It’s unusual nowadays for any car to stay on the market for much more than a decade before being replaced by one which has been designed from a clean sheet of paper (or, more likely, a blank computer screen).
There are, of course, exceptions. Some cars have kept going for 20 years or more. Others have hung around for upwards of half a century.
Claims about long production runs can sometimes be easy to dismiss. Ford has been building Fiestas for 42 years, but nobody would claim that today’s Fiesta has anything to do with the one launched in 1976, so we’re not going to count that.
In other cases, the situation is trickier to get your head round. Does it count if the manufacturer stopped building a car for several years and then restarted? Is it fair to ignore interruptions due to war when nobody was building cars at all?
We’ll be taking these things into account while listing 26 of the longest-lived cars in automotive history.
A salute to the longest-lived cars in automotive history
Ford Model T
The Model T barely makes it on to this list. Production started in October 1908 and stopped in May 1927, and therefore lasted for a relatively modest 18 years and eight months. Compared with what you’ll be reading about shortly, this isn’t much to write home about.
However, in that pioneering era when car manufacturers flashed into and out of existence like mayflies, the Model T lasted for a remarkably long time.
It was also produced in huge numbers. The total figure is widely disputed but probably wasn’t less than 15 million. The next car to exceed that was the Volkswagen Beetle, which hadn’t even been thought of when Ford finally put the Model T to rest.
Suzuki has been building small off-roaders since 1970, but the current Jimny was launched in 1998.
Even its biggest fans would have to admit it’s crude and cramped, but it has a very loyal customer base. In the UK, for instance, Suzuki has been able to sell 1,000 examples a year for a long time despite putting almost no effort into marketing the car.
The Jimny’s career has come to an end after 20 years. A new, visually similar but much more modern, Jimny has already gone into production.
One of the most successful cars Peugeot ever produced, the 206 first went on sale in 1998.
In European terms it is now two generations out of date, the current equivalent being the 208. However, it is still being built in Tehran by Iran Khodro, which continues to manufacture several models originally developed by French companies.
Although it may seem odd from a UK perspective, the 206’s production run has therefore extended over 20 years, and doesn’t look like coming to an end in the near future.
Fiat Panda Mk1
The current Fiat Panda has been on the market for seven years, and the one before that lasted for nine.
Neither has come close to the longevity of the first-generation model. This was one of the most frill-free cars imaginable – the rear seat in the earliest version was basically a hammock.
Described by its designer Giorgetto Giugiaro as being “like a pair of jeans”, the original Panda was very effective, and the 4×4 was an amazingly capable little off-roader.
The Panda came on the market in 1980 and seemed unwilling to leave. The last one came off the production line 23 years and two months after the first.
Range Rover Mk1
The second of what have so far been four generations of Range Rover was introduced 24 years ago, exactly halfway through the model’s history as it currently stands.
From that, you might guess that the original version was in production for 24 years. It actually lasted for 26.
Launched in 1970, it was allowed to carry on as the Range Rover Classic until 1996, two years after its successor was introduced.
Fiat built the iconic Nuova 500 for 18 years from 1957 to 1975, but there was an ‘overlap’ with its replacement, the 126, which was introduced in 1972.
The 126 wasn’t nearly as successful for Fiat itself as the 500 had been. However, a Polish company built the car under licence as the Polski-Fiat 126 and had much better luck.
This version was wildly popular in eastern Europe, and was nicknamed maluch (meaning ‘baby’ or ‘small child’ or ‘little one’ or ‘toddler’, depending on whose translation you believe). Production lasted until 2000, giving the 126 a run of 28 years.
Fiat launched the Uno in 1983 and, in European terms, kept going with it before replacing it with the first-generation Uno in 1995.
The story didn’t end there, though, because production continued in other parts of the world. The last example came off a Brazilian production line in late 2013, 30 years after Fiat had built the first.
The 405 was introduced in 1987. The following year it won the European Car of the Year award with what is still the highest score (464 points) and by the equal highest margin (112 points).
It remained on sale in Europe for a decade until Peugeot replaced it with the 406.
Elsewhere, though, it is still going strong after 31 years. As with the 206, this is due to the efforts of Iran Khodro, which builds both cars under licence in Tehran.
Renault’s first front-wheel drive model was launched in 1961, just in time to save the company from a major financial crisis caused by a sharp decline in US sales.
The 4, a more modern rival to Citroen’s 2CV, was popular right from the start, and remained so for a very long time. More than eight million were built in the 33 years to 1994, the last emerging from the Revoz factory in Slovenia.
Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota has been producing rugged off-roaders under the Land Cruiser name since the early 1950s.
One generation, known as the 70 Series, has been so successful that it has continued long after other Land Cruisers have come and gone.34 years after its introduction in 1984, the J70 is still being built in Portgual at Toyota’s oldest European factory. You can’t buy one in Europe, though, as it is entirely an export model.
Bristol Type 603
Powerful and luxurious as Bristols have always been, the Type 603 was launched in 1976 and was available in several forms including the Britannia, Brigand and Blenheim.
It was still being built when Bristol Cars went into administration in 2011, giving it a production life of 35 years.
Launched in 1969, the Renault 12 was a fairly straightforward family saloon with a curious shape which now seems almost outlandish.
Renault continued to build it in France until 1980, when it was replaced by the more conventional-looking 18.
Production carried on in many other countries, though. Dacia, which had been building the same car with a different badge almost from the moment the 12 made its first appearance, kept doing so until 2004, 35 years later.
Volkswagen Golf Mk1
The original Golf was launched in 1974 and officially replaced by the Mk2 ten years later.
