Stayin’ Alive (Part 1)

Automotive exiles. A two-part study. 

Image: Peugeot/

The average shelf life of a newly introduced car before it is withdrawn and replaced by a new model has steadily shrunk over recent decades.[1] Whether this is due to the exponential speed at which technology is now developing or simply marketing-driven is a matter of debate, but in a number of cases the cessation of production in its country of origin does not necessarily mean that the car’s production life is over, many car lines continuing to thrive elsewhere around the globe.

There are several well known cases but equally some that have continued their career in relative obscurity. The ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle will probably jump to mind for many because it was in production for close to 70 years. However, if we analyse and rank vehicles by the number of years of continued production in another country after manufacturing in the home country has ceased, the Beetle doesn’t win in the longevity stakes.

In fact, it fails to even make it into the top three. The reason for this of course is that it kept rolling off the Wolfsburg production lines for so long – the same going for the Citroën 2CV. Utilising this cars in exile yardstick yields some interesting results, and in some cases from unexpected sources. We begin with the VW’s home country.

Ford Taunus TC2. Image:
Otosan Taunus. Image: Allcarindex/Ford

By setting a minimum of ten years produced in exile in order to qualify for inclusion in this analysis, the first candidate to make the cut is the Ford Taunus TC2 / Cortina Mk4 which was produced between 1976 and 1982. The car remained in production in South America for years, but it was in Turkey (as the Otosan Taunus) that it survived the longest: 1994, which amounts to twelve years in exile.

Opel Rekord C. Image:

The Opel Rekord C built between 1966 and 1971 surpasses this by some margin due to its second life in Brazil where it continued to be made as the Chevrolet Opala/ Comodoro/ Diplomata until 1992 for an exile score of twenty-one years. This is matched by the Volkswagen Jetta A2, produced in Germany between 1984 and 1992: FAW-Volkswagen in China continued making it until 2013. SAIC-Volkswagen, also Chinese but a separate company from FAW-Volkswagen, only halted production of the Santana B2 (made in Germany between 1981 and 1988) in 2012 which brings its tally to an impressive 24 years.

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Next in line is that old favourite the VW Beetle- built in its Heimat between 1946 and 1978 – for which in Mexico the end only came by 2003 resulting in 25 years of life in exile; a performance matched by another, much younger, German car: the Opel Kadett E/ Vauxhall Astra MK II. Produced between 1984 and 1991, the car was assembled afterwards in a myriad of guises – its last holdout being Uzbekistan where its final year of manufacture was 2016 under the name Daewoo Nexia II or Chevrolet Nexia II.

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We return to Wolfsburg for our next competitor, the much loved Golf I (1974-1983). The original Golf remained in production in South Africa as the Citi Golf until 2009 which means that it beats its rear-engined ancestor by one year on the exile scale with a tally of twenty-six.

Volkswagen Golf and Kombi. Fabwheelsdigest/ Volkswagen

The Cabriolet version of the first generation Golf was produced until 1994 at Karmann however, so depending on how you view such matters, this could reduce its exile score to fifteen years. The clear winner in any case is another famous VW, the bay window Kombi. Built in Germany from 1967 until 1979 it continued to be produced at several locations worldwide, with Brazil persisting the longest: 2013. That means a mighty 34 years of afterlife.

Willys. Image:

A bit unexpected for a country with such a huge car industry, the USA has just two candidates that make the cut here – the Willys Aero (1952-1955), a compact American perhaps a little too much ahead of its time, resurfaced in Brazil and was built as the Willys (and later Ford) Itamaraty until 1971. An effective facelift by Brooks Stevens hid its dated origins quite well – in all, the Willys registers sixteen years in exile.

Ford Falcon. Image:

The Ford Falcon was built in America in its first-generation guise between 1960 and 1963, then fled south to Argentina where it continued to be produced until September of 1991. This makes its extended life in exile a whopping twenty-eight years. Meanwhile, Studebaker’s 1963 Avanti, although still produced by a succession of enterprises in more or less original guise until as late as 1991, was never produced outside of the USA, and so is inadmissible in this overview.

Citroen ZX. Image: Citroen

Moving on to la douce France: first up is relatively young car, the Citroën ZX (1990-1998): As the Fukang and C-Elysée it kept rolling off the assembly lines in China until 2014, earning it an exile score of sixteen years. Peugeot’s trusty 404 (1960-1975) matches that performance – Kenya was the location where the very last 404 model was assembled in 1991.

