A Look Back
Cars have been rolling on U.S. roads for more than 100 years, and many auto companies, brands and nameplates have come and gone during that first tumultuous century of world wars, economic development, oil crises, ecological awareness and technological change. So why do certain stalwart vehicles remain popular throughout human and automotive generations? Why do some wheeled wonders not only survive but thrive despite bad economic times, changing tastes, social mores and public opinion? Nameplates such as Suburban, Charger, Mustang and Civic have been around for decades. Although the names have stayed the same, the products have undergone many changes. Let’s look at some original models and see how they compare with their current counterparts.
BMW 3 Series — 1975
Original Base Price: $7,900
The first BMW 3 Series rolled off the assembly line in Milbertshofen, Germany, in May of 1975, arriving in North America in 1976 as a 1977 model. Internally known as the E21, the 3 Series in America was only available as a 4-door 320i, powered by a 110-horsepower 2.0-liter engine. More than 1.4 million sales of that first-generation 3 Series were recorded worldwide before the second generation came along in 1983.
BMW 3 Series — 2016
Current Base Price: $32,950
More than 40 years later, the 3 Series has become BMW’s best-selling model line with more than 14 million vehicles sold worldwide. Currently in its sixth generation — codenamed F30 — the 3 Series is available as a sedan or wagon (2-door and convertible models are now named the 4 Series). The entry-level 3 Series is once again named the 320i with a 2.0-liter engine; however, this one puts out 180 horsepower. Unlike that first year of production when there was just one trim available, the current 3 Series can be had with all-wheel drive as well as a variety of engines, including a plug-in hybrid in the 330e as well as a 320-horsepower turbocharged engine in the 340i.
BMW M5 — 1985
Original Base Price: $47,825 (1988)
In 1979 BMW introduced the M535i with performance features that made it the predecessor to the actual M5 that came to market in 1985. The first M5 boasts a top speed of 153 mph courtesy of its 3.5-liter inline 6-cylinder engine producing 282 horsepower. Only 2,191 were built, making it one of the rarest M5s.
BMW M5 — 2015
Current Base Price: $93,600
For 2015 BMW celebrated 30 years of the M5 with a 30th Anniversary Edition of the high-performance sport sedan. Featuring a 4.4-liter TwinPower Turbo V8 engine producing 600 horsepower, this special M5 is the most powerful ever sold and also the most powerful production BMW ever. The anniversary edition is limited to just 300 examples, with only 30 designated for the U.S.
Cadillac CTS — 2003
Original Base Price: $30,695
When the CTS went on sale in late 2002 it introduced an all-new design language for Cadillac. It had sharp angles and an all-new grille, as well as vertically-oriented headlights and taillights. Cadillac billed the CTS as a world-class sedan and tested the new 4-door at the famed Nürburgring circuit. CTS was available with a Getrag 5-speed manual transmission as well as a new 220-horsepower V6 engine. The car became the catalyst that spawned the revival of GM’s luxury brand.
Cadillac CTS — 2015/16
Current Base Price: $45,345
An all-new CTS came to market for the 2015 model year — the third generation of Cadillac’s sport sedan. Over the 12 years since the introduction of the first CTS, Cadillac has offered a coupe and wagon to complement the sedan. The new CTS has high-tech features including 4G LTE connectivity and wireless mobile phone charging. The base engine for 2015 is a 2.0-liter 272-horsepower turbocharged four cylinder. For insane performance try the all-new 2016 CTS-V, featuring a carbon-fiber hood, Brembo high-performance brakes, magnetic ride control and a 640-horsepower 6.2-liter V8, — quite an advancement over that original CTS.
Chevrolet Camaro — 1967
Original Base Price: $2,466
The original 1967 Camaro hit the streets in 1966 at the height of the muscle car era. Based on the Chevrolet Nova, the front engine, rear-wheel-drive Camaro got rushed to market to compete with the Ford Mustang, which had become an unexpected sales success. The first-year Camaro was offered as both a coupe and a convertible, with a long hood, short rear deck, 2+2 seating and a broad range of engine choices — from inline 6-cylinder units to big-block V8s — to appeal to a wide range of customers.
