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#1 of 422 Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed
Apr 28, 2010 (8:10 am)
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.
#2 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [hpmctorque]
Apr 28, 2010 (8:41 am)
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 attractive...to 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.
#3 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [andre1969]
Apr 28, 2010 (9:51 am)
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.
#4 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [hpmctorque]
Apr 28, 2010 (9:57 am)
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".
#5 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [fintail]
Apr 28, 2010 (10:05 am)
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.
#6 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [lemko]
Apr 28, 2010 (10:24 am)
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.
#7 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [lemko]
by MrShift@Edmunds HOST
Apr 28, 2010 (10:41 am)
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.
#8 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [texases]
Apr 28, 2010 (10:52 am)
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.
#9 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [Mr_Shiftright]
Apr 28, 2010 (11:33 am)
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.
#10 of 422 Re: Cars That Could Have Been Great, But Missed [andre1969]
Apr 28, 2010 (11:37 am)
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.