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Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed



  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    My vote on this topic has to go to the 1986-91 generation of the Cadillac Eldorado/Seville. When these were first introduced, sales took a dramatic plunge because they looked too much like lower-priced GM models, and they were saddled with the problematic HT4100 V-8 engine, as well as many quality and reliability problems. Take a look at an '86 Eldo, and then at a Pontiac Grand Am of the same year, and you'll see what I mean.

    GM, to its credit, did improve this generation somewhat, giving the Eldo and Seville improved looks and an improved V-8 by the end of the run. The damage was done, however, and sales never improved to their pre-1985 levels.
  • fezofezo Manahawkin, NJPosts: 10,333
    Kind of funny early in the topic seeing teh comments about the Vega leading to nice looking Monzas, etc. Well, certainly the one problem the Vega didn't have was looks. You could have the nicest looking little car to be stranded in the middle of nowhere in! My brother had a 72 Vega. Amazingly, with one head gasket replacement, he took it to 110K.

    I had a 1980 Rabbit. Nowhere near that kind of luck. Was a fun little car when it ran but that wasn't very often. To this day I'm skittish about VWs. Thirty years down the road I've yet to buy another VW.
    2013 Mazda 5 Grand Touring, 2010 Toyota Prius IV. 2007 Toyota Camry XLE, 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999 Mazda Miata
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,043
    I think the biggest problem with those shrunken '86-91 Eldo/Sevilles, and the Toronado and the Riviera (although that one got lengthened for '89) was that they were designed for a future that never materialized. Like the N-body, which was originally intended to be a second wave of downsizing for the Cutlass Supreme, Grand Prix, and such, design on these cars first started around 1982-1983, when gasoline was getting scarce and expensive. $3.00/gal gas was forecast at coming in the near future (nevermind the fact it took us about 25 years to actually get there).

    If that timeline had played out, I'm sure those cars would have been a hit. But as it was, the fuel started flowing again, and prices dropped, and big cars came into favor. And oddly, even in some of the darkest days of that 1980-83 economic cesspool, GM's big cars continued to sell well. I have an old MT or C&D from early 1982 that tested a Caprice with the 305. They mentioned that these cars were going out the door for well over MSRP, while cars like the Celebrity, which was supposed to point the way to the future of the family car, only sold with deep discounts. However, part of that could have just been that the competition was drying up. Pontiac and Mopar left the big car market after 1981. And GM might have purposely cut back on production of the Impala and Caprice, figuring they wouldn't sell, and that might have inflated demand.

    Back to those shrunken Eldos and such...once word got out that they were going to be downsized, people flocked out to buy the big ones while they could. As a result, 1985 was a very good year for not only the Eldo/Seville, but also the Toronado and Riviera. The LeSabre and Delta 88 also had a very good year in 1985. That would be the last time the Delta 88 was in the top ten selling cars. And the LeSabre was popular enough to hit #18. Although for some reason, the LeSabre did take to downsizing better than the Delta 88 did, and managed to maintain its popularity.

    Looking back to that time, I remember my grandparents wanting to get a new car to replace their crappy '82 Malibu wagon. A guy in our church had an early 80's Electra coupe that my Granddad really liked, and he wanted to get one of them. But they had just downsized them, so Grandmom and Granddad made sure to run out and get a LeSabre before that one got shrunken, too!
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    edited April 2010
    Speaking of Mopars, what about the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare. In many respects they were better than the Granada/Monarch. Whoops, that's faint praise. Let's just say they drove and rode much better than their Ford counterparts. The only thing that the upscale compact Ford twins had over the Mopars was quality. The quality was less bad.

    Moving beyond that dumb comparison, the new for '76 Mopars were in a market with great promise, the upscale intermediates. With memories of gas lines and high gas prices still fresh, the idea of an upscale compact (I think that's how they were categorized in those days) was very appealing to a lot of folks. These cars combined relatively good fuel economy for those days, or, at least, the perception of it, while being a step up from the previous generation of compacts. How could brand spanking new models with that positioning fail? Well, we all know the answer.

    What's interesting about the Aspen/Volare is that they really had no direct import competition. Volvos and Audis were more expensive, and the Japanese brands had nothing as large in North America. Of course, the same could be said of the upscale trim level '73 Maverick(LDO?)/Comet, Granada/Monarch, and '75 GM compacts.