Chevrolet Camaro — 2016
Current Base Price: NA
Chevrolet revealed the all-new 2016 Camaro earlier this year at a special event on Belle Isle in Detroit. This is the sixth generation of this iconic muscle car, and it features a sculpted hood that looks like it wraps around the engine; deep lines in the door panels add depth. The grille and headlights are narrower than the previous car, and look a bit menacing for a more aggressive stance. When the 2016 model arrives in showrooms it will sport the first turbocharged engine in a Camaro — a 2.0-liter powerplant that produces 275 horsepower. The high-performance SS will get a 6.2-liter 455-horsepower V8.
Chevrolet Corvette — 1953
Original Base Price: $3,498
When Chevrolet introduced the Corvette in 1953, no one could have anticipated how much of an icon this 2-seat sports car would become. Only a few hundred were built that first year, but the car was already special since it was the only American 2-seater on the market at the time, and it utilized a revolutionary new material called fiberglass. The first Corvettes were powered by a rather anemic “Blue Flame” 6-cylinder engine that produced just 150 horsepower. Two years later the Corvette received a more powerful V8 engine — it would never be offered with a 6-cylinder powerplant again.
Chevrolet Corvette — 2015
Current Base Price: $54,000
The seventh-generation Corvette hit dealerships last year with all-new styling and a lightweight aluminum frame. Chevrolet also gave this new ‘Vette the Stingray name — last used in 1976. The most powerful standard Corvette ever from the factory, the C7 features a 6.2-liter V8 producing 455 horsepower. The interior is a welcome change from past models; it now possesses what is arguably the nicest cabin the car has ever had. For those looking for a bit more power, the all-new Corvette Z06 with a supercharged V8 puts out an impressive 650 horsepower, making it the most powerful production car ever from General Motors.
Chevrolet Impala — 1958
Original Base Price: $2,586
When Impala first went on sale in 1957 as a 1958 model, it was the top-of-the-line Bel Air and only available as a sport coupe or convertible. The following year was the first for Impala as a standalone model, and the new car featured a radical redesign with a distinctive trunk and “cat eye” rear taillights. A 4-door version also became available that year. A number of engines were offered, including the 348-cubic inch “Super Turbo-Thrust Special” V8 that put out 350 horsepower.
Chevrolet Impala — 2016
Current Base Price: $25,830
Currently in its tenth iteration — with a few breaks since 1958 — the 2016 Chevrolet Impala is an attractive front-wheel-drive full-size sedan. Three different engines are available, ranging from a fuel-efficient EcoTec 2.5-liter 196-horsepower unit to a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. Impala is available with a number of high-tech features including active noise cancellation, 4G LTE wireless connectivity, Adaptive Cruise Control, forward collision alert, a rearview camera and Apple CarPlay.
Chevrolet Suburban — 1935
Original Base Price: $675
After experimenting with fixing a wagon body to a commercial chassis, Chevrolet launched the Suburban Carryall in 1935. With seating for up to eight passengers, the 2-door Suburban could be equipped with side-hinged rear panel doors or a tailgate. Power came from Chevrolet’s “Stovebolt” 6-cylinder engine producing 60 horsepower.
Chevrolet Suburban — 2015
Current Base Price: $47,970
An all-new version of the Suburban was introduced for the 2015 model year —80 years after that first Suburban Carryall went on sale. One of the largest SUVs on the market, the 12th-gen Suburban can carry up to nine passengers with plenty of room for cargo. The current Suburban offers a bit more power than those 60 ponies in 1935 — the modern-day version has a 5.3-liter V8 rated at 355 horsepower.
Chrysler 300 — 1955
Original Base Price: $4,100
The Chrysler 300 debuted in 1955 already at the top — the most powerful American car in production. The 300 got its name from the 331-cubic-inch 5.4-liter HEMI “Firepower” V8 that produced 300 horsepower, teamed with Chrysler’s relatively new “Powerflite” fully automatic transmission. This American marvel came with sport suspension, leather seats and was only available as a coupe in black, white or red. The sport coupe could hit 127 mph, setting the Flying Mile record in Daytona for production cars in 1955 — 7 mph faster than any competitor.
