Classic Cars That Made a Comeback

1971 Dodge Challenger muscle car


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Dodge Challenger SRT American muscle car

Still Cruisin'

Cats have nine lives, but what about cars? Automakers have revived a lot of famous marques over the years, not always successfully (hello, '90s Mercury Cougar). But the reintroduction of the Ford Bronco seems to be going well, and Dodge is offering its Challenger in a convertible for the first time since it reappeared in 2008. Hop in and take a quick spin past these and other famous cars and trucks that have been brought back from the automotive graveyard.

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Dodge Challenger

Dodge Challenger

One of the original pony cars, the original Dodge Challenger debuted in 1970 and gave buyers the largest range of engines and transmissions in its class, so you could decide exactly how much muscle your car could show off. It only lasted five model years but was brought back in 2008 with all the characteristic power and style that owners of the original model loved. For the first time this generation, the Challenger is being offered as a convertible. The conversion is being done by a Florida body shop not at the factory, so be prepared to pay a pretty penny for the customization. And if you want one, better hurry — the Challenger is being discontinued next year.

Jeep Lost a Trademark Battle to the Hummer


The last of the land-crushing Hummers, the H3, disappeared in 2010 when GM killed off the brand as part of a larger corporate restructuring. It couldn't find a buyer at the time, keeping the Hummer name tucked away until recently. Improbably, this most notorious of all gas guzzlers has been reborn as an electric vehicle — both a pickup and an SUV. GM says it has more than 65,000 reservations and will have to step up production to meet demand. Would-be buyers who make reservations now are unlikely to drive off in their splashy, massive new vehicles, which start around $100,000, until 2024. 

RelatedCars We Said Goodbye to This Past Decade

2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Daytona 50th Anniversary Edition
2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Daytona 50th Anniversary Edition by Automotive Rhythms (CC BY-NC-ND)

Dodge Charger

The original Charger arrived in Dodge showrooms in 1966 and was immortalized in the 1968 film "Bullitt," in which a Mustang-driving Steve McQueen pursued a black Dodge Charger RT 440 through the streets of San Francisco. An orange '69 model served as the car that Bo and Luke Duke drove in the TV version of "The Dukes of Hazzard." And plenty of these muscle cars won street duels in the '60s and '70s. Dodge discontinued the Charger in 1978 but revived it in 1982, only to kill it again five years later. Nearly 20 years later, the Charger reappeared once again, and Dodge still is turning 'em out. In a nod to its muscle-car past, the top-of-the-line 2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat can go zero to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds.

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Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro

The Camaro debuted in 1967 as Chevrolet's answer to the popular Ford Mustang, and a rivalry was born. But by the turn of the new century, Chevy's sports car for the masses had become a bloated version of its former self, and buyers in general were favoring SUVs over sports coupes. Chevrolet killed off the Camaro and its twin the Pontiac Firebird in 2002. But General Motors had second thoughts after a few years, and the Camaro was revived in 2010, its styling reminiscent of the original model. GM has committed to building the Camaro through 2023, but beyond that? It's anyone's guess …

Related: Best Mustangs of All Time 

2002 Ford Thunderbird
2002 Ford Thunderbird by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

Ford Thunderbird

The first-generation T-Bird is a classic by any standard, so the decision to revive this two-seat convertible seemed like a no-brainer — anything was better than the dull-as-dishwater sedan that ended the line in 1998. But the success of retro-revival vehicles such as Volkwagen's New Beetle didn't rub off on the Thunderbird when it arrived in 2002. It looked the part from a distance, but up close, anyone could tell the interior was a mish-mosh of parts borrowed from Lincolns. As Car and Driver put it, "The result was an overweight, softly sprung roadster that looked great outside, was agonizingly boring inside, and was dreary to drive. And at about $40,000, it was stupidly expensive." This bird had its wings clipped for good in 2005.

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Mercury Cougar
Mercury Cougar by SsmIntrigue (CC BY-SA)

Mercury Cougar

Like the Thunderbird, the Cougar slowly morphed from muscle car into bland sedan during its initial 30-year run. Retired in 1997, the Cougar returned two years later looking dramatically different. Instead of a big Detroit two-door sedan, the new Cougar was … a hatchback? Ford Motor Co. executives hoped the Cougar would serve as a replacement for the discontinued Ford Probe, but auto writers and buyers alike weren't too keen on this cat. It was dropped from production in 2002.

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Fiat 500 Coupé by Zagato
Fiat 500 Coupé by Zagato by Alexandre Prevot (CC BY-SA)

Fiat 500

Italian automaker Fiat pulled out of the U.S. in 1983 and didn't return until 2011. When it did, it brought the cute-as-a-button Fiat 500 — itself an homage to the original diminutive runabout produced from 1957 to 1978. The new 500 caused a small sensation when it debuted, but sales were anemic since and some auto industry experts speculated that Fiat may even quit selling in the U.S. Again. Maybe the new electric 500 will revive the buzz?

