Not every new car is a success. Some are best left forgotten – and in many cases, the car manufacturers would be delighted if you did just that. But where’s the fun in letting them get off the hook?
Here, we’ve gone back through the history books and pulled out 12 automotive failures, cars that failed to sell and failed to succeed. Not all of them were complete failures – sometimes, it’s simply circumstances that led to their lack of success – but mainly, they’re grade-A flops. Let’s remember the cars that are best left forgotten…
Bricklin SV-1 (1974)
This is the vision of entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin: a ‘safe’ sports car, one with a stiff roll cage, big bumpers and build-in impact rails. Pity he didn’t fit a sporty engine, though: the 220bhp launch motor was paltry and it later got worse with a 175bhp Ford V8. Whoops. Bricklin would later restore his honour by launching Subaru in the US and even selling the svelte Fiat X1/9 in America for a time.
Jeep CJ-8 (1981)
A long-wheelbase Jeep ought to be a good idea, but the firm’s decision to market it as a lifestyle machine rather than a genuine workhorse was very misguided. People simply didn’t get it and it was not to get a follow-up until 2004 – and only by the end of this decade will it do what it should have done all along, and launch a genuinely working-spec Jeep pickup.
Cadillac Cimarron (1982)
Cadillac thought it would create a brilliant alternative to a compact Mercedes-Benz 190 by reengineering a humdrum Chevrolet Cavalier. It was sorely mistaken: this car was a total flop. A former product boss reportedly kept a picture of it in his office for years, with the caption, ‘lest we forget’, just to remind everyone what a disaster it was. Forget this at your peril, Cadillac…
Merkur XR4Ti (1985)
Recognise this? No, it’s not a Ford Sierra, but the American version, called Merkur. The firm felt it would be just the car to take on Audis and BMWs in America, although fitting a four-cylinder turbo engine instead of a V6 today seems like a bad way to go about this. Despite selling 42,000 cars, Ford pulled it in 1989, and didn’t follow it up.
Buick Reatta (1988)
Buick’s 1980s range-topper, the Reatta was a hand-built luxury car that was fitted out with unheard of technology for the time: you could even get it with a touchscreen. But despite this, it wasn’t replaced, and even today, despite the success of the Buick brand, the firm has steered well clear of creating an expensive top-line model.
Chrysler TC by Maserati (1988)
What a car this could have been: an upscale Chrysler, designed with input from the alluring Maserati brand, created to take on the world’s finest two-door coupes. It all started to go wrong when they decided to build it in Italy, and then failed to install a proper Maserati engine. Despite all the expense, just 7300 cars were sold before Chrysler canned it.
Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible (1989)
What a curious thing this Dodge was: yes, it really was a small Dakota truck with a convertible roof (we’re not sure where the ‘sport’ bit comes in). Not for nothing did arch-rivals Chevrolet and Ford not launch rivals to it; even Dodge didn’t bother after quietly axing it.
Saturn S-Series (1990)
A modern-looking car with plastic body panels that came as a saloon, estate and coupe, the S-Series was General Motors’ answer to the might of Toyota. It was a fair hit in its time, but very much of its time: today, the brand has gone, and you rarely see original S-Series in America.
Eagle Vision (1992)
An aerodynamic car for the 1990s that was, rather implausibly, related to a Renault 25. But it was built so badly, and performed so poorly, it proved to be nobody’s vision of a dream car; the car didn’t simply fail, the Eagle brand itself was killed in 1997.
Honda Passport (1993)
Honda these days makes loads of CR-V lifestyle SUVs. But its first was the Passport, a model it collaborated with Isuzu on. This was not a good idea: it was little more than an Isuzu Rodeo with a Honda badge, and lacked the traditional Honda integrity. Didn’t stop it selling, mind, and it proved a reasonable success. Today’s Pilot is, however, all Honda’s own work, for good reason.
Dodge Neon ACR and Dodge Neon R/T (1995 and 1998)
ACR stands for America Club Racer, an exciting-sounding badge, applied to a wholly humdrum saloon car. It wasn’t for lack of trying – the engine and suspension were overhauled and it even later got adjustable Koni dampers, and the choice to take out the radio and air con. But while it did become a successful racer, it was a flop on the road; the R/T follow-up proved it was the car at fault, not the badge.
Suzuki X-90 (1995)
A lifestyle SUV ahead of its time. We can’t help but think the way it looked did it few favours. Sales lasted barely two years before Suzuki admitted defeat and pulled the plug. The world was not ready for a three-box machine with removable roof panels, it seemed.