Chrysler 300 — 2015
Current Base Price: $31,695
One of the last full-size rear-wheel-drive cars left on the market, the 300 receives a redesign for the 2015 model year with updated headlights, a bold grille and a number of new safety and convenience features. Power comes from a fuel-efficient V6 or 363-horsepower V8, with either engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available. The comfortable interior features a 7-inch driver information display and class-exclusive electronic rotary transmission shifter.
Dodge Charger — 1966
Original Base Price: $3,120
Making its debut on January 1, 1966, the Charger had a Dodge Coronet chassis but its own body style — the brand’s first fastback, built as a high-speed street racer. The unique design evolved from the Charger II concept car shown a year earlier, featuring hidden headlights and four buckets seats. Standard power came from a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 230 horsepower, but a massive optional 426 cubic-inch HEMI engine boasting 425 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque really put Charger on the map.
Dodge Charger — 2015
Current Base Price: $27,995
The current Charger is a large 4-door sedan with sporty styling and a comfortable, spacious interior. Replete with plenty of high-tech features, Charger is available with an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, electric power steering, pushbutton start and a high-end audio system. And in keeping with Charger tradition, a number of powerful engine choices are available, including the R/T Scat Pack with a 485-horsepower 6.4-liter HEMI V8, or the SRT Hellcat with a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8 producing a mind-blowing 707 horsepower. With a top speed of 204 mph, the Hellcat is the quickest, fastest and most powerful production sedan in the world.
Fiat 500 — 1957
Original Base Price: 465,000 lire ($256 based on today’s exchange rate)
The Fiat Nuova (new) 500 was designed to develop and revamp Fiat’s product range following the devastation of World War II. The small Cinquecento (Italian for “500”) delivered on its mission to provide efficient, affordable transportation during Italy’s period of rebuilding and economic recovery. Introduced in July of 1957, the 500 was less than 10-feet long and had space for two. The small 2-cylinder engine provided a modest 13 horsepower. But the 500 was just what the public and Fiat needed, and almost 4 million 500s were sold before production ended in 1975.
Fiat 500 — 2015
Current Base Price: $16,845
The modern version of the 500 was launched in 2007 and is currently sold in 80 countries around the world. The 500 remains Fiat’s only offering in the U.S., although there are a number of styles from which to choose, including the all-new 500X small crossover. The current 500 is awash with high-tech features including an available 7-inch high-definition display, Bluetooth connectivity and streaming, and a high-end audio system. A special Fiat 500 1957 Edition is also available, featuring a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch forged aluminum wheels, throwback “FIAT” badging and a retro body color.
Ford F-Series — 1948
Original Base Price: $900 – $1,500
Ford Motor Company began building trucks back in 1917, and the F-Series debuted as a 1948 model — the first all-new postwar vehicle line for Ford — with a redesigned cab and a new front end. The new trucks offered three new engines, a more comfortable seat and a one-piece windshield. The F-Series came in a wide range of cab and chassis configurations, from the half-ton F-1 through the 3-ton F-8.
Ford F-Series — 2015
Current Base Price: $25,800
The F-Series pickup truck evolved into Ford’s best-selling vehicle by far — in fact it has been the best-selling vehicle in America for more than 30 years. The all-new 2015 Ford F-150 is the 13th generation and Ford’s most technologically advanced F-Series to date. Extensive aluminum use reduces overall weight by 700 pounds. New technology includes an available 360-degree camera view, available trailer-hitch-assist rear camera view, available remote tailgate with hands-free opening and available next-generation tailgate step. Four engine choices include a new turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 —a lightweight, compact design that makes the same power as a midrange V8 engine.
Ford Mustang — 1964 ½
Original Base Price: $2,368
On April 17, 1964, Ford showed the new Mustang for the first time at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. The original sales forecast for this new sporty coupe was 100,000 units in the first year. Ford sold that many in just three months. Four different engines were available at launch, ranging from a 170-cubic-inch six cylinder making 101 horsepower to the classic 289 cubic-inch V8 with 271 horsepower.