    Oh, I've got to comment on the Granada/Monarch. I think Ford had a brilliant marketing idea; Combine the faux styling of a brand that enjoyed universal respect and "wanna have" appeal -- Mercedes -- and sell it for half the price. So what if it used a Maverick suspension and running gear? Heck, those dumb Americans won't know the difference. And you know, sorry to say, most Americans didn't, or it didn't matter much.

    Those early Granadas actually drove and rode worse than Mavericks, but they sold like hot cakes. The ads were also spot on. Never mind that those cars were a poseur's delight. They looked good in the driveway. In the lower income neighborhoods they looked important. In the middle class neighborhoods they flashed the message, "smart buy/smart owner." In the upscale neighborhoods they were understated, yet elegant. To some neighbors, at least, they whispered, "he can afford a Mercedes, but he doesn't want to be showy." The upshot was that Granada/Monarch made owners feel good, whether it meant feeling successful, having good taste, being a smart shopper or frugal, or whatever. And hey, isn't buying a car largely an emotional experience. Well, those Ford twins sure pushed the right buttons.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,043
    yeah, I can agree on the Aspen/Volare. Chrysler called it the "family car of the future", which one of my old car books said was hyperbole worthy of P. T. Barnum. But overall, I think they were a better effort than the Granada, although the 1976 and early 1977 Aspen/Volares were very troublesome...mainly rust, torsion bars that would crack or pull loose, and the Lean Burn.

    The Granada was a marketing success, but IMO, there's no escaping the fact that it's a tarted-up Maverick. It's narrow inside, has a huge driveshaft/transmission hump, and just isn't roomy in general. And, what they tried to pass off as "luxury" in the interior, for the most part was just tacky.

    In contrast, IMO, even though the Volare was marketed as a compact and a replacement for the Dart/Valiant, I'd really consider them midsized cars. Truth be told though, an argument could be made that the Dart was really a midsized car, too. Heck, my '68 Dart had more useable room than my '76 LeMans. And the '68 Dart sedan had more front and rear legroom than a '68 Impala...a fact Consumer Reports was all to quick to point out.

    Now the Volare coupe, which was on a shorter wheelbase, was cramped in the back seat, but the sedans had legroom, both front and rear, that rivaled most midsized and even some full-sized cars! They also had large windows, which helped make the interiors seem more open and airy, and the sides didn't curve in too much,which also helped with making the interior feel roomier.

    The Volare also wasn't a bad copcar. In 1979, Chevy switched their "small" police package from the Nova to the Malibu, and the Volare pretty much whipped its butt. With a 360-4bbl, the Volare police car would do 0-100 in 22.7 seconds, a time that's actually competitive among police cars today. The 3.9 Impala, 3.5 Charger, and 4.6 Crown Vic with the 3.27:1 axle tested around 22.5-23.5, according to the Michigan State Police. The Crown Vic with the 3.55:1 axle was around 22-22.5 seconds, and the Charger Hemi blew them all away, with 0-100 of around 14-14.5 seconds.

    Oddly though, the 1978 Nova was considered a great police package. So you'd think the newer Malibu would have been even better, but somehow it came off worse.

    The last offshoots of the Aspen/Volare played out their last act in 1989, as the Gran Fury, Diplomat, and 5th Ave. And considering how little the cars had changed in later years, they were still pretty good, although a bit of a throwback. Chrysler let them languish by not adapting them with fuel injection or 4-speed transmissions. But, they did have air bags! My '89 Gran Fury was the first car I ever owned with an airbag.
  • jlflemmonsjlflemmons Posts: 2,242
    edited April 2010
    AMC Gremlin. The little American was a solid little car, but the Gremlin had to be one of the weirdest cars made. At least until the Pacer came out. :surprise:
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    A college roommate had a 1977 Dodge Aspen SE. I thought it was pretty plush inside for what it was. My Dad bought a 1978 Ford Granada coupe, but I don't think he was deluded into thinking it was a substitute for a Mercedes. His 1972 Ford LTD Country Squire was such a gas pig, he got the Granada with the inline six for better fuel economy. That Granada was extremely easy to work on. I'd say its underpinnings were even older than the Maverick. They went all the way back to the Falcon.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,468
    I'm going to respectfully disagree with that view of the Grenada, although it is a very well thought-out one. Perhaps we're both right in that initially it might have been what seemed like a shrewd marketing ploy, but after a short time, it only added to the Big Three's image of automakers with no competence to produce a car anything like the foreign competitors. This "faux luxury" might fool some people, but it didn't fool the automotive press, and certainly didn't fool anyone who wanted a foreign car. In terms of how it drove, and the cheesy switchgear and pillowly seats and suspension, it was the same old thing. It was the Santa Claus you instantly recognized as your neighbor Mr. Davis.

