Checker Taxi was an American taxi company. It used the Checker Marathon produced by Checker of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Although you could buy the car for personal use it was manufactured primarily for the cab company. It’s boxy design offered easy access to the rear seat and a large trunk. The first cars were on the streets of New York and Chicago in 1963 and were built through 1978. July 26, 1999 was the last day for the company.
In 1957, the Ford Ranchero introduced American consumers to the Australian oddity of the “coupe utility,” a two-door coupe with a truck bed fused to the rear end. Ford Australia had invented a car that could take the family to church or throw cargo in the back, a compromise between a commercial utility vehicle and the wheel-bed and cost of a passenger vehicle. So while it might look like a small pickup truck, the Ford Ranchero was built on the body of a station wagon.
Chrysler PT Cruiser
At one point in time, the Chrysler PT Cruiser won Car of the Year. Now, the PT Cruiser is a series regular on lists of the worst cars ever made. What explains the dramatic fall of this controversial vehicle? It’s not just changing tastes, although that’s part of the equation. The PT Cruiser just didn’t stand up to scrutiny. First launched in 2001, the PT Cruiser was a 5-door hatchback designed to evoke the gangster getaway cars of the 1930s, featuring smooth curves, fat fenders, and a high roofline.
Love it or hate it, the AMC Gremlin has to be one of the strangest designs of the last fifty years. This little two-door hatchback epitomized the wonky economy cars of the 1970s. The Gremlin was the brainchild of American Motors Company, a now-defunct automaker with a storied tradition as America’s underdog. The Gremlin was dirt cheap with great gas mileage and AMC aimed the cheekily-named car at people who wanted something a little cute and a lot different.
The Ford Pinto was nothing special, in and of itself. It was a relatively boring and practical subcompact economy car designed to compete with Japanese imports. Uncomfortable bucket seats, uninspired lines, and a subpar inline 4-cylinder engine meant that the 1971 Pinto was never going to turn heads. Unfortunately, Ford sacrificed reliability for production speed and cost. In 1977, damning reports emerged that the tiny car had squeezed the fuel tank right behind the rear bumper—resulting in explosive fires in the event of a crash.
What happens when a multi-millionaire decides he wants to start his own automaker and slaps his name on the car? The Bricklin SV-1. This bizarre two-door coupe with gullwing doors and the appearance and color of a plastic toy was the pet project of Malcolm Bricklin. Bricklin convinced investors to sink millions into a brand-new car company and manufacturing plant in New Brunswick. Only 2,854 had rolled off the assembly line when investors balked and the government forced the company into receivership.
Pontiac Trans Sport
The Pontiac Trans Sport was a real disappointment even for minivan buyers. In 1986, General Motors was determined to contest Chrysler’s dominant position in the minivan market.
When the AMC Pacer came out in 1975 it was the toast of the automotive press, which called it “futuristic,” “bold” and “unique.” AMC even produced an electric version to respond to the gasoline crisis of the 1970s. The enormous glass bubble windshield and bizarre rear window earned the Pacer the moniker “the flying fishbowl.” In production from 1975 to 1980.
What happens when you combine two legacy automakers and pump out a shoddy combination of two great cars? The 1958 Packard Hawk, the last gasp of a dying marque. In 1954, the Big Three were starting to put the hurt on the competition. Smaller car companies were under a lot of pressure to compete and “merger fever” led to the marriage of Studebaker and Packard. Packard had been a luxury carmaker while Studebaker had a larger customer base and manufacturing capability.
Rambler Cross Country
The Rambler was a wonky car that earned its place in American car history by standing out from the crowd in a good way. Rambler was a popular make produced by the American Motors Company but in 1957 the new company was still figuring out how to market and sell the vehicles. In 1954, AMC had been formed by the merger of the Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Company and the Ramblers had been rebadged interchangeably as Nash and Hudson cars and in 1955, the Rambler Six was a big hit. The affordable but stylish car pioneered the compact car in America! Drivers loved the new size and in 1957, AMC rebadged the Ramblers as their own marque to capitalize on their popularity. The Rambler Six was joined by the Rambler Cross Country, a four-door hardtop station wagon based on the previous compact.