Peugeot 404. Peugeot

Its successor, the 504 (1968-1983) rather comfortably beats its older colleague by being built in Nigeria until 2006 as the 504 Bestline, scoring a healthy twenty-three on the exile scale. At the bottom row of the lead photo of this article the tail-lifted Argentinian 504, made there until 1999, is also shown.

Renault 5. Image: Allcarindex/ Renault

The big winner among the French manufacturers however is la Régie Renault. The popular 5 (1972-1985) only met its end -although one could argue if it really still was a Renault with its Mazda 121 sourced underpinnings and engine- in 2008 when the last one (now under the name Pars Khodro PK) was put together in Iran. That amounts to twenty-three years of manufacture in exile.

Renault 12. Image: Renault

The larger Renault 12 (1969-1980) emerges victorious by continuing its life in Romania courtesy of Dacia: the very last 1310 only rolled out of the factory gates in 2004 – beating its smaller stablemate by one year at twenty-four. Pick-up derivatives of the 12 (1304/1307) were built by Dacia until 2006 so its score could even be augmented to twenty-six.

The concluding part follows shortly.

[1] Although the USA afforded many of their creations quite short lifespans until the seventies.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

23 thoughts on “Stayin’ Alive (Part 1)”

  1. The Jeep CJ-3B went out of production in the US in 1968. Its design was licensed to Mahindra in 1948 who continued to develop and produce it under various model names until 2010 (42 years as an exile). Mitsubishi also licensed the design from Willys/Kaiser in 1953 and produced it as the J Series until 1998.

    1. Hello Gooddog,
      Thank you for your comment; you’re right of course but the Jeep is not included as my focus when creating this overview was on passenger vehicles and light commercial vehicle derivatives only. Having said that, it is perfectly possible I have overlooked one or more survivors so if readers have any suggestions for eligible candidates that are not included: please comment!

  2. How about the Fiat 1100 that became the Premier Padmini?
    Or Morris Oxford transmogrified into Hindustan Ambassador?

    Not to mention the Enfield Bullet…

    1. Hello Dave,
      No worries, they will be covered in part two- but not the Enfield as this overview is limited to cars only!

  3. We rented various CitiGolfs in South Africa and Namibia in 1996. Fabulous cars – light, responsive and a joy to drive. Shame legislation probably prevented them ever coming back to Europe.

  4. Good morning Bruno and thanks for this selection of the automotive undead! I love these mutants as it’s quite a demanding job for a designer, trying to modernise an old design at relatively little expense.

    The Chevrolet Comodoro was previously unknown to me. Here’s a larger image:

    It’s not bad, but you can clearly see the ‘join’ between old and new.

    The Pars Khodro PK was an interesting update with bodywork modifications apparently to accommodate wider tracks but the execution was very poor. The wobbly shutlines and panel (mis)alignment in this example appear to be typical:

    1. O Opala coupê diplomata SE 1988 também e muito lindo. Também tem as versões comodoro SL/E e a básica SL. 1988 foi o último ano da versão Coupê.
      *Não consigo colar imagem aqui.

      Google Translate:

      The Opel coupe diplomat SE 1988 is also very beautiful. It also has the Commodore SL/E and the basic SL versions. 1988 was the last year of the Coupe version.
      *Can’t paste image here

  5. The Falcon really is a time warp piece: pure early 1960s design with 1980s front and rear ends, the latter using Cortina ’80 tail lights :

  6. I’ll second that – it’s a fascinating article.

    I think the designers did a good job with both the 504 (a quietly great design from the start) and, in particular, the Willys / Ford Itamaraty.

    I wanted to find a brochure for the Itamaraty, but the closest I could get was the Aero-Willys, which I think it’s related to. It’s got a sort of Farina air about it, especially from the rear. I can also see the Rover P6 and 1960s Mercedes-Benz in the design, while the front has Russian and Japanese elements, although perhaps I have an over-active imagination.

    I wonder which manufacturer has the largest number of models which have ‘gone abroad to retire’. Volkswagen, perhaps? Another question is which car sold the most ‘in exile’ (quite easy, that one, I think), but I’ll leave that to Bruno for next time, perhaps.

  7. Fabulous piece – I knew straight away when I saw the photo that it would be a brrrruno special! Shoot me now if you like, but I rather warm to the rear lamp arrangement on the ‘updated’ 504 in the top picture.

    1. No shots necessary, from this quarter at least, because it’s growing on me! I like the way it allows the bodyside crease to continue across the tail of the car. It’s a slight shame they didn’t also incorporate the reversing lamps into the clusters.

