Badge engineering has been part of the auto industry ever since someone figured out the magical mix of calculus and alchemy that somehow makes money by selling the same car under different names. I've never been entirely sure how this actually works, but it must — because automakers continue to do it.
But which car gets the platform prostitution crown? I think I know the answer.
Badge-engineered cars are also fascinating in the way that studies of twins are fascinating: when you start with two things that are essentially the same, even the most minor of differences take on vast new levels of importance. For example, looking at, say, the Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat can tell you all you need to know about how the two brands see themselves. The Ford is the base model, the Mercury adds fussier, more delicate trim, a more chrome-laden grille, wider taillights– little things, but they all add up to the more upmarket tone the Bobcat aspires to.
Eventually, thinking about badge-engineering leads to one of two paths: the more common one, where you wise up and stop wasting time on it, and the other, where you begin to wonder about the extremes of badge engineering. Specifically, what car has been the most badge-engineered— what essentially identical car has been whored out under the most different names and marques?
I think I know. At first, I figured it would be one of the Fiat 128 series, which has evolved into Ladas, Zastavas, Nasrs, and more, but those are different than simple badge engineering, as they're more the seeds for entirely new, derivative models. I was looking for something that was really the same car, tarted up with different lights, trim, badges to seem different. And I think I found it: the Hillman Avenger.
The Avenger was a fairly conventional little car of the era, with pleasing styling and proportions, and solid if unimaginative mechanicals– an ideal combination for a car to quietly spread all over the world.
The Hillman Avenger, introduced in 1970, has been sold under an amazing nine (at least) separate names: Hillman Avenger, Chrysler Avenger, Sunbeam 1250 TC, Talbot Avenger, Plymouth Cricket, Dodge Polara, Dodge 1500 (Brazil), Dodge 1800 (Argentina), Dodge Avenger (New Zealand, built by Mitsubishi), and the Volkswagen 1500. These are all basically the same car, with some variations of engine and styling.
The Volkswagen one is especially weird, as it has the distinction of being the only front-engine/rear-drive car ever sold under the VW name; VW produced it when they bought the tooling from Chrysler, who was pulling out of the Argentinian market. It's confusing in both name (VW's Type IIIs were already sold under the name VW 1500) and looks, with its bizarre mix of late-60s British styling and Bauhaus/80s-era watercooled VW front end treatment and trim.
I could be wrong, but this Hillman seems to take the crown. Anyone know of any single car with more aliases?