Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed

hpmctorquehpmctorque Member Posts: 4,600
edited November 2014 in General
Gosh, where to begin? Two of countless could've/might've/should've been home runs that, sadly, weren't, are the Chrysler and DeSoto Air Flows of the '30s and Chevy Vega.

Although the Airflow had a significant influence on passenger car designs, and sparked awareness about aerodynamics, it flopped in the market place. As we know, its design was too far ahead of its time for the public. Would things have turned out differently if the Air Flow's advanced design had been introduced over two model generations, instead of all at once? Maybe. I think probably. With the new design language trickling down to Dodge and Plymouth by the second Airflow generation, that might have propelled Chrysler Corp. to overtake Ford Motor Co. in the late '30s and '40s. Actually, didn't Chrysler outsell Ford briefly anyway some time in the '30s or '40s? I seem to recall that it did, but don't remember which year(s).

As for the Vega, what's there to say that hasn't been said millions of time? The only thing that was arguably great about that car was the timing of its introduction. GM's reputation was only beginning to be tarnished, but it was still the world sales leader, by a wide, wide margin. The demand for small cars was growing, and would later explode with the oil embargoes. Detroit desperately needed good small cars to meet market share.

Beetle sales were soon to peak and wane when the '71 Vega was introduced (in Spring of '70?), while the other mass market European brands were a small and receding factor in the marketplace.. Toyota, Nissan and Honda had only recently begun to gain traction, but were no match for GM financially or in productive capacity, dealership count, consumer acceptance, and more. It could have been Detroit's great opportunity to drive the imports back to their shores. But, it wasn't meant to be.

Your turn.


  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    I think Chrysler corporation as a whole tended to outsell Ford as a whole pretty consistently from the mid-30's to the late 40's. While Ford division was a strong seller, Ford had nothing in the middle range to compete with Dodge, DeSoto, and the cheaper Chryslers. That changed when Mercury came out, but that brand really didn't take off until 1949.

    The Airflow was probably painful too look at in the eyes of the time, but another problem was that it was released as a medium-to-high-priced car at the peak of the Great Depression. I'd imagine that nobody in those price classes was selling very well, and buyers of larger, more expensive cars probably didn't want to buy something that would draw too much attention to themselves during such economic strife. They probably opted for something more conservative. That and, to be fair, the Airflows really aren't very me, at least. Very modern, yes...they brought the American Automobile kicking and screaming out of the horse and buggy days, and put the passenger cabin down between the axles, rather than a good portion of it hanging out over the rear axle.

    One thing I'll say for the Vega, is that it spawned some pretty nice looking offshoots, like the Monza, Sunbird, Starfire, and Skyhawk. And even the Vega itself wasn't bad looking. That baby Camaro style sure made it look a lot sportier than the Pinto and the bulk of the Japanese competition at the time...but a 240Z it wasn't!

    Strangely enough, for all the bad press it got, the Vega always sold pretty well. Even in 1977, its final year, it managed to move about 100,000 units, despite competition from the Chevette and Monza. And by that time, big cars were starting to sell again.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Member Posts: 4,600
    edited April 2010
    I'm among the few that actually likes the styling of the Airflow, within the context of its time.

    As for the styling of the Vega and its offshoots, I agree with you completely. GM got the styling right.

    Interesting how well Vegas continued to sell even after word got out about its problems. I gues it's a testimonial to Chevy's extensive dealer network, and to the Bowtie's brand equity in the '70s. But, just think how many Vegas they would have sold if that gotten repeat sales, at a time when a lot of people traded their cars in every 2-3 years, like clock work. It's hard to imagine anyone trading his '71 or '72 for a later Vega once it was known that the bad ones weren't just lemons. The '71s and '72s were all bad, and the '73s were only marginally better.