Ford Mustang — 2015
Current Base Price: $23,800
The 2015 Mustang is the sixth generation of the iconic pony car, which has sold more than 9 million units since its introduction. Even though it has been completely redone, the 2015 version is still easily recognizable as a Mustang. Available as a fastback or convertible, the rear-drive sporty coupe comes with a choice of powertrains, including a new turbocharged EcoBoost 2.3-liter engine that puts out 310 horsepower. And like the first Mustang, this one is also available with a V8 — a 5.0 liter producing 435 horsepower.
Honda Civic — 1973
Original Base Price: $2,250
The oil crisis of 1973 created a sudden, huge demand for fuel-efficient vehicles in the U.S. — and the Civic was the right car at the right time. Honda’s tiny 2-door was very basic, equipped with an AM radio, disc brakes, a heater and reclining bucket seats. The Civic’s 1169-cc engine produced 50 horsepower but could deliver 40 mpg on the highway. A 4-speed manual or 2-speed “Hondamatic” automatic transmission was available.
Honda Civic — 2015
Current Base Price: $18,290
The Civic has changed considerably since 1973, although it’s still best known as a fuel-efficient everyday driver. Refreshed in 2014, the Civic is available as a coupe or sedan and with a variety of fuel-efficient powertrain options including a hybrid system that delivers as high as 47 mpg on the highway. Civic can be well equipped with a rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, a 7-inch capacitive touch-screen display and a number of advanced safety features.
Hyundai Sonata — 1989
Original Base Price: $10,294
Hyundai had the misfortune of entering the U.S. market at the same time as the Yugo, and while the Korean brand’s offerings were better, the two were often lumped together. Yugo did not last long, but Hyundai persevered and improved the quality of its offerings, introducing the Sonata to the U.S. market in 1988. Fun fact: It’s hard to believe, but the 1989 Sonata was designed by famed Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. The midsize front-wheel-drive sedan shared a platform with the Mitsubishi Galant.
Hyundai Sonata — 2015
Current Base Price: $21,150
The seventh generation of the Sonata enters the 2015 model year with a new grille and sharper lines that reflect the style of Hyundai’s top-line Genesis sedan, but retains the sloping roofline of the previous iteration. Unlike the original Sonata, the 2015 model comes well equipped with features such as dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, a touchscreen display, LED taillights, leather trim, power heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and HID xenon headlights. A number of engine choices are available, including the fuel-efficient Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid as well as the powerful Sport 2.0T with a 245-horsepower turbocharged engine.
Mazda MX-5 Miata — 1990
Original Base Price: $14,000
Twenty-five years ago Mazda stunned journalists at the Chicago Auto Show with the surprise introduction of an all-new lightweight roadster. The MX-5 Miata was an immediate hit. Codenamed NA, the Miata offered the fun of a European roadster with the reliability of a Japanese car. Features were quite basic — the only colors available were red, white or blue. The first Miata had a 116-horsepower 1.6-liter engine — an unimpressive number, but due to the car’s light weight and incredible balance it was still a blast to drive.
Mazda MX-5 Miata — 2016
Current Base Price: $24,915
Later this summer Mazda will bring the 4th-generation Miata to market. In the first quarter century of the roadster’s history, it has become the world’s best-selling 2-seater, selling more than 900,000 units. Smaller and lighter than the previous generation, the new Miata possesses more aggressive styling. Taking advantage of the company’s SKYACTIV technology, power comes from a 2.0-liter engine producing 155 horsepower and delivering as high as 36 mpg on the highway. Initially the new Miata will only be available with a manually-operated top.
Mini Cooper — 1960
Original Base Price: $1,340
The original Mini Cooper was the brainchild of Alec Issigonis — an engineer with the Morris company — who had the daunting task of designing a small, fuel-efficient but affordable car that could carry four passengers. By pushing the wheels to the corners and turning the engine sideways, Issigonis was able to maximize interior space while at the same time create a car with excellent balance and handling.
