All posts by Rob Sass

Rob has been involved in the classic car hobby since restoring a Triumph TR4 in his parents' garage at the age of 16. He has written for Car and Driver, AutoWeek, The New York Times and Rob is the author of the book Ran When Parked: Advice and Adventures from the Affordable Underbelly of Car Collecting. He currently owns a Porsche 911SC, a Jensen Interceptor and a Triumph TR250.

Five of the oddest cars from Ford Motor Company

Multi-national Ford Motor Company has — regardless of market — charted a fairly conservative path through the years. Unlike dedicated eccentrics SAAB, Citroën and even American Motors, it has produced few cars that could be fairly characterized as weird, but here are five from Ford (and its Lincoln and Mercury divisions) that still have us scratching our heads:

1983 Ford Escort EXP
1983 Ford Escort EXP
1982-85 Ford Escort EXP: The EXP (along with its twin the Mercury Lynx LN-7) was simply bizarre. It was supposed to be a sporty two-seater version of the Escort compact, but the styling was incomprehensible. It was touted by Ford as a modern, affordable and efficient version of the concept that brought the car world the classic two-seater 1955-57 Thunderbird. But where the T-Bird was graceful and elegant, the EXP was just odd, and the squinty, hungover look to the headlight treatment was particularly strange.
1963 Mercury Monterey
1963 Mercury Monterey
1963 Mercury Monterey Breezeway: The Monterey and its predecessor, the Turnpike Cruiser, were fairly standard 1950s and 1960s full-size Ford Motor Company products, but it was the backward-slanted rear roofline and a rear window that lowered for ventilation that added a truly strange look to the car, as well as providing ready ingress for exhaust fumes.
2002 Ford Lincoln Blackwood
2002 Ford Lincoln Blackwood
2002 Lincoln Blackwood: The Blackwood was a one-year-only Lincoln luxury pickup designed to compete with the Cadillac Escalade XLT. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the answer to a question that nobody was asking—a shortbed luxury pickup that was too nice to actually haul anything in. Less than 3,500 were made in that single year.
1960 Ford Anglia 105E
1960 Ford Anglia 105E
1959-67 Ford Anglia 105E: Famous as the flying car from the “Harry Potter” series, this English Ford sported a distinctly American feature — the bizarre, backward-slanted rear window that Lincolns and Mercurys had sported in the U.S.
2003 Ford Ka
2003 Ford Ka
1996-08 Ford Ka: Another odd duck Ford not seen in the U.S, the Ka was both an oddly named and strangely styled city car that measured just over 142” overall. Performance was largely theoretical as the Ka was powered by a derivative of the ancient four-cylinder that powered the Anglia. Handling was at least said to be entertaining.

Five of the coolest nearly extinct cars from the ’70s and ’80s

The attrition rate of cars from the mid-disco to late Reagan-era is huge. And while we’d love to see someone somewhere driving any one of the cars on this list, in truth, we can’t remember the last time we saw any of them.  Here are five of our favorite nearly extinct cars:

Ford Capri XL
Ford Capri XL
1971-77 Mercury Capri — Few people remember the 1980s Fox-body Mustang’s near-identical twin, the Mercury Capri. Fewer still can recall the Australian-built front-wheel-drive convertible Capri. This isn’t either of those cars— it’s not even the first to wear the Capri badge. It’s the German Ford mini-Mustang Capri. Sold in the U.S. through Mercury dealers and marketed as “The Sexy European” with an assortment of four- and six-cylinder engines, it was nice looking and great to drive—at least we’re assured of this from vintage road tests. One Capri recently offered on was the first that we’ve seen in ages.
Mitsubishi Starion
Mitsubishi Starion
Chrysler Conquest/Mitsubishi Starion — The Conquest was the captive import twin of the Mitsubishi Starion. In the hottest turbo spec with 197 HP, these cars would put the fear of God into Porsche 924/ 944 owners who had the privilege of paying almost twice as much for less performance. Where have they all gone?
International Harvester Travelall
International Harvester Travelall - Photo courtesy of John Lloyd
1969-75 International Harvester Travelall — The Travelall was the Scout’s big brother, and while Scouts are still regularly seen (particularly in the summer with tops off), the Travelall has all but disappeared. In reality, it was one of the pioneers of the modern SUV and one of the first vehicles to offer anti-lock brakes. Sadly, it was completely overshadowed by the Jeep Wagoneer.
Chrysler Laser
Chrysler Laser
Chrysler Laser/ Dodge Daytona Z Turbo — The K-car platform saved Chrysler in the 1980s and underpinned nearly everything that they built, including the sporty Laser/Daytona twins. The car was nowhere near as bad as the foregoing would suggest; 2.2- and 2.5-liter turbo fours produced anywhere from 175 HP to 224 HP in their hottest states of tune. Carroll Shelby versions of the Daytona are somewhat collectible, assuming you can find one.
Volkswagen Scirocco MKI
Volkswagen Scirocco MKI - Photo courtesy of Charles01
1975-81 Volkswagen Scirocco MKI — The Scirocco was the spiritual successor to the Karmann-Ghia. It followed the same formula of a pretty Italian body over more pedestrian underpinnings (in this case a body designed by Ital Design clothing Rabbit-derived mechanicals). No matter, it was a decent handler and quick enough for the day. Today, there are probably more Bentley Continentals on the road than MK I Sciroccos.

Forgotten 90s greats

The 1990s had a fair amount going for it, in terms of both pop culture and automobiles. And while you can argue the merits of Nirvana and Green Day over Duran Duran and White Snake all day, nearly every car on this list is a vast improvement over its 1980s counterpart. Here are five of our favorite forgotten 1990s cars:

Pontiac Bonneville SSEi
Pontiac Bonneville SSEi - Photo courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust
1996-99 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi: GM’s H-body platform made for a more than competent front-wheel-drive full-size sedan. It took Pontiac to actually make it a driver’s car. The marketing slogan “We build excitement” was actually true in the case of the Bonneville SSEi, one of the few American sedans to sport a factory supercharger. Although both the SSE and SSEi were available with an Eaton supercharger that raised the output of the GM 3.8-liter V-6 to a massive 240hp, the latter had all of the options and trim. While the Ford Taurus SHO is remembered by nearly everyone, the Bonneville SSEi has sadly been purged from the puny ’90s vintage 1GB hard drives of all but the biggest fans of the era. In theory, less than five grand buys a great one, although we have to confess, our cursory search revealed no decent examples.
Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Convertible
Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Convertible
1990-95 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Convertible: Oldsmobile got a convertible version of the W-body, and it was somewhat rare with only around 25,000 built. And while front-wheel-drive and its inherent understeer aren’t exactly the first choice of many enthusiastic drivers, the Cutlass Supreme convertible did come with a high-output version of GM’s Quad Four and double overhead cam 3.4-liter V-6, and it was available for two years with a very rare Getrag five-speed manual transmission. Inexpensive four-seater American convertibles with decent performance are thin on the ground at this price point. Around five grand for a good one; a bit more for one with a manual transmission.
1993 Ford Mustang Cobra R SVT
1993 Ford Mustang Cobra R SVT
1993 Ford Mustang Cobra R SVT: The Cobra R may have been the ultimate Fox Body Mustang: It was a track day special with stiffer suspension, and power steering, A/C and rear seat were deleted to save weight. It sported about 30 more horsepower than the standard five-liter GT and was capable of near-13-second quarter-mile times out of the box. Sadly, it has been left in the dust by more recent Shelby and Boss 302s. Only the most dedicated Mustang fans remember the ’93 Cobra R, and for now, they’re a bargain.
Porsche 968
Porsche 968
1992-94 Porsche 968: Porsche devotees have only grudgingly accepted the concept of water cooling. Engines in the front are for those who simply must have a Cayenne or a Panamera. Sadly, this means that truly great sports cars and GTs like the 944 and 928 don’t get much love. Perhaps the saddest case of this prejudice is the 968. Barely remembered by anyone, it combined much of what was great about the 944 and the 928, and was likely the best front-engine sports car that Porsche produced. Built both in coupe and convertible form, these cars are rare and not particularly expensive — at least for now. At some point, the world is bound to catch on. With a small rear seat and the ability to carry more than a toothbrush, between this and a used Boxster, we think there’s no contest for about the same money.
Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4
Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4 - Photo courtesy of Gregory Maxwell
1990-1999 Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4: That this car wound up on a “forgotten” list is painful in and of itself. Perhaps it’s more a function of Mitsubishi’s status in the U.S. market than a commentary on the inherent goodness and cool factor of this car. Twin turbo with all-wheel-drive and four wheel steering with nearly 300hp, it’s essentially a well-built V-6 F-body Camaro or Firebird with all-weather capability. If you can’t deal with the stigma of driving a Japanese nameplate, the same car was sold in the U.S. as the Dodge Stealth.

