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14 Cars That Saved Their Companies From Bankruptcy

Vukasin Herbez August 25, 2017

It’s no secret how highly competitive the global automotive history has always been. Only the strongest companies have managed to survive all the challenges that left many others buried in the sands of time. The truth is, even companies who endured two world wars, the Great Depression and other times of economic turmoil had some periods where they were dangerously close to closing their doors in defeat.

But, where many failed, the victors continued. Sometimes, it was due to government bailouts; moves are always considered easy ways out. But, in some cases, the escape from bankruptcy came straight from the companies themselves. Thanks to lucid decisions, clever engineering and careful observation of the market, many companies have managed to present the right cars at the right moment to get out of a financial rut as a winner.

Some entries on this list might surprise you since it’s not always the coolest car that helps a company survive tough periods. Keep reading this list of 10 cars that saved their companies from going bust – and in some surprising ways.

1. Mercedes-Benz 300SL

This countdown starts with arguably the most spectacular way of getting out of bankruptcy. After Germany’s defeat in WW2, Mercedes-Benz was in a complete financial and infrastructural disaster. Their factories were destroyed, and the company could only rely on their pre-war models, which the competition quickly made obsolete.

Luckily for Mercedes-Benz, chief engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut was a daredevil who loved taking risks, so he developed the W194 for the 1952 sports car racing season. They constructed it in lightweight aluminum and powered it with a 3.0-liter straight six engine. The combination of superb engineering and fearless drivers worked well for the company. The W194 scored many victories, including the unforgiving Carrera Pan-American race and the Le Mans.

The biggest U.S.-based Mercedes-Benz importer, Max Hoffman saw the potential, so he suggested a road-legal version of this thoroughbred race car. The result was the iconic W198 300SL, a perfect blend of beauty and mind-blowing performance. It proved to be an instant hit among U.S. customers.

They introduced the Gullwing coupé at the 1954 New York Auto Show. Mercedes-Benz produced it between 1955 and 1957, while the equally impressive roadster was available from 1957 to 1963. They built a total of 3,258 models, effectively saving Mercedes-Benz. This allowed them to reenter the flourishing American market with the rest of their lineup.

2. BMW Neue Klasse

Just like Mercedes-Benz, BMW was in a terrible financial situation after the Second World War. With their facilities destroyed, they relied heavily on the BMW 502. It was a luxurious limousine that struggled to find customers in the post-war years. And like Mercedes-Benz, the Bavarian company had a plan to conquer the American market with its big V8-powered GT coupés and convertibles. However, with no strong racing heritage, the 503 and 507 caused more harm than good, leaving BMW with an even bigger debt.

The first chance of getting out of financial problems came with the Isetta, a license-built microcar, but the true savior was the Neue Klasse series of models. BMW introduced it in 1962. The Neue Klasse consisted of performance-oriented, affordable and cleverly-designed sedans that put BMW back on their feet.

The most popular of them all was the E10, commonly known as the 02 Series. Emerging in 1966, this nimble two-door sedan offered unmatched handling and lively performance. It came at an affordable price, making it a market hit in Europe and the United States. The E10 started its life as a 1.6-liter powered car. However, with the addition of a two-liter engine, it became the quintessential enthusiast’s car.

It was also the basis for the upcoming 3 Series, the most popular BMW model to this day. The sales of the 02 Series enabled BMW to expand its lineup to the more exclusive E3 and E9 sedans and coupes. It also rebranded the company, thanks to numerous wins in rallies and circuit races throughout Europe.

3. Buick Regal

Unfortunately, the 2000’s were not good for many long-lasting American brands. Oldsmobile, Mercury, Plymouth and Pontiac were killed off, and Buick was also on the brink of extinction. But, instead of completely ceasing production, General Motors chose a different path for the struggling brand. Hungry for new cars, the Chinese market got the Buick. But, the best-selling model was the Regal, which they first introduced in 2009. In all honesty, the Regal is nothing more than a rebadged Opel Insignia, a European mid-size sedan.

But, with Buick badges and advertising, the Regal worked well in the Chinese market where it sold more than 100,000 copies in 2014 and 2015. They have also sold it in North America since 2011. With the fifth generation Regal, General Motors attracted new customers, especially younger buyers. In fact, most of them had no prior GM history.

