During the ’80s, Ford attempted several approaches to revive its performance image, one of them was introducing the Merkur XR4Ti model. This was a British Ford Sierra with a special aero package and a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
Ford envisioned it as a hot hatch with rear-wheel drive, racing credentials, and better driving dynamics than front-wheel-drive competitors. Unfortunately, the Merkur XR4Ti proved unsuccessful since it was expensive. The American market didn’t understand Ford’s attempt (via Motor Trend).
In 1976, Lancia presented the Scorpion, a US-spec version of its Beta Montecarlo model. The Montecarlo name couldn’t be used for the American market since Chevrolet already had Monte Carlo. So Lancia decided to go with the aggressive Scorpion nameplate.
However, despite the car’s modern looks and technical layout, the Scorpion wasn’t a great performer since its four-cylinder engine delivered only 81 HP in US spec. The Scorpion was on sale for two years (1976 and 1977) and sold in around 1,800 examples in America (via The Truth About Cars).
This hot Hornet was turned from an ordinary compact into a proper muscle car. It was based on a regular economy car but equipped with better suspension, sharper steering, and a 360 V8. The power wasn’t monstrous at 245 HP, but those horses could make the Hornet fly. The rest of the muscle cars offerings in 1971 all had problems with engines that didn’t make power anymore, but the Hornet 360 was one of the fastest cars on sale (via Hemmings).
Unfortunately, buyers didn’t understand the forward-thinking of AMC, and less than 800 Hornets were sold in 1971. This makes them rare and obscure muscle cars. In an era when bigger was always better, the Hornet 360 was unusual for its compact size and strong engine. But people failed to realize how genial the idea was.
The idea behind BMW 318ti was pretty straightforward, and it should’ve worked, but somehow it didn’t. In 1995, BMW introduced its E36 3-Series Compact model to US buyers to present a premium compact car perfect for an emerging market (via BMW Blog).
The 318ti had classic BMW features and performance. Yet somehow it sold far less than anyone expected. US buyers didn’t even consider buying this version of 3-Series. The sedan, coupe, and convertible proved to be far more popular. The 318ti was on the market for just a couple of years, selling around 10.000 examples in total.
Back in the early 1980s, Audi upgraded Volkswagen with not much to offer. Then the motorsport department proposed entering the rally championships with the Quattro. Suddenly, Audi had a championship-winning car and was at the forefront of two new technologies, all-wheel-drive systems and turbocharging (via QuattroDaily).
This resulted in the rise of Audi as we know it today has started. The Quattro Sport featured a 2.1-liter straight five-cylinder engine with turbocharger and 306 hp in street trim. With a short wheelbase, light body panels, and a short-ratio gearbox, the Quattro Sport went 0 to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. Despite all that, Audi sold just several hundred examples in America, and the model flew under the radar of domestic enthusiasts.
The UK’s car industry relied heavily on exporting in the post-war years. It was the only way to survive in a changing market. Realizing that America is the biggest and most profitable market, Austin decided to present a nice-looking convertible designed for US buyers.
The car was called Austin A90 Atlantic. It had excellent features, a 2.6-liter straight-six engine, and decent power. It should have been a success, but it failed miserably. Austin made around 8000 examples, and only 350 ended up in States (via How The Stuff Works).
French company Renault thought it would be a great idea to send its new supermini called Renault 5 to America. Painfully slow, strangely designed, and poorly put together, Le Car soon became a subject of jokes. It was considered the worst choice in the compact car class (via Cnet).
Renault struggled to sell them and eventually pulled out of the market. Despite Renault 5 in Europe, Le Car was considered a terrible failure in the eyes of American car enthusiasts.
The ELR should have been a success. But it turned out to be a failure and a forgotten model even though it’s just two years old. GM’s premium plug-in hybrid was eagerly expected, but the market seemed to ignore it as soon as it was introduced (via YouTube).
Despite its cool looks, the ELR had an underachieving drivetrain consisting of a 1.4-liter engine, an electric motor, and a pack of lithium-ion batteries. The power output was somewhat satisfying at 217 HP. But the electric-only range was disappointing at just 37 miles. In the end, the base price of $76,000 seemed too much for what the car offered. All of that resulted in less than 3000 sold units and Cadillac discontinued the model after just two years on the market.
One of the rarest and forgotten muscle cars is Pontiac’s GT-37. This was not a model of its own but an option package on the 1970 and 1971 Tempest. Behind this strange name was a regular Tempest with a few performance options. It also the engine from the much more popular GTO model. This meant that buyers who had $3,000 to spend could get a car from 255 HP up to 345 HP.