U-S-A! U-S-A! The most American classics of all time

Automotive designers have cribbing from each other since the dawn of the automotive era. Often it’s less obvious to borrow from far away than from your own backyard. Witness the countless European-inspired American cars we’ve seen over the years (like the 1989-97 Ford Thunderbird, a virtual copy of the 1977 BMW 630 CSi).  Europe has been known to return the favor on occasion, too, as anyone who has ever seen an Opel GT (which looks for all the world like a 2/3-scale ’68 Corvette) can attest.  The cars on this list dispense with any of that “hands across the water” nonsense. They couldn’t have come from anywhere else — they’re as proudly American as it gets:

1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird
1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird - Photo courtesy of Sicnag
1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird: As over-the-top as anything got in the golden age of the American muscle car, the wild, aerodynamic nose cone and 11-story rear wing were designed to ensure NASCAR domination back in the days when the race cars actually had to resemble something you could go into a showroom and buy. Add the massively powerful and virtually handmade 426-ci hemi V-8, and you’ve got another “only in America” classic.
1966 Jeep CJ-5
1966 Jeep CJ-5
Jeep CJ-5: The CJ-5 was actually a variant of the Korean War-era military Jeep. Far more suited to civilian use than the WWII-era Jeep, the CJ-5 was a hot seller for American Motors, which took over Jeep’s parentage from the old Kaiser Automotive Group. Its familiar face is in every “greatest generation” newsreel and our favorite WWII/Korea movies from “Patton” to “M*A*S*H.” Few things say “America” like a Jeep CJ.
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville: Not only was the name of this car over-the-top (combining two names that would do just fine on their own), but it marked the high-water point for the tailfin fad inspired by the WWII Lockheed P-38 Lightening fighter plane. These were the Empire State Building of tailfins, with twin rocket-like tail lamps embedded in them. Any ’59 Caddy is a simply stunning work of art from an era of unmatched American optimism.
1964 Pontiac GTO
1964 Pontiac GTO - Photo courtesy of Mecum
1964 Pontiac GTO: The Goat (which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year) can reasonably lay claim to starting the muscle car craze. The idea was to stuff a gigantic 389-ci V-8 into the smallest body possible (the Pontiac Le Mans). And although the name was a direct theft from Ferrari, nothing else about the GTO could have come from anywhere else but America. With Pontiac gone for good, another revival seems unlikely. May it rest in peace.
1949 Ford F-1
1949 Ford F-1
Ford F-Series: America invented the pickup truck with the 1925 Ford Model T pickup. And although everyone from Toyota to VW has dabbled in them, the center of the pickup universe will always be in the U.S. Perhaps the most quintessentially American pickup is the 1948-52 Ford F-Series.

Five classic Mustangs you can still afford

With the big 50th anniversary of the Mustang, prices of the classic first version of the Mustang, the 1964½ (technically a 1965 model) through 1966, have been moving up. The best convertibles and fastbacks with the highest horsepower engines can bring well over $65,000 and there has been renewed interest in vintage Mustangs of all years.  All isn’t lost however for the Mustang collector on a budget.

