Car Icons: Ten Enduring Automotive Nameplates
Like Ray-Ban Aviators and Coca-Cola, Some Cars Never Go Out of Style
In a world where every middling lip-synced award show performance is declared to be "iconic," it's fair to say that the word has lost much of its meaning. When it comes to cars, finding an icon amid the glut of focus-group and committee-designed transport pods isn't easy. The alchemy of form, function and emotional connections that converge to make an enduring nameplate is not easily harnessed.
Still, legends exist.
Here are 10 of the longest-enduring nameplates in the business. Like all lists, this one isn't comprehensive. Not all the cars here have been in production every year since their inception, but you can buy a current example of each today. And there's a reason they've lasted this long.
We've ranked them using a complex formula that encompasses years in production, number of generations, market impact and our own subjective opinion.
10. Rolls-Royce Phantom
First year produced: 1925
Famous for: Chariot of the wealthy, icon of elegant motoring.
OK, so the Phantom hasn't been in continuous production since its introduction, with gaps in the 1940s, '90s and early 2000s. No one likes pedantry, though, so we're honoring the Phantom's run, which began in 1925 and continues with not one but three different models today.
Today's Phantom is a squared-off land yacht compared to the coach-built version of the '20s and '30s, but the swooping lines emanating from the front fenders remain, however subtly. No matter the era, the Phantom has been the embodiment of audacious, starched-shirt and single-malt luxury. There's no questioning its icon status.
9. Toyota Land Cruiser
First year produced: 1951
Famous for: Being the world's "Jeep."
SUVs have become less about off-road ability and more about family transportation over the decades, and despite its capabilities, Toyota's current Land Cruiser is no exception.
The modern Land Cruiser has a reputation established by the classics to thank for its status: America had the Jeep Wrangler, but the world has had scores of 40 through 70 Series Land Cruisers to traverse the harshest terrain on the planet. The Land Cruiser gets extra credit for spawning a spin-off model (the FJ Cruiser) inspired by perhaps the most iconic Land Cruiser of them all, the 40 Series.
8. Chevrolet Impala
First year produced: 1957
Famous for: Not only the classic American family car, but a Muscle-era icon.
The Impala has had some great ups and downs since first hitting American highways for the 1958 model year, including a couple short production stoppages. Over the decades Impalas have been everything from Harley Earl-era design masterworks to big-block-equipped vanguards of the muscle car age to plodding malaise-era rental-fleet specials.
The Impala has attained an unlikely cool factor over the years, though: the breakthrough of gangsta rap in the early '90s brought West Coast low-rider culture to the mainstream, its use as the body of Chevrolet's NASCAR racers for years has inspired many gloriously ill-advised tributes, and fans of the TV show Supernatural have come to love the main character's '67 Impala sedan.
If there's a car on this list that proves that greatness comes in many forms, it's the Impala.
7. Ford F-Series
First year produced: 1948
Famous for: The standard-bearer of American pickup trucks.
For 65 years Ford's F-Series pickup truck has hauled just about everything and everyone everywhere in the United States. It seems as if you could play a round of "Six Degrees of the F-Series" and never fail to find someone who either has owned or spent a great deal of time in one.
The recent addition of the F-150 Raptor to the lineup gives the F-Series something it's never had before: a genuinely exciting, purpose-built high-end performance model. From farmers to contractors and now to off-roaders, the F-Series' reach and success tells us one thing for sure: the pickup truck ain't going nowhere.
6. Chevrolet Camaro
First year produced: 1967
Famous for: The Mustang's raucous, untamed rival and a drag strip star.
The Mustang's closest rival rose to prominence in the late 1960s in a cloud of smoke accompanied by a big V8 noise. But its history is more a survivor's tale, with a cast of characters including the classic RS/SS, COPO, Z28, and IROC variants thriving and at times struggling to keep the Camaro alive through power restrictions, and later struggling sales.
The Camaro died after the 2002 model year, but the success of the revived, retro-styled Mustang led to a new, 60s-inspired comeback in 2009. With the new ZL1 tearing up roads and a resurrected Camaro Z/28 on the horizon, there may not be a better time to be a Camaro fan than now — more than 40 years after its debut.
5. Ford Mustang
First year produced: 1964
Famous for: Bringing affordable performance to everyday drivers.
From Steve McQueen in Bullitt to Ryan Gosling in Drive to the "Eleanors" of both versions of Gone in 60 Seconds and more, the Ford Mustang isn't just an American automotive icon, it's an object of myth. A hero. Sure, there have been missteps along the way (the less said about the Mustang II the better), but the modern Mustang's homage to the classic's style set off a chain reaction among carmakers.
Today's Mustang still represents affordable sporty fun in its V6 form, and power/performance to rival sports cars twice its price with the 5.0-liter V8.
4. Porsche 911
First year produced: 1963
Famous for: The triumph of engineering over physics in the guise of a world-beating sports car.
Although it debuted at the 1963 Frankfurt Auto Show as the 901, a trademark scuffle with Peugeot (and don't we all hate those) forced a name change before the first production models hit European roads, and the 1964 Porsche 911 was born.
The ensuing 50 years have seen the 911 achieve ultimate "driver's car" status, along the way continually revising its engineering approach to a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car. Some still like to bash the 911 as a "stretched-out Beetle," but even they have to recognize the 911's importance and its place among the great sports cars in history.
3. Volkswagen Beetle
First year produced: 1938
Famous for: Being the "car of the people" that brought affordable driving to the world.
The end of World War II could have meant the end of the Volkswagen Beetle. After the war, however, Volkswagens were cobbled together literally from the rubble left behind and soon the world discovered the joys of the quirky, rear-engine compact. The Beetle's combination of charming looks, affordable price and its sheer endurance as a daily driver opened up the world for a sensation unlike anything since the Model T. The Beetle is still around today, thanks to subsequent models retaining the bubbly, buglike body lines that make it stand out more now than it did 60 years ago.
2. Jeep Wrangler
First year produced: 1941 (Willys MB)
Famous for: The trusty steed of WWII created the off-road vehicle category.
After helping win World War II for the United States and its allies, the Jeep ensured itself a place in automotive history. The go-anywhere, do-anything nature also made it the spirit animal of off-roaders and would-be rock crawlers from sea to shining sea.
That the Wrangler name wasn't even coined until 1987 is virtually irrelevant. The Jeep is so iconic that every name it's gone by is legendary. Today's Wrangler is preceded by more recognizable names than enthusiasts have burnt-out winches: Willys, Comanche, Renegade, Laredo, Rubicon, CJ, TJ, YJ, JK — and at the end of it all, the Jeep still carries the basic shape it did in the early 1940s.
1. Chevrolet Corvette
First year produced: 1953
Famous for: Synonymous with freedom, speed and world-beating value. American for "sports car."
America's dream car. The premiere American sports car. The ultimate midlife crisis purchase. Since its introduction in 1953, the Corvette has been all of these things to drivers in the U.S. The Corvette is so ingrained in American culture that for many, its name is synonymous with the concept of what a sports car is. Even into its seventh generation the Corvette retains its long hood and poised-to-strike stance. When a toy version of the new Corvette for children to drive makes headlines, it's a good measure of how popular a car really is.