  8. Ah, I’ve mentioned it before, bit I love these cut-and-shut jobs! The A-team get stranded in Iran and needs to hack together a vehicle soon! They lock themselves into a garage, cue the music and… out rolls the Khars Phodro PK! This car (if not this exact scenario) was covered in an earlier DTW article, by the way, but I’ll leave the actual plug to the staff 😁.

    Am I mad or is that Citroën C-Elysée rather well executed? The headlights are a bit off, but the treatment of the bumpers, particularly around the front and rear wheel arches seems very nice. The overall silhouette seems to match the modernised shapes very nicely as well, unlike many of the other examples (although I share S.V. Robinson and Daniel’s appreciation of the 504’s bumlift). The rear is slightly less well resolved, but still passable. From this angle I’m not so sure about the way the side rubbing strip interacts with the rear wheel arch:

    It was probably too expensive to change the sheet metal, but doing so to make the wheel arch meet the rubbing strip looks a bit neater to me:

  9. The exiled versions of the Peugeot 504 and Renault 12 were rather pleasant looking IMHO.

    The later South American and Turkish version of the Ford Cortina mk4 / Ford Taunus TC (rogether with the Hyundai Stellar) does give a vague idea of what a more conservative looking Ford Sierra would have looked like before being replaced by the Mondeo. Would it have sold better compared to the early Sierra? And would a coupe version have been a better basis for Capri replacement compared to both the 3-door liftback and stillborn Capri-replacing coupe bodystyles?

    Particularly like the Volkswagen Citi Golf, would agree it was a shame it did not return to Europe in some form or another let alone managed to be sold beyond South Africa. Though it seems the Citi Golf did not appear to benefit from the improved brakes and other updates from later Golfs (and derivatives). Would have not minded an upgraded Citi Golf with a mk2 Golf 1.6 turbodiesel engine tuned by Oettinger to a mk1/mk2 8v GTI-matching 110 hp.

    1. Hi Bob. Here’s the Argentinian Taunus TC3 Coupé which, with a hatchback and the sloping front end of the Otosan, would have made an interesting Capri replacement:

      Probably too formal to be a direct replacement, but intriguing.

    2. Would agree the Cortina-based Capri replacement idea needs a bit of refining to make it look less formal.

      Do not know how much commonality there was between the existing three generations of Capri (and Corsair/mk2 Cortina) with the mk3-mk5 Cortina, yet a mk3-mk5 Cortina-based Capri replacement would have made sense even if some degree of differentiation would have been needed between the two.

      It does not help the mk2 Capri was rather lackluster looking in comparison to what was actually proposed at Ford.

      Can also envision a Capri-successor derived from an alternate conservatively styled Sierra featuring some internal influences from the likes of the mk3 Ford Mustang, mk2 Ford EXP and Ford Falcon XE/XF/EA with a more European twist. The link between it and what became the Scorpio in this scenario would also have allowed the Capri successor to remain in production a lot longer before being replaced by the (IMHO tepid and overly-Americanized) Cougar.

      In contrast it seems there was virtually no styling direction at Ford when it came to developing the weird looking Sierra-derived Capri prototype, which resembles a half-baked jelly mould influenced composite of a Isuzu Piazza and Opel Manta hatchback.

  10. Bruno – are you sure that two articles are enough? I think that the subject of automotive coelacanths is worthy of several books, possibly broken down by continent, or sub-continent.

    It looked as if the resurrection game was up in the nineties, then this century delivered various dubious Chinese delights. Some of the “exiles” were produced in far greater numbers than their European and US progenitors, but there were also rotund failures: Standard 2000, Premier-Peugeot 309, Mexican Borgward 230.

    I look forward to the next instalment.

  11. There was a smart example of the CitiGolf in my neighbourhood for a while, and I live around 14,000km away from Uitenhage. Still a smart looking car, and the restyling was well-handled. I hope the brakes had also been improved over the woeful 1974 original.

  12. Some time ago, I’d read that the Lancia Dedra’s tooling had also been sold to a Chinese automaker. Does anyone have any information on this?

    1. Hello Konstantinos,
      The only thing I know is that the tooling of the Dedra’s successor, the Lybra, was sold to Chinese carmaker Zotye in 2007 along with the tooling for the Fiat Palio, Siena and Multipla. The three Fiats saw production eventually but the Lybra (to be renamed “Libolang”) did not get past the preproduction phase.

  13. There are a few more to consider:
    Vauxhall Victor FE. Built in India as the Hindustan Contessa
    Rover 3500. Build in India with a 2-litre engine as the Standard 2000
    Peugeot 405 built in Iran
    Hillman Hunter built in Iran as the Peykan
    Austin Maestro built in Bulgaria as the Rodacar Maestro

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