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Thread: GM cars that didn't deserve The Needle

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    GM cars that didn't deserve The Needle

    Sometimes, the best comes last - and not in the nick of time.

    The Studebaker Avanti comes to mind. Styled by automotive legend Raymond Loewy, the 1964 Avanti was a last-ditch effort to resuscitate Studebaker - which for many years had been struggling to stay afloat. The car was almost universally admired, but it just wasn't enough to save the company.

    The same situation is repeating itself today with Pontiac and Saturn. These two divisions of General Motors made creditable efforts to stave off their execution - and just before the ax finally dropped, they each produced cars that could have made a difference, if only they'd come along a few years sooner. Or been just a little bit better.

    * Pontiac G8 -

    This car had the potential to be Pontiac's latter-day GTO, or rather the car the latter-day (and short-lived) 2004-2006 GTO shoulda coulda been. With four doors instead of two, the G8 had the versatility and potential market appeal a two-door like the GTO never offered - with impressive power/performance from its available 6.2 liter, 402 horsepower V-8.

    Where - and when - did Pontiac stumble?

    First, by not realizing that it's not the mid-1960s and most modern performance cars have four doors, not two. This led to the second misstep, which was focusing on the two-door GTO, which was Pontiac's attempt to rewind to 1964, when the original GTO was launched and the company rode to glory on its success.

    Almost five years went by from the time the new GTO was launched (and cancelled) to the time the new G8 was finally ready for production . . . just in time for $4 per gallon gas followed by the near-collapse of the entire economy. Followed, in short order, by the bankruptcy and government takeover of General Motors.

    Pontiac, a division that had been under-performing for years, was put on the gurney for a quick execution.

    It did not matter that the G8 was an excellent car; Pontiac - the brand - was all-but-ruined. One car, too late, cannot save a division with zero cachet, whose main "buyers" over the past ten years had been airport rental fleets.

    Few people are going to reach into a public toilet to grab a silver dollar.

    Had the G8 appeared in '04 or '05 instead of '09 (and instead of the GTO), back when gas was cheap and the economy still functional, Pontiac might have surfed a wave of newfound popularity back to The Light. The brand might have been rehabbed; other models could have partaken of the glory. Pontiac could conceivably have weathered the storm that was to come.

    It's a tragedy.

    The one upside is that G8s are going cheap. The death of Pontiac means fire-sale prices on remaining 2009 models. Don't worry about the mechanicals; the G8 shares its drivetrain parts with other GM models (Corvette and Camaro) and while Pontiac dealers will disappear, GM dealers won't - so getting your orphaned Pontiac serviced will not be a problem.

    Finally, as both a desirable and a one-year-only model, the G8 may be the only recent vintage Pontiac whose value will go up as the years go by.

    There is nothing wrong with the G8. It just came along too late.

    * Saturn Sky -

    This car had the looks. Visually, the Sky roadster is a stunning piece of work. I attended the West Coast media launch of the Sky a few years back and the car got as much attention from people on the street as Paris Hilton gets from the paparazzi. And it was positive attention - something no Saturn model had received in years. People loved it. They waved us over to ask about the car. I've been doing new car evaluations for more than 15 years now and this was one of the warmest receptions I've seen a new model get.

    Unfortunately, the goods were (in typical GM fashion) sub-par in too many places to be overlooked.

    Just stupid, easily fixable mistakes - that were never fixed or not fixed in time. For example:

    The buttons for the power windows were mounted so far to the rear on the driver's side door panel that it was almost impossible to operate them with your left hand. You had to reach around with your right hand to open and close the windows.

    The gas gauge was the size of a dime and buried a foot deep in the darkened recesses of the gauge panel - and thus, often impossible to read.

    The cupholders were mounted on the center console, but like the power window switches, so far back they were literally unusable while the car was moving.

    The car came with a five-speed manual. Most roadsters were coming with - or at least offering - a six-speed.

    Worst of all, the Sky leaked wind (and rainwater) like a ragged out '69 MGB. The roof seal was atrocious. I drove three different press cars and they all leaked. At 60 mph, the wind noise was so severe it was difficult to have a conversation without yelling.

    Still, I was pulling for the car because it was beautiful - and because it had so much potential. But Saturn - like so many of GM's other divisions, so many times over the years - did nothing to correct the car's flaws. Like the Fiero in the 1980s and the Allante in the 1990s, the initial enthusiasm soured once people spent some time with the car. As word got out, sales drooped - then went into freefall.

    So the Sky - along with Saturn itself - is doomed to head off into the great white yonder.

    It didn't have to be.

    And what makes it all the more tragic, given the Sky's potential, is that it shouldn't have gone this way. The car deserved better. A bit more finesse, a few readjustments here and there - and the Sky could have become a real threat to the BMW Z4, Honda S2000 and Mazda Miata.

    Instead, it goes down in history as another GM misfire.

