The models from around the world that have endured
Some cars burst onto the world stage with much fanfare, only to flop on the showroom floor and be consigned to the automotive history books as a single-generation curio. Others, enjoy an average lifespan, morphing through several generations before fading away quietly.
And then, there are these models, those that have evolved and endured over decades of production, moving from generation to generation to become automotive icons.
Here then, are the five longest-continuously running nameplates still in production.
5. Chevrolet Corvette – 1953
Dubbed ‘America’s sportscar’, the Chevrolet Corvette made its debut in 1953 as a convertible model only, enjoying sales success from the moment it hit the showrooms.
A coupe body style, dubbed ‘Sting Ray’ joined the Corvette line up with the second-generation in 1963 and has been part of the range through successive generations. Now in its eighth-generation, the Corvette broke new ground in 2020, ditching the front-engined layout of the previous seven generations for a mid-engine set-up that has divided opinion amongst diehard ’Vette fans. And, in good news for Aussie fans of the nameplate, it will land here in late-2021 in factory right-hand drive spec, the first time ever for the iconic model.
Fun Fact: A 1977 mid-engined Corvette concept, called ‘Aerovette’ came close to production. Featuring a 5.7-litre V8, the mid-engined ’Vette was approved for production in 1980. But when several of its main supporters all retired from GM management, the newly-appointed Corvette chief designer David R McLellan cancelled the project.
4. Toyota LandCruiser – 1951
You can thank the threat of communism in the 1950s for the Toyota LandCruiser’s existence. With the Korean war in full swing, US forces then still stationed in post-WWII Japan needed a military utility vehicle for its offensive on the Korean peninsula.
Toyota was commissioned to supply the vehicle which utilised its own B-type 3.4-litre inline-six cylinder engine married to a body heavily influenced by the Willys Jeep. That first-gen Toyota Jeep BJ proved a rugged and capable utility, although soon found trouble with Willys’ legal team which claimed Toyota was infringing on its trademark. A quick name change later, and the legend of the Toyota LandCruiser was born.
Now in its eighth generation (J200), the LandCruiser has defined an entire segment, providing the template for what it means to be a tough and capable off-roader.
Fun Fact: The LandCruiser name was coined by Toyota technical director Hanji Umehara who himself was inspired by another tough-as-nail off-road vehicle. “In England we had another competitor – Land Rover. I had to come up with a name for our car that would not sound less dignified than those of our competitors. That is why I decided to call it ‘Land Cruiser’.”
3. Volkswagen Transporter – 1950
When Dutchman Ben Pon sketched his original idea for a light commercial vehicle in 1947, little could he have known that his concept would go on to become the largest selling van in history, through 70 years and six successive generations.
Pon’s design was quite radical for the time, placing the driver at the front of the vehicle and the engine at the rear, not entirely unexpected as the Transporter was built on the existing ‘Beetle’ platform, although VW engineers had to replace the donor car’s floor pan with a stronger ladder frame chassis to help it cope with its 750kg payload.
Volkswagen hadn’t anticipated the success of its original Transporter and by 1964 had racked up one million sales.
Now in its sixth-generation, the VW Transporter has accumulated over 13 million sales in its 70-year lifespan, easily making it the best-selling van in history.
Fun Fact: Fuelled by the success of the Transporter and the Beetle, in the 1960s Volkswagen had a private fleet of 80 cargo ships transporting its cars across the world. It was believed to be the largest private merchant navy in the world.