Now that the 2015 Mustang has had its unofficial – and official – launch in social media, it’s had some time to settle in, and gallons of ink will be spilled over the next year on whether it’s a success or not. Through the lens of time, let’s take a look at nine of the more significant redesigns in automotive history, that either set a new standard or sent designers back to the drawing board.
1967 Cadillac Eldorado
GM’s luxury brand had been selling the Eldorado consistently since 1953. After 1957, though (when the Eldorado Brougham became one of the most exclusive, expensive cars in the world) the Eldorado just became a highly-trimmed version of the rest of Cadillac’s line. But in 1967, the Eldorado underwent a radical redesign that aimed it squarely at the burgeoning personal luxury car market. It retained the 429-cu.in. Cadillac V8, but under the crisp, modern Bill Mitchell styling, the Eldorado introduced the luxury market to front-wheel drive.
We tend to forget how popular the 1967 Eldorado was, but at 17,930 units the first year, it set sales records for the nameplate, and sent Cadillac to its best sales year to that point.
General Motors A-Body
General Motors A-Body intermediate platform arrived in 1964, and featured individual models from Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick, riding the crest of the muscle car wave through the 1960s and early 1970s. It managed to redesign the A-Body in 1973, losing the convertible bodystyle. Colonnade A-Bodies were big, though, and kept getting bigger until their demise in 1977.
The redesigned A-Body that arrived in 1978 was a completely new car, intended to cope with the realities of a new, more fuel-efficient world in the 1980s. First off, they were smaller. The new A-Body that launched in 1978 would be approximately the size of the X-Body Nova, a foot shorter than the car it replaced. It was also drastically lighter, by a thousand pounds in some cases, yet offered more trunk volume, and more leg room and head room inside. When GM designated its new front-wheel drive cars as A-Bodies in 1982, the 9 models and four bodystyles of the A-Body platform (Chevy Malibu, El Camino, Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Am, Grand Prix, Bonneville and Le Mans, Oldsmobile Cutlass and GM Caballero) changed names to the G-Body, and would carry the water for GM’s entire lineup until 1988.
Ford Mustang II
Think of it this way: For six years, Ford didn’t have a Mustang. It had a Mustang II, which had as much to do with the Mustang name as the LTD II had to do with the LTD. The problem with the Mustang in 1973 was that, like Elvis, it had grown bloated and unrecognizable to its core audience. The trend from Europe was a smaller, sportier car. Well, what’s smaller and sportier than a Mustang? A Pinto! Lee Iacocca gets a lot of credit for the first Mustang, but he doesn’t get enough criticism for this one. He pulled the trigger on its production and developed not a Camaro-fighter, but a competitor to the Chevy Monza.
The truly depressing thing was that we lined up to buy it. Sales reached to within 90 percent of those of the Mustang’s 12-month production record of 418,812 units in 1974.
It’s easy to look back at the 1986 Taurus and laugh at it, but the truth is, it was a revolutionary automobile that almost singlehandedly saved Ford. In just three model years, Ford sold its millionth Taurus, and by the time production of the early first generation ended in 1991, there were more than two million on the road. The model received cosmetic revisions in for 1992, improving it while retaining the car’s familiar profile.
In 1996, the car underwent its first full redesign, and it was awful. What Jack Telnack had been so successful with in the first Taurus seemed to elude him in the second, replacing every angular surface with an oval, resulting in a car that looked like a Dali painting. Everything about it was terrible, right down to the all-in-one HVAC/Audio “Integrated Control Panel” that you were forced to take your eyes off the road to use, and that precluded any kind of radio upgrade.
2001 Honda Civic
You have to realize what the Honda Civic actually is: It’s a well-built economy car sold to people who don’t care about cars. In a stroke of good fortune, Civics built beginning in 1987 featured a double-wishbone front suspension, with a rear semi-trailing arm suspension. That meant that fourth, fifth and sixth-generation Honda Civics were as successful amongst tuners as the Fox-bodied Ford Mustang was amongst drag racers.
The seventh generation Honda Civic arrived in 2001, and while it offered many advantages – larger interior volume, more power – the move from a double wishbone to a MacPherson strut front suspension and added weight caused the enthusiast community to essentially turn its back for a number of years.
1989 Nissan 300ZX
The Z31 300ZX arrived in 1983, and when you look at one today, it’s like seeing a picture of yourself in 1983 with a Members Only jacket and parachute pants. It was sleeker, faster, more powerful and more efficient, but despite the success of the Paul Newman win at Lime Rock in 1986, the Z31 looked dated the minute it left the assembly line.
The Z32 that arrived in 1989, however, was a whole different story. The only thing that remained from the Z31 was the displacement of the V6. Everything else underwent radical redevelopment. It instantly won laurels around the world including Motor Trend’s “Import Car of the Year,” “Design of the Year” from Automobile, and regular spots on its All-Stars list, and a 10Best from Car and Driver for all seven years it was sold here. It was unfortunate that the strong Yen made a 300ZX more expensive than many European sports cars in the final few years of production, or it may have lasted longer.
2010 VW Jetta
Since the very moment it arrived in 1979, the Volkswagen Jetta has been appreciated by tuners and enthusiasts the world over. Like the Honda Civic, it has always been a natural platform for performance upgrades, and when variants like the VR6, the GLS and the TDI began showing up, the love affair was cemented.
Until 2010, that is. The sixth generation that arrived that year has been derided for lower quality, less sporty handling, and a general eradication of the kind of spirit that made the Jetta so appealing to enthusiasts. Like the Mustang II, however, despite the neutering of the brand name, sales have been on the increase. It seems that what people are really interested in when purchasing a sedan is how much it costs, and by delivering a cheap Jetta, Volkswagen has marched its way to 800,000 units in North America by 2018.
2002 Range Rover
The first generation Range Rover launched in 1970, and spent the next 26 years in production, with minor upgrades along the way. The P38A Range Rover stepped into line in 1994, selling alongside the newly renamed Range Rover Classic for two years. It continued to use a version of the aluminum Rover V8 that Buick had first developed in 1961.
So when BMW came along and purchased Land Rover, the L322 Range Rover introduced in 2002 was a quantum shift. It was shown simultaneously on the cover of almost every car magazine sold in the United States, a major feat for an SUV. Funny thing for BMW was that it sold Land Rover to Ford by the time the L322 Range Rover was ever produced, because it set the stage for everything that Range Rover and Land Rover would do in the next decade. Today Land Rover is achieving success you never would’ve thought possible just ten years ago.
1997 Jeep Wrangler
Wrangler was a nameplate that had been around since AMC still owned the Jeep brand in 1986. The YJ, as it was known, was the replacement for the CJ-7, the iconic model in the Jeep lineup. But instead of being a complete redesign, the YJ was in essence just a CJ with a new front clip. There was some nod toward comfort and stability with a wider track, slightly lower ground clearance and better comfort features, but you could literally graft a CJ nose onto a YJ with a minimum of effort.
When the new TJ Jeep Wrangler arrived in 1997 – the first Wrangler completed under Chrysler ownership – it was a radically different vehicle. From the outside, it had round headlights, which made it a lot more appealing to CJ faithful. It also had a soft top that was a lot easier to live with. More importantly, it featured a coil-spring suspension derived from the Grand Cherokee that made the Wrangler much easier to live with day-to-day, while never sacrificing any of its off-road chops. The 4.0-liter inline six just seemed to get better with age, making the TJ one of the rare models that was able to become significantly better in its second generation.