    What a waste.

  2. #2
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    I heard that the G8 may be still coming to the states as a Chevy Caprice or something like that, but I don't think it's the same. That, of course is a rumor from one of those other auto sites. They should name it the Laguna SS. Remember that one?

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    I heard that the G8 may be still coming to the states as a Chevy Caprice or something like that, but I don't think it's the same. That, of course is a rumor from one of those other auto sites. They should name it the Laguna SS. Remember that one?
    Yes, apparently that is under consideration. But I think CAFE will cause GM to reconsider.

    I do remember the Laguna SS! It looked like a Winston Cup stocker; had the louvered rear quarter windows. I think the most it had under the hood was a 400 four barrel in the 200 hp range...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Yes, apparently that is under consideration. But I think CAFE will cause GM to reconsider.

    I do remember the Laguna SS! It looked like a Winston Cup stocker; had the louvered rear quarter windows. I think the most it had under the hood was a 400 four barrel in the 200 hp range...

    Yeah, I think that you're right. I liked the Laguna SS every year it was made. I saw a black 1975 model driving down the road the other day. It was sharp. I wish I had the camera. I think it had the 165 HP 350 under the hood.

    I hope that CAFE doesn't force them to reconsider. They need to start putting diesels in every car that does pedestrian duty....

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    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    Yeah, I think that you're right. I liked the Laguna SS every year it was made.





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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mase View Post



    Nice!

    I don't recall the 454 being available (mainly because by '75 catalytic converters were mandatory and all GM cars had single exhaust) but maybe I am geezing!

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    The Saturn Sky was too heavy and bloated for a small-displacement 2-seat roadster. And the styling - it looked like someone stepped on it, there's a weird "flattened" look to it. I don't think it was a good car killed by small detail failures, I think it was a failed concept all around. There is not a good sports car lurking somewhere down there in the Kappa platform.

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    The Saturn Sky was too heavy and bloated for a small-displacement 2-seat roadster. And the styling - it looked like someone stepped on it, there's a weird "flattened" look to it. I don't think it was a good car killed by small detail failures, I think it was a failed concept all around. There is not a good sports car lurking somewhere down there in the Kappa platform.
    Looks are, of course, subjective. But I liked it - and I can report that when I drove a press car Sky, it always turned heads and got positive comments.

    The real (objective) problem with it was poor ergonomics. A Miata is a comfortable car that fits even a big guy like me. The controls are all sensibly laid out and user-friendly. The Z4 is ok in this respect, too. But I had real problems just operating some of the controls in the Sky - such as the power window switches.

    And the leaky roof was inexcusable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    I heard that the G8 may be still coming to the states as a Chevy Caprice or something like that, but I don't think it's the same. That, of course is a rumor from one of those other auto sites. They should name it the Laguna SS. Remember that one?

    Swamprat,

    Bob Lutz presented this idea to GM brass, said the G8 was too good to kill and that it could also serve as a good fleet vehicle (since it comes in V8 with rear-wheel drive) to sell to Police and Taxi cab companies considering the Ford Crown Vic will soon be cancelled.

    Unfortunately GM brass nixed the idea, the G8 is dying along with Pontiac and the front-wheel drive Impala will remain Chevy's only big car offering (if you can call it that).

    ...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Nice!

    I don't recall the 454 being available (mainly because by '75 catalytic converters were mandatory and all GM cars had single exhaust) but maybe I am geezing!
    Eric,

    The 454 was available on all Lagunas except 1976:

    1973 Laguna - 454 4bbl V8 - 245 horsepower
    1974 Laguna Type S-3 - 454 4bbl V8 - 230 horsepower
    1975 Laguna Type S-3 - 454 4bbl V8 - 215 horsepower
    1976 Laguna Type S-3 - no 454

    ...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Disco Man View Post
    Swamprat,

    Bob Lutz presented this idea to GM brass, said the G8 was too good to kill and that it could also serve as a good fleet vehicle (since it comes in V8 with rear-wheel drive) to sell to Police and Taxi cab companies considering the Ford Crown Vic will soon be cancelled.

    Unfortunately GM brass nixed the idea, the G8 is dying along with Pontiac and the front-wheel drive Impala will remain Chevy's only big car offering (if you can call it that).

    ...
    That sucks bad. The front drive Impala is a flaccid slug. I drove one as a rental car and was soundly disappointed. The only good thing that you could say about not having the G8 is that the police will be stuck in Impalas pretty soon.

    I guess that since GM is run by the Obama administration, we shouldn't be too surprised.

  12. #12
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Disco Man View Post
    Eric,

    The 454 was available on all Lagunas except 1976:

    1973 Laguna - 454 4bbl V8 - 245 horsepower
    1974 Laguna Type S-3 - 454 4bbl V8 - 230 horsepower
    1975 Laguna Type S-3 - 454 4bbl V8 - 215 horsepower
    1976 Laguna Type S-3 - no 454

    ...
    Good info, Pete - thanks!