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  • texasestexases Posts: 7,898
    True about the Granada, but it's not a 'car that could have been great'. Not much you could have done, except come out with an entirely different car. How about the Fairmont? That was supposed to be Ford's answer to the Accord, right? And it did have its good points. I remember CandD gushing over it, initially.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,468
    I think the automotive press were so desperate for a credible response to the foreign invasion that they would *lunge* at anything that looked hopeful. But after a few months in the field, these cars turned out to show their true colors----same old....stuff.

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  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,468
    How About These Two:

    1983 Ford Thunderbird Turbo -- could it have been America's Supra?

    AMC Eagle 4X4 -- crude and a gas guzzler at birth, could it have evolved into America's Subaru or Audi Allroad?

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  • fintailfintail Posts: 42,923
    Looking at how old Allroads age, I don't know if that's an act I would want to follow. The Eagle was definitely ahead of its time though.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,043
    1983 Ford Thunderbird Turbo -- could it have been America's Supra?

    Not with that Pinto-4 with the turbocharger slapped on, it couldn't! :P Overall though, I think the 1983 T-bird turned out to be a success. It revitalized the T-bird (and Cougar) namplate, and helped pave the way for American acceptance of rounded, aerodynamic-styled cars.

    Now it never sold in anywhere near record numbers...the T-bird sales champ is actually the 1977-79, but I think the '83-88 T-birds are remembered much more fondly. And the fact that they sold well as the personal luxury coupe market was drying up is proof of their acceptance with the public.

    As for the turbo model, I looked at that as sort of a competitor to the likes of the Buick Regal T-type, Monte SS, and Olds 442. More of Ford's attempt at a revitalized musclecar...albeit with a 4-cyl of all things. I know they had a 5-speed, and 140 hp, but would something like that have been fun to drive in a ~198" long car that probably weighed 3200 lb or more?

    Kind of a shame that Ford never put the engine from the Mark VII LSC in these cars, or, better yet, the 302 from the Mustang.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,043
    A college roommate had a 1977 Dodge Aspen SE. I thought it was pretty plush inside for what it was.

    One car that I thought was really plush for its class was the first offshoot of the Aspen/Volare...the 1977.5 Diplomat and LeBaron. In base form they just had vinyl interiors, but option them up and you could get some nice velour interiors that would rival the likes of a New Yorker, Park Ave, Ninety-Eight, Etc. And leather was even optional! That was probably a rarity for cars in this price point at the time. I don't recall too many compacts or intermediates of that era offering leather seats. Some personal luxury coupes, like the T-bird/Cougar and Cordoba/Magnum/Charger SE did. I don't think the Grand Prix/Monte Carlo/Regal/Cutlass of the time did, though, although by the '80's it started creeping in. With the Regal/Cutlass, at least.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    I have another one - how about the Merkur XR4Ti? Essentially an Americanized version of the German-made Ford Sierra, it could've made inroads here in the States if it was marketed more properly. Alas, it was saddled with the same old Pinto-based turbo four, sans intercooler from the T-Bird Turbo Coupe.

    I also recall hearing from some mechanic friends that the XR4Ti had some teething and quality issues at the time. It's been years since I've seen a running example - have most of them gone to that big scrap heap in the sky already?
  • tlongtlong CaliforniaPosts: 5,159
    The Vega's downfall was the aluminum 4 cylinder block.

    IMHO the rust issue was worse. My friend with a brand spanking new '74GT had holes around his front and rear windows after only 2 years (in California). At least the engine usually lasted 50K or so, so that would have been about 3-4 years of average driving.

    He used to say that he was going to drive his car until it was a convertible! But then his engine finally went around 55K.

    I kept tooling around in my rust-free 66 Bug that I bought used for $670. :shades:
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    I thought the Fairmont was Ford's answer to the Volvo. The Accord? A Fairmont is a limousine compared to a 1978 Accord which may actually be smaller than today's Civic.
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    It could be argued that the Eagle was a proto-crossover. It was essentially a 1970 Hornet with a 4x4 configuration slung under it.
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    Merkur? Terrible name Americans couldn't pronounce properly and even worse marketing. The XR4Ti must've looked like a UFO next to mid-80s Grand Marquises and Town Cars.
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    A kid a grade behind me in high school had a blue 1974 Vega with the A-pillars rusted through. I have never seen any other car, before or since, with roof pillars rotted through.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,043
    The Fairmont was basically just next in line of Ford's compacts, replacing the Maverick. It was meant to compete with the likes of the Nova, Aspen/Volare, etc., although since GM downsized their intermediates that same year, it competed with them a bit too.