The Regal rejuvenated the brand, helping it find an important customer base. They presented the sixth generation Regal in 2017. They based it on the Opel Insignia. With such an attractive car performing well in the blossoming Chinese market, Buick continues to live instead of closing its doors like many GM brands in recent years.

4. Dodge Omni

After the wild and carefree 60’s, the oil crisis brought safety and environmental regulations to the North American market. This left the Detroit-based manufacturers in utter chaos. The previous decade was all about unleashing serious amounts of horsepower. However, the 70’s commanded a completely different approach for car companies to survive the situation.

As the smallest of the Big Three, Chrysler probably had it the worst. They had the fewest resources for developing a car to tackle the newest challenges on the market. In the emerging economy car segment, Ford had the Pinto, Chevrolet had the Vega, and Chrysler came up with the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. It was a small front-wheel drive subcompact hatchback.

It turned out to be the best American answer to the flood of affordable, high-quality Japanese imports. The Omni and Horizon sold in hundreds of thousands of models in the first years of production. This helped Chrysler survive these troublesome times. They manufactured it from 1977 to 1990, selling a total of 961,508 cars.

What’s particularly interesting about this little car is that it had not one, but two performance versions. Both were created by none other than Carroll Shelby himself. Per Shelby’s personal request, they named these pioneering American hot hatches the Omni GLH and Omni GLHS. That stood for Goes Like Hell and Goes Like Hell Some More, which are inarguably the coolest hot hatch names in history.

5. Jaguar XF

Prior to the TATA Motor company buyout of Jaguar from Ford, the famous British brand was stuck in nostalgia. In fact, all their cars looked like modern interpretations of their most iconic 60’s silhouettes. Even though it was their most modern car, the XK had the E-Type’s visual DNA all over it. They also based it on the XJ limousine, which Jaguar still relies on, with the same silhouette as the late 60’s.

There were also the X-Type and S-Type, retro-modern entry and mid-range cars that sold well, but didn’t offer anything new or groundbreaking. While all these cars came in the height of nostalgic design, the market continued moving on with new designs and technologies, but not Jaguar.

So, when they finally introduced the XF as a spiritual successor of the S-Type, it was clear that the new owner was up to something good. Finally, there was a modern Jaguar on the market. It was the car that kick-started the new chapter for the Brits.

Without that important step, Jaguar couldn’t have the weapons to battle the strong competition from BMW and Lexus. But, with the XF and all subsequent models, Jaguar returned to the global market in big style. They repositioned themselves as the brand that knows how to mix performance, elegance and luxury in the most balanced way.

6. Aston Martin DB7

During the 70’s and the 80’s, Aston Martin produced some wonderful machinery, but it wasn’t enough for the company to stay afloat. Even though it helped Aston Martin survive a couple of years, the fantastic Lagonda sedan couldn’t keep the company profitable, so Ford took it over in 1988. After years of development, the DB7 saw the light of day in 1994. Ian Callum designed it based on a redesigned and improved Jaguar XJS platform.

Thanks to the wonders of part sharing and mass production in favor of traditional coach building, the DB7 was able to achieve much-needed profits for the company. New owners of the company dropped aluminum bodies in favor of steel construction. Some parts came directly from Ford. But, the car got its power from a Jaguar inline six-engine motor.

For those who still wanted a hand-built Aston Martin, there was the Virage. And while the DB7 was clearly an entry-level car, it was a slight departure from tradition since they reserved David Brown’s name for flagship cars.

This all changed when the DB7 got V12 power in 1999 with the introduction of the DB7 V12 Vantage. It was the ultimate version of this car with 420 HP and sublime performance. The best part is the DB7 sold over 7,000 vehicles, which was more than all previous DB cars together. Great sales numbers also paved the way for the glorious DB9 to arrive. Today, Aston Martin is doing better than ever. However, if it wasn’t for DB7, their current success wouldn’t be possible.

7. Porsche Boxster

Over the course of history, Porsche had several tumultuous periods, with one occurring in the early 90’s. The classic 911 wasn’t bringing in enough money due to rapidly declining sales numbers and high manufacturing costs. That once spectacular 928 became old and obsolete. So the company had to come up with a new car to attract a new wave of customers who wanted something other than the aging 911.

