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Blast From the Past: Detroit Automakers Looking to Revive More Old Nameplates

Barracuda, Bronco, Ranger among models that could return from rust heap.

by on Aug.27, 2015

An original Plymouth Barracuda.

Coming up with an all-new name has become a major headache for automakers around the world. It can be difficult to find a name that hasn’t already been taken, and it then can be extremely costly to build consumer awareness.

So, it seems, a number of carmakers are looking back into their past to see if there are once-popular nameplates that can be revived. And with the successful revival of the Chevrolet Camaro, a few years back, it seems that even more manufacturers are going to take this route.

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Among the once-popular names we may soon see back in showrooms are the Grand Wagoneer, Barracuda, Ranger and Bronco, it seems. And still others may follow – though looking for a blast from the past does carry some risks, industry analysts warn.

As reported this week, Ford Motor Co. is expected to bring back the Ranger pickup, a nameplate it abandoned in the U.S. in 2011, though it continued offering an all-new model overseas. The Ranger would fill a gap in Ford’s line-up now that there are signs American motorists are returning to the once-huge midsize truck segment.

(Click Here for more on the return of the Ford Ranger.)

Ford is now expected to offer a U.S. version of the midsize Ranger pickup, a model it dropped in 2010.

The revival of the Ranger would follow the return of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models that briefly went out of production while General Motors worked up a more modern and competitive redesign of the compact trucks.

Ford also is said to be toying with the return of another once-popular model, the Bronco SUV. It was once a leader in the sport-utility segment but was replaced by more car-like models, such as the Ford Explorer. A new Bronco, sources suggest, would be roughly the size of the latest Explorer, but instead of riding on a car-like crossover platform it would share the chassis of the new Ranger pickup.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has brought back a number of model names in recent years, including muscle car mainstays like the Dodge Charger and Challenger. And it may add one more old-is-now offering to that high-powered segment, a revived Barracuda. In its heyday, the ‘Cuda was marketed through the now-abandoned Plymouth brand. Going forward it also would be sold through Dodge.

The sibling Jeep brand is also expected to bring back an old model, this one the big Grand Wagoneer. Though often credited with creating the modern SUV boom, Jeep hasn’t kept up with some key rivals in filling every possible model niche. The revived Grand Wagoneer would be a full-size model to take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GL, among others.

(Chevy, GMC hope to expand appeal of Colorado, Canyon twins with new diesel drivetrains. Click Herefor the latest.)

The return of the Chevy Camaro was one of the industry's most successful relaunches.

FCA reportedly is filling in dealers on its future product plans during a meeting in Las Vegas. Ford, meanwhile, has reportedly clued in the United Auto Workers Union on some of its plans as part of its ongoing contract negotiations. Formal public announcements could follow in the weeks or months ahead.

There are several reasons why manufacturers reach into their histories to revive old nameplates. For one thing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with good names that aren’t already in use or at least registered by a competitor. That’s one reason many makers have gone the alphanumeric route. But they also know that it’s hard to get worked up about something called an ABC123.

Launching an all-new nameplate, meanwhile, is extremely expensive, a mainstream model often requiring a marketing investment of $100 million or more to establish in the market, notes analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting.

But when it comes to these blasts from the past, some of those old model names still carry a lot of positive heritage that automatically tell a story in the collective public mind. That was the case when General Motors brought back the Chevrolet Camaro in 2009. The muscle car went on to dominate the so-called pony car segment for the next five years.

The retro-styled Ford Thunderbird didn't deliver on the maker's high hopes.

On the other hand, GM’s effort to bring back the once-revered Pontiac GTO name flopped a decade ago. Unlike the retro-styled Camaro, the new “Goat” had a bland and largely forgettable design that failed to connect with consumers.

The same was the case with the Thunderbird, the two-seat roadster Ford tried to launch a decade ago. Over the decades, the T’bird went through a variety of incarnations, from the original 2-seater to a bloated coupe and then into a quirky but less-than-compelling 2-seater again. A variety of product weaknesses resulted in mixed reviews and weak sales, and the Thunderbird was again pulled from the market.

So, while a grand old name can give a new product a head start, it’s not enough to fix a bad vehicle design.

(New Jeeps, including next Grand Cherokee, Grand Wagoneer, delayed. Click Here for more.)

Ford Introduces Brand New ’40 Coupe

by on Nov.02, 2012

Ford reveals a '40 Coupe steel body ready for resto-rod fans at its SEMA Show stand.

It’s been said that at some point or another, everything old is new again.  And the auto industry has a history of embracing retro designs such as the reborn Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger models.

Ford even had a retro design studio in operation for a while – though the maker pulled the plug after the disastrous launch of the last 2-seat Thunderbird.

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But now, Ford is digging even deeper into its past, all the way to the favorite of American hot rodders, the ’40 Ford Coupe.  A complete body shell will soon be added to the Ford Restoration Parts catalog, and unlike some replicars, this one will be made out of the real deal, sheet metal rather than fiberglass.


Surprise Car of Year Winner

You’d never guess what. It is, perhaps, a dubious distinction.

by on Dec.11, 2009

The real collectors car from 1957?

The real collectors car from 1957?

Last night the Friends of the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC) at the Detroit Public Library gathered to announce this year’s winner of the Future Collectible Car of the Year award.

In this season of almost daily COTY/TOTY/VOTY awards, the NAHC award, though largely ignored by the conventional media, stands out.

The award is based on the fact that the ugly duckling of the 1957 Model Year, Chevrolet, became over the years, the surprise go-to car for collectors. Who would have thought? In 1957, both Ford and especially Plymouth had all new cars and the Chevy was warmed over from 1955 and 1956 models, although with crisper lines and tail fins. So the NAHC award reminds us all how hard it is to predict the future.

Past winners of the FCCOY award have included the reborn Ford Thunderbird of the new Millennium (likely) and the Olds Aurora (we will see).



The vehicles are chosen from a list of models declared to be “new” each year by the Consumer Reports annual auto issue. Ballots are filled out by the members of the Friends of the NAHC to designate which vehicle is most likely to be the top collectible 25 years in the future, and in the past have tended to favor Chrysler products. (If you want to vote in the future, you will have to kick in $40 annually to the Friends.)