    I'd forgotten that the 454 was still available through '75. Interesting that Chevy dropped it for '76 given Pontiac still offered the 455....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Good info, Pete - thanks!

    I'd forgotten that the 454 was still available through '75. Interesting that Chevy dropped it for '76 given Pontiac still offered the 455....
    Good point, it seemed Chevy gave up on the large displacement motors earlier, than they could have. For instance they could have easily had a 454 in the Corvette until 1976 but dropped it after the 1974 model year. Pontiac wouldn't reliquish the large displacement motors until they were cancelled by GM. When the 455 was cancelled by GM at the end of 1976 Pontiac held onto the Pontiac 400 for dear life, until GM cancelled it. Then the Pontiac 301 met the same fate. In essence Pontiac died when GM took away it's V8 motors. It survived for almost 30 years after this but its been missing a soul for near this long.

    BTW. Nice piece on the G8 and Sky. The G8 is a really fine automobile, it's a pity it did not come earlier. I talked to a sales guy of a Chevy dealer up here that picked up the full lot inventory of a Pontiac dealer that recently shut down next door (this Chevy dealer will continue to carry Pontiacs for awhile until the division officially shuts its doors). He said the G8s are selling very well, he said they are moving off the lots fairly quickly. He said he wished Chevy sold something like the G8, even so he said after his customers drive the car they have no quams buying one (even when they know the division is closing its doors soon).

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    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    That sucks bad. The front drive Impala is a flaccid slug. I drove one as a rental car and was soundly disappointed. The only good thing that you could say about not having the G8 is that the police will be stuck in Impalas pretty soon.

    I guess that since GM is run by the Obama administration, we shouldn't be too surprised.

    You may have Holden Caprice yet!

    See this
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

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    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    It has been awhile, since I've been here. Just reading some of the stories and comments, and I do remember the Avanti. At the time it was introduced, Studebaker and G.M. were the only two American car manufactures that produced a fiberglassed bodied vehicle. The Avanti and the Corvette. Yes, the Avanti was too late to save one of the most advanced car manufactures at that time. Studebaker had the Hawk series back in the 1950's, into the 1960's. Some, as I recall, were powered by a 289 c.i. engine with a Paxon blower as an option. This sweet treat was also offered on the Avanti. I dirt tracked one (Golden Hawk) with this set up in the Sixties and did quite well with it. It WAS not a turbo, but a direct drive, via belt. I ran that car for three years before I sold it. I also ran Fords, Plymouths, A Hudson, an Oldsmobile or two, but, the old Hawk was one of the best cars I ever raced. G.M. and Chrysler are suffering the same fate that killed Studebaker and others. Only bailouts were not around or even offered at that time. Only makes you wonder if G.M. and Chrysler would still be around if it was 1959, 1969 or even 1999.

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J. ZIMM View Post
    It has been awhile, since I've been here. Just reading some of the stories and comments, and I do remember the Avanti. At the time it was introduced, Studebaker and G.M. were the only two American car manufactures that produced a fiberglassed bodied vehicle. The Avanti and the Corvette. Yes, the Avanti was too late to save one of the most advanced car manufactures at that time. Studebaker had the Hawk series back in the 1950's, into the 1960's. Some, as I recall, were powered by a 289 c.i. engine with a Paxon blower as an option. This sweet treat was also offered on the Avanti. I dirt tracked one (Golden Hawk) with this set up in the Sixties and did quite well with it. It WAS not a turbo, but a direct drive, via belt. I ran that car for three years before I sold it. I also ran Fords, Plymouths, A Hudson, an Oldsmobile or two, but, the old Hawk was one of the best cars I ever raced. G.M. and Chrysler are suffering the same fate that killed Studebaker and others. Only bailouts were not around or even offered at that time. Only makes you wonder if G.M. and Chrysler would still be around if it was 1959, 1969 or even 1999.
    Lucky you!

    I saw a Golden Hawk in person, once - at an antique car show. It had the supercharged 289. It was a striking car. Would have loved to get some seat time in one...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kwozzie1 View Post
    You may have Holden Caprice yet!

    See this
    I want one for myself. I hope I don't have to wait until officer FatHead wears one out....

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    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    I want one for myself. I hope I don't have to wait until officer FatHead wears one out....
    I think Holden will wait to see if they have the cop cars sorted and then go for the general public.
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Studebaker was one of the most advanced car companies in America? They hadn't developed an all-new car since 1953.

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    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    They were far ahead as far as design, engines, and fuel economy to power ratio for V-8 engines. When the Camero's came out you could see some of the Studies design in the roof lines. In-fact, The Studebaker Brand had been in business longer that any other wheeled manufacture. I feel that the Avanti was very advanced for the time. No other car manufacture offered a Direct Drive Air Injection System (blower) on their engines that I can remember.

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