10 great car names that (mostly) lost their luster

1957 Pontiac Bonneville Chevrolet

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 Bonneville

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.

Chevrolet Impala

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

1976 Ford Mustang II Cobra II great car names

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.


great car names
Dave Perrine with an AMX in 1977. Courtesy The Last Independent Automaker/AMC

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.

Dodge Charger

1983 dodge charger
Flickr | John Lloyd

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.

Mercury Cougar

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

2003_ford_mustang_mach_1 great car names

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.

Maserati Ghibli

2013 maserati ghibli
Aldo Ferrero

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.

Porsche Carrera

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.)

Ferrari California

Ferrari California great car names

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.”




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    What many fail to realize is the LeMans based Bonneville was a short term car that was to carry Pontiac to an early grave. GM was considering killing Pontiac at the time and they did not want to invest in a new car. The Fiero and Trans Am brought many people to the dealers and help sell a ton of Grand Ams. This moved the target to Olds.

    As for Name equity companies have made some grave mistakes with name like pointed out here,

    The pending one I fear is the abuse of the Corvette name. The Corvette has name equity like no other car. Slapping it on a number of models for a quick but can easily backfire and damage the name being on the wrong product. Is 70 year of equity really wort a few bucks.

    My suggestion is this. If you want to do a sport SUV name it a Nomad Tuned by Team Corvette. This way if it flops no harm or at least minimum damage.

    Even the Shelby name has been abused over the years.

    With names automakers really show where they don’t get it. The Cutlass name was slapped on three different cars at one time. The problem was only one was RWD and lived up to the name. Slapping Cutlass in the others did not fix what was wrong.

    I know sone want names again at Cadillac. But are any of the cars there even remotely in line with the names of old? No.

    I picked on GM but they all have done it. Even new names like Probe? What was someone thinking?

    The Nova….no go, was a dumb name. I always wondered why trim level names morphed into model designations….like Malibu for example

    Cutlass actually hit 4 distinctly different models for 1988. It was the final year for the rear drive full frame Cuttlass Supreme Classic, overlapping with the new front drive Cuttlass Supreme that shared platform with Chevy Lumina. Then you had the fwd Cutlass Ciera, and fwd Cutlass Calais

    GM lost its mojo in the 1970s. When it no longer produced convertibles after 1976, I looked to Europe for my wants. After buying and driving Mercedes and Jaguar convertibles, I never bought another American car. That was 46 years ago and countless Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche (only 1), Audi and Range Rovers later, my mind hasn’t changed.

    Got to agree with you hyperv6, all the companies have been guilty of stupidity with name changes probably by the bean counters after a few too many beverages. (By the way, your spell checker is working better 🙂
    Further on in the comments there is a hater ragging on the Monza name. Guess it depends on what you’re looking for, I had one with a 4 cyl pontiac engine that was a great grocery getter and got decent mileage, also had one with lackluster 105 hp. v8 that easily swapped for a 350 and made it into a fun car.
    This forum has way too many haters that probably don’t even own a car or know how to work on them that only want to rant and rave and prove how stupid they really are.

    Lot of childish people for sure. Back in the day, I had a 68 GTO and thereby thought that Pontiac was everything, and it would have been had they gotten enough people to buy Goats with Ram Air 4 – Bad marketing, but I made an equivalent engine that rocked using RAIV components. point is, it made me a hater of other marks for no reason. Now I appreciate a finely done car period. You’re right too – lot of talkers that don’t walk the walk.

    Oh yeah, the Ford Probe. When I finished university and started working in 1998, I had very little money and needed a fairly decent used car. I bought a ‘93 Probe and soon afterward dubbed it, the Ford ‘Probelem.’

    Entertaining and instructional article. FoMoCo kinda-sorta redeemed itself with the Cobra and Mach names, but it is sure true that they “scraped bottom” more than once. All of the examples show once proud nameplates that were dragged through the swampwater after sometimes only a few years of pride. I would argue that perhaps the saddest was “Cougar”, which went from unique, popular Pony Car to Station Wagon! (not that there’s anything wrong with a Station Wagon, mind you) 😛

    Perhaps you missed out on the Voodoo engined, flat crank Shelby GT350. I often trade my GTO to my friend, so I can explore the 8500rpm noise. That thing is evil sex incarnate. And with a real independent rear suspension, you can get all kinds of sideways laughing like an idiot, and never feel like it’s getting away.

    I think the worst one is Blazer .

    When Chevy had K-5 Blazers on the lot along side the S-10 Blazer

    And now the cute ute Blazer that won’t last long
    And ford has diluted the Mustang name by slapping it on the new golf cart
    Ford has done the same with the new Bronco
    And the Bronco Sport with its wrong wheel drive and no frame and only half an engine.

    I have a Bronco Sport, do you?
    Another so called computer expert that never drove one.
    The sport has been a great vehicle so far 10K miles with no issues, great gas mileage and surprising performance from half an engine.

    Let’s go out in the woods, or desert, Rick. And REALLY use it. Yeah, breaks easily, cuz it’s a suburban gravel driveway “4×4”. It’s based on the Escape, fer Christ’s sake, not known for being a 4×4 go to. Surprising performance in town. Take it out on the Navajo Res, miles from miles to get help, and flog it like an original Bronco… Ooooh, can’t, too fragile, huh? And I drove the new Bronco and the Sport, slick. Kept my CJ5.

    Love it! Golf cart! First time I’ve heard of that for our electric revolution. Thanks for the chuckle this morning.