The 1982 Dodge Rampage is another coupe utility that had a bad attitude for an underperforming vehicle. The two-door coupe utility was built on a unibody subcompact car with a tiny cargo bed. Chrysler based the Rampage on the light L platform designed in response to the 1970s energy crisis. Unfortunately, what that means is that the Dodge Rampage ended up looking like a toy rather than a real car, but Dodge wanted it to be a monster truck! Let’s just say that it makes sense that the Plymouth clone using the same frame and design was called the “Scamp” rather than the “Rampage.”
Chevrolet Malibu Maxx
In 2004, Chevrolet made the bizarre decision to take the solid if unremarkable Malibu and try and market an overloaded hatchback as an “extended sedan.” Hatchbacks were always a tenuous sell—attracting a certain type of driver who wanted efficiency and economy more than style or performance—and the Malibu was fighting an uphill battle to avoid falling in with the hatchback crowd.
AMC Eagle Wagon
Sometimes a wonky design can work miracles. Once again, AMC was back to pioneer a new market segment: the very first compact four-wheel drive passenger vehicle. Now it’s known as the very first crossover SUV. But at the time, AMC needed to update its aging passenger fleet and made a smart move to combine economy and fuel efficiency with the rugged appeal of the popular AMC Jeep. The resulting car was designed to be comfortable with good handling on the pavement and offroad. It wasn’t a full-fledged recreational vehicle, but an added benefit for regular drivers. AMC quickly added a station wagon marketed to families and drivers looking for an adventurous vehicle with good performance, and the Eagle Wagon was an immediate hit especially in regions with a lot of snow.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo billed itself as a “Super Sports” car drawing on Chevrolet’s racing legacy…and fell very, very short. The two-door coupe had sporty lines, but GM made some strange decisions when it came to the interior and what went under the hood. If you approached the Monte Carlo SS from the side, it looked good—not great, but good.
Who can forget the car that killed Pontiac? The 2001 Pontiac Aztek will go down in history with one of the strangest designs in history. General Motors was trying to jumpstart a design renaissance after a decade of dull and uninteresting vehicles—unfortunately, it went a little too far with the Aztek. The designers were told to be aggressive, and they drafted an edgy mid-size sports crossover. On paper, Pontiac was trying to appeal to young new car buyers who wanted a fresh vehicle. But design drift saw the Aztek laden with the frills and features of a minivan, including an unfolding rear door with indented seats, a central console with a removable cooler, and even a camping add-on with an attachable tent and an inflatable mattress. Foolishly, the features jacked up the price to $22,000-$27,000, outside the price range of its target demographic of young consumers. If the Aztek had the style to match the features and the price, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.
The 1971 Cougar is a great example of the unfortunate decisions that can kill a great car. When the 1964 Ford Mustang first appeared it created a brand new type of car: the pony car, muscular and stylish but compact and affordable. Mercury was a marque that produced upscale versions of Ford vehicles at a higher price point, and in 1967 Mercury created a similar pony car to complement the Ford Mustang with a premium coupe with luxury and serious power. The handsome Cougars had a European flair and plush interior that differentiated them from their Ford counterparts without sacrificing speed and size. But in 1971, Mercury did everything it could to kill a great pony car. A significant redesign witnessed the loss of the handsome flair of the original make.
The 1980 Cadillac Seville was just a design disaster on almost every level. 1975, Cadillac struggled with competing luxury imports from Germany, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Studies had shown that Cadillac attracted an exclusively older crowd, and GM decided to design a new sedan to attract younger buyers. The 1975 Cadillac Seville was a brand-new car, smaller and more compact than ever before with a crisp and angular appearance. Still, the new buyers were older than GM wanted, especially wealthy middle-aged women who liked a smaller car that was easier to park! GM design chief Bill Mitchell wanted to experiment further rather than stay the course and, unfortunately, designers created a car that appealed to his…unique…tastes.
Buick Electra 225
Some cars have style. Some cars have muscle. Some cars are just…bold. The colossal 1959 Buick Electra 225 was the last, best “King of Chrome.” Over eighteen feet long, the 225-inch “deuce and a quarter” was 4,900 pounds of premium in-your-face American automobile. In 1959, Buick was looking to reverse two years slump in sales with something fresh and bold. They radically redesigned the Buick lineup with all-new styling, wide molding, slanted headlights, and “delta” fins along the trunk that looked like a rocket ship. The Electra 225 was the crown jewel of the new lineup with impressive trim and luxury features.