MINI Cooper — 2015
Current Base Price: $20,700
Considerably larger than the original version, the current MINI is still one of the smallest cars on the market. And like that original, the MINI is still front-wheel drive, fuel efficient and great fun to drive. But MINI now has two or four doors, as well as a convertible version. A variety of engines are also available, including the high-performance John Cooper Works edition that boasts 228 horsepower.
Nissan (Datsun) Z — 1970
Original Base Price: $3,500
In the fall of 1969 the first ‘Z’ car was introduced to the American market. The Datsun 240Z (the Nissan name wouldn’t be used in the U.S. until 1981) featured a 2.4-liter engine producing 150 horsepower teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission. Considered advanced for its time, the stylish sports car had 4-wheel independent suspension, magnesium wheels and front disc brakes.
Nissan Z — 2016
Current Base Price: $29,990
The idea of the Z car hasn’t changed much from the original, but performance has undoubtedly moved forward. As the name 370Z indicates, the current rendition utilizes a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 332 horsepower, available with either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic. The NISMO version boosts output to 350 horsepower. Still stylish with a long hood and sloping hatchback, the current Z is also available as a convertible.
Porsche 911 — 1964
Original Base Price: $5,500
Designed as a 4-seat replacement for the Porsche 356, the 911 debuted as a prototype at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show. Originally named the 901, the moniker had to be revised to 911 after Peugeot insisted 901 was too similar to their naming convention. On sale for the 1964 model year, the 911 was motivated by an air-cooled 1.9-liter flat 6-cylinder engine making 130 horsepower — enough to give the new sports car a top speed of 131 mph. Within a few years, Porsche introduced the 160-horsepower 911S, as well as the 911 Targa.
Porsche 911 — 2015
Current Base Price: $84,300
Over the last 50-plus years the iconic 911 has become one of the best sports cars on the planet, offering amazing performance while remaining comfortable and useful as a daily driver. Porsche recently launched the seventh generation of the 911, which has a wider front track and is longer, lower and loaded with new features. A plethora of 911 versions are now available, including the 560-horsepower 911 Turbo S.
Toyota Land Cruiser — 1958
Original Base Price: $2,930
Originally developed in the early 1950s based on the Willys Jeep, the Land Cruiser was the first motorized vehicle to reach the sixth station on the trail to the summit of Mt. Fuji. Toyota’s iconic off-roader arrived on American shores in 1958 and rapidly became the best-selling Toyota in the U.S. Initially Land Cruiser was available with a soft- or hardtop, and a few years later a Land Cruiser pickup hit the streets.
Toyota Land Cruiser — 2015
Current Base Price: $80,155
The current Land Cruiser retains the off-road capability of that first version — enhanced by the latest traction and stability systems. But Land Cruiser has become a fully-featured luxury SUV; in fact there are no factory options —everything is standard. In addition to its off-road suspension and advanced 4-wheel drive system, the 8-passenger Land Cruiser features leather seats with multi-stage heating, 4-zone climate control, a cooler box in center console, a high-end audio system with Toyota Entune and a number of advanced safety features.
Volkswagen Beetle — 1949
Original Base Price: $800
The small 2-door rear-engine car first came to market in Germany in 1938 but didn’t arrive in America until 1949 —after WWII. Two Beetles were shipped to New York City (and subsequently sold) by Ben Pon, Sr., the world’s first official Volkswagen importer. Beetle sales were off to a slow start in America, but in 1958 the convertible arrived, boosting interest in the small German car. The original Beetle was sold in America until 1977 when the car no longer met more stringent safety and emission standards. By the time the original Beetle ended production in 2003, more than 21 million had been built.
Volkswagen Beetle – 2015
Current Base Price: $20,195
In 1997 Volkswagen brought the Beetle back, and although it had the basic shape and look of the original, this New Beetle carried its engine up front. The current version was redesigned in 2012 and VW dropped “New” from the name. Beetle comes well equipped with power windows, aux-in for portable audio players, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity and three-color ambient lighting. A number of engine choices are available, including the fuel-efficient TDI diesel and high-performance turbocharged engine in the Beetle R-line.