Back in the 80’s, the cars that saved Porsche from closing its doors were the 924 and 944. They featured front-engine cars with a more conventional technical layout than the company’s classic. But, the 90’s solution was the Boxster. It was a mid-engine roadster that looked a lot like the 911 since both cars shared a front end.

The 986 Boxster was even powered by the same flat-six engines as the 911. However, they slightly de-tuned it to ensure the 911 was still the flagship car of the company. They launched the first-generation Boxster in 1996. It provided the characteristic, yet slightly altered Porsche experience for the fraction of the price. This helped the company find new customers all around the world.

The success of the Boxster saved Porsche. But it also enabled the company to develop new models, such as the Cayman and Cayenne. They did this all while keeping the legendary 911 running as the quintessential, yet not always the best-selling Porsche. After the recovery, Porsche is living its best years with record sales figures. It’s all thanks to the first-generation Boxster.

8. Peugeot 205

When French giant Peugeot took over Citroen in 1975, forming the PSA Group, as well as the European division of Chrysler in 1978, it seemed like a good idea. However, it soon put the company into financial trouble. One part of the solution was the French state, which granted a considerable sum of money. However, they also imposed a series of import restrictions for Japanese cars.

Another solution was of an engineering nature. In 1983, Peugeot launched the 205 Supermini. It was a high-quality, spacious and charming three-or five-door compact hatchback. As one of the best market offerings in its class, the 205 soon conquered Europe, reimagining the Peugeot brand in just a few years.

Once conservative, Peugeot became youthful and hip almost overnight. Numerous special edition versions of the 205 helped nurture their newly acquired image. In years before the 205, Peugeot had some rally experience. Luckily for the company, their great financial situation coincided with the Group B years in rallying.

Peugeot developed the 205 T16, an iconic Group B car that made people love the ordinary 205 even more. For performance-loving customers, there were the 1.6 and 1.9GTi models. They were some of the finest hot hatchbacks ever produced. There was also the convertible with its own performance variant called CTi.

Thanks to the 205, Peugeot gained massive profits. But more importantly, it established itself as the maker of high-quality compact cars. This is by far the most lucrative market segment in Europe.

9. Dodge Aries

Even though the Omni helped Dodge survive the first big oil crisis, the second oil crisis came in 1979. But they didn’t develop the Dodge Aries or Plymouth Reliant using Chrysler’s engineers exclusively. To be able to finance the development of the new K-Platform, Chrysler asked for a loan of $1.5 billion. Thanks to Lee Iacocca, who was Chrysler chairman at the time, the Carter administration granted the loan, and the development was successfully finished.

They introduced the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant in 1981. These cars were mid-size cars powered by a Mitsubishi engine. But, in a struggling economy, they were exactly what Chrysler needed to stay afloat. Both cars sold more than 150,000 vehicles in the first year of production.

During their nine years in production, there were more than a million units sold, which is an impressive number, especially with the state of the industry and Japanese competition. Despite their flaws and that they weren’t even much of a car in the first place, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant were exactly the right cars at the right moment. They saved Chrysler from canceling their operations in the dawn of the 80’s.

10. Lamborghini Gallardo

What do Chrysler and Lamborghini have in common? Lamborghini was owned by the Chrysler Corporation from 1987 to 1994 when the company was sold to the Malaysian investment group, Mycom Setdco and the Indonesian group, V’Power Corporation.

At the time, Lamborghini had catastrophic sales numbers, as their production relied on the Diablo and Murcielago. The company was eventually sold to Volkswagen Group who put them under the Audi wing. That turned out to be the right decision because the Germans knew what to do to save the legendary Italian brand.

Apart from continuing to develop the flagship Murcielago, Audi found a way to make the company profitable without losing its appeal. The savior came in form of the Gallardo, a V10-powered coupé and roadster they launched in 2003. This compact Lamborghini was exactly what the company needed, because they sold 933 units in the first year alone when just the coupe was available.