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Yvnvw_2b by Greg Goebel (CC BY-SA)

Volkswagen Beetle

VW's Beetle was so popular that it enjoyed two successful runs. The original Beetle arrived in the U.S. in 1949 and stuck around until it was replaced in 1979 by the Rabbit. The retro-styled New Beetle, which resembled the original on the outside but lacked the air-cooled, rear-mounted engine of old, debuted in 1997 and was produced through 2011. Although it never sold in the numbers that the original did, the New Beetle was plenty popular with American drivers. VW produced a convertible as well as several special editions, including a "Final Edition" coupe and convertible, each limited to a run of 1,500 vehicles.

Related: Most Popular Volkswagens of All Time

1988 Chevrolet Nova liftback when new, front left
1988 Chevrolet Nova liftback when new, front left by Joe Haupt (CC BY-SA)

Chevrolet Nova

A few General Motors purists probably raised an eyebrow when the Nova nameplate returned in 1985 after an absence of six years. The new Nova badge wasn't affixed to a piece of Detroit steel; it was attached to a Toyota Corolla body built at a plant operated by both automakers in California. Three years later, GM took the new Nova, renamed it the Prizm, and moved it from its Chevrolet division to its new Geo line. The Prizm outlasted the Geo brand and returned to Chevy in 1998, where the marque enjoyed four more years of production before being phased out.

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Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger

For nearly 30 years, Ford's Ranger was the bestselling light pickup truck in the U.S. After ending production in 2011, Ford revived the Ranger name for 2019. The new model is bigger than its predecessor, and you won't find a two-door version as you would back in the day. Despite positive reviews, the new Ranger met with some disappointing initial sales and now expects a redesign for the 2023 model year. Stay tuned.

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Ford Bronco

Ford Bronco

When the first Bronco rolled off assembly lines in 1965, the term "sport-utility vehicle" (aka SUV) hadn't even been coined yet. But clearly there was a demand for a two-door, trucklike vehicle, and for the next 30 years, the Bronco was a reliable steed in Ford's stable. But by 1996, buyers were much more interested in newer SUVs such as the Explorer and Expedition, and Ford put the Bronco out to pasture, only to bring it back for 2021. (When it was beaten in sales by the Jeep Wrangler.)

Related: Most Iconic SUVs of All Time 

Chevrolet Blazer
Toyota Supra

Toyota Supra

The Supra was Toyota's answer to the Datsun 280Z and the Mazda RX-7 (although the first models in 1978 and '79 weren't all that sporty by comparison). By the mid-'80s, though, the Supra had come into its own as a luxe sports car that could hold its own on the track, too. Toyota killed the Supra in 1998 as American drivers showed less and less interest in pricey sports coupes. Two decades on, Toyota clearly had a change of heart, unveiling the all-new fifth-generation Supra in 2019. The first production model to roll off the assembly line was later sold for $2.1 million at a charity auction.

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Jeep Gladiator

Jeep Gladiator

When Jeep revived the Gladiator nameplate as a 2020 model, it was the first time the marque had seen the light of day since 1970. The original Gladiator pickup, introduced for the 1963 model year, was a conventional two-door model available in rear- or four-wheel drive. (By comparison, the four-door Gladiator of today is a much burlier, boxy affair.) After 1970, the pickup lived on through the early '80s in the Jeep lineup, but the name did not.

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While Volkswagen was busy planning the Beetle's return, Britain's Rover Group was plotting the revival of another iconic vehicle: the Mini Cooper. The existing Mini was well past its prime — much like Rover Group itself — as Rover set about designing its 21st century replacement. BMW bought out Rover in 1994 while the Mini was still on the drawing board, but executives loved it so much that they saw it through to production in 2000. The rest, as they say, is history. Mini is still thriving in the U.S., while Rover is, alas, no more.

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Vintage Volkswagen Bus
Vintage Volkswagen Bus by Steven Martin (CC BY-NC-ND)

Volkswagen Minibus

The Beetle isn't Volkwagen's only classic. Starting in 1950, VW cranked out various iterations of their van/bus/whachamacallit for well over a half-century worldwide under a variety of names and body styles. And even though they haven't been sold in the U.S. since 2003, Volkswagen repeatedly teased fans with prototypes over the years. VW has an all-new electric minibus called the ID. Buzz, a three-row passenger vehicle set to debut later this year.

Related: The Coolest VW Vans Through the Decades 

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