Home » Remember When Automakers Offered Many Different Body Styles Of The Same Car? COTD

Remember When Automakers Offered Many Different Body Styles Of The Same Car? COTD

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There was once a time–and it wasn’t even that long ago–when you could buy more than a few variations of the same car. Maybe you didn’t need a sedan, so you ordered your chosen car as a two-door. Or, maybe you have a whole family plus a dog, you bought the wagon version of the car that you wanted. And if you were a speed demon, you plunked down for the fast version of that car. Today, it seems that individual car models have less variation. Maybe it’s time to bring that back.

Welcome back to Comment Of The Day! Every day, we read every single comment posted on our site and pick the one that made us laugh, get informed, or feel warm inside. You don’t have to go into our comments sections and write thousand-word stories about why you love a car so much, but a lot of you do, and that means a lot to us. So we’re highlighting some of the most excellent bits of thought that you’ve formed into words and digitized onto our website.

In today’s open thread, we asked you “what car deserves to be its own brand?” Throughout history, automakers have spun models off into their own brands with varying success. The Dodge Ram is now just Ram, and it does pretty well for itself. In the pickup truck arms race, Ram routinely takes third place in sales, sometimes swapping places with Chevrolet for second. The Toyota Crown is also its own sub-brand, offering an entire line of cars from an executive sedan to that funky crossover that we do get on this side of the Pacific.

Toyota Crown Lineup
Toyota

A less-successful example would be Edsel, which fizzled out in relatively short order for an automaker. Smart was also sort of solo here in North America. At first, Smart was distributed by Penske Automotive Group, which set up a standalone dealership network outside of the Mercedes-Benz ecosystem. You could buy your Smart and get it serviced without ever seeing a three-pointed star. However, Mercedes-Benz took over distribution starting in 2010 and finishing in 2011. Part of the takeover involved closing down the standalone dealers and finally integrating Smart with Mercedes-Benz dealerships, just like how it is in much of the rest of the world.

As Car and Driver reports, General Motors apparently plans on splintering off the Cadillac Escalade and the Chevrolet Camaro as sub-brands alongside the Corvette. That got us thinking, what other cars could be made into their own brands?

We got a lot of good answers, here. But Halftrack El Camino pushed back, arguing that making beloved models into their own brands (and ultimately, crossovers) is nothing to get excited about. But what really wins COTD today is Halftrack‘s comment toward the end:

Halftrack

Wait, yeah, what happened to all of those cars?! When I do research for my Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness pieces, I often find that a single model of decades past had tons of body variations.

The Golf example is a good one with the many body styles falling under the same nameplate. My favorite example is the Chevrolet Corvair. In its first-generation, the Corvair was available as a two-door coupe, a convertible, a four-door sedan, four-door station wagon, a passenger van, a commercial van, and two pickup trucks.

Screenshot (105)
Chevrolet

Just to throw another out there, but the Chevy Vega was available as a sedan, a hatchback, a wagon, and a panel delivery. The Ford Focus is another. In its first-generation, you could get one as a three-door hatch, a four-door hatch, a sedan, or as a wagon. I’m sure you can think of more!

[Editor’s Note: The two-door/four-door Wrangler and Bronco are cool, but that’s hardly inspired. There is a Wrangler pickup, too, so I guess that’s cool. -DT]

This is perhaps worth looking into at a later date, but it really does seem that body variations have pulled back in the modern day. You might see a sedan version and a wagon version or the standard version and the performance model, and that’s it. I’m with Halftrack El Camino here, variations are cool!

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62 Responses

  1. I’m going to do you one better, the first gen neon, whether 4 door or 2 door, was the exact same silhouette. The side sheet metal that contained the B pillar and the doors was the only difference. So much so that Chrysler made quite a few of them with one side of the car being 2 door and the other 4 door, both to prove to people that theyre the exact same car/shape and also to give to automotive repair schools to train on. Thats the kind of forward thinking we need!

  2. The Volvo 240/260 series had the usual 2-door, 4-door, and wagon, but also the (ugly) chop-top 262C Bertone two door.

    I grew up in Volvo wagons (145S and 265GL). I haven’t tried to keep up with their models since then, but it’d be easier if they had the 140/240/260 nameplate/naming scheme (middle digit=number of cylinders, last digit=number of doors).

      1. 140/240 were just shorthand for the series. The actual cars were named 142, 144, 145, etc. (Our 145S wagon actually had a fold up seat in the trunk, so the hatch was an actual door for kids to enter too.)

      1. Me too. They always made me do a double-take when I’d see one on the road way back in the ’80s.

        And one of them plays second car in the car-adjacent recent indie flick Bellflower (the main car being a Buick Skylark that’s converted into a Mad Max style vehicle).

