cylinder engines made with a choice of American Motors, Ford or Chevy engines and transmissions.
  • 9
    Bernard Siegal Dallas, Texas December 4, 2013 at 13:53
    The big daddy of them all is the Citroen 2CV from 1948 to 1990. Most importantly is the fact that all the body panels and the frame are all interchangeable, some with only minor modifications. In fact you change put a 1990 motor into a early model with only minor limited mods.
  • 10
    Adam Bellingham, WA December 4, 2013 at 13:54
    What about the classic mini? 1959 to 2000? The FX4 variant of the London Taxi, 1959 to 1998? The Citroen 2CV 1948-1990? Renault4, 1961-1992? Trabant 601, 1963-1991?
  • 11
    Bill United States December 4, 2013 at 14:23
    What about the Mercedes 380SL (R107) 1971 through 1989 ? You could have called the story "Cars That Wouldn’t Die: Seven cases of shocking automotive longevity :)
  • 12
    Rich Dobson Orange, CA December 4, 2013 at 14:23
    What about the Model T Ford, 1908-1927? Shouldn't it be included in the list?
  • 13
    Mike Raleigh,NC December 4, 2013 at 14:25
    What about the Ford/Mercury LTD/GrandMarquis/Crown Victoria that never really changed from 1980 to 2010.
  • 14
    Ray Anderson Canada December 4, 2013 at 14:25
    I own a1988 corvette convertible completely original except for the new rag top I put on last spring.This is really a dream car as we push 32 mpg and the ride is just great but in saying that I have been a die hard volvo 240 man since I bought my first one in 1990 it was a 1980 4 dr 240 that some one had shot the doors with a 12 guage it had 42 thousand miles on it I drove it to the junkyard with over 500 thousand on and it still run well just rusted to death.I am not sure of the exact year they started production on this 4 dr model known as the Brick but I am quite sure they had a long run with this body style.So I managed to pick up one of the last models to roll off the line its a 1993 240 classic wagon with the factory roof rack and a 5 speed tranny bought from the original owner and its production number is 487.These cars were indestructible with an amazing 4 cyl engine that just wont die.I know its not an American auto but hats off to Volvo for a little piece of history.
  • 15
    Steven Los Angeles December 4, 2013 at 14:33
    What the Alfa Romeo Spider is not good enough for you. 1965 to 1993 that's LBJ to Bill Clinton.
  • 16
    Joe United States December 4, 2013 at 14:34
    I would have added the Mercedes SL Class (R107),which was produced from 1971 - 1989 to this list.
  • 17
    www.oddimotive.com United States December 4, 2013 at 14:36
    Nice ones, but I'd add the Porsche 928 (1977-1995 production) and Jaguar XJS (1975-1996) to the list!
  • 18
    Art S. Connecticut December 4, 2013 at 14:40
    How about the Volvo 140/240 series that ran from 1967 to 1993? In addition to being produced for over 25 years, the 240 must be one of the most common "daily drivers" you still see on the road daily. Here in the Northeast they are the most common survivor of the 1980s and early 90s - they have amazing longevity! They are also seen in commercials and films at a surprising rate - there were 8 ads in the past year featuring them.
  • 19
    Steven Los Angeles December 4, 2013 at 14:44
    What the Alfa Romeo Spider is not good enough for you. 1965 to 1993 that's LBJ to Bill Clinton.
  • 20
    Ray Ashenhurst Nashua, NH December 4, 2013 at 14:57
    There is an interesting twist to this body style longevity. Auto makers that survive to this day with an absolute minimum number of body changes. Of course that rules out GM or Ford. They would be on the further end of the spectrum with probably the greatest number of body changes. The top spot for least amount of body changes would probably go to Porsche. Sixty four years with one change in 1965. There are others who are working with their original body styles, however, longevity is important. Morris Garages would be in the hunt here with more longevity than Porsche. I wouldn't doubt that some of the Baltic countries or China companies have done it to this day with but one car.
  • 21
    Craig Calgary December 4, 2013 at 15:01
    I'd add the Jaguar XJ, the Series 3 version was produced from 1979 to 1992 (in V12 form) and the Series 2 didn't look much different, starting in 1973.
  • 22
    Jim Monett, mo December 4, 2013 at 15:14
    Mg should never be #1. Ludicrous story.. Vw no doubt #1 jeep #2, Porsche #3. ford light duty Trucks.
  • 23
    Tony Rached Atlanta, GA December 4, 2013 at 15:30
    How about the Volvo 240?
  • 24
    Bob Johnstone Northern VA December 4, 2013 at 15:34
    If there was ever a timeless design and a car that will NEVER die off, it is the Studebaker Avanti and subsequent Avanti II 1963 - 1991 and again . in 2002 thru 2006..... with an upgrade in design by the original stylist, Tom Kellogg...