    Ford really didn't have an answer to the Honda Accord at the time, unless you want to count the Pinto. They were both subcompacts, but that's about where the similarities ended.

    Although marketed as a compact, the Fairmont WAS big enough to pass of as an intermediate. The 1981-82 Granada/Cougar and '83-86 small LTD/Marquis were basically Fairmonts with nicer interiors and more pretentious (Granada) or modern-looking (LTD) sheetmetal.

    The Fairmont was a hot seller when it came out for 1978, and popular enough that they were often in short supply. Unfortunately, they were also plagued with recalls. I think they got sorted out for 1979, but then when the FWD Citation came out as a 1980 model in April 1979, it suddenly made every old-school RWD domestic compact look obsolete. And by 1980, people were afraid to buy Fords and Mopars for fear of being stuck with an orphan (it was a bigger concern with Mopar, but Ford wasn't too far behind) while GM was still in that stage where they could do no wrong in the public's eye.

    The Fairmont had its good points, though. I think it was considered a decent handler for the time. It was fairly space-efficient, although suffered from a huge driveshaft/tranny hump and oddly shaped, shallow trunk. And thanks to its light weight, it would get good economy and performance with the right engine, and could make do with smaller engines than, most of its competition. I think a 1978 Fairmont started around 2500 lb, while a 1979 Nova was probably more like 3300-3400.

    Unfortunately, the "good" engines went away pretty quickly. I think you could only get the 302 in 1978-79. There was a tiny 112 hp 255 V-8 offered a couple years that sucked in the bigger cars, but might not have been too horrible in a Fairmont. I think most Fairmonts just had the 88 hp 200 straight six, although you could also get the 2.3 Pinto 4. The straight-six was reliable, if dull. I imagine these cars were pretty quick with a 302.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,468
    GM had horrific labor problems at the Vega plant. Legendary. Heaven knows what went on in there.

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    edited April 2010
    I don't know whether the Fairmont/Zephyr were designed to compete with the Volvo, but one of the leading car mags featured a Fairmont in Euro trim (don't recall what they called that trim level) and a Volvo on the cover. The gist of the feature article was that the 4 cylinder Fairmont with 4-on-the-floor was the American Volvo. Those that was that you now, finally, could get a domestic Volvo-like car for less money. The problem with that Ford I-4, though, is that it was a real slug, even at that time. Not that the 4 cylinder Volvo was quick, because it surely wasn't, but it could blow the doors off of the 2.3 Fairmont.

    I think it was kind of a stretch to compare the Fairmont with the Volvo. Each had its good and not-so-good points.

    I also second everything that andre wrote about the Fairmont. I guess the Fairmont competed against a broader spectrum of compact and mid side cars than either the Maverick or the Granada. I think the fairmont was better than either of those Ford cars. I also think the best engine choice was the 200 c.i. I-6 because the I-4 had no performance, even with a manual, and the V8 made the car front end heavy, compromising handling. Ford must have recognized that issue, because while the weight distribution of the '85-86 LTD V8 was probably similar to that of the Fairmont V8, the LTD handled somewhat better.
  • sooththetruthsooththetruth Posts: 40
    edited May 2010
    I bought an 86 XR4Ti, and I have NEVER bought another Ford, but the real reason is that the love affair burned hot. The car was fast for it's time, roomy, drove like a sports car, and was a hatchback, making it super practical.

    The radio was junk, the rotors were made of aluminum, and the pads and rotors had to be micrometered into place, or the rotors would warp in 2000 miles from the uneven heat build up if not aligned perfectly. Initial brakes lasted 17,000 miles, and then under warranty the brakes were replaced every 2,500 miles, and I was driving the car with unsafe brakes for the last 500 miles before the repair.

    The rotors were aluminum to keep the weight down. The turbocharged 4 cylinder had a check engine light turn on every 2,000 miles. The warranty was 36,000 miles, and at 34,000 I sold the car, at a dramatic loss in value.

    I drove it on long trips, and it was my first experience with a German built sports car, as it was build in Cologne, Germany. THAT part of the car was a religious experience.

    What can I say, 10/10 times I would have bought that car after I experienced the first drive at the dealership, and took it out on the highway.

