10 of the Best Rebadged Cars Ever Produced
Rebadged Cars Aren’t Always A Bad Thing
Updated May 28, 2018
Rebadging, badge engineering, cloning, joint venturing, captive imports, platform sharing… Call it whatever you like, but car manufacturers have been borrowing from each other for quite some time now. Whether it’s just badge swapping or something more substantial, rebadged cars have had a great impact on car markets over the years. Badge engineering likely first appeared in mid twenties when Ajax division of Nash Motors Company was discontinued and their only model Ajax was converted into Nash Light Six. Since then, there has been plethora of reasons for such ventures, and seamlessly countless number of rebadged car models. GM, Volkswagen, and Japanese manufacturers are the current leaders in the trend, but pretty much every manufacturer that comes to mind has had its share in badge engineering at some point. Here are 10 examples of the practice we deemed the best.
It needed some 50 years, but SS finally became a model of its own when GM decided to rebadge the Australian VF Holden Commodore in 2013. This continues the practice from 2008 and 2009 when previous generation Commodore VE was also offered in the US, but under the Pontiac badge as G8. Sports sedan was undoubtedly the right move for GM as the gap left by phasing of Pontiac brand was simply too great.
6.2L LS3 V8 under its hood allows Chevy SS to generate up to 415 horsepower and corresponding amount of torque, and accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds thanks to the optional 6-speed manual trans. For north of $45,000 you can basically get yourself a 4-door Camaro since SS certainly delivers in terms of performance. However, Chevy SS is not bound for this world for long. VF Commodore is nearing its end, and so does the SS. Will it remain one of GM’s rebadged cars in the future – remains to be seen.
Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
Toyota 86, GT86 or FT86, Subaru BRZ or (now late) Scion FR-S – it’s basically the same car. 86 or BRZ if you will, was jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru, and while Subaru markets the sports car globally, Toyota’s iteration is only available in Asia, Australia, South America and South Africa. US and Canada initially had it with Scion badging, but Toyota has taken over for 2017 model year. Sports car for the masses (as most Japanese cars are) is motivated by Toyota or Subaru 2.0L 4-cylinder engines combining Subaru’s horizontally opposed boxer design and Toyota’s D-4S injection system. Rear-wheel drive fun 2-door coupe keeps the torch of its Japanese affordable performance predecessors alive and well in this day and age when there’s fewer and fewer of such cars available.
Better known as Shelby Cobra under which name it was offered in the US, AC Cobra remains one of the best known and most successfully rebadged cars in automotive history. British built it as AC Ace with a host of engines during the fifties, including the BMW-derived Bristol straight-six and 2.6L Ford Zephyr in-line six. Then Carroll Shelby figured out it would easily be able to accommodate a V8 with slight alterations. AC agreed to this proposal and the rest is, as they say, history.
GM didn’t want competition for Corvette so they turned Shelby down. However, Ford wanted exactly that, and they’ve just created the engines for the job – 260ci and 289ci Windsor V8’s. Larger of the two carried over until the end of production and performed extremely well while petite Cobra was on track. Cobra wasn’t all that great on the roads but then again, it wasn’t meant for them in the first place.
First devised by AMC and their French partners Renault, Premier was supposed to save the AMC from imminent downfall. Sadly, it arrived too late for AMC, but Chrysler acquired most of their shares when the French withdrew from the US market in 1987. They recognized Premier’s qualities and marketed the car under the new Eagle badge between ’88 and ’92. They also offered Premier as rebadged version of the fifth gen Dodge Monaco. Sadly, Chrysler already had plans for their own LH platform of cars like Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid, and Premier and Monaco quickly became redundant. Eagle Premier was one reliable mildly upscale car with lots of interior room and a few technological innovations for its time. It was everything a car needed to be, and for that alone it was one of the best rebadged cars ever made.