  • 25
    James klein Jacksonville Florida December 4, 2013 at 15:53
    let's not forget about the Mercedes Benz 350 450 and 560 SL which ran from 1972 to 1989 basically unchanged.
  • 26
    Luke Shilts Fort Morgan, CO December 4, 2013 at 16:17
    Don't forget Chevy pickups from 73 to 87. Basically unchanged that entire time.
  • 27
    David Alexandria, VA December 4, 2013 at 16:29
    I can think of a few others: Plymouth Valiant, Chevy Nova, Olds Cutlass, Ford Fairlane. It seems that cars that were built at a time when they weren't so complicated that the owners couldn't repair them themselves lasted a long time just for that very reason. Same thing with pick-ups.
  • 28
    Car Collector Chronicles United States December 4, 2013 at 17:22
    The not a long manufacturing lifespan, a car with the ability to "grow long in the tooth" is the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon.
  • 29
    Jim Gray Oklahoma December 4, 2013 at 17:25
    What about the deTomaso Pantera. In production for 25 years with only cosmetic changes.
  • 30
    Dennis Zachrich New Bavaria, OH December 4, 2013 at 17:48
    The Mercedes Benz R107 series (SL) ran from 1971 through 1989.
  • 31
    David SF Bay area, California December 4, 2013 at 17:50
    What about the CITROEN Traction Avant produced from 1934 until 1957, a 23 year run? Of the Citroen 2CV that was in production from 1948 thru 1990 !! A 42 year run of a single model isn't too shabby.
  • 32
    Brent Toronto December 4, 2013 at 18:05
    Umm? Suburban since 1935 and the longest running nameplate in the industry.
  • 33
    Rod Smith rod002@msn.com December 4, 2013 at 18:14
    Here we go again...Shoving the MGB down our throats.Please let it go the was not that great.
  • 34
    Peter Bradley United States December 4, 2013 at 18:53
    You could have included 2 Volvo models. The PV444/544 was produced from 1947 through 1966. The Volvo 240 series was produced from 1974 through 1993.
  • 35
    Designhead New Jersey December 4, 2013 at 19:00
    Awh-You forgot Avanti! Although it wasn't made anymore by Studebaker after '64. It continued until 2007.
  • 36
    Dale Travelers Rest SC December 4, 2013 at 19:23
    Not sure what it is about Hemmings and Alfa's but once again you left out an Alfa on your list. This time you include the "titantic 18 yr run of the MGB and left off the Alfa Romeo Spider that was produced and sold in the US for 27 years - 1967 - 1993. Maybe if Alfa comes back to the US it won't be treated as a forgotten orphan by you folks.
  • 37
    Peter Windsor, Ontario December 4, 2013 at 19:33
    You missed the Morgans either the 4/4 Plus 4 or Plus 8 have all of the above beat for longevity.
  • 38
    Don Wi December 4, 2013 at 19:53
    You forgot the venerable Ford Crown Vic/Mercury Sable/Lincoln Town Car. 1980s (or 70s?) technology tuned to perfection by 2011. A long time favorite of law enforcement, livery companies, taxi companies, geezers and anyone who wanted a bullet proof car that would go 200,000 miles without batting an eyelash. Though I'm not a geezer (yet), I have enjoyed my 2003 Town Car for well over 100,000 miles of trouble free and comfortable driving.
  • 39
    Jim Morris St'Allis, WI December 4, 2013 at 19:53
    Don't forget the Morris Minor. 1948-1972. Dramatically advanced when introduced in '48 (unit body, 14" wheels, torsion bar front, 12 volt, rack & pinion), archaic at the end (same specs, and many parts actually interchange over the whole span). The Traveller woody wagon had no structural metal (other than the floor) on the whole back half. Never a big seller in the US, but still has a very large worldwide following.
  • 40
    Randy Smith Kent, OH December 4, 2013 at 20:00
    Wow,can't believe you didn't include the original Mini !
  • 41
    jon b maine December 4, 2013 at 22:57
    They left out the jeep wagoneer, later called grand wagoneer which used the same body and frame from 1963 to 1991. Arguably the first modern SUV and also the first domestic luxury SUV.
  • 42
    Herb West Bloomfield December 4, 2013 at 12:27
    Just wondering how Irv Gordon's 1966 Volvo P1800 didn't make this article with over 3,000,000 miles and being in the Guinness book?
  • 43
    Herb West Bloomfield December 4, 2013 at 12:32
    Ok, my stupidity I didn't look at the complete article. But Volvo did have some long runs on most models.
  • 44
    Roger Dilts Portland, Or December 4, 2013 at 12:36
    Can't forget the Alfa Spider. Even if you start with the "coda trunca" series 2 in 1971, it was sold in the US until 1994, susbstantially unchanged for 23 years.