Here are five of our favorite Mustangs that are still affordable:

1966 Ford Mustang Convertible
1966 Ford Mustang Convertible
1964½-66 Convertible (six cylinder): If you simply must have the first version of the Mustang in a convertible and have $25,000 or less to spend on a nice one, well then you’re likely to have to settle for the six-cylinder model instead of the 260 or 289 V-8. And the six of the ’60s was nothing like today’s 300-plus hp base V-6. Nope, the 200-cubic-inch straight-six was good for just 120 hp, so performance was leisurely at best. No matter; the six still looked great.
1964 1/2 Ford Mustang
1964 1/2 Ford Mustang
1964 ½-66 V-8 Coupe: If you’d really rather have a V-8, there’s still time to find one for less than $25,000. Granted, it won’t be a swoopy fastback or a drop-top, but the basic hardtop is still a pretty car. Don’t expect the highest horsepower versions of the Mustang 289-cubic-inch V-8 at this price point, but nice cars are still out there. For now anyway.
1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1971-1973 Mach I 302 Coupe: “Mach I” was one of the more audacious names of the Pony Car era, however in actual fact, its top speed was a bit shy of the speed of sound. But it had pumped up good looks and none other than Sean Connery as James Bond drove a ’71 Mach 1 in the movie “Diamonds are Forever.” As usual, the biggest engine version has sailed past affordability, but the 302 V-8 Mach Ican still be had for around $25,000 if you look hard enough.
1986 Ford Mustang SVO
1986 Ford Mustang SVO
1984-86 SVO: This selection will likely get the trolls’ attention: a four-cylinder Mustang on a list of collectible Mustangs. But the SVO wasn’t a Pinto-based Mustang II or your dental hygienist’s 88 hp four-banger Fox Body Mustang; the SVO sported a turbo 2.3-liter four that made as much horsepower as the 5.0-liter V-8 of the day, a biplane rear spoiler, unique front fascia, and hood complete with a totally cool NACA duct-style air scoop. It was faster and more expensive than the V-8. Fuel prices never climbed the way that the industry expected, and the 5.0-liter V-8 was further developed with new, more-efficient cylinder heads, and eventually fuel injection, giving it better gas mileage and much more horsepower with less complication and expense, so the sophisticated SVO disappeared after 1986.
1988 Ford Mustang GT5.0 Convertible
1988 Ford Mustang GT5.0 Convertible
1987-93 GT 5.0 Convertible: We like the 1989 model because it was the 25th anniversary year of the Mustang (which Ford barely noticed). The Fox Body Mustang might not have been the most glamorous body style ever, but it was one of the cars responsible for ending the “Malaise Era” of sluggish and dull American cars. With the 5.0-liter V-8 boosted to 225 hp, in 1987, the Mustang brought cheap V-8 performance back to the masses. Care for something a bit newer? We also love the 2008-09 Bullitt Edition Mustang and think it’s a future collectible.

11 automotive tragedies from the big screen

Bad things often happen to good cars in the movies.

Ferris Bueller
Ferris Bueller 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder replica

Here’s a list of 11 scenes that still make car guys cringe with every viewing:

  1. 1970 Dodge Challenger (“Vanishing Point”): The ’70 Dodge Challenger (one of about five used for the film) meets a fiery end when the protagonist of the film (played by Barry Newman) drives it into a bulldozer being used as a police road block.
  2. 1967 Lamborghini Miura P400 (“The Italian Job”): The Miura is probably the most beautiful mid-engine sports cars of all time. And that’s what makes this scene so hard to watch. In the opening scene of the movie, mobsters destroy heist-plotter Roger Beckerman’s (Rossano Brazzi) Miura with a backhoe and push it over a cliff. A small consolation is the fact that an actual intact Miura wasn’t destroyed. Just body panels over an empty accident-bent chassis. Interestingly, when the producers went to clean up the mess the next day, the remains had disappeared. Neither the chassis tag nor any of the pieces have surfaced to this day.
  3. 1979 Porsche 930 (“Caddyshack”): This scene is an object lesson as to why you should never park your car with the sunroof open within a half-mile radius of where alcohol is being served:  Young Spalding Smails, suffering from a case of affluenza combined with Johnny Walker, staggers up to Dr. Beeper’s parked 930 and empties the contents of his upper GI tract into the open sunroof. The squishy sound-effect of Beeper sliding into the seat never fails to make one cringe.
  4. 1964 Aston DB5 Martin (“Skyfall”): In the rebooted James Bond world of Daniel Craig, Bond is seen to have won the DB5 in a card game in the movie Casino Royale. Its nose-mounted machine guns are put to good use in an attempt to repel an assault by the film’s villain, played by Javier Bardem.  Sadly, the car is strafed into Swiss cheese.  Happily, the car was actually a prop that was convincingly made to look like a real DB5.
  5. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”): This scene is perhaps the most famous bit of classic car mayhem in all of moviedom.  In it, the Ferrari is seen placed on jack stands running in reverse in a hilariously stupid attempt to remove the miles that had been put on the car during the day’s class-cutting good fun in Chicago. In a fit of frustration directed at his misplaced-priorities jerk of a father, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) accidentally kicks the car off the jack stands and it sails out of its glass enclosure into the woods below.  Happily, as with the Miura and the Aston, it wasn’t a real California Spyder.
  6. 1979 Porsche 928 (“Risky Business”): This scene reminds us all why we should use the hand brake. Those of us who are old enough to have seen this in theaters didn’t see this one coming: Tom Cruise is enjoying a night out with the typical “Pretty Woman”-like, non-drug addicted, non-inked, debutante-like (read nonexistent) hooker that Hollywood is so fond of (in this case played by Rebecca de Mornay), when de Mornay’s handbag strap pulls the gear shifter into neutral as she’s exiting the car. The Porsche rolls down a hill heading toward Lake Michigan with Cruise on the hood in a futile attempt to arrest the forward motion of the 3,800-pound 928. It ultimately comes to a stop at the edge of a wooden pier. Just as Cruise breathes a sigh of relief and starts to make his way to the driver’s door, the entire pier collapses, taking Cruise and the car for a swim in the lake.  Audiences everywhere gasped audibly. The scene at the dealership where the service manager enters the waiting rooms and asks, “Which one of you is the U-Boat commander?” is priceless.
  7. 1985 Corvette (“The Big Lebowski”): Like the entire plot of this Coen Brothers cult classic, the setup here is a bit convoluted. A 14-year-old kid named Larry Sellers has likely stolen Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski’s (Jeff Bridges’)  battered Ford Torino, possibly (but possibly not) containing a large sum in ransom money.  The Dude and his extremely anger management-challenged bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) head for little Larry’s house to try to interrogate the kid and recover the money. On the way in, they’re dismayed to find a red 1985 Corvette parked in front of the house, which they take as a sign that the kid has already started to blow the money.  When standard interrogation techniques prove fruitless, Walter moves on to the enhanced interrogation which includes taking a crowbar to the Corvette’s glass in full view of a very puzzled Larry. The Corvette turns out to be the neighbor’s car. He in turn freaks out and exacts rather uneven revenge on The Dude’s already dilapidated Torino.
  8. 1941 Lincoln Continental (“The Godfather”): You could always count on the hot temper of Sonny Corleone. The Barzini Family certainly did. They also knew that when Carlo, the abusive lowlife husband of Sonny’s sister Connie, would hit her, Sonny would respond by unleashing the Hiroshima of beatings on Carlo. The Barzinis (who wanted Sonny dead) of course also knew that the most direct route from Sonny’s fist to the jawbone of Carlo would take him through the toll booth at the Jones Beach Causeway on Long Island, where the Barzini’s hit men were waiting to go Bonnie and Clyde on Sonny with Thompson sub-machine guns.  The result was not pretty for either Sonny or the Lincoln. Neither were fit for an open casket funeral.
  9. 1957 Chevrolet 210 (“Used Cars”): This early Robert Zemeckis cult classic starred the great character actor Jack Warden in a dual role as twin brothers Roy L. Fuchs and Luke Fuchs.  And while Roy L. was just an amoral small-time used car dealer, his brother Luke was a classic evil schemer. Faced with the prospect of losing his prime real estate lot to a freeway onramp, Luke hatched a plot to get his brother’s lot. Knowing that Roy L. was both without a will, had no known offspring and had a bad ticker, he sent a stunt driver (played by the chubby dude who later played Switek on “Miami Vice”) to “test drive” Roy’s prized ’57 Chevy. Predictably, the insane ride had Roy L. immediately reaching for his nitroglycerin tablets which a sharp and well-timed turn of the wheel knocked out of his hands. Nearly every panel on the poor classic Chevy was smashed by the end of the ride. The “test driver” simply tosses the keys to a gasping, chest-clutching Fuchs and says, “I’ll think about it, old man.”
  10. 1979 Chevrolet Camaro  Z/28 (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”): The Camaro was owned by intimidating high school football prospect Charles Jefferson (played by the great Forrest Whitaker in one of his earliest roles). Jefferson’s little brother and surfer/stoner Jeff Spiccolli (Sean Penn) take the car cruising one night in the San Fernando Valley and wreck it. While surveying the horrific damage, Spiccolli pops the classic line, “My old man is a TV repairman, he has an awesome set of tools. I can fix it.” Ultimately, no repairs are undertaken. Rather, the damage is blamed on car thieves from a rival high school whom Ridgemont is playing in a big football game. An incensed rhino-like Jefferson is seen later delivering paralytic revenge hits in the subsequent game.
  11. 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE convertible (“The Hangover”): Which part of this seems like a bad idea?  Future father -in-law entrusts his non-Car Guy future son-in-law with his treasured Mercedes convertible for a pre-wedding jaunt with friends. Granted, they were supposed to be headed to sedate California wine country, but they go to Vegas instead. The extreme body damage that the handsome Benz suffers is predictable for anyone who has seen “Animal House.” The damage done to the interior by Mike Tyson’s pet tiger? That’s novel.

