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20 Cars That Almost Bankrupted Ford

Cameron EittreimJuly 9, 2021

The Ford Motor Company is obviously one of the most iconic and recognizable automotive brands in the world. Ford brought us the first mainstream automobile and the company continues to innovate in the twenty-first century. But just as Ford has had many successes over the years, there have also been several failures.

Winning in the automotive business has a lot to do with consumer tastes and sales trends at the time. A company doesn’t always bat a thousand when it comes to a popular vehicle design. Ford has had a lot of failures, so we detailed the cars that cost the company the most financially. Buckle up and read on as we take a look at 20 cars that took Ford to the brink below.

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20: Ford Explorer (2nd Generation)

The Ford Explorer was not a financial failure for Ford in any stretch of the term as few SUVs have ever sold this well. But the second generation of the Explorer released in 1996 was marred by controversy during the early 2000s. The Firestone Rollover incidents that involved this generation of the Explorer cost Ford a whopping recorded loss of $5.5 billion.

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The tire failures and rollovers associated with the Explorer cost Bridgestone/Firestone $1.67 billion. Not to mention that the Ford Explorer brand was forever tarnished with the reputation of being a rollover-prone, dangerous vehicle. The Firestone debacle will go down as one of the most costly periods for Ford in history.

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19: 1984 Ford Bronco II

When a car is great, why not try and replicate it, right? Wrong. The Ford Bronco II is evidence of what happens when a good idea goes wrong. The smaller, Ranger-based Bronco II was nothing like the larger iconic truck. The first and most obvious problem was the lack of a removable top as well as the underpowered engine.

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The Bronco II had some positive attributes such as the fact it was based on the reliable Ranger pickup truck, but that wasn’t enough to bolster sales. In the end, the Bronco II was one of the worst-selling SUVs to grace Ford showrooms and was discontinued shortly thereafter. Ford has recently re-released two variations of the Bronco for the modern era.

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18: 1957 Ford Thames Trader

Ford has a long history of building workhorse vehicles, in fact, the company dominates the commercial vehicle market. But long before the popularity of the F-Series or the Econoline, there was the 1957 Ford Thames Trader. Taking one look at this monstrosity you’ll see why this commercial truck wasn’t very popular. Aside from its hauling capabilities, the Thames Trader was immensely unpopular and unreliable.

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Consumers would routinely have to service these trucks not too long after purchasing, which created a backlash. Ford would eventually replace this line of commercial trucks with the more modern vehicles that we’ve grown accustomed to. Needless to say, the Thames Trader cost Ford a pretty penny to put it out to pasture.

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17: 1971 Ford Pinto

If there is a Ford that deserves the title of “worst car ever,” it has to be the Pinto. Released at the height of the fuel crisis, the Pinto was an utter failure from the jump. The Pinto was developed to combat the rising cost of fuel and the onslaught of new Japanese imports. The design of the Pinto was lightweight enough that it could compete with the imports, but there was a major design flaw in the rear of the vehicle.

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The Pinto was involved in a major lawsuit that focused on exploding gas tanks on the vehicle. There were $125 million in punitive damages against Ford assessed at the time and the ramifications of the lawsuit resonate to this day. The quality of Ford vehicles has been forever tainted by the Pinto fiasco and tarnished the company’s usually good reputation.

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16: 1958-1960 Ford Edsel

The Edsel was a car that had a world of promise and then failed from the gate. The design of the Edsel wasn’t the problem. It was the reliability issues that hampered the car. A lot of the issues that had to do with reliability were caused by production problems at the factory. After two years, the Edsel was canceled and it was a catastrophic failure for the Ford Motor Company, costing an estimated $250 million.

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Nowadays the Edsel has become a sort of collector’s item, with Martha Stewart even owning a unique one. The Edsel is a car that could have been great, but the project was rushed to the market. Ford is a company that has had many failures and the Edsel is among one of the most notorious.

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15: Ford Gran Torino Elite

What happens when you take a well-known performance nameplate and try to turn it into a luxury sedan? You lose money. This is exactly what happened when Ford tried to break into the luxury game with the Gran Torino Elite. Buyers weren’t exactly excited about paying a premium price tag for a Ford when they could go next door and get a Lincoln. Thus the Gran Torino Elite flopped early in its lifecycle.

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If you thought that Ford learned their lesson from the Gran Torino Elite, well, they didn’t. There were more blunders just like this later on down the line. Even in the current muscle car boom, the Gran Torino Elite isn’t on anyone’s radar. The lackluster styling and lack of power just make this a large old car that isn’t worth working on.