Mitsubishi 3000GT was already in-house rebadge of the GTO offered only in Japan. Although its production ran until 2001, another rebadged version of the car, Dodge Stealth, ran from ’91 until ’96. Stealth was never as good as the original, but it commanded a lot of respect in its top twin-turbo R/T form which put up 320 horsepower and was equivalent to 3000GT VR-4. Stealth had solid driving dynamics but suffered slightly from uneven weight distribution which promoted frontal bias. Its steering and transmission were also somewhat vague compared to the original Mitsu, but overall Dodge Stealth was one respectable sports car offering either only good looks or both the looks and the performance.
Saabaru – sorry, Subaru Impreza has always been one capable all-wheel drive performer, and as such practically begged for a rebadge. That finally happened for ’05 and ’06 when GM – then a full owner of Saab and 20% owner of Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru’s parent company) – decided to plaster some Saab badges on a second gen Impreza. Saab 9-2X never garnered much attention as original Saab buyers considered it below par in terms of refinement. After all, it was just an affordable Impreza with Saab badges and fascias.
Around 10,000 total were sold during couple of years, with only 1,800 or so being 2006 models. Furthermore, only around 20% of those 1,800 (around 350 units) were the Aero trim cars fitted with 2.0L turbo four making 227 hp. Rest of them were the Linear trim models with naturally aspirated 2.5L four pushing 165 hp. Around 40% of 2005 models were offered with Aero trim and turbo engine. You might want to pay attention to the 2006 Saab 9-2X Aero as a future collectible, though.
When a van is one of the best things to come out of almost decade-long relationship, then you know how ill-fated that relationship had been. Dodge Sprinter was a rebadged Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van born out of Deimler Chysler merger. Offered between 2003 and 2010 (after Deimler Chrysler relationship had been dissolved), Sprinter featured Dodge’s crosshair grille upon frontal fascia and that was about it. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same as its German role model, and much better option than gracelessly aged Dodge Ram Van. Dodge Sprinters were available with manual and automatic transmissions, standard and high roofs, 144 and 170-inch wheelbases, 233 and 273-inch body lengths, and diesel or petrol V6’s. They’d still be the freshest vans around hadn’t they been discontinued prematurely due to Deimler Chrysler’s divorce.
Every manufacturer should be able to make a sports car, but unfortunately, some of them aren’t able to. Opel was one of them in the late sixties. That’s why they resorted to rebadging. Opel GT used most of mechanical components of the in-house Opel Kadett B. That included the engines too, which were either 1.1L or 1.9L in-line fours that produced 67 or 102 horses respectively. On the other hand, bodywork came from the French contractor Brissonneau & Lotz. Opel GT was sold through Buick dealerships in the US – a cooperation which has stood the test of time. They even resembled the first gen Chevy Corvette which gave Buick an affordable copycat of sorts. And those pop-up headlights were simply majestic. Opel even produced the 2007-2009 second gen GT roadster which too was a rebadged version of the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky this time around.
No, it’s not a typo. Although Korean sports cars are as rare as rocking horse poo, Kia actually managed to market around 1,000 Elans. Only domestically, though. That happened after they bought the rights from Lotus which had finalized the Elan M100’s production back in 1995. Korean version of Lotus Elan was basically the same as the original. It only featured new tail-lights designed by Kia. 2-seat drop-top also sported new engine. In place of Isuzu-sourced 1.6L in-line four, Kia put 149-horsepower normally aspirated 1.8L in-line four. Even with combined Lotus and Kia effort (total of around 5,000 units), M100 Elan fell short of its goal. Pity, for it was quite an interesting little sports car.
Chrysler has always been known as one reckless and strange customer when it came to its own divisions. So much in fact that it marketed the Conquest under Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge badges. Conquest, of course, was originally a Mitsubishi Starion. Offered in narrowbody style between ’83 and ’86, and both narrow and widebody between ’86 and ’89, Conquest was motivated by either 2.0L in-line four or 2.6L in-line four respectively. Conquest had everything an eighties car needed to have, and that’s what’s made it so great. Sharp angles, flared fenders, pop-up headlights and turbo badges. Everything was there. A feat most modern cars are lacking.