  3. I think the multiple body style for the same car trend is much more established in Europe than in the US. Most models from all the brands there have always had this option, on top of which is the plethora of engine options for them (5-6 gas & 3-4 diesel engine options for a car is pretty much the norm – the diesel variety is on a bit of a decline since DieselGate and the diesel phase-out in the last decade).

    America’s cheap gas (relative to Europe), slush-box requirement (put one in a 2-ton car with 100HP and you’ll wish you took the bus instead) and our dealer model (buy stuff off the lot today instead of speccing & ordering your own and wait a month), disdain for hatchbacks & wagons (and even sedans & coupes lately) with crossover/SUV soon being the ONLY body style, all probably contribute to our lack of body styles & engines options.

  4. The most recent example I can think of is the Mk6/7 Fiesta. We could buy a 5 door hatch or a sedan as recent as 2019. Europe had a 3 door hatch, 5 door hatch, sedan, or a 3 door van (hatch without rear side windows)

    1. Europe did indeed get a Golf R station wagon. I don’t believe it was lifted like the Alltrack, but it did have AWD. It would’ve been sweet to get that over here, but at least with the MQB platform there’s a big world of OEM+ modifications out there should one want to make a hot Sportwagen or Alltrack.

      I’m in the early stages of building out my Alltrack as more of a performance wagon, but I intend to keep the ride height pretty much stock as I find that little bit of extra ride height rather useful.

      1. I liked that Alltrack Country concept that had a few years back. 2″ lift. I’m wondering what mods they used to get that, maybe Atlas struts with subframe spacers? Looking to do something like that with mine in the future.

        1. I can’t decide whether to lift my Alltrack or keep it factory. I like the lifted look, especially with some more aggressive tires, but at the end of the day I think the factory ride height and touring tires (snows in the winter) makes a better car for how I actually use it.

          Spacers and Atlas shocks seem to be the most common way to give your Alltrack a lift. You can get spacers that will maintain the correct front camber while lifting the car, and you can get strut extenders to maintain the correct damper travel.

  5. Nice job Halftrack!

    The Chevy Cavalier also comes to my mind – hatchback (in the early days), coupe, convertible, sedan, and wagon…GM’s ultimate cockroach car had you covered for pretty much everything short of professional work.

  6. The Chevrolet Chevelle had a 2 door coupe, a 2 door hardtop, a 4 door sedan, a convertible, a 4 door wagon, and even a truck (El Camino). I’m sure I’m missing a few other body styles, too.

    1. The ’60-’66 C10 had 8ft fleetside, 6.5ft fleetside, 9ft stepside, 8ft stepside, 6.5ft stepside, Suburban Carryall, Suburban, Panel, and a LWB Panel. If you want to include the heavy duty versions, the list gets even longer.

  7. the good old Ford Escort also had wagon, 3 and 5 door hatches, 4 door sedan, cabrio, and performance options.
    I had a manual 82 Escort wagon with faux wood panels down the side. It was the perfect small brown wagon. It was also the first car I’d ever owned with A/C so it felt like luxury to me..

  8. Mmmm, Saturn S-series. Sedan and wagon were exactly the same for the front 80% of the car. Couple had different panels but was still mechanically the same car, too.

  9. I mean, to me, they still do this, they just don’t call the car the same thing.

    Mazda:
    CX-30 – SUV
    Mazda3 – Sedan
    Mazda3 – Hatchback

    Toyota:
    Corolla – Sedan
    Corolla – Hatchback
    Corolla – Wagon
    Corolla Cross – SUV
    Prius (Prime) – Hybrid

    VW:
    Golf – Hatchback
    Jetta – Sedan
    Audi A3 Cabriolet – Convertible
    Golf Alltrack/Jetta Sportwagen – Station Wagon
    TT – Sports car
    VW Atlas/Audi Q3 – SUV
    Caddy/Transporter – Vans

    They’re all using the same platforms for multiple different cars that are essentially all the same, just not calling them the same name.

    1. The Touareg is also a prime example: Touareg, Audi Q7 and Q8, Porsche Cayenne/Macan, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus.

      VAG seems to be very good at doing this.

  10. My early ‘80s Subarus came as wagon, 2-door hatch, sedan, 2-door hardtop (a true pillarless hardtop with roll down rear windows), and pickup (BRAT) in FWD or 4WD, manual or auto, and turbo (auto only).

  11. “Maybe you didn’t need a sedan, so you ordered your chosen car as a two-door.”

    I’m being nitpicky here, but in the chrome-bumper era of cars (especially in the US) many were available as a 4-door sedan or a 2-door sedan, both sharing a practical, squared-off roofline, as well as a 2-door coupe with a more sporty, tapered roofline.

