This has to be one of the easiest lists of all time. It practically writes itself with one word: “China.” For sure, China’s proclivities for building shameless knock-offs of Western products are so well-known they’re practically a punchline at this point. But believe it or not, slightly less-than-original concepts have been known to come from other places as well.
A lot of them are from Japan and Korea, whose epic knockoffs could also easily number in the hundreds. But Americans and Europeans have seen their fair share of wannabes, too. Worldwide, some blatant rip-offs like the Acura NSX, Mazda Miata, and Chrysler 300C went on to some degree of fame. And one Toyota of note quickly became a classic in its own time. Others, like the Chery QQ, have become more infamous than famous.
The lesson here: If you’re going to build a blatant rip-off, at least make it better than the design you’re stealing. You never know when a Ranker author is going to come along and compare cars side by side. If these similar cars look familiar, now you know why. For comparison’s sake, check out this list of cars that look like other cars.
Say what you will about Kia, at least they rip off all German manufacturers equally. The Amanti could not be any more Mercedes.
In what must be the most shameless example of brand exploitation in history, GM desperately tried to pass this Suburban in a Halloween costume off as a successor to the military-spec H1. They sold plenty of them, but that doesn’t make this travesty anything more than the total poser it was.
First Generation Toyota Celica
No, that’s not a 1970 Mustang Mach 1 that got shrunk in the drier – it’s the 1977 Toyota Celica. Trying to break into the American market with a sports car of its own, Toyota did the smart thing and ripped the lines off of every Mustang and AMC AMX it could find. Opinions are still mixed, but most would agree the first generation Celica is still the best looking of its line.
In the long a shameful history of Chinese rip-offs, perhaps none has been so infamously shameless as the Chery QQ. It was such a direct copy of the Daewoo Matiz/Chevrolet Spark that many of the body panels and mechanical bits are interchangeable. Also, the Chery name itself is a deliberate perversion of “Chevy,” meant to be audibly indistinguishable in a language that pronounces “v” as “r.”
Before you throw something very heavy at the screen, it’s probably worth mentioning that “NATS” stands for the “Nihon Automotive Technical School.” The GT-K debuted as a student project at the Tokyo Auto Salon, and it’s effectively just a Suzuki Cappucino kei car with a new fiberglass body. All right, it’s an ugly travesty, but still not bad for a student project. And it probably makes complete sense in Japan.
You know that old cliche about the cheerleader who has a fat, ugly, unpopular sister? Yeah, that would be the Chevrolet HHR, a near direct copy of Chrysler’s massively successful PT Cruiser.
Shuanghuan Laibao SRV
Is that a Honda Pilot? Sure it is. And if you’re wondering, yes – Shuanghuan will also sell you a real Roleks watch to go with it.
Ford Taurus SHO
Ostensibly, the new Taurus is supposed to resemble its Mustang stablemate – and it is, in most senses, a four-door Mustang. But Ford’s time heading Aston Martin definitely shows in the Taurus’ lines. It’s not a note-for-note re-play – the new Taurus is a remix of Ford and Aston cues. And a pretty successful one at that.
We’re trying to stay away from deliberate retro cars on this list, but the 300C absolutely needs a mention as one of the most successful retro designs ever. The 300C got its gangster lines from a gangster-era sedan called the Airflow – which is generally credited as the world’s first deliberately streamlined production car.
Honda deliberately targeted Ferrari with the original NSX, and it shows in the finished product. The NSX was shaped to resemble the 1985 to 1989 Ferrari 328, the direct predecessor of today’s 458. Seems Honda knew what they were doing too; the 1999 Ferrari 360 did bear more than a passing resemblance to the NSX.
I’d like to think that when Kia’s American marketing division first saw this blatant BMW 7-Series rip-off, its English-speaking project manager suggested “K9” three hours before quitting.
Well, if you’re going to copy a car, you might as well make it the Mazda Miata. Beside, it’s not like the Mazda didn’t have it coming a little bit.
De Tomaso Vallelunga
Technically, the Vallelunga was the world’s first mid-engine production car, but only because Enzo Ferrari refused to put his 250 P prototype racecar up for sale to the public. De Tomaso beat Ferrari to market with their street-ready knock-off of his racecar by about three months. Ferrari himself only produced the 250 LM street car to spite De Tomaso and Ford, who supplied the Vallelunga’s engine.
Unlike most Far East knockoffs, the fact that Mazda’s Miata was a no-excuses copy of the Lotus Elan was a big part of its charm. This car owes a lot of its existence to Motor Trend Magazine, which petitioned Mazda for a car with Lotus looks and handling, but Japanese reliability.