In this age of ultra-short product lifecycles where a three-model-year run unchanged is an eternity, it’s tough to imagine the same basic design being produced for three separate decades or more. Here are six cars well known to most Americans that all had tortoise-like life spans:
1962-80 MGB: The MG was the sports car Americans loved first, with U.S. servicemen bringing back rakish MG TCs from the UK. The MGB was the first “modern” sports car from MG that included features like actual roll-up windows and (from 1967 on) a fully synchronized manual transmission. When it was introduced in 1962, few thought that it would be the last MG sold in the U.S. Sadly, that’s how it turned out. After a titanic 18-year run, the B exited the world little changed from the way it entered. The engine and body shell were the same basic units that were being built during the Kennedy administration.
1954-83 Jeep CJ-5: The CJ-5 was actually a variant of the Korean War-era military Jeep. Far more suited to civilian use than the WWII-era Jeep, the CJ-5 was a hot seller for American Motors, which took over Jeep’s parentage from the old Kaiser automotive group. The CJ-5’s short wheelbase gave it a terribly choppy ride and made it rollover-prone in emergency situations. Nevertheless, it remained in production for an astonishing 30 years, and there is a fair amount of CJ DNA in today’s Wrangler.
1949-80 Volkswagen Beetle: For a car that was a virtual orphan cast-off at the end of WWII, the Beetle wound up doing OK. The Allied occupying powers didn’t quite know what they should do with the car, which was commissioned by the Nazis to give loyal subjects mobility on the new Autobahn superhighways. As it turned out, invading Poland and plunging the world into a catastrophic war took precedence over the automobile business, and the Allies found the remnants of a new factory in a new town known as Wolfsburg. They elected to let the post-war Germans keep the funny little car, and the rest is history. Although the last Super Beetle Cabriolets were sold in the U.S. from 1980-81, production of the basic Beetle sedan continued in Mexico until 2006.
1964-89 Porsche 911 (air-cooled): The 911 celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, but to be fair, we cut this off in 1989, the last year for the original torsion-bar suspension, air-cooled 911. It’s simply amazing how little of the basic car changed over the course of 25 years, from the primitive heating system, to most of the glass, roof and doors, as well as the basic engine design. 911 fans seemed just fine with that as the car outlived its intended successor — the 928.
1968-82 C3 Corvette: Corvettes through their history had been on a somewhat fast and furious development pace ever since Zora Arkus-Duntov decided to show Chevy how to make it into a real V-8-powered sports car in 1955. The second generation, or C2, Corvette (which many argue was the best of the classic Corvettes) was only around from 1963-67. The car that replaced that version, however, hung around for 14 long years. To be fair, these were tough years for GM, which was getting hammered by imports and two fuel crises. There were several mid-engine design studies that came perilously close to replacing the C3, but it never happened, and the same basic design lasted from LBJ to Reagan.
1960-82 Checker Marathon: Who doesn’t miss the Checker Marathon? One of the few purpose-built taxi cabs ever sold in the U.S., they were infinitely nicer to ride in than the clapped-out Ford Crown Vics that seem to serve as cabs everywhere in the U.S. Similar in roominess to the classic London taxis still in service, with their handy fold-down jump seats, the Marathon also added a useful trunk to the mix. Although the vast majority were used as cabs, ultra-practical eccentrics did from time to time buy Marathons as civilian transportation. Twenty-two years wasn’t long enough.