Pontiac advertised the GT-37 as the “GTO lite.” But the car lacked exterior features like the famous Endura bumper and rear spoiler. For 1971, the famous 455 V8 was offered but went in only a handful of cars. The GT-37 had the performance and the hardware. But it didn’t have GTO’s appeal and image, resulting in awful sales. Pontiac made only around 2000 of these misunderstood muscle cars in two years (via Fosters).
Alfa Romeo left America in 1995 only to return in 2009. However, the last model Alfa sold in America was a gorgeous 164 Sedan with a famous Busso 3.0-litre V6 engine with 210 HP. With 0 to 60 mph time of around 7.5 seconds, a precise manual gearbox, and excellent handling, the 164 was a cool sedan that should have appealed to US buyers.
Due to poor management, marketing, and dealer support, performance-oriented American buyers simply didn’t know how good the Alfa 164 was. Ultimately, the model flopped in the States (via AutoTrader).
In the late ’80s, Peugeot 405 was one of the best European mid-size sedans with modern styling and nice performance. It sold well and was exported all over the world.
In 1988, Peugeot offered this car on the American market, including the hot 405 Mi16 version and a station wagon. It should be a success with an affordable price, French styling, and decent performance. However, in a few years, they sold just around 4000 examples. So in 1991, it was pulled from the American market for good (via Jalopnik).
Nobody could blame you if you don’t know what the Sterling 825 is. Once marketed as the next big thing in the American luxury segment, Sterling is now a forgotten brand. Sterling had an exciting story. It was a British company established in the late ’80s with Honda’s capital and Rover’s design. Honda owned Rover and wanted to enter the American market with a luxury model back then. So they conceived the Sterling, a luxury car based on the Acura Legend (via Motor Trend).
The finished product had a nicely designed interior and had decent power from Honda’s V6 engine. After the introduction in 1987 and good sales numbers in the first few months, problems showed up. Sterlings were poorly put together. The electronics were troublesome and some cars even developed rust issues. Honda tried to improve the production process, but there wasn’t much they could do. By the early ’90s, Sterling was gone.
Citroen has made over 1.5 million of these fantastic, highly-advanced sedans, making the DS an enormous success.(via Citroen.Org.Uk). The DS was also sold in America, where it was considered a technical marvel and had modest success on the market.
Citroen always had problems with underpowered four-cylinder engines and complicated mechanics, so US customers were pretty reserved despite all the advantages of its basic design.
One of the last models Fiat offered to US buyers before it left in the early ’80s was a futuristic compact hatchback called the Strada. The car looked fantastic and had a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine (via Autoweek).
However, it was also poorly put together and prone to rust. That didn’t help Fiat’s reputation. After just two years, Stranda was pulled from the market. Interestingly, Strada (known as Fiat Ritmo) proved successful in other parts of the world.
Opel Kadett was one of the best-selling European compact economy cars. It was cheap, decently equipped, durable, and easy to maintain. For years, it enjoyed enormous popularity and was exported worldwide. (via AutoWeek).
Since the Opel was part of GM during the ’60s, General Motors decided to import Kadetts to America and sold them through the Buick dealership network. At first, Kadetts sold well but demand was soon gone. American buyers soon turned to Japanese compacts.
DAF is a Dutch truck manufacturer that also produced cars at some point. The 600 was a small, economy model with Vatiomatic transmission, which started a revolution. In Europe, small and economical DAF 600 models equipped with automatic proved to be perfect city cars because they were easy to drive and park and cheap to maintain.
In the early ’60s, DAF entered the US market and established a network of 69 dealers. However, it only sold a handful of cars before the decade ended (via Dyler).
Today, Audi is one of the leading luxury brands of the American market. But in the late ’80s, the company was almost gone from US shores. This was due to unintended acceleration and numerous crashes that resulted from that (via AutoSafety). In 1986, “60 Minutes” ran a feature about Audi’s unintended acceleration on the popular 5000 model. The viewers didn’t see that the car was rigged and that the acceleration featured in the show wasn’t genuine.
After the show aired, the car community was buzzing. Audi’s reputation was severely damaged. Audi responded by publishing numerous tests and videos showing that the only possible way of something like this happening is if the driver’s foot slips from brake to accelerator pedal. Still, it didn’t help and sales hit rock bottom. Even though “60 Minutes” published a false story and it was proven that Audi didn’t have acceleration problems, the damage was done. It took the company two decades to recover. It’s still unclear why CBS aired this feature. Was it another rival car company behind it?
In the early ’60s, Studebaker management invested in a luxury coupe to fight poor sales. They thought that a fancy upscale model would attract customers to Studebaker. So in 1962, the sleek, modern-looking Avanti was introduced. The innovative design, construction, and technology were fascinating. The car received praise from the motoring press. The base version wasn’t very powerful, but soon Studebaker introduced a supercharged R2 option that delivered 289 HP (via Hymanltd).
