The top 50 longest-running car designs

To answer to my question of how many car model designs (such as this ’87 Volvo 240) have gone the distance by lasting 12 model years or more, I did some research. Findings are in the slideshow at the end of this article.

The Beetle had the number 1 longest-running automotive design.  But you may not guess what numbers 2 through 50 are…

If a car design is right from the start, it does not need to be changed for the sake of change because it will stand the test of time well on its own merits.

This subject came to mind when parking a 1991 Mercedes S-Class I own next to an identical-looking one.  Until a look at the registration tag in the window confirmed the other car was actually an ’81 model, I assumed it might be the same year as mine.  An easy mistake to make because all of the body panels on these two cars are 100 per cent identical and interchangeable.  Since the owner of the ’81 380SEL had fitted his car with ’86-style wheels and headlights, he fooled me into seeing his car as ten years newer.

The design of the 1980 – 1991 S Class the unknown stranger and I both owned ran a dozen model years without buyers tiring of it.  I recalled the design of another favorite car I had previously owned (a ’79 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham) that had a lengthy design run of sixteen model years.  From 1977 to 1992, it only received two minor cosmetic updates.  That had to be some kind of record I figured.

I did some research into automotive history – ultimately finding the Cadillac’s 15 years and the Mercedes’ dozen years did not even approach the top 20 longest-duration vehicle designs.  I found only two designs originating in the last 20 years that made the list at all, squeaking onto the very bottom.

Younger generations may find this all difficult to believe, since we have grown used to car makers redesigning most models every five to seven years.  Fiercer competition than ever has left most automakers living in fear of somehow becoming stale.  Fear  has washed away the confidence to create original designs with clean, balanced, and elegant lines.  Swollen, awkward-looking shapes prevail.  No, automotive design is not the art form it once was.  Computers have streamlined things to a lower common denominator.

Keeping the cutoff at 12 model years for vehicles sold in the United States, designs that have survived the test of time well are in the slide show below.




About Sean

Welcome to Classic Cars Today Online! We seek to explore the subject of classic vehicles from the 1950s through today. It is our belief that a car needn't be old to be respected and admired for graceful design, historical significance, and future value. As founder and Editor-In-Chief, I welcome contributions from you about your own car-related interests and ownership experiences. As far as myself, I've worked in the automotive service field and have been a contributor to Autoweek Magazine, The Star, Mercedes Enthusiast Magazine, and more. Currently, I'm a copywriter and own several foreign and domestic classic cars. In my spare time, you'll find me serving as Technical Editor and officer of several car clubs, being a concours car show judge, and meeting some great folks around the tri-state NY / NJ / Pennsylvania area at car shows. - Sean Connor
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  • Kim Torp Ørnbjærg

    Lots of omissions, the Citroen 2cv, 1948-1990 42 years of nearly unchanged design. The Hindustan Ambassador 1958-2014 (and that was based on a 1956 Morris), The Citroen Traction Avant…But the article is written by an American writer..

  • Kallikantzeros

    The author has omitted two classics, poor man..

    Chevy Suburban, 1935 – current

    Land Rover Defender 1947-2016 ( 69 years, due to be phased out in February 2016 according to Tata, who own Jaguar Land Rover.

    So my favourite, theh Beetle is only third..

    Plus, the Land Rover, unlike the Chevy, is still built on the same chassis.

    • brett cannon

      You idiot. Re-read the article. The suburban is inclusive to this list, and this list is based upon a single design, not a name plate. If that was the case the Chrysler New Yorker was the single longest lived name.

      • Kallikantzeros


        I have always believed that Americans were unable to comp[rehend the concepts of courtesy and intelligence, and you have merely cformed that for me. Thank you.

        Also, your inability to read what is written is quite remarkable. I quote from teh top of te article;

        The Beetle had the number 1 longest-running automotive design. But you may not guess what numbers 2 through 50 are…

        If a car design is right from the start, it does not need to be changed for the sake of change because it will stand the test of time well on its own merits.

        The Defender chassis design is the unchanged from 1947, with the exception of the removal of the rear drum brakes not so long back.

        So I’ll claim teh defender, which retains nearly all of the roioginal body panels apart from logo changes, and a lot of the interior too.

        As with all Americans, your knowledge is as limited as your lack of courtesy.

        Do have a good day, and try to get up early enough to go to school; you have certain deficiencies that need to be remedied with alacrity..

        • brett cannon

          Blah blah, get s life troll. Facts are just what they are, the world no longer needs your opinion. I graduated from the Ohio state university SIR with a double major, I get up at 430sm nearly everyday for work and that’s why I own 3 houses and 11 cars that are paid for. AGAIN you twit, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Good day? Shove your language up your ass, we Americans run the world, don’t you forget it.

          • Kallikantzeros

            Hi, Stupid,

            Pride cometh before the fall.

            Combiner honours first class, Imperial College London, Maths/ Computer Science, PhD from MIT, consultant to various US defence companies, and several government agencies, and a multi-millionaire (9 figures). Fourteen patents and still earning from them all.

            Ohio? Where’s that; arse end of the Mississippi?

            Keep getting up at 4:30, you’ll get there in the end. Eleven Chevy’s must be worth a bit by now, but jesus, think of all that rust. Me, Maserati GT Centennial, Ferrari Dino factory restored, and a Daytona in for a rebuild; I much prefer class, and you sure as hell have none.

            Conversation finished, just like the US; ever questioned what happens when people ask how you’ll ever pay the debts? Because the rest of the world won’t finance your greed for very much longer.

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