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Thread: Design Debacles?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Design Debacles?

    Automotive good ideas gone bad range far and wide, whether it's a classic like the exploding Pintos of the early '70s - or a late model gem like the Pontiac Aztek.

    Here are ten epic failures that will be remembered for as long as the warranty claims (and class-action lawsuits) linger:

    * The entire American Motors Corp. (AMC) lineup -

    From dreadful dreadnoughts like the malformed Matador to demented detritus like the Gremlin and Pacer, no other automaker ever managed to build such a seemingly endless conga line of bizarre, poorly conceived (and often, poorly built) cars within such a short span of time (from the late 1960s to the early-mid 1970s). Only bankruptcy eventually succeeded in stopping the madness.

    * Chrysler's "lean burn" engines -

    While Honda was developing highly efficient combustion chambers to lower engine emissions via engineering advances (the Compound Cortex Combustion Chamber, or CVCC cylinder head used in the first-generation Civics in the mid-70s) which allowed the cars to meet federal exhaust emissions standards without catalytic converters, Chrysler was duct-taping its obsolete V-8s with leaned-out carburetors that mainly made them even harder to start than they were before - and prone to stalling in the middle of busy intersections. The added plus was wimpy performance and terrible gas mileage.

    Now you know why "rich, Corinthian leather" (and Ricardo Montalban) never made a comeback.

    * General Motors' diesel V-8 -

    Imagine a luxury car that was both slow and inefficient as well as prone to early and catastrophic engine failures and you have a taste of the bitter flavor that was the diesel-powered Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs of the late '70s and early '80s. These "diesel" engines were in fact converted gas engines, which lacked the strength to deal with the high-compression combustion of diesel operation.

    The resultant debacle not only soured an entire country on the otherwise perfectly sound concept (real diesel engines), it helped hustle Oldsmobile to the boneyard of automotive has-beens - and nearly killed off Cadillac, too.

    * The Sterling -

    Here's an oldie but still a stinkie.

    Japanese automakers rarely make big-time mistakes, but this was pretty close. Back in the late 1980s, in collusion with British car-maker Land Rover, Acura Legends were re-sold as "British" Sterling 825s and 827s. The alliance was as enduring as the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact - and just as awkward. Parts for these cars - especially interior pieces - are all but impossible to find. Dealer support is nonexistent. Resale values are lower than a well-worn Yugo.

    If Truman had had another bomb left to drop, the childhood home of the dude who would grow up to create Sterling would have been a worthy target.

    * Pontiac Fiero -

    A great idea ruined by upper management cheapskates, who thought it would be an amusing con to use Chevette-sourced underthings (front suspension, engine) in a car that looked sporty but couldn't live up to its billing. First-year sales were great - until the word got out. They then nose-dived like the Concorde, forcing the car's cancellation just four years after it came out and just in time to hand over the entire market for a car of this type to Mazda, which brought out the Miata a year after the Fiero was sent to the crusher.

    * "Cab forward" design -

    Remember? When Chrysler Corp. hawked this layout in the '90s, it was supposed to be an automotive Great Leap Forward. But after a succession of belly-flops ranging from the luckless LHS to the Dodge not-so-Intrepid, the whole works was discretely packed up and shipped off the land of unwanted toys. Chrysler reverted back to front-engine/rear-drive ("cab normal") vehicles like the current 300 series and Charger - which, not surprisingly, actually sell well.

    * Geo -

    Circa Ronald Reagn's first term, and desperate to rehabilitate its image, GM figured the only way to get people to consider buying a GM small car was by giving their crappy little economy cars a new name. Hence the "Geo" nameplate. Sold alongside Chevrolets, some Geos were ok (at least, the ones like the Prizm that were just re-badged Toyotas). But others were far from fabulous, notably the depressing three-cylinder Metro and the sad-sack Storm "sports coupe" - both of which may sometimes still be glimpsed on seedy used car lots in rural backwaters to this very day.

    * The "new" GTO -

    The Holden (GM's Australian subsidiary) Monaro was a perfectly good car - powerful as well as fine-handling. But it was neither a Pontiac nor a GTO. Tacking on the badges didn't make it so.

    It didn't help that the resurrected "GTO" was blandly styled (it looked a lot like a hot-rodded Cavalier) and close to Corvette expensive - making it all but impossible for even the handful of rednecks who might have wanted one to be able to afford one.

    * Firestone's Wilderness A/T tires -

    Mix marginally competent drivers, top-heavy SUVs, high-speed driving and defective tires - and let the barrel-rolling (and endless litigation) begin! This late 1990s debacle all-but-ruined the reputation of what had been the country's best-selling SUV - the Explorer - even though the root cause of the problem had more to do with improper use and sketchy tires than with the "Exploder" itself.