    For all the serious issues the Vega had -- rusting, overheating, head gaskets, manual transmissions that locked a gear up so that you had to reach under the car to unstick the linkage, to name some -- my brother managed to nurse his '73 just past 100,000. Of course, he spent some money on it to keep it going, and the body was totally corroded by the time the engine just quit.
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,562
    edited April 2010
    I like the Airflow too, 30s streamlining is cool. The first series cars, with the pure waterfall front end, are the best. I think the earlier models also had quality issues.

    GM has a number of cars that "could have been".
  • lemkolemko Member Posts: 15,261
    Two recent "could've beens" are the Pontiac Fiero and the Cadillac Allante. If they had been as good in their debut years as they were the year they were droppped, their stories would've been completely different.
  • texasestexases Member Posts: 10,452
    Another might be the Neon - if it had decent quality from the start the good sales that would have resulted might have let Chrysler in a different direction.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    edited April 2010
    The Fiero maybe, but I think the Allante was already completely outclassed within the market it was trying to reach. It was a doomed enterprise IMO, from the get-go. Cadillac built a 1990 car to compete with a 1973 Mercedes Benz.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    Oh I agree completely on the Neon. I remember when it first came out, I was really impressed. My first thought was FINALLY...a small car I can fit comfortably inside! And they were pretty peppy even with the base engine, which put out a decent 132 hp. I'd imagine that some of the competitors were around 100-115.

    But, head gasket problems were common, and I think transmissions were pretty iffy, which is sad because that tranny dated back to the 1978 Horizon, so they only had like seventeen years to get it right! Sad thing is, that 2.0 the Neon used dated back to the old Mopar 2.2/2.5 4-cyl, which debuted in 1981 and was designed by the same guy who did the Slant Six.

    They did improve the cars as the years went by, but it wasn't enough, and then when the 2000 came out, it just seemed way behind the competition. 3-speed automatic, the same 132 hp 2.0, which suddenly didn't seem as impressive. No optional engines (although that would come later). No more coupe model. And, while it's a fairly minor thing, who the hell makes a 4-door car with power windows up front and crank windows in the back?!

    I think they should have kept the Neon around though, and improved upon it, rather than dump it for the Caliber. That would be kind of like Toyota dumping the Corolla and relying only for the Matrix in this market.
  • lemmerlemmer Member Posts: 2,689
    I wanted to say a Fiero, but it was incredibly outclassed by the MR2. The Allante was front wheel drive, slow and had a cheap looking interior. It was DOA.
  • lemmerlemmer Member Posts: 2,689
    edited April 2010
    I am with Andre on the Neon. The Neon had tons of potential. The Caliber was just brilliant, no? Who would buy a Civic when you can have a big, crappy, clunky rental car with plastic glued all over it? It was like a '95 Grand Am and a '95 Explorer had a baby.
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,562
    edited April 2010
    Power windows in front and manual windows in back...a number of cheaper Euro cars had that, in the home market. But decontented to a level that would never have existed in NA.

    Regarding the Allante, yeah, it never really had a chance. Upon arrival it was already outclassed by a 15 year old MB, and when the new SL came out for 1990, it was flatly destroyed. XLR suffered the same fate about 15 years later.

    I think had Ford put appropriate R&D money into keeping the Taurus competitive, it could have been something that didn't wither off and die into fleet-land.
  • texasestexases Member Posts: 10,452
    Not any one car, the whole brand? Seemed like a great idea, got off to an OK start, then just died. And who thought the Ion was a good car? It's like GM went brain-dead at that point...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Big problem with the Fiero is that it drove like a truck. It felt about 8 feet wide and 22 feet long. I still don't know how GM managed to do that with a small car.
  • lemmerlemmer Member Posts: 2,689
    I might get attacked for this, but Corvettes feel the same way to me. Most of my recent experience is with a C5. The power is invigorating and the grip is incredible, but somehow they made a car that is lighter than a contemporary 911 feel about three times as big. At least I can fit in a C5, unlike a C4.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    Big problem with the Fiero is that it drove like a truck. It felt about 8 feet wide and 22 feet long. I still don't know how GM managed to do that with a small car.