Five of the coolest station wagons ever

Station wagons are officially endangered in the U.S., and other than the Dodge Magnum and Cadillac CTS wagon, Richard Nixon was president when the last really cool one was built in America. But a quick look at the cars on this list might make you re-think any preconceived notions that wagons were all “Mom Mobiles” for the pre-minivan generation.

1955-57 Chevrolet Nomad — The iconic Tri-Five Chevy, built from 1955-1957, was likely the post-war high-water mark for Chevrolet. It came in myriad body styles and was available with the first version of Chevrolet’s legendary small-block V-8. The two-door Nomad wagon gives even the convertible a serious run for its money in the cool department.
Photo courtesy of John Lloyd
1959 Pontiac Safari — The 1950s were littered with cool station wagons with over-the-top styling. Our vote goes for the ’59 Pontiac Safari. That was the model year in which tail fins reached their absurd apex. The ’59 Safari actually had two sets of fins on the top and the bottom of the rear fenders, making it look like a Redstone ballistic missile – which was probably not an accident.
Photo courtesy of Greg Gjerdingen
1964-65 Chevrolet Chevelle — Two-door wagons are totally impractical to the point of defeating the purpose of having a wagon in the first place, but they look cool. We love the first-generation Chevelle two-door wagon for its handy size, great looks and the fact that all of the performance parts from the two-door SS coupe will fit on the wagon, making it a great sleeper muscle car.
1968-72 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser — The Vista Cruiser and the Ford Country Squire are the cars that immediately come to mind when referring to the “back backseat,” and it was probably in one of these wagons where the classic slow-burn phrase “Don’t make me come back there” was first uttered by an agitated father. The Olds gets the nod in terms of cool, simply because we love the glass roof and GM’s spot-on styling work.
1971-73 Volvo 1800ES — Volvo of the 1960s and ‘70s wasn’t exactly a company synonymous with high style. Frumpy but practical 544s, Amazons and brick-like 240s were the stereotypical Volvos of the day. But the P1800 coupe was gorgeous, and for a few brief model years it was available as a very pretty two-door sports wagon. Nicknamed “Cinderella’s Coffin” by some for their long, flat roof lines and generous glass, these wagons are among the few truly collectible Volvos — and they run virtually forever.

