Dart? Viper? Why do automakers keep bringing back long-forgotten car names?

So what's in a name? A lot, if Dodge is to be believed.

Dodge is dusting off a couple of old car names for 2013 models: Dart and Viper.

It got us wondering why manufacturers resurrect names of discontinued models.

This isn't the first time; various carmakers have reintroduced car names with mixed success.

Malibu seems to have paid off for Chevy, but reviving the GTO nameplate made a resounding thud at Pontiac.

In a real head scratcher, Volkswagen reached back and plucked Rabbit out of its used-nameplate hat and renamed the Golf before returning to the Golf nameplate a couple of years later.

Rabbit, really? I knew a lot of people who owned the original, and it didn't leave one of them with warm fuzzies.


2013 Dodge Dart

Recycling old names isn't new to Dodge, either; it has done quite well with its reincarnated Charger and Challenger.

We think a solid case can be made for reintroducing the name Viper. Although the 2013 version probably won't share much with the original, most of us at least remember the last one.

Dart, though, was a mystery to us. When was the last time you heard someone say, "Boy, I sure wish I had never gotten rid of my '72 Dart?"

Although it sold more than 3.6 million Darts from 1960 to 1976, Dodge ceased production 36 years ago.

In its first run, Dart was Dodge's entry-level car. Although the 2013 Dart SXT with full power accessories and air-conditioning will cost $17,995, Dodge will offer a base model for $15,995, making it the least-expensive model in its stable.

If you are under age 40, the target buyer for an entry-level compact car, you likely have never been inside a Dodge Dart, so the nostalgia effect is lost on you.

Curious about the naming strategy, I went to Richard Cox, director of the Dodge brand, to shed some light on it.

He told me that the Dart nameplate enjoys a positive reputation around Dodge for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that, for several years during its original run, Dart was America's best-selling compact.


2013 Dodge Dart interior

Another big reason the original Dodge Dart was so popular, he told me, is that it was easy to customize.

Developing a car that can be customized easily was a core goal of the 2013 Dart's planners.

In addition to its five trim levels, three available engines, three different transmissions, 12 exterior colors, six unique wheels and 14 interior color combinations, dealers will also offer more than 150 customization options.

Finally, Cox admitted that it's tough to come up with a name that doesn't alienate some group. Think Pinto or Corvair. Here again, Dart filled the bill.

But it wasn't just Dart's lack of detractors that won the day.

Polling consumers of all age groups found that millennials -- 20-somethings -- reacted positively to the aerodynamic images Dart inspires, while baby boomers fondly remember Dart as fun, inexpensive and easy to customize.

Early in the naming process, there were a few skeptics even inside Dodge, who, according to Cox, were lukewarm on the name. But once they saw the Dart badge on the car, they were sold.

Here's the bottom line: Dodge has the opportunity to make Dart believers out of a new generation of buyers.

In the end, that will have much more to do with the quality and reliability of this all-new compact than with its name.

I've been behind the wheel of the 2013 Dart and can confirm its value and fun-to-drive properties; time will determine the rest.