Time to take a look at some cars that, for one reason or another, their manufacturers might prefer to forget. In some cases, they are examples of decent cars that never caught on. Some are examples of poor judgement. Others are automotive deathtraps brought to market by minds that cut costs in pursuit of profits, to the detriment of safety.
- The Ford Edsel is possibly the most famous four-wheeled faux pas of the twentieth century. The car, designed in the late 1950s and sold from 1958-60, was intended to compete with cars from GM and Chrysler, making inroads into their respective market share and closing the gap between Ford and GM in the domestic market. Unfortunately, the model’s price overlapped with the more expensive examples of standard Fords at the lower end, as well as with cheaper versions of the more luxurious Lincoln brand at the upper end. The result was general confusion which ultimately deterred buyers. Added to this were mechanical problems which impacted on reliability, bizarre styling motifs such as the vertical front grille (rudely likened to a vulva in its appearance) which looked out-of-place, and internal company politics which saw much of the power in the hands of conservative John McNamara who focused solely on the Ford brand, to the detriment of Lincoln, Continental, Mercury and Edsel brands. The result was a very shortlived model (1958-60) which never even hit break-even point. The Edsel was killed off without fanfare at a total loss of $350 million - in today’s money that equates to a whopping $2,831,563,927!
- The Chevrolet Corvair was a compact automobile produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 1960–1969 model years. It was the only American designed, mass-produced passenger car to feature a rear-mounted air-cooled engine. The Corvair’s legacy was affected by controversy surrounding its handling, By 1965, GM had over 100 lawsuits pending in connection with crashes involving the Corvair, which subsequently became the initial material for Ralph Nader’s investigations and resulting 1965 book, Unsafe At Any Speed. The book highlighted crashes related to the Corvair’s suspension and identified the Chevrolet suspension engineer who had fought management’s decision to remove—for cost reasons—the front anti-sway bar installed on later models. Nader said during subsequent Congressional hearings, that the Corvair was “the leading candidate for the un-safest-car title”. Subsequently, Corvair sales fell from 220,000 in 1965 to 109,880 in 1966. By 1968 production fell to 14,800. Public response to the book played a role in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966.
- The odd-looking AMC Pacer was intended to herald the dawn of a new era of motoring. Launched in 1975 in the midst of an oil crisis, the intention was that the new car would be powered by a clean and frugal rotary engine. However, in practice that engine was actually dirty and thirsty, so a hasty redesign was required to shoehorn in a convention 3.8 litre 6 cylinder motor. Unfortunately, this engine was not economical, meaning the car averaged just 18mpg. Performance was lackluster, with 0-60mph taking 14 seconds before the car topped out at 105mph and if the car lacked the power-brakes option, a herculean effort was required to stop it. AMC made much of the car’s width, which was the same as a fullsize car. Quirky features included a passenger door that was four inches longer than the driver’s - the idea being convenient egress for passengers, but this did not translate to RHD markets. Customers were put off by the unusual styling (the car was likened to an upturned bathtub). The expansive glass area gave the cabin an airy feel, but created a mobile greenhouse, meaning aircon was a necessity which impacted on economy. Dodgy electrics, seizing steering and general build problems meant that sales started to drop after only 2 years, and falling sales prompted the fitment of even larger-but-thirstier engines. The car was killed by the second oil crisis in 1979 with sales coming to an end in 1980, 5 years after launch.