Zombie Cars: 10 Vehicles Automakers Brought Back From the Dead

It’s a strange thing: We can’t go back in time, yet it seems like we’re always trying to repeat the past. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the automotive industry. Seemingly every year, automakers try to erase the sins of the past. Discontinue a fan favorite decades ago? Just bring it back. A healthy dose of nostalgia will almost always send people to showrooms in droves.

And this isn’t limited to any one type of automaker. From sporty coupes to trucks, SUVs, and even supercars, the urge to bring icons back from the dead is often too irresistible to pass up. Here’s a look at 10 of the most of these famous zombie cars of all time. 

1. Volkswagen Beetle

1951 and 2015 Volkswagen Beetles

1951 and 2015 Volkswagen Beetle | Volkswagen

When it comes to zombie cars, the Volkswagen Beetle is the king of them all. In 1994, at a time when American sales were so bad that Volkswagen was considering leaving the market, the company unveiled the Concept One at the Detroit Auto Show. Public response for the car was incredible. By late 1997, the New Beetle was flying out of VW showrooms and is still for sale today.

Interestingly, the “New” in New Beetle was necessary. While the classic Bug left the U.S. and Europe in 1980, it continued to be built (and was incredibly popular) in Mexico. The final Type I Volkswagen rolled off the assembly line in 2003, 75 years after production began.

2. Chevrolet Camaro

2016 Chevrolet Camaro RS

2016 Chevrolet Camaro RS | Chevrolet

The beloved Chevy Camaro has had its share of ups and downs. After surviving the death of the muscle car era in the 1970s and cars of middling quality in the ’80s and ’90s, the performance car was as formidable as ever in 2002, when the range-topping SS cranked out 325 horsepower. But GM believed there was no business case to stay in the muscle car segment, and it discontinued the car at the end of the year. Of course, it was sadly mistaken. In 2009, after much fanfare, a new Camaro made its debut. In the years since, Chevy has found itself in the middle of a new golden era of American performance.

3. Willys Jeepster

1948 Willys Jeepster

1948 Willys Jeepster | Jeep

The story of the Jeepster is a strange one. Eager to capitalize on its success building the MB military Jeep during World War II, Willys sought to expand its lineup and include a Jeep-based sports car. Launched in 1948, the Jeepster was a rear-wheel drive windowless roadster that had limited appeal to most postwar buyers. Interesting as it was, Jeep discontinued the model after 1950. In 1966, Jeep (now owned by Kaiser) revived the Jeepster, updating its design and renaming it the Jeepster Commando. In 1970, AMC bought Jeep and gave the Jeepster a facelift. The aging design was sold as the C104 Commando until 1972.

4. Ford Crown Victoria

1983 Ford Crown Victoria

1983 Ford Crown Victoria | Ford

Ford had been using the name Victoria on cars since 1932. But the Crown Victoria nameplate first appeared in 1955 on a loaded, plexiglass roof-paneled luxury Ford. The nameplate only survived two years. But in 1980, Ford revived it for its boxy, range-topping LTD sedans. By 1983, Ford spun off the LTD name for a midsize sedan, renaming its entire full-size line Crown Victoria after 1991. It would stay at the top of Ford’s sedan lineup for the next 20 years.

5. Ford Bronco

2020 Ford Bronco teaser image

2020 Ford Bronco teaser image | Ford

In the ’60s and ’70s, the Ford Bronco was a popular go-anywhere compact 4×4. By the ’80s it was an F-150-based bruiser, and in the ’90s it was discontinued without much fanfare. But in the 21 years since the last Bronco rolled off the line, its legend has only grown. After years of teasing a comeback model, Ford is bringing the 4×4 back for 2020. There’s still a lot we don’t know about it, but it’s already one of the most anticipated model launches in decades.

6. Dodge Challenger

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon | Dodge

The classic E-Body Dodge Challenger arrived for 1970 and was gone after 1974. Some 34 years later, Dodge revived the nameplate with a too-cool retro looking modern muscle car. Nine years later, the new Challenger is still going strong, spawning the 707 horsepower Hellcat, the 840 horse Demon, and the all-wheel drive Challenger GT. Dodge has more than made up for lost time. The current car is more popular than the original ever was. What’s more, it’s been in production more than twice as long as the original.

7. Renault Alpine

2018 Renault Alpine A110

2018 Renault Alpine A110 | Renault

You might not know the name, but the A110 Alpine was a beautiful, pint-sized sports car that became one of the most successful rally racers of the 1960s and ’70s. The little French car has been a cult favorite for years, and for 2018 Renault is reviving the car (and the Alpine name after a 23-year hiatus) to take on the Alfa Romeo 4C, Porsche Cayman, and Audi TT RS. We probably won’t get it in the U.S., but we’re hoping Renault is willing to take a risk, maybe through its partner Nissan’s dealership networks.

8. Ferrari Testarossa

Ferrari Testarossa

Ferrari Testarossa | Ferrari

To even casual car fans the name “Testarossa” conjures up memories of Miami Vice and hours spent at the arcade playing Cruisin’ U.S.A. But while the wedge-shaped TR is synonymous with the ’80s, it was actually a name that Ferrari revived for the car. The original was the 1957 Testa Rossa, or “Red Head,” a competition roadster named after its red-painted engine headers. As impressive as the ’50s model was, it looks like the ’80s wedge has eclipsed its namesake in a pretty big way.

9. Jeep Scrambler

1982 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler

1982 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler | Jeep

The Jeep CJ-8 was a rare flop when it came to the original CJ-Series Jeeps. Offered from just 1981 to 1986, the CJ-8 was known as the Scrambler and offered with an extended wheelbase and fiberglass half-cab, creating a rugged, go-anywhere pickup truck. While buyers didn’t go for it then, the Jeep truck has become a cult favorite among fans of the brand. In 2017, after it announced that it was building a new Wrangler-based pickup (and spiritual successor to the CJ-8), Jeep confirmed it would be resurrecting the Scrambler name for the new model.

10. Ford Thunderbird

2002 Ford Thunderbird

2002 Ford Thunderbird | Ford

The Thunderbird started out as a dream car and quickly evolved into a personal luxury coupe, where it served admirably in the Ford lineup for 42 years. But in 2002, Ford brought the Thunderbird back in an attempt to restore it to dream car status. Like the original two-seaters, the modern T-Bird was a leisurely, V8-powered cruiser. But its over-the-top retro styling, cramped interior, and uninspiring ride failed to win over many fans. Ford discontinued the coupe in 2005. It doesn’t look likely that the Thunderbird name is going to come back anytime soon.

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