By Andrew Ganz
Monday, May 14th, 2012 @ 11:30 am
 
When you've got a good thing, you might as well stick with it, right? That's what several automakers have chosen to do with some of their most successful nameplates.

We sent our research team to the Leftlane historical library to come up with a list of the 10 longest-running nameplates currently offered in the United States. To qualify for our list, each of these needed to have been in continuous production since the nameplate was first unveiled. Since most import brands have fuzzy early histories in their export markets, we didn't mind if the vehicles had been introduced elsewhere before their arrival on U.S. shores. In their earliest days, Japanese and European automakers had only the most tenuous of grips on export markets, so distributors couldn't exactly count on cars regularly making the big journey across either pond.

In addition, we decided that cars needed to have retained the bulk of their nameplate in order to qualify. That excluded vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class, both of which can easily trace their roots back many decades but have seen enough badge shuffling over the years to make their identities a little too hard to define much earlier than the 1980s.

The cars in this list have arguably the most enviable asset in the entire industry: Instant name recognition. While other nameplates have been changed with every redesign of a certain product offered in a specific segment, these have stood the test of time. Many of them are likely much older than you are.

Note: The videos we have included don't necessarily represent the first year of production.

1. Chevrolet Suburban - 1935
Chevrolet's biggest SUV has withstood numerous recessions, depressions and gas shortages. One could argue that it even outlived General Motors, which filed for bankruptcy a few years ago. The original Suburban was one of several commercial-oriented vehicles to carry the badge, which was used as loosely in the first half of the 20th century as "coupe" or "sedan" is today. But only the Suburban persevered, eventually taking on its current role as a consumer-oriented four-door model in the early 1970s. Over the last 40 years, Suburban has moved more upmarket and it has spawned GMC and Cadillac variants, but for many families, only the original will do.



2. Ford F-Series - 1948
Ford first applied an F-badge to its pickup line shortly after World War I when its car and truck lines began to diverge in noticeably different directions. Since their earliest days, Ford has marked payload, powertrain and chassis distinctions with increasingly higher F- numbers. First generation models were badged F-1 through F-8, but the latest trucks start at the F-150 and make their way up to F-450 for consumers or F-750 for commercial buyers. Today, the F-Series - all of the variants combined - is the best-selling nameplate in the U.S.




3. Chevrolet Corvette - 1953
Few nameplates are better known to Americans than the Chevrolet Corvette, but today's razor sharp high performance 'Vette is absolutely nothing like the first generation. Created to compete against a wide variety of European roadsters U.S. servicemen were bringing home from the Continent, the shapely Corvette was a good looking car that unfortunately lacked much in the way of performance. A few years on, it finally got the power and handling it deserved, and although the emissions and safety-strangled 1970s were particularly harsh on GM's sports car, it is finally fulfilling its mission once again today. Admittedly, there were no Corvettes for 1983 since Chevrolet introduced its fourth-generation model as a 1984.



4. Mercedes-Benz SL - 1954 (tie)
The Sport Leicht badge first appeared on the race-bred 300SL Gullwing in the early 1950s, but the roadster most easily traced to today's model arrived a few years later. One of countless examples of legendary European car importer Max Hoffman's brilliant foresight, the SL roadster bowed to much acclaim in late 1953 at the New York Auto Show. From its earliest days with a space-age tubular chassis, the SL has long served as one of the most sophisticated and advanced cars anyone can buy, although its technology comes at a hefty price.



4. Toyota Land Cruiser - 1954 (tie)
Toyota might be a relative newcomer compared to Chevrolet and Ford, but its evergreen Land Cruiser continues to weather the ages rather well. Its predecessor was initially by U.S. army jeeps captured by Japanese troops in World War II, but Toyota was later commissioned by the American government to build a millitary transport vehicle for the Korean war. In response to Britain's Land Rover, the Land Cruiser name appeared in 1954, but it wasn't until the 1960 FJ40 variant that the vehicle really gained international recognition. Its reputation for reliability has made it a default choice for those traveling to some of the world's most treacherous locales. Despite moving way upmarket in North America, the Land Cruiser remains. Toyota sells just a handful of Cruisers in the U.S. every year, but the automaker says that it is committed to keeping this historic nameplate in showrooms here.



6. Porsche 911 Carrera - 1963
No car's design has been as time-tested as that of the Porsche 911 Carrera. This rear-engined, sloped-back sports car has been a legend since first arriving as a replacement for the bubbly 356 at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show. Its air-cooled, rear-mounted flat-six engine offered two more cylinders than the 356, and its more toned design was decidedly sportier. Its biggest change came for 1998, when the brand's first water-cooled 911 arrived, much to the chagrin of purists the world over. It took Porsche a few years to get the modern 911 recipe just right, but today's car is absolutely one of the finest and most rewarding sporting cars you'll find anywhere.



7. Ford Mustang - 1964
Arriving in mid-April 1964, the Ford Mustang was a pretty simple concept - a stylish rebody of the mass-market Ford Falcon. But the Blue Oval completely underestimated the Mustang's potential since 22,000 orders were taken on the first day. Mustang's success peaked in 1966, when an astounding 607,568 examples were sold. That's about 10 times the number of Mustangs that made their way into U.S. buyer hands last year. No car, especially not a sporty coupe, will likely come close to that figure again.



8. Toyota Corolla - 1966
Perhaps the definitive "people's car" of the modern era, the Toyota Corolla has persevered as the Japanese automaker's mass-market compact car for buyers across the globe. The first, rather delicate-looking Corollas sent power to the rear wheels, but they weren't quite budget-oriented BMW 2002s or Datsun 510s. It wasn't until the fifth generation model of the 1980s that the current Corolla recipe of front-drive, low-frills motoring for lots of buyers really began to take shape. Today, Corolla is often the best-selling compact car in the U.S., although increasingly dynamic rivals have begun to chip away at its sales lead.



9. Jaguar XJ - 1968
Until Sir Ian Callum recreated the Jaguar XJ just a couple of years ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that a brand new 2009 model was really the same car as its 40 year old predecessor. So timeless was the XJ's quad-headlamped, low-roofline look that Jaguar made relatively few major changes to Sir William Lyons' original 1968 design. Certainly, everything behind those headlamps (which were rather more bland boxes in the 1980s and 1990s) changed dramatically, to the point where the XJ adopted a highly sophisticated aluminum architecture about 10 years ago.



10. Mitsubishi Galant - 1969
How the mighty have fallen. Truth be told, the Mitsubishi Galant has never really been a top competitor, but there have been some hits in its 40-plus year history. The first Galant was sold in the U.S. as a Dodge Colt, making it one of Chrysler and Mitsubishi's earlier captive import programs. Later highlights included the first diesel engine to ever go into a Japanese passenger car, a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive model badged VR-4 and particularly taut styling in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, the latest Galant is a weak effort, built and engineered primarily for North America. Sadly, the Galant's run will come to an end relatively soon when Mitsubishi converts its Normal, Illinois, plant into a small car export facility.