  12. Yes a very astute observation. Of course we need to remember station wagons are no longer made, very few companies do sports cars, heck even 2 and 3 door vehicles are rare. Heck except for the Mustang does Ford even make a car? The big deal is everyone wants to make 1 car for everyone and forget about niche demand.

  13. My first car was a 1977 Pontiac Grand LeMans coupe. My sister’s boyfriend had a 76 LeMans 4-door. And my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw a LeMans wagon at 31 Flavors.

  14. It’s kind of an off-topic rant, but sort of of related to the lack of choice of body styles.
    I wish you could still mix and match options on the order sheet, rather than buy a whole upgrade trim package with stuff you don’t want. There was a time that you could order stuff you wanted, say a base car, with the big engine and sure it would force a package on you, but that was a production order consisting of drivetrain, brakes, suspension and such stuff that was needed. Not special paint, plush interior finishes, premium sound, and such.
    Another case of choices lost and the herding of consumers towards PROFIT for the manufacturer.
    Loss of this ability also spelled the death of the “factory sleeper” except for some European manufacturers who now charge significantly more for the special version with stuff missing.

  15. Please quote the text, rather than pasting a screenshot for two reasons:
    1. It makes text to speech easier for the visually impaired.
    2. It simply makes it easier to read.

  16. It was pretty much standard for American cars of the 60s to offer four body styles. 4 door sedan, 2 door coupe, convertible and station wagon. From a practical standpoint the big old full sized cars with tons of room for four doors and big back seats were kind of goofy, but they sold the in high numbers as the two doors were considered more stylish and upscale than the sedans and wagons.

  17. One of my favourite examples of bodystyle variations is the VZ Holden Commodore.
    from 2003 to 2006, you could stroll into your holden dealer and buy:
    a sedan,
    a wagon,
    a long wheelbase “statesman” sedan,
    a “monaro” coupe,
    a regular ute,
    a bare-chassis “one-tonner” ute,
    a dual-cab “crewman” ute,
    a lifted AWD “adventra” wagon,
    or a lifted AWD “Cross 6/Cross 8” ute, crewman, or one tonner.
    Totaling to 11 different variants.
    All they were missing was a convertible and a panel van.

  18. I remember when it was standard practice. You’d think today’s manufacturers would want to maximize their platforms, but I guess they ran into a cost/benefit problem and dropped the less popular variations. If not enough people want wagons or two-doors to cover the manufacturing costs, then chop chop chop.

    1. I’m biased (and also new to VWs, so open to corrections) but I gotta go with the Alltrack. The Mk7 MQB is just such a well-supported platform, and I think the little bits of extra brightwork on the Alltrack look really nice without cluttering up the exterior. You also get the multi-link rear suspension, AWD, better headlights (on the SEL trim anyway), nicer interior materials, and a slight lift if that’s your jam.

      The JSW is still nice, but it’s fundamentally riding on a modified Mk5 platform, with a lot of cost cutting to achieve a lower price point. In my opinion Mk7 is peak Golf, with the right amount of tech (but not too much, like the Mk8), great looks, a good platform, and a huge world of mix-and-match parts from VW, Audi, and Porsche. I think the Mk7 Alltrack is a nice upgrade over the JSW, and even over the Mk7 Sportwagen.

      I’d be super interested to hear some opposing viewpoints, though!

      1. I think the Mk7s are peak Golf also. I’ll take a look at the 8.5s when they come out, and maybe I’ll have to get the very last ICE before they go EV (I don’t hate, just won’t work where I live), but I don’t expect to like it more than what I’ve got.

        1. They’d have to lose all that capacitative touch bullshit and bring back physical controls for the stereo and HVAC in order to get me interested.

      2. I have a mk7 Spotwagen and, having been in a friend’s Alltrack, I like my SW’s handling and lack of cladding. Heck, I bought my car with a free Alltrack suspension (springs & struts) in the trunk and never for a second was tempted to swap it on.

        The fact my SW is a diesel/manual (options not available on Alltrack) is an extra point in its favor..
        Perhaps if I was regularly going off-road the AT’s AWD would be something to consider, but for on-road I was never tempted.

        1. Yeah, it’s probably more accurate to say that they’re slightly-but-meaningfully different cars than to say that the Alltrack is a straight upgrade. You could option a Sportwagen to have almost everything the Alltrack gets, except for the ride height and the cosmetic bits—and some people would rather not have those anyway.