The fall of Edsel became a synonym for corporate disaster. You might not have heard of Edsel unless you’re a vintage car collector because Edsel cars were only produced and sold from 1957 to 1960. Developed as a new marque for Ford, Edsel was supposed to be a luxury car that could compete with Chrysler and GM and pioneer new technologies and a stunning new style.
In 1982, Cadillac was back with a second attempt to sell a compact car against all odds. After the disappointment of the understrength, undersized Seville, you’d think that Cadillac would have been more careful! Cadillac still needed a new car that was less like a cargo barge and more like a speedboat. Smaller and more efficient imports from the likes of Mercedes-Benz continued to cut into Cadillac’s market share. While Cadillac struggled to identify a new design and a new name, General Motors had been working on a new platform known as the “J-Body” and Cadillac, desperate to bring a nimbler car onto the market, seized on the opportunity to cut costs and speed up production. Infamously, GM’s President Pete Este even warned Cadillac General Manager Ed Kennard that the new frame wasn’t ready for a luxury car, saying, “Ed, you don’t have time to turn the J-car into a Cadillac.” Kennard didn’t listen, or, worse, he didn’t care. The Cadillac Cimarron was born, a strange combination of poor engineering and wonky branding.
The Chevrolet Vega as a kissing cousins with the Ford Pinto, the Vega lacked the explosive legacy of the Pinto but was plagued with a series of disastrous recalls. At first, the Vega seemed like a promising vehicle that could compete with a wave of imported compacts from Japan and Germany. The Vega had sleeker lines than the Pinto, with decent fuel economy and good handling. Initial sales were brisk, and soon hundreds of thousands were in the hands of drivers. That was when the first problems began to appear, compounded by the fact that the fraction of real lemons was magnified by the sheer volume of vehicles on the road!
The crippling cost of developing and marketing the Hudson Jet was the final nail in the coffin for the small automaker. While the Jet was hardly a terrible vehicle, it was not a great one either, and the oversized and overpriced sedan was an ignoble end for the Hudson Motor Car Company. Hudson had once been one of the largest automakers in America, but by 1951 the company was struggling to compete with the Big Three. Saddled with an aging stable of luxurious full-sized cars when the market was shifting towards smaller and more practical vehicles, Hudson knew it needed a bold new model to recapture the public interest and put drivers in the seat. Unfortunately, money was tight, and Hudson didn’t have the financial leeway to take a lot of chances or develop a new full-sized vehicle that would appeal to their current owners. Instead, they pinned their hopes on a new “compact” inspired by the Nash Rambler.
This car is usually called the Metro. After launching the popular Rambler, Nash worked for many years on an even smaller car. Its first public concept, the NXI (Nash Experimental International), was shown in 1949, followed after one year by the NKI (Nash Kelvinator International). The name of the car was to be NKI Custom until shortly after production began, and new badges had to be retrofitted to early cars. The concepts were designed by independent stylist William Flajole, using the Fiat 500 chassis and running gear; the Nash Metropolitan was styled by Battista “Pinin” Farina.
Nash engineered the body and suspension, but they used Austin’s little 1.2 liter (73 cubic inch) four-cylinder A-40 engine. Small but well engineered, the engine had aluminum pistons, overhead valves, a counterbalanced crankshaft, and a Zenith downdraft carburetor. Its low compression (7.2:1) allowed it to use poor gasoline, but it only had 42 horsepower; 0-60 times were around 30 seconds, nearly double that of the flat-head six-cylinder Plymouth Savoy. The transmission was a three-speed manual column shift.
Starting in 1954, Austin built the Nash Metropolitan under contract, using Fisher & Ludlow bodies, in Longbridge, England. The car was then shipped to the United States. There were two models, both two-doors: a convertible and hardtop. They were unit-body designs, at a time when most cars were body-on-frame.
Shortly before the Metropolitan was launched, Nash merged with Hudson to form the American Motors Corporation. It would later drop both brands in favor of Rambler and, later, AMC, but for now, the staid, upscale Hudson dealers were sent Hudson Metropolitans.
The Studebaker 1948 Coupe was a big hit. The design was unique because the rear looked like the front.
The DeLorean DMC-12 is a sports car that was manufactured in Northern Ireland to be sold in America from 1981 to 1982. The car is most commonly referred to as the DeLorean, as it was the only model ever produced by the company. The first prototype appeared in 1976 and 9,000 DeLoreans were produced by 1982, when production stopped. Today, only about 6,500 of these cars are believed to exist. This car is most well known for being used as a time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies.