The life cycle of a car has become nearly effortless to predict.
Building the same car for several decades, like Volkswagen did with the Beetle, would quickly turn into a regulatory nightmare. Most mainstream models remain available in their home market for seven or eight years before passing to torch to their replacement. However, this unwritten rule hasn’t stopped some carmakers from defying convention by squeezing as much life out of a car as possible.
Some companies have mastered the art of keeping models alive for a long time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; a time-tested car can be better than a cutting-edge one built with dauntingly experimental and expensive technology. Some models may be old but they’re not broken and don’t need fixing.
Join us as we take a look at some of the oldest cars still available new on the American market and how they’ve changed during their unusually long production run.
Chevrolet Express (1995)
One of the oldest vehicles in American showrooms isn’t a car; it’s a van, and one that still keeps the country moving a quarter of a century after its introduction. Chevrolet unveiled the Express van in 1995 to replace a model that traced its roots to 1964. Sister company GMC received its own version of the van, which was called Savana. Both were offered in cargo- and people-carrying configurations.
Chevrolet charged $18,639 for the 1996 Express. That’s about $31,900 in 2020.
Chevrolet Express (2020)
Although it’s disorientingly ancient by industry standards, and it received its last major update in 2002, the Chevrolet Express continues to sell relatively well. 77,457 units found a home in 2019, meaning it outsold the electric Bolt (16,418), the Camaro (48,265) and the Impala (44,978), among other models. GMC sold 24,226 examples of the Savana in 2019, pushing the total figure above the 100,000-unit mark.
Chevrolet offers the Express as a cutaway van, as a passenger-carrying model with up to 15 seats, or as a panel van built specifically for commercial applications. Pricing starts at $31,500 for the cutaway model.
Nissan Frontier (2004)
Nissan introduced the second-generation Frontier at the 2004 Detroit auto show and launched the truck as a 2005 model. It promised to bring features normally found on bigger, more expensive trucks (like Nissan’s own Titan) to the midsize segment. While upmarket models came well equipped with technologies like traction control and hill descent control, entry-level variants remained basic workhorses and were priced accordingly. The rear-wheel drive, King Cab model with a five-speed manual transmission cost $15,600 in 2005, which represents $20,800 in 2020.
Nissan Frontier (2020)
Like the Toyota Tacoma, one of its main rivals, the Nissan Frontier survived the midsize pickup drought of the early 2010s and made a strong comeback when American buyers once again sought a smaller truck. Unlike the Tacoma, which entered its current generation in 2015, the Frontier hasn’t evolved significantly since its introduction. That’s exactly what some buyers want to hear.
The Frontier’s age makes it the cheapest and most basic model in its segment; it caters to buyers who need “just a truck.” Pricing starts at $26,790 for a four-cylinder-powered base model. Development of the next-generation Frontier is well under way, according to Nissan, and we’ll see it in 2021.
Toyota Tundra (2006)
Toyota gained a steady foothold in America’s compact pickup segment but selling larger trucks that compete directly against the Big Three’s core offerings has always been an uphill battle for the brand. The second-generation Tundra introduced at the 2006 Chicago auto show was an attempt at making the battlefield a little bit more even.
Like its American rivals, Toyota offered its pickup in numerous cab and box configurations and let buyers choose from a bare-bones work truck, a chromed-out luxury cruiser or anything in between. The slowest, shortest and most basic version of the truck cost $22,290 (about $28,800 in 2020).
Toyota Tundra (2020)
Toyota kept the first-generation Tundra on the market for six years, an unusually short amount of time in the pickup truck segment. Conversely, the second-generation model celebrated its 13th birthday in 2020 and it’s expected to soldier on until at least 2021.
It doesn’t look or feel quite as old as it is because it received comprehensive updates inside and out for the 2014 model year. Not much has changed in the engine bay, though. The 2007 model’s entry-level 4.0-liter V6 is no longer available so a 5.7-liter V8 is the only option left. Pricing starts at $33,675.
Nissan GT-R (2007)
Nissan unveiled the GT-R concept during the 2001 Tokyo auto show. It took the Japanese firm another six years to introduce the production version of the car, which finally made its debut during the 2007 edition of the event. Nearly everyone agreed the wait was well worth it.
The GT-R arrived on the American market in July 2008 with a twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter V6 engine rated at 485 HP. And yet, it carried a budget-friendly price tag of $69,850 in 2008, a sum that converts to about $84,500 in 2020. It cost less than a base Porsche 911 and offered better performance.
Nissan GT-R (2020)
Nissan followed an unusually long development process with an amazingly long production run. The GT-R has received an array of mechanical and visual changes since its debut but its replacement is nowhere in sight. The 2020 model carries on with a twin-turbocharged V6, though it’s now rated at 565 HP.
While the GT-R is still a supercar, it’s no longer priced as the segment’s budget-friendly alternative. The 2020 model starts at $113,540. There’s no telling when Nissan will replace it.
Toyota Land Cruiser (2007)
Few were surprised when the current, J200-generation Toyota Land Cruiser made its debut in 2007. It looked a lot like its predecessor and it was immediately recognizable as a member of the Land Cruiser family. The familiar sheet metal hid a 5.7-liter, 381-HP V8 engine and surprisingly forward-thinking technology like Toyota’s trick Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) which helped the SUV deliver a comfortable ride on the pavement while delivering excellent off-road capacity.
Toyota priced the 2008 Land Cruiser at approximately $64,000, or about $80,400 in 2020.
Toyota Land Cruiser (2020)
In 2020, when emissions regulations shape cars more than the need to drive across the African savanna, the Toyota Land Cruiser looks like a stegosaurus at a dog show. Stylists nip-and-tucked its front end in 2015 to better align it with Toyota’s design language but little has changed under the sheet metal. The 5.7-liter V8 remains, though it now shifts through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Toyota charges $85,415 for a 2020 Land Cruiser, and it confirmed the off-roader will retire after 2021. While its replacement is around the corner, and it will allegedly ditch the V8 for a twin-turbocharged V6, some rumors claim it will not be offered in America.
Toyota Sequoia (2007)
Like its American rivals, Toyota turned its biggest truck into a burly SUV. It built the original Sequoia from 2000 to 2007, a relatively short amount of time, and it released the second-generation model for the 2008 model year. Like the Tundra, the Sequoia arrived as a rugged, body-on-frame model developed primarily for America and built locally. At launch, it cost $35,000 with rear-wheel-drive, a figure that represents approximately $45,000 in 2020.
Toyota Sequoia (2020)
It’s easy to forget the Sequoia remains part of the Toyota range in 2020. 10,289 units found a home in the United States in 2019, a figure that represents a rounding error considering the company’s American sales totaled about two million units that year. It’s a competent SUV, it’s as spacious as its XL dimensions suggest and it’s shockingly capable off the beaten path, but it’s overshadowed by car-derived unibody models.
Toyota gave the Sequoia a major round of updates inside and out for the 2018 model year, but under the body it’s fundamentally the same SUV that was introduced at the 2007 edition of the Los Angeles motor show. While a new version of the Tundra is expected to arrive for the 2022 model year, we don’t know if the Sequoia will spawn a replacement, or if the nameplate will join the pantheon of automotive history. In the meantime, it’s still around, and pricing for the base model starts at $50,100.
Dodge Challenger (2008)
Presented at the 2008 Chicago auto show, the Dodge Challenger bridged the gap between the muscle car-crazed 1960s and the tech-fueled 21st century with heritage-laced body wrapped around a 425 HP, 6.1-liter Hemi V8. It was available exclusively in three colors (orange, silver and black) and it strangely made its debut as a limited-edition model. Dodge didn’t reveal how many examples it planned to build but it pointed to the numbered plaque on the dashboard as proof of its exclusivity.
The 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 started at $37,320, or about $45,200 in 2020.
Dodge Challenger (2020)
The Challenger’s limited-edition label was always questionable; Dodge still sells it 12 years after its introduction. 60,997 found a home in 2019 so it outsold the much newer Chevrolet Camaro. That figure suggests enthusiasts care more about horsepower and design than about the age or the provenance of the various parts tucked under the coupe’s sheet metal. To its credit, Dodge has done an excellent job of keeping the model fresh by regularly adding new variants and more features.