    Isn't that sort of a trademark of GM? I even notice it with cars like my Dad's '03 Regal and my '00 Park Ave. While most people wouldn't classify either one as a small car, to me they just drive "bigger" than what they are. My 2000 Intrepid was bigger than Dad's Regal, yet felt nimble in comparison. The Regal at least is easier to park in tight spaces though because you can see better where the car ends.

    And the Park Ave feels about how my grandmother's '85 LeSabre, a car a foot longer, would have felt with some low-profile tires on it.

    I kind of understand what GM is trying to do with these bigger cars...they're trying to engineer in that "big car" ride that they think people still want. They probably started that in 1985 to get buyers to accept those shrunken Electras and Ninety Eights and DeVilles.

    But most people buy a small sporty car because they want something that feels, well, small and sporty! I don't see the point of making something like that feel bulkier and clumsier than it is.
  • jlflemmonsjlflemmons Member Posts: 2,242
    A Fiero with electric power steering. Never had power because of issues with the pump being so far from the rack, among other things.
    Tweaked 3.8L w/supercharger. Six speed stick. oh, yeah ...

    Misses? FWD Cutlass, take your pick of models. That was a major seller for GM, but to spread the name out all over the place was stupid.

    Cutlass Classic, RWD
    Cutlass Supreme, FWD and RWD
    Cutlass Ciera, FWD
    Cutlass Calais, FWD and RWD
    Cutlass Supreme Brougham, FWD and RWD
    Cutlass 'S', FWD and RWD
    Cutlass Salon, RWD

    But the biggest, dumbest thing a bean counter ever came up with at Oldsmobile ...

    FWD, 4cyl, 442. Knew the end was coming when I saw that one.
  • lemkolemko Member Posts: 15,261
    I don't know about the Ion, but I thought the Sky was nice in a sort of baby Corvette way. The Aura was nicer-looking Malibu.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    For some reason, the Cutlass Ciera didn't bother me. I guess I just never made the connection that it was supposed to be a "CUTLASS", and my mind could differentiate between it and the "real" Cutlass.

    Even the Calais didn't bother me, even though it was originally a trim level in the RWD Cutlass lineup. At the time it came out, I didn't realize that, I guess because what they had been calling the Calais, I knew it as the Salon. However, once they started calling that little N-body the CUTLASS Calais, I thought they were getting stupid.

    Had the forecasts of scarce, $3.00/gal gas come to be a reality, those 1985 N-bodies were going to be the replacement for the Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, Regal, and Cutlass Supreme. But then once bigger cars began selling again, GM decided to keep the RWD G-bodies around, so they had to come up with a different name for the N-bodies. Maybe that's why they picked names like Grand Am, Somerset Regal, and Calais...names that in the past, had been associated with the RWD cars.

    Speaking of misses, I think the W-body, or GM10 when it first came out, was a miss. By the late 80's, it was obvious that personal luxury coupes were on the decline. The Taurus was a smash hit, and GM's A-body Celebrity et al was starting to look dated. GM should have focused their efforts on a top-notch Taurus contender, but instead, they chose to focus on a replacement of the RWD coupes. They actually had modest success for a few years, as the Grand Prix, Regal, and Cutlass Supreme were decent sellers initially. They'd never reach the heyday of the 1970's though, and the Regal/Cutlass Supreme never even matched their RWD counterparts' best years of the 1980's. And I'm sure losing the Monte Carlo didn't help out Chevrolet much. Finally, in 1990, the 4-door models debuted, as well as the Lumina. It took them FOUR years to respond to the Taurus, and their response really wasn't so hot.
  • texasestexases Member Posts: 10,452
    I think the Aura and Sky might fit the 'GM tried to fix it when it was too late' idea. The basic idea of Saturn, 'a new kind of car company' got off to an ok start, but when they replaced their bread and butter car with the Ion, a car that couldn't compete with Corollas or Civics, they just lost it, in my opinion. Too bad. Just think what all those billions (if spent well, a BIG if) could have done for Chevy?
  • lemmerlemmer Member Posts: 2,689
    I think we are in danger of turning this topic into "Let's name all of GM's screwups."

