carnutter

carnutter:

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.
carnutter

carnutter:

More motoring misses!

  • The Ford Pinto was introduced in 1971 and sold until 1980, powered by proven European Ford engines of 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder layouts. The car outsold its rivals, clocking up well over 3 million sales during its manufacturing run. Therefore, at first glance, the Pinto doesn’t appear to be a bad car. However, similar to the Corvair, cost cutting at Ford compromised the car’s safety. Critics alleged that the vehicle’s lack of reinforcement between the rear panel and the petrol tank meant the tank could be pushed forward in a rear-end collision and punctured by the protruding bolts of the differential making the car less safe than its contemporaries. Essentially, the fuel tank could explode, turning the car into a fireball. According to a 1977 Mother Jones article by Mark Dowie, Ford was allegedly aware of the design flaw but refused to pay for a redesign, deciding it would be cheaper to pay off possible lawsuits. The magazine obtained a cost-benefit analysis that Ford had used to compare the cost of repairs (Ford estimated the cost to be $11 per car per year) against the cost of settlements for deaths, injuries, and vehicle burnouts . The document became known as the Ford Pinto Memo. An example of a Pinto rear-end accident that led to a lawsuit was the 1972 accident resulted in the court case Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co., in which the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District upheld compensatory damages of $2.5 million and punitive damages of $3.5 million against Ford, partially because Ford had been aware of the design defects before production but had decided against changing the design.
  • The NSU Ro 80 was a technologically advanced, large sedan-type automobile produced by the West German firm of NSU from 1967 until 1977. Most notable was the powertrain; a 113 bhp, 995 cc twin-rotor Wankel engine driving the front wheels through a semi-automatic transmission employing an innovative vacuum system. It was voted Car of the Year for 1968 by European motoring writers. The car’s styling was very modern and endowed the car with a slippery shape, but sadly it was damned to fail by its very clever but oh-so-problematic engine, which wore out very prematurely, often requiring a full rebuild after only 30K miles. Problems resulting from the design of the tip seals for the rotor blades had essentially been engineered out by 1970, but the damage had been done with confidence in the brand destroyed. the company was bought out by Volkswagen in 1969 and merged with Auto Union to create the modern day Audi company. The car that should have carried NSU into the 1970s actually lead to its premature death.
  • The DeLorean DMC-12 is a prime example of a good idea gone bad, tainted by politics, chicanery and scandal. Ex-GM VP John Z DeLorean founded his own car company in the mid 1970s and oversaw the creation of the DMC-12. His renegade management style enabled him to secure financial support from numerous sources, including the UK Labour government, who backed the building of a new plant in Northern Ireland. However, the project was plagued by delays, setbacks and specification changes that necessitated the engineering involvement of Lotus (according to urban legend, the DMC-12 project may have been responsible for Colin Chapman’s early death). Although the car’s appearance remained true to the concept, as did the stainless steel finish, the mechanics of the car were much compromised - meaning it was neither quick, fast nor particularly rewarding to drive. Overblown sales forecasts allied to the hardest winter in decades lead to manufactured cars failing to find homes. 3 day weeks ensued to clear the stock, money was sought from the Conservative government, but ultimately the receivers were called in. John Z was arrested for possession of drug in LA in October 1982 - the dream was over thanks to a briefcase of cocaine. Only 9000 examples were sold in total, although the car secured the role of time machine in the Back To The Future trilogy, ensuring its place in the hearts of a generation. The DMC-12 was also subject to a rebirth at the hands of British entrepreneur, Stephen Wynne, who remanufactured cars from old stock in Texas, at the start of the new millennium.