Many performance upgrades were included. The Avanti became a pretty fast machine. The R2 model even broke 28 world speed records achieving a top speed of 170 mph, a big deal in 1963. The R2 could sprint to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Unfortunately, Studebaker had problems with production. The Avanti also had limited availability, which affected its popularity. So, by 1964, the model was discontinued. Today, the Avanti R2 is widely recognized as one of the coolest ’60s cars and an early luxury muscle car. Over 4,600 examples of Studebaker Avanti were made during its short production run and only a handful of those were the incredible R2.
The ’90s were tough times for Cadillac. The foreign competition dominated the market and Cadillac products looked outdated and slow. Something had to be done. Cadillac decided to downsize and attack the BMW 5 series with a smaller and modern-looking car. Such a car didn’t exist in the USA, so Cadillac turned to GM’s European division Opel for assistance (via Money Inc.). In those days, Opel had an executive mid-size sedan called the Omega.
Someone at Cadillac thought it would be good to import Omegas from Germany and sell them as Cateras to fight Mercedes and BMW on the American market. The plan just might have worked except for one thing. Omega couldn’t fight Mercedes and BMW because it wasn’t that good of a car. Importing it to the United States didn’t make it better. Unfortunately for Cadillac, that is precisely what buyers thought. Despite good initial sales, the Catera sank, was discontinued in 2001, and soon forgotten.
Introduced in 1991, SVX was an ambitious project and the first proper Subaru sports car. It had futuristic styling and competent mechanics. However, it had two fatal flaws. It was equipped with a powerful 3.3-liter boxer engine with 231 HP and came with Subaru’s signature all-wheel-drive standard, but those weren’t enough (via SubaruSVX).
For some reason, Subaru decided that the only available transmission should be slow-shifting 4-speed automatic, which offended purists. Also, a car filled with so much technology was doomed to be heavy, which significantly reduced driving dynamics. When production stopped in 1996, Subaru had sold just 24,000 cars and only 2,450 in Europe.
Honda’s luxury division Acura is known for elegant cars and quality products. But it’s also known for a strange and pretty ugly model called ZDX. On sale for just three years, the ZDX attempted to present something between a sedan and a crossover SUV. It ended up being neither. Despite a good technical layout and decent power, buyers simply didn’t like the ZDX. Acura managed to sell just 7,200 examples (via MotorBiscuit).
The main reason why the ZDX failed was its design. It was so strange and ugly that most customers decided to stay away although it was a decent car with nice features. However, it became one of the biggest flops that Acura ever had.
Behind this strange name was an even stranger vehicle that was only sold in a three-door configuration with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and automatic transmission. Isuzu designed the VehiCross to be a totally modern and even futuristic off-roader and gave it its best all-terrain technology and components.
But in 1997 when the VehiCross was introduced, the market didn’t react the way it should. The vehicle was strange-looking and some would even say hideous. That is why the US sales were pretty slow, and in 2001 the VehiCross was discontinued (via Motor Trend).
Back in the early 2000s, Lincoln found success with the Navigator, the golden standard of luxury SUVs at the time. Wanting to capitalize on that success, somebody at Lincoln suggested building a pickup version and expanding the range. The idea seemed pretty plausible and soon their prototypes were sent to testing. The Lincoln used a Ford F-150 platform with the front end and cabin of the Navigator, but a custom truck bed that opened like doors and even had a power cover (via Motor Trend).
The finished product looked like a Navigator truck and it was luxurious. But it failed as a truck since the bed was very small and unusable. The biggest problem was the price, as the brand-new 2002 Lincoln Blackwood started at a whopping $52,000, an extremely high price for an unusable truck with Navigator fascia. As you could expect, the market was not amused. During its 15 months in production, only 3,356 were made.
The Edsel story is one of the biggest commercial failures in the car business, even by today’s standards. In the late ’50s, Ford launched the Edsel. It was an upscale brand based on Ford and Mercury models to compete with Oldsmobile and Buick. Ford invested over $400 million in design, development, and marketing. But most of that money went to promote the Edsel and create unequaled hype among the car-buying public (via Money Inc.). When Ford officially presented the car, people were puzzled. The design was strange. The front end reminded folks of a public urinal.
This event caused outrage among the conservative members of 1950s society. The Edsel cost a bit more than most Fords, but it still was affordable despite its powerful engine and upscale features. After the good sales in the first few months, buyers’ interest subsided and Ford struggled to sell more cars. In 1960, after just two years on the market, they killed the Edsel. Ford’s massive investment turned into an enormous loss. So, what was the problem with the Edsel? Quite simply, it was the hype. Ford invested a lot of money to present the image of the Edsel as a fantastic new car with unrivaled features and power. People expected something exceptional but only got an upscale Ford with a funny design.