          I am obligated to point out though that while the Alltrack never had a diesel option, it did get offered with a manual transmission. I just installed a short shift kit on mine yesterday! They’re both great machines, it just depends what you intend to do with them. My life does involve a certain amount of mild off-roading on construction sites and forest roads, so the extra clearance and standard skid plate matter to me. I don’t like the cladding, but I do like the silver bits. I could go on, but basically yeah I think your point was well made.

          1. Both JSW and Alltrack could be had with AWD and manual trans in MK7 generation in USA. Maybe not for the whole MK7 run, but definitely could at some point during that generation. Both were on MY list, but the boss demanded two pedals and we ended up with a MK7 GTI with DSG.

            1. Dieselgeeks Sigma 6. After a bit of forum trawling, it seemed to be the one that people were landing on after trying other, less expensive options. (It’s still not that expensive in my opinion.)

              Installation was just OK. There were no instructions in the box, and the ones I found online were both incomplete (didn’t tell you how to assemble the side-to-side bracket) and written for an older version of the product that had somewhat different parts. I was unable to find a really good YouTube video that covered the whole procedure start-to-finish. I figured it out, but it could have been better—quality instructions would take this from unnecessarily-frustrating to piece-of-cake. I also tore the inner rubber shift boot despite being super careful not to. If I did it again I’d just order a new boot and plan to destroy the old one.

              Construction on the unit seemed good, the materials are quality, but I don’t get a chubby just because someone used a CNC machine to mill their parts (show me your drop forge and I’ll get excited, but as far as I’m concerned billet is just the most practical way to make small-run steel parts, nothing more or less) so I don’t see anything super special about it. Plastic bits appeared to be mostly delrin, although I could be mistaken.

              The results are good, but not quite as good as I was hoping. My goal was to improve shift feel more than to shorten the shift action, and I found that the shift throws are actually shorter than I would prefer. There is still some slop in the system (don’t believe the forum people who will tell you that it makes the shifter feel “like a bolt-action rifle,” it’s still a cable-actuated system so it’s always going to be sloppy if you’re coming from a longitudinal-engined, RWD car with rod linkages) so with the gear locations so close together, I at first sometimes had to hunt around a little before finding the right slot. I got used to it though, and overall the shifts are still much crisper and notchier than the cream-of-wheat garbage that the stock setup offered. Not as crisp as my Miata, but very much improved from stock.

              Second gear takes more effort to get into than I’d like, but that may improve as the various moving parts get to know each other, or else possibly I need to adjust it a little. I plan to give it a week to break in before I fiddle with that. I already have a weighted shift knob helping me out (a Raceseng Slammer, which weighs well over a pound) so no chance of fixing the shift effort that way.

              Overall, I’d say it’s good but could be better. I was expecting better, frankly, based on reviews. Would another brand’s model be better still? Possibly, but I’m not really sure how. It’s really a pretty simple mechanism, I don’t see anything obvious to improve. If someone made a shift kit that preserved the stock shift throws but replaced all the polypropylene-and-rubber bullshit with steel and delrin, that would be my preference. They don’t, though.

              1. I have the DG Sigma6 on my mk7 GTI (I had it on my mk6, then I transferred it over when I got the mk7), and if you have any notchiness or issue with the shifts you have to re-align it. My GTI sees lots of track duty and if there was anything wrong with the shifting accuracy/consistency I coudn’t really use it. I helped install another Sigma6 on a friend’s mk7 and it took us an afternoon to get his dialled in perfectly.

                On the diesel SW I just installed the Euro shifter (shortens a bit the front-back movement) and replaced the crappy plastic endlinks with aluminum.

                1. Good to know. I think I know what I have to do to make the shift into 2nd easier. I’m still going to give it a week to break in, but if it’s still annoying by next Friday I’ll dive back in there.

                  By the way, the kit I received only replaced the front-to-back endlink. The stock side-to-side gets reused, albeit with a delrin bushing in place of the rubber. It looks like earlier versions replaced both endlinks, so it’s a little annoying that they no longer give you that piece.

                  1. According to the DG website they did that to make the side to side easier to adjust. The aluminum cable clamp would collapse the first time you tighten it and then adjustments after that would be difficult.

                  2. I just checked DG and was very surprised to see they got rid of the side-to-side endlink. This dumb move just took it from my recommendation list, to be replaced with the DAP one, which looks like a copy of DG’s original design.

              2. If you still feel any slop in the shifter, you should install the DieselGeek delrin shaft bushings (it’s a very easy 10mins install and will remove 90% of any remaining slop), or you could add the DG SuperPin (that’s a much harder install w/ removing the center console tunnel) for the last 10%.

                1. Interesting. I may just do that. Gonna give it a few weeks for me to really get the existing hardware dialed in before I make further changes, but that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

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