However, Volkswagen never made a convertible version of the Mk2, so it continued selling the Mk1 Cabriolet until well into the 1990s.
And it didn’t stop there, because by the time European production finally stopped, Volkswagen South Africa had begun making its own version of the Mk1 called the Citi Golf. This went on until 2009, giving the Mk1 a production life of 35 years.
Once again we have Iran Khodro to thank for extending the life of a car well beyond its intended European span.
The Hillman Hunter first went on sale in 1966 and became very famous two years later when an example crewed by Andrew Cowan, Colin Malkin and Brian Coyle won the London-Sydney Marathon.
European production stopped in 1979, but Iran Khodro kept building the car, which it called the Paykan, until as recently as 2005, 39 years after its launch.
The Paykan changed a lot over the years. Latterly it used a Peugeot engine rather than the original Hillman one, which was appropriate since the Rootes Group, which created the Hunter, came into Peugeot’s ownership during the 1970s.
The 504 was launched in 1968 and was named European Car of the Year in 1969.
Production in Europe lasted for 15 years, but that was only the start of it. Due to its combination of simplicity and ruggedness, it was fantastically popular in Africa, and indeed won five rounds of the World Rally Championship on that continent in the 1970s.
Demand for the 504 in Africa was so great that Peugeot continued building it there for a very long time.
The last 504 of all is believed to have been constructed in Nigeria in 2006, 38 years after it made its debut.
The Mercedes G-Class, as it’s now known, has always been an excellent off-roader, but as a road car it wasn’t particularly refined even when it was introduced in 1979.
That didn’t stop people buying it, though, and in fact it’s still being built today, 39 years later. Power outputs of the more extravagant versions are now on the high side of 600bhp.
The Mini must surely have been the most significant car ever produced by the British motor industry.
It first went on sale in 1959, became enormously popular worldwide during the 1960s and remained on the market until 2000, 41 years after its launch and immediately before the arrival of the first BMW-era MINIs.
Shortly before it was discontinued, it was voted second in the Car of the Century awards, behind the Ford Model T but ahead of the Citroen DS, Volkswagen Beetle and Porsche 911.
It’s easy to be sniffy about the car sold in the UK as the Niva, and indeed a lot of people were, but members of the 4×4 community were quick to point out that it was a very effective off-roader. Production started in 1977, and incredibly it’s still going on today, 41 years later. The Niva name has been abandoned, and the car is now known simply as the Lada 4×4.
Like several of the world’s most famous cars, the 2CV was simply a cheap, functional model at the start of its career and an object of great affection well before the end.
It was built mostly in France but also in many other places around the world, including – briefly – a factory in Slough. Production started in 1948 and finished (in Portugal) 42 years later, in 1990.
Working out the production life of the Riva is like trying to take a jellyfish for a walk on an elastic lead.
Strictly speaking, it was built in Russia between 1980 and 2012, which is 32 years. But it was an only slightly modified version of an older Lada (identified in the UK only by engine size – 1200, 1500 and so on) which was introduced in 1970.
To add to the complication, that Lada was a slightly adapted version of the Fiat 124, launched in 1966. So now we’re at 46 years, and that doesn’t include the fact that the Riva was briefly produced in Egypt after the Russians had stopped building it.Whichever way you look at it, and despite the many jokes which have been told about Ladas, this was an extremely successful and long-lived car.
Morris Oxford Series III
The third-generation Morris Oxford was introduced in 1957 and didn’t last very long, being replaced by the more modern Farina-designed version just two years later.
During this short period, though, Hindustan Motors bought the rights to build the Series III in India and market it as the Ambassador, and continued doing so for ages and ages.
With only minor changes, including a switch to Isuzu diesel engines, the Ambassador survived until as recently as 2014, giving a production life of 57 years.
Despite discontinuing the Ambassador, Hindustan Motors is still going strong, building Mitsubishis under licence.
Lotus started building its iconic Seven sports car in 1957 and continued doing so until 1973. At this point, Caterham bought the production rights. It is still building variants of the car now, 61 years after Lotus began the process.
Volkswagen Type 2
VW’s first car, nicknamed the Beetle, was officially called the Type 1. The Type 2, though mechanically similar, was built in many forms, most notably a van and a camper.
It was launched in 1950, and in European terms it was replaced by the all-new T3 29 years later.
Production continued in South America, though. The last of the original Type 2s came off a Brazilian production line in 2013, giving the model a lifetime of 63 years.
According to Morgan, its 4/4 has been in production since 1936, making it 82 years old now.
Morgan didn’t build any cars during the Second World War, of course, and there was also a gap of several years between the original model being discontinued and the Series II being introduced in 1955. Although there have been many detail changes, there is no argument that the 4/4 has remained in production since then, so even at the lowest estimate it has been on the go for 63 years with no sign of being retired in the near future.
The Beetle went on sale in Germany in 1938 but was withdrawn shortly afterwards for obvious reasons.
Thanks to the efforts of a British Army team led by Ivan Hirst, production resumed almost as soon as it possible after the war, and continued in Europe until 1978.
It lasted a lot longer in South America. The final example of over 20 million Beetles was built in Brazil in 2003, 57 years after post-War production got going and 65 after the car was first put on the market.
When the first production Land Rover was built in July 1948 it can’t have seemed possible that the process would still be going well over half a century later.
The last example of the highly developed but still recognisably original model (now known as Defender to distinguish it from other Land Rover vehicles) left the factory with great ceremony on 29 January 2016, bringing to an end a production life of 67 and a half years.