In 2013, they replaced the Gallardo with the Huracan. With 14,022 sold in 10 years, the Gallardo is by far the best-selling Lamborghini of all time. Apart from being the best non-flagship car the company ever created, it will go down in history as the car that saved them from collapse.

11. Ford Taurus

The early 80’s was a bad time for American manufacturers. Sales were at an all-time low and recession hit the industry. Fuel went up in price again and foreign companies took a big share of the market. American carmakers were still recovering from the challenging 70’s.

The Ford Motor Company was in financial trouble, experiencing slow sales across their lineup. The only solution was to invest in a fresh new model to show the world what Ford could do. The development started in the early 80’s and in 1985, Ford introduced the Taurus. It was an all-new, midsized sedan with front-wheel drive and a selection of new engines.

This was a big step forward for Ford and the American car industry since the Taurus looked and felt like a premium import model. They gave it a sleek aerodynamic design and great driving characteristics. Sales went through the roof and Ford scored a big hit with the buyers. Taurus became one of the most influential American cars of the 80’s and saved Ford Motor Company from certain financial failure.

12. Porsche 944

This list already featured one small Porsche that singlehandedly saved the company. However, the 944 was the original savior from the early 80’s. Porsche was always a top name in the sports car world. For a long time, they were the car manufacturer with the 911. During the 70’s changing economic climate, Porsche introduced a smaller, more affordable 924.

They also presented the Gran Turismo 928 model, but despite the effort, the company was in trouble. The answer was simple: produce something in between the two cars. It had to be something more affordable than the 911 and 928. It also had to be more capable than the slow 924. So, in late 1982, Porsche introduced the 944.

It was a heavily redesigned and upgraded version of the 924 that soon became a sales hit. With a bigger 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 170 HP, the 944 had decent performance. As a result, it reached a whole new group of Porsche buyers. During the nine-year long production run, Porsche introduced many upgraded, more powerful versions. One was the Turbo or S2, which transformed the small 944 into a serious driving machine.

So while the 928 and 911 were losing money for the company, the small 944 was earning enough to keep Porsche alive during the 80’s and the early 90’s.

13. Volkswagen Golf Mk1

Volkswagen became one of the giants of the car industry after World War II. However, their major challenge was transforming from a single model manufacturer into the modern company it is today. Since its main product was the immensely popular Volkswagen Beetle, the company produced many of its variants. They included the T1 and T2 vans, the Karmann Ghia coupe and the 1600 TL sedan or wagon. Despite the different appearance, all those cars were the humble VW Beetle underneath their bodies.

By the end of the 60’s, Volkswagen realized they would soon be in financial jeopardy. This was because they knew the market would eventually stop buying the Beetle in all its variants. They feared the Volkswagen company would have nothing to offer.

So, in the early 70’s, when sales started to drop, Volkswagen invested into a totally new line of models, led by the Golf Mk1. This was a completely new concept and design for them. It featured a new front-wheel drive platform and a straight-four engine. The new Golf had nothing in common with the old Beetle. In fact, Volkswagen gambled everything they had. Fortunately, the risk paid off and Volkswagen is now one of the biggest car companies in the world.

14. AMC Gremlin

AMC introduced the Gremlin on April 1, 1970, so many people considered it a joke. The Gremlin was a subcompact model with small dimensions and diminutive power. It also came at an affordable price, attracting the youth market. Until then, no American automotive manufacturer tried such a thing. However, AMC had to do it since it was on verge of bankruptcy as the sole independent carmaker in U.S. at the time.

Car fans have always known AMC for their inexpensive, economy cars. While Detroit’s Big Three were busy building full-size machinery, AMC produced compact cars. However, by the end of the 60’s, GM, Ford and Chrysler entered the compact car field, too. This caused AMC to start losing ground. So, the answer was to go to the next level with the subcompact model.

The Gremlin was well received by the market since it was a cool, affordable car for the free-thinking early 70’s. It sold in high enough quantities to keep AMC stable for the rest of the decade. Despite the fact it saved AMC from going bust in the 70’s, it wasn`t able to save it from closure in mid-80’s.

These vehicles saved their companies from bankruptcy, and for good reason. They were innovative and gave customers what they wanted at the time. Who knows what the automobile industry would look like today if these companies had to close their doors forever.

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