Automotive engineering has come a long, long way since the early 20th century, in virtually every aspect. Along the way though, certain vehicles surpass their competitors, finding a new level of greatness, and ultimately end up defining their segment. That legacy is then attached the car throughout the generations for the emotions that it stirs and the visions that it generates.
In order to demonstrate exactly what those legacies mean, Autos Cheat Sheet has developed a list of ten iconic cars that have largely gone under the same name for decades, for better or for worse. While automakers plod on to develop the next big model that will please the masses, it’s sometimes interesting to look back and see just how much that model has changed over time — sometimes it’s a logical progression, and other times it isn’t.
The following list of vehicles — arranged in no specific order — was put together by the staff here at Autos Cheat Sheet, and is by no means comprehensive. Without further ado, here is a look at ten of the most iconic vehicle nameplates to ever hit the pavement.
1. Alfa Romeo 8C
The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is born out of a long and successful legacy of performance cars, dating back to the 1930s. While the new 8C is a high performance beast with a gorgeous V8 engine note, the nameplate has throughout its history referred to models of racing, sports, and road cars.
Looking at the two now, a couple of similarities between the model from the 1930s (seen above) and the most recent generation (below) are evident: Alfa was careful to make sure the hood and fender lines from the early models was translated into the new car, as well as the rear fender flares, which are somewhat reminiscent of the rear haunches of the original cars. The fog lights on the new 8C also imitate the double lights featured in the older models.
2. Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette wasn’t always the high-performance street monster we know and love today. No, the original Corvette — from 1953 — certainly looked the part, but was rather anemic in the performance department. Throughout the decades, the Corvette would see a dramatic evolution — and many iconic shapes and models — into what it is today, a performance-first behemoth that offers far more power and fun for the dollar than virtually any other car.
3. Dodge Dart
Dodge’s decision to name its smallest car the Dart might bring up many sentimental feelings for some, and with good reason: the Dart nameplate has a lot of history behind it, though you wouldn’t guess by looking at Dodge’s current economy compact contender. The Dart name was born in 1960 and was — as it is today — applied to one of the smaller cars in Dodge’s stable (though the definition of ‘small’ has changed dramatically since then). The Dart was also an early foundation on which the venerable charger was built, and was therefore appropriately equipped with some large V8 units before the name was dropped in the mid-70s.
4. Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and Chevrolet Camaro all boast impressive decades-long stories, but it was the Mustang that really kicked off the pony car movement. Looking at these two pictures — especially since both are painted red — it’s easy to see the similarities. Ford has done a top job with the 2015 Mustang, which takes just enough from the original 1964 model, but modern enough that it doesn’t feel dated. The despite some hiccups throughout the 1970s and 80s, the Mustang has largely kept the same familiar shape over the years, and its signature 5.0 liter V8 is a familiar friend to those who have owned Mustangs in the past.
5. Jeep Wrangler
Arguably the best part of the Jeep Wrangler is that the name of the vehicle has changed more than the vehicle itself since the mid-1940s. The grille is virtually the same, as are the iconic round headlamps. The overall structure has undoubtably seen extensive changes, and the entire vehicle has been modernized, but apart from that, the Wrangler has had a very linear life with few surprises along the way.
6. Mercedes-Benz SL Class
Few sports cars are as iconic now as the Mercedes-Benz SL Class was with its hallmark gull-wing doors. Few aspects, if any, have been represented in today’s SL Class vehicles; The gull-wings are gone, the headlamps are completely different, and aside from the fact that they are both two-door performance coupes, there is little physical material that link them — but its easy to see now what Mercedes was going for with those side mounted vents just behind the front wheels.
7. Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper of today would look positively enormous next to the Mini of the 1950s and 60s, but its easy to see that the two are definitely related. The headlamps have become decidedly more ovular, and the current Mini comes with rear-view mirrors, but that frowning grille and diminutive cuteness show that the overall Mini DNA is still quite intact. The new Mini even retains the forward angled stance that the original had, though it looks a bit more graceful on the new design than it did on the original.
8. Pontiac GTO
The original Pontiac GTO is largely credited with laying the foundation for the muscle car movement, and was actually an options package for the then Pontiac Tempest. It put a more powerful V8 under the hood, with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. Aside from the V8 and dual exhaust part, little carried over to the GTO revival in 2004, which left many feeling rather uninspired. The new car — which is notably no longer in production, as Pontiac was folded as apart of GM’s bailout agreement — was little more than a rebadged Holden model, in left-hand drive. It had the engine and power, but lacked the character and charisma that made the GTO so great in the first place.
9. Porsche 911
The Porsche 911 has been one of the best driver’s cars since it was born in 1963, and Porsche has taken the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” approach when it comes to the 911 formula. The flat-cylinder engine is still mounted in the back; the headlights are still quite round; the rear end is still heavily raked downwards, and Porsche still makes one of the best driver’s cars on the road. Since it’s debut, the 911 has never seen much in the way of deviance from its original form — and that’s definitely a good thing.
10. Volkswagen Beetle
The Volkswagen Beetle shares many physical similarities to the original VW prototype from 1938, but it’s far and away a very different car. The engine has since migrated to the front from the rear, and today’s car — not surprisingly, perhaps — is considerably larger than the original “people’s car.” However, very little changed until 1994 when the concept for what we now know as the modern Beetle was introduced, and followed up by the retro-revival production model in 1998.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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