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14: 1974 to 1978 Ford Mustang II

What happens when a company tries to turn an economy car into a performance car? You get the Mustang II. This is perhaps the most infamous Mustang because it was launched right on the heels of the fuel embargo. The Ford Mustang II was universally panned by drivers and the automotive press alike because of its paltry design. The power of this Mustang was downright puny and the car looked just like a Pinto as there was nothing unique.

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Although the Pinto-based Mustang was one of the worst-selling models of all time for the brand, they have since become a collector’s item. These tiny Mustangs are highly sought after as a novelty item and something drivers throw a larger engine into. Coyote swaps seem to be the going thing for the Mustang II, which is unique, to say the least.

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13: 1978-1983 Ford Fairmont

Ford was experimenting with all kinds of different vehicle designs in the 1970s. Some of these designs were great and others were downright awful; take the Ford Fairmont for instance. In yellow trim, this car personified the word “lemon” in every sense of the word. The Ford Fairmont was a notoriously unreliable small car sold by Ford to attract value-oriented shoppers.

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Surprisingly enough, there were three variations of the Fairmont: a sedan, wagon, and coupe. All three of the cars managed to attract buyers who wanted a cheap ride, but in the end, sales tanked due to reliability. Ford eventually replaced the Fairmont with the LTD and the Escort, both of which became immensely popular cars.

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12: 1980-1982 Ford Thunderbird

Few cars were as instrumental and short-lived as the Thunderbird was. Yes, the car did run for almost 60 years, but there were many bad incarnations of it. The early 1980s models were probably some of the most confused models in its lineage. Ford was attempting to market the Thunderbird as a luxury car, but the problem was that it was identical to Lincoln models.

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What happens when a company tries to sell two of the same cars? One is probably going to tank and that was the ’80-’82 Thunderbirds. Trying to downsize such an iconic car was a bad move on Ford’s part and drivers didn’t respond accordingly. Nowadays, the ’80-’82 Thunderbird is hard to come by, as only every so often you’ll be able to find an example still on the road.

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11: 1982-1988 Ford EXP

Do you remember the Ford EXP? Probably not. But for a short period, Ford was peddling this odd-looking compact car to consumers. The mantra in the 1980s was that smaller is better, and domestic automakers tried to live by this claim. But the Ford EXP looked like a mixture of a Ford Escort and a Pontiac Fiero. The design was lackluster at best and you’ll seldom see one of these on the road anymore.

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Unless you were keen on going to the dealership every month for service, most drivers tried to steer clear of the EXP. Few cars have been as astronomical of a failure as the Ford EXP was, because consumers just didn’t gravitate toward it. Ford has tried to market compact sports cars a couple of times and these projects always fail.

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10: 1988-1994 Ford Tempo

The Ford Tempo is another car that achieved a moderate level of success but still lost Ford a boatload of money. Anyone who drove the Tempo when it was brand-new realized the car was a lemon out of the gate. The Tempo represented an entry-level car that Ford could market against the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Feature-wise, the Tempo had an edge on the competition, and its interior dimensions gave it the feeling of a “bigger” car.

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But when it came down to the numerous recalls the Tempo faced, consumers were not impressed. Various build quality and reliability issues started to creep up on Ford, earning the Tempo a less-than-stellar reputation with critics. With the onslaught of recalls and repairs, Tempo lost Ford and consumers a fair amount of money.

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9: Ford Probe

Like the Escort EXP, the Probe was a car that had a lot of hype coming out of Detroit. Positioned to be a replacement for the Mustang, the Probe was supposedly going to be the sports car of the future. Some would liken the looks of the original Probe to the BMW 850li, it even got the moniker of the “poor man’s BMW.” But when it came down to reliability, the Probe was less than favorable with quite a few recalls right after the initial launch.

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The second generation of the Probe offered a more modern look but still failed to impress the critics. Ford went ahead and released the Probe alongside the Mustang and the sales never amounted to much. Ford had invested millions of dollars into the design of the Probe only to lose the money and cancel the nameplate by the late 1990s.

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8: Ford Aspire

Like it or not, Ford had a working relationship with Kia Motors in the 1990s. The fruits of this relationship were the Ford Festiva and the Ford Aspire. Competing directly with the Geo Metro, the Aspire was notoriously unreliable and just plain ugly. GM dominated the subcompact market with the Geo Metro up until 2001 and Ford just lost money with the Aspire.