  • 45
    Nicholas Pacific Northwest December 4, 2013 at 12:43
    How could you forget the Mini (1959 - 2000)?
  • 46
    John Hess Joplin, MO December 4, 2013 at 12:51
    Another article featuring the MG. The MGB must be the greatest car in the world.
  • 47
    John NY, NY December 4, 2013 at 12:53
    OMG...your list doesn't include the Volvo 240 sedans and station wagons? These "Swedish bricks" were the best. Workhorse by day, classic transportation by night. You could haul anything, anywhere, and still drive it, in a suit and tie, to work on Monday morning. Easy to maintain, comfortable to drive, easily 300,000 milers, just change the O/F!
  • 48
    Ross Peterson salisbury, MD December 4, 2013 at 12:53
    Why not the Avanti...1963 until 1991. With exact same profile. Exact same frame and suspension from 1963 to 1983, alot longer then Corvette, but you are trying to appeal to the Chevy Crowd...right???
  • 49
    Steve K. Everett WA December 5, 2013 at 03:05
    The Volvo 140 series and 240 series, technically different, but essentially the same, may also deserve mention (1966 through 1993).
  • 50
    Mark NYC December 5, 2013 at 05:45
    Another classic that could have made the list is the Mercedes SL W107. The body was unchanged ( except for mandatory shock absorbing numbers in 1973 and engine sizes) from 1971 - 1990. It's a beautiful classic and I'm proud to have one in my garage.
  • 51
    Jeff Auburn, GA December 5, 2013 at 06:12
    How about the 1992-2010 run of the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis? Car stayed mostly the same but had some updates. Basic shell stayed the same.
  • 52
    David Cohasset, MA December 5, 2013 at 07:01
    I would have thought the Dodge 1 ton Power Wagon that was built from 1946 to 1968 (and well into the 70's for export) would have made this list.
  • 53
    Paul W Dallas December 5, 2013 at 08:02
    Shouldn't the origianl Mini be included in this list. It started production in 1959 and continued through 2000; longer than any of the examples you listed.
  • 54
    Gary Atlanta December 5, 2013 at 09:28
    Great article! I noticed that you did not consider the Alfa Romeo Spider. The body style, suspension and engine drive train, etc. remained pretty much the same from 1966 through 1994. It did go through four basic phases, S1-S4 as US safety and emissions requirements were incorporated into the vehicles.E The Spider has become an icon similar to the MG.
  • 55
    Rick Ca. December 5, 2013 at 21:40
    I wonder where all those old Checkers are now...
  • 56
    Sherm Walnut Creek CA December 5, 2013 at 00:36
    One of the longest lived and still rolling on is the Lincoln Town Car, used here in the SF Bay by limo drivers well past half a million miles. Ford needs to spin off the Lincoln Brand and Focus on Ford cars and trucks. Please note the great success of Land Rover/Jaguar after the brands were sold off and acquired by new investors. Lincoln Languishes under Ford.
  • 57
    Dave Brown Marion,Ia. December 7, 2013 at 10:42
    The Checker was a tough car indeed but as far as "clapped out"Ford Crown Vics go there is a reason why they were and are still popular with cabbies. Most Chevy motors in the Checkers would not go 300K+ miles without an overhaul. The Vics fuel injection setup was very reliable compared to GM's carb setup.They will go the distance with great reliability and many of them are on their second tour in life coming off hard Police duty. Remember,they were the car of choice even when rear drive Police Caprices were out there. There is no comparison. Ask any cab company. Nothing flashy. Just a good solid car. By the way it ran in the same basic form 1992-2011
  • 58
    Dan Snyder Columbus, OH December 9, 2013 at 15:11
    The Citroen DS, 1955 through 1975. Over a million manufactured.
  • 59
    dan az December 10, 2013 at 17:12
    sorry to partially dissagree, but only two of your car selections are worth mentioning. 1. VW 2. Jeep. The rest are outdone by the MINI, 2cv, Unimog (still made today), model T.
  • 60
    Ron Cochrell Paulsbo WA. December 11, 2013 at 01:30
    We need to add the Mercedes 300SD from the early 80's through the decade!
  • 61
    Mark S P Maryland December 11, 2013 at 15:31
    Has everyone forgotten about the Morgan Trike? In production more or less for 90 years. Beat that.
  • 62
    John central NY February 24, 2014 at 16:26
    The longest running production car in the world is a Morgan 4/4. They started in 1936 and still build them today. They even look very similar. Morgan started building three wheelers in 1909 until 1951. They were considered motorcycles and taxed that way. I get sick of people saying VWs or corvettes. I just noticed Peter and Mark's comments. Good Job

Join the Discussion