10 great car names that (mostly) lost their luster
Fresh from driving the 2024 Integra in Type S form, we’re still impressed that Acura captured some of the magic of the original, 1997–2001 Integra Type R. It’s an uncommon triumph, as this list from the Hagerty archives proves. —Ed.
Some of the most memorable car names first appeared on unforgettable models that left permanent imprints on car culture. In many instances, the name would subsequently switch to a mainstream model to give the more pedestrian vehicle a jolt of excitement. That marketing tactic went too far and for too long in some cases, diluting the value of the name value into oblivion.
Here are 10 car names that lost their luster over the years, including a few reboots that earned a measure of redemption.
Pontiac’s limited-production 1957 Bonneville convertible (630 made), equipped with fuel injection and priced at a whopping $5800 (or nearly ten times that for a driver-quality example today), saw its special status fade quickly. The Grand Prix demoted the Bonnie to mid-line status in 1961. In the early ’80s, the Bonneville badge replaced the Le Mans one on the midsize sedan. The Bonneville name later switched onto a full-size front-driver, which at least ended on a decent note with supercharged V-6s and, in the end, a Cadillac Northstar V-8.
Chevy’s Impala started as a special 1958 Bel Air model with glammed-up styling. Optioned with the triple-carb, 348-cubic-inch V-8, the ’58 Impala was a hot car. Although Impala went mainstream after that, Super Sport models and big-block engines kept it interesting in the ’60s. The luxury Caprice trim dropped in above Impala in ’65, and two decades later, the Impala was demoted to a stripper for police and taxi fleets. The 1994–96 Impala SS briefly redeemed the name, but the model-year 2000 version was an anonymous front-driver. The version that ended production after 2020 was much improved but still mainstream.
Shelby / Ford Cobra
Trying to capitalize on the Shelby Cobra’s performance image in the ’60s, Ford spread the name (which it owned) pretty thin. “Shelby” appeared on various parts of the 1965–67 Shelby Mustangs and was then integrated into the names of those models from 1968 through 1970.
At the same time, Ford also called its midsize muscle car a Cobra. Ford scraped the bottom when it slapped “Cobra II” decals on a 1976 Mustang II, but 1993-and-later Mustang Cobras atoned for the offense. The 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 (and GT350R) up the ante even further, and today’s GT500 proved itself king of the hill.
Muscle-car buffs fondly remember the AMX, the short-wheelbase, two-seat version of AMC’s Javelin pony car. After canceling the AMX, AMC moved the badge to the 1971 Javelin performance model. But a few years after the Javelin ended, AMC pulled its own “Cobra II” move, making “AMX” a garish dress-up package for the Hornet compact and, later, for the smaller Spirit (a Gremlin rerun). At least you could get an optional 304-cube V-8 in ’79.
Get this: Two 1979 AMXs took first and second in class (25th and 43rd overall) in Germany’s Nürburgring 24 Hour race, with Indy racer Lyn St. James and actor James Brolin among the six drivers.
After carving out a unique sporty/muscle niche with the 1966–74 Chargers, Dodge moved the badge to a “personal luxury” coupe in ’75. The public yawned, but the new model’s Chrysler clone, the Cordoba, achieved far greater success.
In the ’80s, Dodge glued the Charger badge to a front-drive Omni hatchback coupe, and there was even a Shelby version. Redemption arrived in 2006 with a Charger sedan, available with a new Hemi V-8, and the 707-horsepower, 204-mph Charger Hellcat that arrived in 2015 sealed the name’s modern-day fame.
The 1967–70 Mercury Cougar was unique among pony cars thanks to its elegant design, touch of luxury, and available muscle power. The larger 1971–73 model dimmed the spark, however, and the Cougar went full luxo-boat in ’74.
By the late ’70s, the badge adorned a line of mainstream Mercs, including a station wagon. A Thunderbird clone followed in ’83. Finally, an attempt to recapture the old magic spawned a front-drive sport coupe for 1999–2002.
Ford Mustang Mach 1
The new-for-1969 Mustang Mach 1 was the mainstream muscle Mustang, and it sold well. By 1971, though, the Mach 1 had become bloated and underpowered with a standard two-barrel, 302-cu-in V-8. The 429 Cobra Jet engine was gone after ’71, leaving various 351 V-8s to carry the performance torch. It was a crime to use the Mach 1 name on the later Mustang II, but kudos to Ford for putting it on a special 2003–2004 Mustang with a 305-horse DOHC V-8.
The 1967–1973 Maserati Ghibli, named for a North African windstorm, was a bona fide 160-mph classic GT and one of the most beautiful cars ever made. In 1992, the Ghibli name resurfaced on a fast but blocky-looking two-door based on the dreadful BiTurbo model. Maserati heritage took a punch to the gut in 2013, when the Fiat-owned company stuck the revered name on a midsize luxury sedan that, while fast, looks like a strange brew of Buick and 2000s Hyundai.
It’s hard to believe that even Porsche could dilute a great car name. Having won its class in Mexico’s Carrera Panamericana open-road race, Porsche marked the achievement by using “Carrera” for the 356’s high-performance engine option. The name was brought back for a 1964 mid-engine racecar, the Carrera GTS (aka the 904) and later, for the uber-special 1973–1974 911 Carrera RS. By the mid-1980s, though, all 911s were called Carreras, a practice that continues today except, oddly, for the highest-performance versions. (Just to confuse things, there is also the 2005–2007 Porsche Carrera GT supercar.)
Can you think of a better name than “California” for a 195-mph Ferrari hardtop convertible? Neither could Ferrari. You can’t fault Maranello for borrowing the name from one of its own classics, the 250 GT Spyder California, produced in two series from 1957–61 for a total of just 106 cars. Contrast that with the estimated 2000+ California models made each year from 2008 to 2017. Still, as Ferris Bueller would say: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”