    I wrote to Ford to complain, and they gave me a $1000 dollar coupon for my next Ford, if I were to buy one within a year. Let's see, that car was purchased in 1986, and I have never bought another Ford, because it's the only way to let them know the cost of bringing out a car so poorly designed.

    I know that Ford is NOT the same company it was in 1986, but I haven't the stomach to buy another...yet. But I won't say I'll never again buy a Ford, only that it was the passion the car evoked that made the cliff so high when I realized what the company had done to me.
  • omarmanomarman Posts: 916
    under warranty the brakes were replaced every 2,500 miles

    Just curious. The dealer replaced the brakes on your XR4Ti for free? 6 or 7 times? Was this a warranty issue or a maintenance plan regarding all the brake work?

    Seems like if it was a brake design defect that kept recurring within the 36K warranty then could there have been a lemon law resolution instead of a $1000 coupon?
  • fintailfintail Posts: 42,923
    It's weird that the XR4Ti was so problematic here, but it (Sierra) was eventually loved in Europe. The content of the cars must have been completely different.
  • I honestly don't think the lemon laws in Ohio went into effect until after that time, and yes, my brakes were replaced 6 times under warranty. :lemon: And just to make things worse, at the time Ford demanded that warranty work be done at the dealership the car was purchased at, and it was 45 minutes from my home. There were no loaners, so I would have to beg someone to pick me up, and drop me off, because they never once did the job while I waited.

    The Sierra in Europe was a 6 cylinder car, and was sold for it's spaciousness and practicality, not for sport. The Sierra did not have the Aluminum rotors, nor any turbocharger. It did not have the side cladding, nor the large double wing on the back. It shared some sheet metal, but the car was totally different in set up.

    It was always a bit startling in the XR4Ti to see the the amount of tubing in the engine compartment, because of the turbo.

    Remarkably, I went to Europe in '89, rented a car and they gave me a Sierra. It was a low torque, low horsepower 6 cylinder, with a much more conservative finish. It did not break down on me once in the 10 days I had it, so I was impressed.
  • uplanderguyuplanderguy Kent, OHPosts: 9,849
    I just came upon this thread. I think some cars with great potential but missed it by a little..or a lot:

    1) Vega (already discussed here I see). They were the darling of every buff magazine, won every award there was, and were tested as being better than a Pinto and a Gremlin, with more body styles available and the neat "GT" package. Someone mentioned a '74 with rusty A pillars in two years in CA. I never saw that even in NW PA where we lived (and I'd have noticed). I do remember the odd '71 or '72 looking like that in four or five years. By '75-76 the rustproofing and overheating woes were primarily remedied, but it was too late.

    2) Citation and other X-cars...again, loved by the motoring press. Done in by poor quality control when demand was so high they were blowing them out the doors. I have a friend who waited seven months for one on order.

    3) '78 Malibu and related sibling cars. While I don't think they were bad cars, they started out in '78 with the best styling (IMHO) and the 305 V8 available in the Malibu in all states, then styling upgrades, and I think QC, went downhill after that, and most ended up with noisy V6's or baby V8's. I'd still like a nice '78 Malibu Classic Coupe, black with the neat, dished plastic 'honeycomb' wheel covers, optional round Monte Carlo gauge cluster, F41 suspension, and 50/50 split seats with center armrests. They were really a much quieter, more elegant car than the Fairmont and siblings...but were priced higher.

    Hmmm... all GM cars I'm sad to say.

  • fintailfintail Posts: 42,923
    Europe got a ton of Sierra configurations - several 4s (but I don't think any were the same as ours), V6, diesel, 4WD option, in several bodystyl;es. I think their equivalent to the XR4Ti, the XR4i, had the cladding and the wing..I had a few toys of those when I was a kid. I have to believe the Euro cars didn't have the same brakes though...your car explains why the model failed on this side of the pond. Of course, the weird name didn't help either.

    When I was a kid, I thought Merkurs were pretty sharp, them being German and offbeat...but I rarely see them anymore, and I have no itch to buy one.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    Speaking of the Malibu's related siblings, I owned a '78 LeMans with the 305 V8. It was a good car, overall. Unfortunately, mine was demolished at 114,000 miles by a by a pickup truck, driven by an illegal alien who had no insurance.

    I agree that the those down sized mid-size GM intermediates were notably quieter and more elegant than the Fairmont/Zephyr. The most serious deficiency of those GM cars is that most or maybe all of them shared their 3-speed automatic with the Chevette.
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