    * Chevy SSR -

    What's heavy, ugly, top-heavy and clunky? No, it's not your mother-in-law. It's the SSR, or Super Sport Retractable hardtop. Blechh! GM built this Frankenstinian atrocity for a few years in the early-mid 2000s. It looked like an overstuffed '40s pick-up and while it had some interesting features - including a "torque-o-meter" gauge to let you know how much power the huge, Corvette sourced V-8 was putting out - it wasn't particularly quick (early versions were borderline slow due to all that bulk) and it was a pig in the corners. Like the even more execrable PLymouth Prowler, the SST was a fake hot rod - a factory-built, store-bought Guidomobile for guys who want to be seen as sporty car-crafter types but who probably couldn't find the dipstick on a dare.

    With a base price of almost $50,000 the SSR was the perfect accompaniment to a tract-home McMansion.

  2. #2
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Oh, and the worst thing about the SSR - it was Chevy's replacement for the Camaro!

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    Oh, and the worst thing about the SSR - it was Chevy's replacement for the Camaro!
    Yeah - not one of GM's brighter ideas!

    I drove a few when they were new. The earlier models were really bad because on top of everything else, they were over-heavy and under-powered. The later versions could at least go fast in a straight line; though high-speed driving (over 100) was dicey. My '76 Trans-Am felt more secure at triple digit speeds - probably because it at least has a reasonable aerodynamic profile while that hulking SSR is literally a dumpster pushing through the wind.

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    It should be in a dumpster.

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    Great piece, Eric -

    One minor correction -- Geo was GM's import division. It consisted of rebadged Toyotas and Iszusus economy cars from Japan. Fortuantely for American workers, the Geo Prizm was a rebadged Toyota Corolla made in in the NUMI plant in Fremont, CA from about 1989 to about 2009, when the last Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe rolled off the assembly line. Other than that, Geo didn't amount to a hill of beans in the automotive world, deservedly.

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    The LH series Chrysler cars were actually pretty good sellers, which were, in part responsible for Chrysler's survival past 1993 or so. I remember discussing buying Chrysler stock back in 1991 with my dad. I was going to buy it at 11 bucks a share because I anticipated that Chrysler would introudce the LH sedans in 93, the Neon in 95 and the Stratus in 96. I thought these cars had decent styling and powertrains.

    It turns out I was partially right. The stock climbed from 11 to 18 in less than a year. By 1996, the stock was selling for around 50 bucks. By 1998, the Germans bid the stock price up to around 80 bucks prior to the buyout. I wish I would have invested my fortune into the stock. I would have been rich by the time of the buyout. My dad gave me mixed signals. That's the reason I'm not rich today. I would have sold prior to the Daimler buyout.

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    Great piece, Eric -

    One minor correction -- Geo was GM's import division. It consisted of rebadged Toyotas and Iszusus economy cars from Japan. Fortuantely for American workers, the Geo Prizm was a rebadged Toyota Corolla made in in the NUMI plant in Fremont, CA from about 1989 to about 2009, when the last Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe rolled off the assembly line. Other than that, Geo didn't amount to a hill of beans in the automotive world, deservedly.
    The Metro was neither a Toyota nor an Isuzu, it was sourced from Suzuki. The Tracker was a Suzuki as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    The Metro was neither a Toyota nor an Isuzu, it was sourced from Suzuki. The Tracker was a Suzuki as well.
    I stand corrected. There was an isuzu based Chevy, wasn't there?

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    I stand corrected. There was an isuzu based Chevy, wasn't there?
    Yes, I think it was the Luv pick-up....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    * The Sterling -

    Here's an oldie but still a stinkie.

    Japanese automakers rarely make big-time mistakes, but this was pretty close. Back in the late 1980s, in collusion with British car-maker Land Rover, Acura Legends were re-sold as "British" Sterling 825s and 827s. The alliance was as enduring as the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact - and just as awkward. Parts for these cars - especially interior pieces - are all but impossible to find. Dealer support is nonexistent. Resale values are lower than a well-worn Yugo.
    The big problem with the Sterling was that it wasn't just a re-badged Honda. It was Rover's own version of the Legend, built to Rover's abysmal quality standards. Console yourself with the thought that the US got a crap car but a decent engine - in Europe you could have completed the deal & bought it with a crap Rover 2-litre engine!

    * "Cab forward" design -

    Remember? When Chrysler Corp. hawked this layout in the '90s, it was supposed to be an automotive Great Leap Forward. But after a succession of belly-flops ranging from the luckless LHS to the Dodge not-so-Intrepid, the whole works was discretely packed up and shipped off the land of unwanted toys. Chrysler reverted back to front-engine/rear-drive ("cab normal") vehicles like the current 300 series and Charger - which, not surprisingly, actually sell well.
    Too much too soon? First time I saw a Concorde, back in 1998, having never as much as seen a picture of one, I was struck by how beautiful a car it was; maybe more to European than to American tastes?

  11. #11
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    I stand corrected. There was an isuzu based Chevy, wasn't there?
    Geo Storm was the same as the Isuzu Impulse coupe.

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