    I'll try to get us back on topic - VW Rabbit, especially the GTI. The Rabbit was good and the GTI was incredible...if you could keep them running. If they only had decent reliability, perhaps they could have held off Japanese from taking over the small car market.
  • lemkolemko Member Posts: 15,261
    ...not only was the Caliber a bad idea, but putting Soviet bloc interiors in the Sebring and Avenger was the kiss of death for Chrysler. Haven't they seen a Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion or even a Malibu?
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Member Posts: 4,600
    edited April 2010
    Yeah, I agree, lemmer. The Rabbit comes close to being as coulda/mighta/shoulda, but, sadly, didn't as they come, in my opinion. About on the par with the Pinto, maybe, in terms of lost opportunity.

    I'd say the Pinto damaged Ford's brand equity more than the first generation Rabbit damaged VW's. That's because, as far as I know, virtually all Pintos (and Mercury Bobcats) were sold in North America. So, Pinto became synonymous with bad small car. Maybe not the worst, but bad, nevertheless. By contrast, I think the Golf (Rabbit for non-North American markets) was generally perceived in a positive way. That's probably due to some combination of Americans' less diligent maintenance habits, and driving style. Also, the Rabbits produced in VW's Pennsylvania plant probably had more quality problems than the Rabbits made in Germany. I have no data to support this last point, but I'd bet on it.

    The Rabbit and the Pinto are trumped by the Vega, though, both in terms of lost opportunity and damage to the brand.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I remember the first US Rabbits---they were, of course, heralded as the "new VW bug for the modern era" and in a way, that was entirely true. They were spartan all right--in fact, TOO spartan---the word "cheesy" comes to mind. They had none of the well-built aura of the original Beetle.

    Furthermore, it soon became apparent that despite all the jollies offered by the GTi, the Rabbit was, sadly, about as reliable as a Trabant (on a good day).

    In hindsight, the GTi could have been the BMW Mini, 20 years earlier, but it couldn't shake the reputation of the Rabbit, despite upgrades. The Mini wasn't an "upscale" anything, it was a brand new car.

    The Rabbit was in the driver's seat when it first came out in the USA, and could have easily dominated the small car market up to the present day--but VW seems to have lost interest in the car for America and pumped the Jetta and New Beetle instead.

    I could have seen the Rabbit evolve into today's MINI and Scion line.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    When I was 9 years old, the neighbors had a red VW Rabbit. First time I think I had ever seen one up close. I thought it was neat just because it was so different from everything I had ever been accustomed to. And at that age, I was small enough that I wouldn't gripe about lack of interior room!

    I remember though, when they took us kids to the Kings Dominion amusement park, we went in their brown Ford Torino Elite. I'm sure it's because, even though that Elite was anything but space efficient, you could still pile more people into it than the Rabbit. But, maybe there was something else at the Rabbit might not have made it that far without breaking down! :P
  • texasestexases Member Posts: 10,452
    I know I was very lucky - my '83 GTI never left me stranded in 12 years. My friend's Rabbit, on the other hand, did the middle of the winter :sick:

    With its early use of fuel injection the Rabbit should have led VW to great things. Still waiting for that, but the newest GTI still has me interested, and I fit in it!
  • omarmanomarman Member Posts: 2,702
    The main problem I had with the Rabbit in the 70s was value. Cheap econobox for a base price around $4k when introduced. At the same time Datsun and Toyota both stamped out cheap imports for $3k.

    The last time I looked at a new Rabbit in a VW showroom was in 1978 and the price had jumped to $5k. And still, the Japanese were selling base models about a grand cheaper.

    Westmoreland never found "the answer." Who has? What country has effectively countered Asian import cars? By "counter" I mean effectively "compete with."

