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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    It seems that the 1958 Impala is the only one that people talk about or what is seen in the Hagerty Valuation Tools or reviews, even car shows. I have a 58 BelAir 2dr. It has a 1958 Corvette engine in it (not Stock), it has a automatic 3 speed transmission, a stock looking radio that’s wired to player that can be loaded with all kinds of 50’s & 60’s music and Rio Red and White exterior. The BelAir didn’t have a red interior option. So I painted the dash and trim the same Rio Red color. The seats and door panels were covered in Impala red trim just like the Impala. It has all the BelAir chrome inside and out. I don’t go to the shows just to see if I get a trophy, although I have received Best Of Shows, etc etc. I Also add a Car Hop Drive-in Food Tray, with “almost” real food and the Drive-In movie speakers playing sounds of various old movies. People always come over to see it and try to explain what a drive-in is to their grand kids and what the speakers are for and what’s that tray for? I also let them go inside and have their pictures taken, they always want the drivers side :0) There’s also various odds and ends in the trunk, old radio’s, picnic baskets etc. The biggest gifts I get is when their eyes light up when they see the car and displays, when they sit in the car and look it over so carefully, the memories they had with just such a car way back when. And all the pictures they take together and the big smiles and even tears sometimes. Yep, there’s something special about them BelAirs too :0)

    Have you lost your mind? Carrera….
    I can’t believe you put this on the list. Maybe you were just looking for a way to offend readers. Success!

    I can’t think of a car more deserving to make this list than the Mitsubishi Eclipse. ‘90-‘94 turbo models were a force to be reckon with in their day and the ‘95-‘99 GSX’s were some of the best “tuner” cars make in that era. Then the downfall came with the bloated third gen and finally the deathblow of giving the Eclipse name to a crossover in the late 2010’s.

    I just saw something on YouTube the other day that Dodge might be doing the same thing with trying to bring back the Dodge Stealth name and slapping it on an SUV. They probably figured, if Ford can do it with such a hallowed nameplate like Mustang then we can definitely do it with the Stealth. Such nonsense


    The photo of the black Cobra II brought back some positive memories. I worked for a subsidiary of FoMoCo in the 70s and worked my way up to eligibility for an “executive lease car”. Got a new one every year. My choice of the full line from Pinto to Continental. Great perk. My second lease car was a ’78 Mustang II Raven Black fastback with the wheel and tire option in your picture. Because I was in CA, I couldn’t order a 302 with a 4 speed, so I settled for the 2.7L (IIRC) V6 instead. Still a perky performer for the day. The car had T-tops and a Crown Victoria type bar across the roof. No silly stripe kit, and the interior was screaming red. I spent the whole year that I had that car having people approach me in parking lots and gas stations to look it over. Exactly what Ford had provided it for.

    I almost forgot. As far as tarnishing the luster of great brand names, don’t forget both Thunderbird and Mustang. While the T-Bird survived the transition from the Baby Bird (’55-’57) to the Square Bird (’58-’60), Ford proceeded to hang the Thunderbird moniker on everything from a Continental clone to a badge job on a Fairmont coupe. When they did the retro Baby Bird, nobody cared. As an owner of a first generation Mustang convertible, I am similarly upset with the mess they’ve made of that brand. From an affordable sporty personal/performance car in the 60s to the current Mustang Mach E. A four door, all electric SUV. Very woke. What next? The Thunderbird Super Duty dually?

    One important detail was omitted from this article. The progression of cars (or Regression) of the American Car industry which marched on from the early 1970’s to what we see today. Taking their examples from American Motors, American cars have slowly disappeared from the showrooms, being replaced by various trucks and truck-based platforms. American drivers have learned over the last 50 years that the Detroit companies have abandoned them, and now think that everyone always wanted a 4 wheel drive truck. If you want a car, you have to settle for a $60,000.00 Mustang or a $100,000.00 Corvette. My wife’s Malibu keeps getting a Check Engine light warning of impending doom, and the repair consists of a sensor that invented a code which says go to the dealer and bring lots of money. Most of the codes turn out to be connected to something that is not really necessary to fix, and it usually means the sensor is defective. My 2009 Pontiac G6 keeps giving a code that doesn’t show up in the book, and I have the local garage turn it off right before my yearly inspection, and after the inspection is done the light comes back on and stays on until the next year. I look forward to next year because my state doesn’t check for a code when the car is 15 years old. I will be able to enter the inspection station with the light still on. That G6 is running like a new car and it rarely needs any thing more that an oil change. At 135,000 miles it starts every day, and takes me anywhere I want to go, including 100 mile trips to visit my daughter. I just hope it keeps running so I don’t have to buy an electric car which desires to turn me into bacon at its first chance. By the way, have you seen the “New” Dodge. It’s called the Hornet aparently taken from the Hudson, and built by Alfa Romeo in Italy. Make sure that the trunk is big enough for your bicycle so you have transportation to get home.

    Name the lost luster. “Mustang”
    Just look and see the Mach-E.

    The Mach-E in it’s self is not a bad vehicle. But there are other names that could have been used.
    I own a Thunderbird, I myself would not have a problem with it called a Thunderbird or since it is an EV how about calling it “Lightning Bird?” Have lightning bolts in the talons of the thunderbird emblem.

    Don’t get me started, I own a proper Gen 2 Ford svt-Lightning. Although I don’t really mind the Lightning name put on an EV as it actually fits and makes sense, I was expecting something more akin to the Ford Shelby truck. Almost considered parting with it. Then I saw the new Lightning and at the same time realized that a new supercharged Gen 3 Lightning would probably cost about 70g’s too. So I’ll be keeping my Gen 2.

    Well, some people have just have poor options on well liked vehicles. Shame on Hagerty for publishing articles and “opinions” that potentially alienate their customer base with “ bottom of the barrel” articles like this.

    The last of the Impalas was indeed mainstream, but my 2015 LTZ V6 is (other than seating comfort, and I am the only one who seems to have any problem) the best car I have owned in my 50 years of car ownership. Rides like the proverbial limo, handles quite well, plenty quick, really good MPG, big trunk, huge room inside, and (so far at 62,000 miles) quite reliable and low-maintenance. I liked my 1968 Impala Custom Coupe with the 327, but the 2015 is so much better in every way – even in the admittedly subjective measure of looks.

    In 2015, if one wanted an Impala more like, say, a 1969 SS427 or a 1964 SS with 409, the Chevrolet SS Sport Sedan was the way to go. I drove one, and came very close to buying it. Winter traction with the RWD platform was the only real issue.

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