While the Beetle, Ambassador, Mini, and 2CV each enjoyed more than four decades of production in pretty much their original form, we mustn't overlook the other long-term survivors of the automotive world.
Even 20 years is a long, long time in automotive-design years, and so we've established that as the cutoff for this list. We're not talking about model names that have been around forever (e.g., Crown Victoria, Century, Bluebird), but a particular chassis/generation of a car that remained fundamentally unchanged over its lifespan. We're not including light trucks, mostly because it's damn near impossible to sort out Soviet military stuff.
Obviously, a lot of quasi-arbitrary judgment calls had to be made with some of the candidates- does a different engine or totally restyled body make for a distinct vehicle?- and so we're confident that we've provided something to enrage every one of you, be it a car that totally qualified that we blew off or a totally undeserving car that we sneaked into the list.
For example, were there differences between the first few generations of the Ford Fiesta sufficient to make that car ineligible for this list? We said yes, which Fiesta zealots will no doubt consider to be fatwa-grade heresy. In any case, we've probably made some mistakes, and we've definitely missed some cars that belonged on the list. Fire away with the hate mail, by all means!
Things get somewhat sticky when it comes to Fiats built outside of Italy. We think the Polski Fiat 125p shouldn't get lumped in with either the Fiat 125 or the Fiat 1300/1500, it being a cost-cutting mashup of the two, so we're giving this 24-year veteran its own place of honor in the Jalopnik Cars Of Immortality Hall Of Fame.
Likewise, by the time VAZ got around to the VAZ-2107 (aka Lada Riva), its design had diverged sufficiently from its Fiat 124 ancestry that we consider it and the 124 to be separate cars. You 124 fanatics don't need to fret about that outrage, though- thanks to production in India and Egypt, the 124 doesn't need the later Ladas to nail down 31 years.
You may have noted the conspicuous shortage of American machinery in this list; other than the first-gen Ford Falcon (built in Argentina until the 1990s) and the Checker Marathon, there were no easy calls to be made for American manufacturers. We've included the rear-wheel-drive GM T Body, because of the bewildering swarm of Kadetts, Chevettes, I-Marks, and low-production South American clones that flew forth from that design; we're saying 21 years for the T, and you're free to argue your guts out about it. How about the GM B platform, which stayed in service from the '61 Buick Invicta to the '96 Chevy Caprice?
The General performed nearly half a dozen major redesigns of the B platform over the decades, and not enough components interchange between one B generation and the next for it to be considered the same car for 20 solid years. Same goes for the Ford Panther platform (1979-present) and the hordes of Chrysler K derivatives (eternity).
The Model T was only made for 19 years, so it doesn't make the list (unless someone can dig up some proof that it was being bootlegged in the Maldives), nor does the Willys Aero, even with all those years of production in Brazil. What really broke our hearts was the Rambler American/Renault Torino, which almost made the list at 18 years of production in Wisconsin and Argentina (we were looking for loopholes to prove that the '64 Rambler American was actually a cosmetic facelift of an earlier version, but no dice).
This project got really challenging when we got to Chinese-built versions of Japanese and Korean cars. The line between "facelifted license-built copy" and "based on heavily modified chassis design" gets increasingly blurry in China, and most likely we've overlooked a couple of 20+ year Chinese versions of Mazdas or Suzukis. Chinese Volkswagens were a lot easier to figure out, but how about Malaysian Mitsubishi clones- or are they clones?- sold in China? Ai-ya!
Click through the galleries above to see fifty cars that were built for 20 years or longer, as close as we could get to the right order.