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The Aspire was such a bad car that you can’t even find replacement parts for it anymore. These compact gems are few and far between now, a relic of cheap 1990s transportation at its finest. There were two body styles to the Aspire, a four-door wagon, and a two-door hatchback. The 1990s weren’t exactly a great time for Ford and the Aspire is evidence of this.

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7: 1996 Ford Taurus

Every automaker was trying to get on the oval bandwagon of the 1990s, but it was Ford who took it too far. The overtly oval design of the 1990s model Taurus didn’t sit well with consumers, who had grown accustomed to a fairly moderate design. Ford took a radical approach to the redesign of the car and it was more extreme than GM had done with the Aurora. The new generation of the Taurus was not a bad car, but drivers just couldn’t look past the design.

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It was about as unconventional as you could get, and sometimes that isn’t a good thing when it comes to a family sedan. Ford tried to spruce things up with an appearance package and chrome rims, but it just wasn’t enough to bolster sales. Reliability issues plagued this generation of the Taurus as well and that didn’t help things out.

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6: Ford Taurus SHO (Third Generation)

To boost the likeability of the Taurus brand in the 1990s, Ford attempted a performance model of the oval Taurus. This variation of the SHO had a V8 engine sourced from Yamaha. The performance was more than adequate but it wasn’t enough to bolster the brand during this period.

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The Yamaha V8 had a lot of reliability issues and the car became more of a lemon than a collector’s item. The SHO was generally a well-liked brand but what happened with this generation tarnished it forever. You’d think that putting a V8 powerplant in a Taurus would be a fun thing to do, but the reality is it wasn’t.

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5: Ford Contour SVT

Another interesting but poorly-received SVT model from the 1990s was the Ford Contour. Although it didn’t have a V8 engine like the larger Taurus, it did have some pretty decent driving characteristics. Unfortunately, the price of the Contour made it a questionable purchase for most consumers. The size ratio was about the same as a Ford Escort and drivers just couldn’t see driving it.

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The suspension was tuned for performance, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t impressive enough to justify the price tag. Ford lost a great deal of money on the Contour SVT and the Contour brand in a generation. The car was about the same size as the Escort without providing anything new.

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4: Lincoln Aviator

The SUV boom was in full swing by the early 2000s and the Ford Aviator was an interesting concept. Lincoln had hit a home run with the Navigator a few years earlier but the Aviator was not as well received. Based on the Ford Explorer the Aviator was undersized and had a full-size price tag, which didn’t sit well with luxury buyers.

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One cool feature about the Aviator was the fact that the SUV shared its powertrain with the Mustang Mach-1. Performance was more than you’d expect for an SUV of this size, but that wasn’t enough to bolster sales. The Aviator is perhaps one of the poorest selling Lincoln models in recent time and that isn’t a good thing.

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3: Lincoln Blackwood

Ford was riding so high on the tailwinds of the popular Lincoln Navigator that the company decided to launch the Blackwood. A truck that was based on the F-150, it had some interesting features. The truck bed was unusable as it was lined with satin, and a tonneau cover made sure that you weren’t able to use it.

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The performance wasn’t much better than your plumber’s F-150, and the truck didn’t drive very refined at all. There was only a four-door configuration available, and the truck looked downright weird from the back. The Blackwood could have been an interesting concept, but it seems like the designers got carried away.

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2: Ford Focus SVT

The SVT boys were getting carried away with the performance designs at the end of the 1990s. The Focus SVT was another interesting car that got a lot of press coverage at the time. As a brand, the Focus was very popular in the rally scene around the world, which made Ford consider a sports car that could be sold domestically.

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The overall design of the Focus SVT had a lot of potential, but when it came down to the nuts and bolts it was all the same. The car had a higher price tag and would compete directly with the Civic Si, but the final product wasn’t on the same level. You’ll still find these used from time to time, although they’ve been fairly abused.

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1: Lincoln Mark LT

As if the Blackwood wasn’t a bad enough failure, Lincoln decided to try things again with the Mark LT. The large truck was overly luxurious in all the wrong ways, although at least this time it had a functional truck bed. The basic premise of the truck was once again to make a luxury version of the F-150. Buyers weren’t enthused by this and the Mark LT had a fairly lackluster run.

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The high price tag coupled with the F-150 looks just wasn’t enough to entice most truck buyers. Not to mention the fact that all of that added luxury just makes things more expensive to replace. Traditional F-150 drivers enjoy the truck’s long history of durability and the Mark LT just couldn’t offer that kind of dependability.

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