    Without tariffs or other import trickery, what country has beat the Asian imports with open borders, toe to toe on the currency and quality which adds up to the best value for the consumer?

    I'm honestly not trying to be a smart [non-permissible content removed] here, but if there really is a non-Asian champion why isn't it gobbling up market share in the U.S. right now and for the last 30 years? Be it Detroit or import from Europe?

    PS-Not making any excuses for Detroit. Nada. Chickens do come home to roost. But more car makers than the Big Used-To-Be have lost ground. And lots of it.
    A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Without protections within its borders and import taxes, no automaker in my opinion would survive against the Japanese, toe to toe, free market.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    What about the Koreans? Can't they do it cheaper than the Japanese?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I don't think they can field the market range. They are very good but not too broad, at least not in America. I really don't know about Asia.
  • 0patience0patience Member Posts: 1,712
    The Vega's downfall was the aluminum 4 cylinder block.
    When I was in high school, we used to pick up vegas for $50, yank the 4 cylinder aluminum block that was always warped and dropped in a V-8.

    Loads of fun, power of a muscle car on a beer budget.
    The only thing you had to be careful of is that you didn't get on it too much, as the subframe didn't hold up too well. :blush:
    My favorite was a 72 vega wagon. You could fit a bunch of people and supplies for a good weekend.................uh........picnic. Yeah, that sounds good. ;)
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    My neighbor used to do that. When I was a kid, he used to race Vegas. He'd yank out the existing engine and throw in a 350. He was good at welding, bodywork, etc, so he probably stiffened it up as well.

    A guy in one of my Mopar clubs had a Vega, once. And he said he didn't have too much trouble with it. I forget what year he said it was, but I think he had it for about 90,000 miles, and the only major thing was getting a cylinder sleeved.

    He also said he had a Pinto that was fairly reliable. In fact, both cars were more reliable than the 1994 Chrysler Concorde 3.5 he had, which had problems with the water pump, timing belt, and air conditioning all before it was 3 years old. :blush:

    Y'know, that's another one that could have really been great, if the quality had been there...the 1993 Mopar LH cars. They had a lot of promise when they first came out, And some of their components were actualy pretty good. The standard 3.3 V-6, for example. It was just a pushrod, but pretty good as pushrods go, and put out good power. I think it had 161 hp in those days. In contrast, Ford was only getting 140 out of the Taurus's 3.8, and I and I think GM was only getting about that out of their 3.1, although I think the Buick 3.8 was up to around 165-170 by that time.

    The big deal though, was the 3.5 OHC engine, which put out something like 214 hp...pretty impressive for a fairly mainstream 1993 car. And even more surprising, the 3.5 was one of those pushrod-to-OHC conversions that was actually reliable! It was basically the 3.3/3.8 block converted to an OHC setup and sporting a 3.5 CID displacement. GM tried a similar route with their 3.4 DOHC, which was based on the 2.8/3.1 pushrod block. It was pretty strong, but proved to be troublesome.

    Unfortunately, those early LH cars had transmission problems galore, plastic fenders that warped, paint that peeled, sensors that would go bad, water pump issues with the 3.5, a/c issues, and so on. My understanding is that by 1996-97, they improved them considerably, and the redesigned 1998 models were better still. But, alas, the damage had been done.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member 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 Member Posts: 10,384
    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.
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,455
    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 Member 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 Member Posts: 25,455
    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 Member 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 Member Posts: 15,261
    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 Member Posts: 64,481
    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.
  • texasestexases Member Posts: 10,452
    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 Member Posts: 64,481
    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.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    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?
  • fintailfintail Member Posts: 56,562
    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 Member Posts: 25,455
    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 Member Posts: 25,455
    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 Member 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 Member Posts: 5,194
    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 Member Posts: 15,261
    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 Member Posts: 15,261
    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 Member Posts: 15,261
    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 Member Posts: 15,261
    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.
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