While early buyers had only one engine and three colors to choose from, the 2020 line-up includes four engines ranging from a 303 HP V6 to the mighty, 797 HP Hellcat V8 and 13 colors. Pricing starts at $28,295 for a V6-powered, rear-wheel drive GT model.
The Challenger isn’t the only senior citizen in the Dodge range. The Charger it shares its basic platform with has been around since 2011.
Dodge Ram 1500 (2008)
Dodge introduced the fourth-generation Ram 1500 pickup truck at the 2008 Detroit auto show but it didn’t settle for presenting the model during a verbose press conference. It used it to drive a herd of 120 cows through downtown Detroit and simultaneously handed out Dodge-branded beef jerky.
The 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 wore a sharper, more aerodynamic design than its predecessor and it adopted a coil-spring rear suspension to deliver a smoother ride. Other highlights included storage compartments scattered throughout the trucks and a cabin made with nicer materials.
Pricing started at approximately $22,000 for a two-wheel drive, regular cab model. That sum represents about $26,600 in 2020.
Ram 1500 Classic (2020)
The Dodge Ram 1500 morphed into the Ram 1500 when parent company Chrysler grouped its trucks under a standalone brand in 2010. Emblems aside, the truck has changed little in the decade following its introduction and it remains available even though a new fifth-generation model arrived in 2018.
Now called 1500 Classic, the fourth-generation truck is positioned as Ram’s entry-level model, in the space formerly occupied by the Dakota. Pricing starts at $28,200 so it’s about $4000 cheaper than its newer, more advanced replacement. Ram plans to concurrently sell both models in the foreseeable future and it hinted the Classic could receive a series of updates in the early 2020s.
Nissan 370Z (2008)
The Nissan 370Z took the torch from the 350Z when it made its debut at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show. Styled a lot like its predecessor, it stood out as the most powerful car on the Z-shaped branch of the Nissan family tree thanks to a 3.7-liter tuned to deliver 332 HP. Transmission options included a six-speed manual and a seven-speed automatic.
The 370Z went on sale across America for the 2009 model year. Pricing started at $29,930 for an entry-level model equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, a sum that converts to about $36,200 in 2020. The 370Z Roadster arrived in time for the 2010 model year.
Nissan 370Z (2020)
The Roadster variant of the 370Z retired after the 2019 model year but the coupe carried on. It even gained a 50th Anniversary Edition model (pictured) that honors the 240Z that started the line in 1969. Both body styles received a mid-cycle update in 2013 that brought a new-look front end, among other minor visual changes. It still looks a lot like the 2009 original and it has aged surprisingly well.
Nissan charges $30,090 for the entry-level 370Z with a six-speed stick. The coupe still comes with the same, 332-HP V6 found in the model that went on sale in 2009. Its days are numbered because the next-generation Z car previewed as a prototype in 2020 is expected to make its debut in 2021.
Toyota 4Runner (2009)
Toyota couldn’t have identified the 4Runner’s target audience more clearly. It stepped well out of the auto show circuit and unveiled the current, fifth-generation model at the 2009 Texas State Fair. At the time, the 4Runner was welcomed as the latest in a long line of body-on-frame, truck-derived family SUVs and it landed in a segment that wasn’t out of breath quite yet. Nissan still sold the Xterra, for example. Sales started during the 2010 model year, and the entry-level model powered by a four-cylinder engine cost $27,500, which represents approximately $33,400 in 2020.
Toyota 4Runner (2020)
11 years and several updates later, the 4Runner remains a reasonably important part of the Toyota line-up. America’s shift towards car-based crossovers threatened to end its career in an unceremonious manner, but the market’s newfound interest in all things tall and rugged has given it a new lease on life. After all, it’s a well-known nameplate from a trusted company with a stellar reputation for reliability.
131,888 units found a home in the United States in 2019. Pricing starts at $36,340.