    Here, I’ll sum up what the article doesn’t synthesize: Times change, markets change, cars change. Names are slower to change because manufacturers a) don’t see automotive identity the same way we do, and b) bank on the notion that customers will fork over cash for a car that’s literally “in name only” regardless of whether that particular model still holds the same functional place as its predecessor or not.

    Dodge has certainly redeemed the name with its latest Challenger, but shall we discuss the rather unfortunate 1978-83 models?

    That Mitsubishi wasn’t that awful except no of the Mopar guys wanted anything to do with them. They wern’t a Muscle car by any shot but they got good mileage and used the same engine that millions of K cars used. Plenty of spares in the junkyard. They were reliable until the timing chain rails and guides wore out.

    Especially if you didnt adjust the Chain Guides through the opening at the timing cover? did tons and lots where over 300,000Km, and a remand was 1500.. plus 6 hours Labour or your bumper to bumper $100.00 Deductable on Warranty, simple car that people couldn’t repair properly…….

    Carrera was at one time a race car. Then it became a street car now it is a Super Car. It is a case of over use.

    I love my uncles 86 911. Carrera but it is not the car that the name originally intended to be. It is a nice sporting street car but it is in no way ready for a Mexican road race or much any other race for that matter.

    We can be more forgiving than in many other cases but it is again a case of over use of a name for the wrong reasons.

    Is it really a Carrera? Many 911, 930, and up through the hierarchy are popularly called “Carrera”, but not every 911/930/964etc Porsche is really a Carrera, or properly called such. And my bucks up stepdad started with a 2.7 in bright pumpkin orange, tea tray spoiler and billboard lettering. And 30 years later died owning a last gen air cooled Carrera in Rubystone, a very rare color. Not every 911 based Porsche is a Carrera, nor are they marketed as such. Targa, anyone? Just cuz it’s a 911 derivative, doesn’t make it a Carrera, no matter what Chad at the hipster bar says. And a real Carrera is something very special. Very special. I’ve been privileged to drive a couple different generations of them. The early ones actively try to kill inexperienced or unskilled drivers. The later ones are almost robotic in their excellence- you have to be suicidal to disrupt their flow. But I have driven, and the early air cooled Carreras are vastly superior to the turbo 930s. I’ll die on that hill cuz I’ve driven both.

    G M lost their way years ago when they started to copy foreign design cars and put gimpy low value cars on the market. They could have kept all the brands they had and just let the designers build the cars they knew the public would like, but no, instead they just tossed them aside and now all their cars are junk in my opinion. No class nor down the road value as far as collectable goes except maybe the Corvette .

    I worked up to middle management in a 1980’s manufacturing company. It took me a while (slow learner I guess) but the light came on eventually why thongs get done the way they do. Money. The bean counters are ALWAYS able to show upper management how to save short term dollars to the exclusion of longer term survival. The answer to why? MONEY…always money

    It is really sad. When I was a kid in the very late 50’s and early 60’s it seemed everyone in our neighborhood had an Impala. My oldest brother had a 1958 Impala 283 convertible and then bought a 64 Impala convertible SS with 340hp 409. That car didn’t last long, They stole it 3 times and last time it was never found. My dad had 1962 Impala. I always thought the 1965 Impala was one of the most beautiful cars ever made. My second favorite was the 1958 Impala. One of the most iconic cars ever made was the 1959 with the cat’s eye taillights. You weren’t mistaking that for any other car on the road. The whole thing is so sad to me how Chevrolet and GM in general has fallen from grace. At one time GM had 65% market share. Just sad.

    I always wavered between the ‘65 and the smoothed out ‘66 versions. The ‘67 had too sharp edges

    Patrician- my first car was a ’67 Impala SS. Of all, I think the ’67 has the best lines, but I’m prejudiced. My dad worked at the GM DelcoRemy plant in Anderson, IN, all his working life, so we had some hot GM iron at my house. Dad liked big, big block Impalas and Caprices, Mom liked small block Chevelles. I always was a GTO kid- born in ’59, I remember when I saw the first one in ’64. I have an ’04 now, and a ’66 in pieces. But if I win the lottery, I’ma have a black on black ’59 with a 2×4 409/4spd. Just cuz, Impala.

    The 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 (and GT350R) up the ante even further, and today’s GT500 proved itself king of the hill.

    That SHOULD be King of the ROAD (GT500KR)

    Dave, I was waiting for someone to jump on that one! I’ve become a Thunderbird enthusiast by accident when I picked up a ’63 in multi-car deal and later bought two ’57s. I now hope to add a 2nd Gen and 4th Gen Tbird to the collection, but the problem is exactly what this article is talking about. From the 5th Gen on, the badge just doesn’t have much to get excited about but with few exceptions. Sad to me is that Ford didn’t capitalize on the Tbird from its heyday, protect it better through the malaise era and rebirth it with a better comeback in the early 2000s. It is too late to try again??

    I think the thunderbird name was not a letdown,. it was compared to the corvette early on. But went in a different direction starting 1958. But I am not sure Ford really knew what to do with the car after the flairbirds (64-66). The mustang and the ac cobra was really the answer to the Corvette.

    I actually think the 1977 AMC Hornet-based AMX was OK. The thing that is not OK is the dreadful pair of pants worn by the person standing next to it in the photo.

    This article was written by someone who never knew the cars that wore the names mentioned. Impala and Bonneville losing luster with WHOM? Shelby Cobra isn’t losing any luster in any cars guy’s mind.

    You briefly mentioned what I think is the worst of them all: LeMans. From the beautiful top-line Pontiac intermediate cars of the 1960s to a crappy Korean tin can econobox. Excruciating!

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