Pontiac GTO: One of the 5 cars Boomers miss most

Baby boomers are in full nostalgia mode as they contemplate their lost youth. And as the last generation that really bought into America’s love affair with the automobile, it’s natural that some of that nostalgia is of the four-wheeled variety. Here are five of the cars that baby boomers miss the most:

Pontiac GTOPontiac GTO: It’s still hard for Widetrack fans to believe that the entire division is no more and for us. It was a virtual tossup between Nos. 1 and 2 as to the most missed car, but with the 50th anniversary of the GTO (and arguably the muscle car itself) coming up, we have to go with the Goat. Not the Australian Holden-in-disguise that we got from 2004-06, mind you, but the real 1964-72 bit of classic American muscle. May John Z. DeLorean rest in peace.
Pontiac Trans Am: With Pontiac and therefore the Firebird gone, it’s reasonably certain that the famous T/A is gone for good (at least from GM). We’re not sure if we miss the car or the most audacious hood decal of all time more, but we know we start humming “East Bound and Down” every time we see one. For people who just can’t accept that the Pontiac T/A is dead, performance car genius Ken Lingenfelter will sell you a fantasticTrans Am-inspired Camaro LTA.
Chevrolet El Camino: The half-car, half-pickup concept had real legs, lasting from the 1950s through the 1980s. We think it deserves another shot but GM seems to disagree, having on multiple occasions stubbornly refused to bring back the beloved El Camino.
MGB: MG was the sports car Americans loved first, with servicemen bringing back MG TCs after WWII. When it was introduced in 1962, few could have imagined that the MGB would be the last new MG sold in the U.S. Nonetheless, that’s how it played out. In 1980, with the British auto industry in a free fall, the quaint factory in Abingdon, England, was closed, and that was it for MGs in the U.S. A shame; even though woefully outdated, the car had little to no competition and could have gone on almost indefinitely, or at least until 1989, when the Mazda Miata was introduced. Those of a certain age still miss the little MGB on sunny days.
Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon: Nearly every boomer has a story about the Vista Cruiser, whether it’s a road trip from hell or just getting shuttled to school or Cub Scouts or Brownies in one. The Vista Cruiser, with its unique windows on the roof and the back, backseat where misbehaving siblings could easily be banished, was the official wagon of the wonder years for so many boomers.

Cars that wouldn’t die: 6 cases of auto longevity

In this age of ultra-short product lifecycles where a three-model-year run unchanged is an eternity, it’s tough to imagine the same basic design being produced for three separate decades or more. Here are six cars well known to most Americans that all had tortoise-like life spans:

11962-80 MGB: The MG was the sports car Americans loved first, with U.S. servicemen bringing back rakish MG TCs from the UK. The MGB was the first “modern” sports car from MG that included features like actual roll-up windows and (from 1967 on) a fully synchronized manual transmission. When it was introduced in 1962, few thought that it would be the last MG sold in the U.S. Sadly, that’s how it turned out.  After a titanic 18-year run, the B exited the world little changed from the way it entered. The engine and body shell were the same basic units that were being built during the Kennedy administration.
21954-83 Jeep CJ-5: The CJ-5 was actually a variant of the Korean War-era military Jeep. Far more suited to civilian use than the WWII-era Jeep, the CJ-5 was a hot seller for American Motors, which took over Jeep’s parentage from the old Kaiser automotive group. The CJ-5’s short wheelbase gave it a terribly choppy ride and made it rollover-prone in emergency situations. Nevertheless, it remained in production for an astonishing 30 years, and there is a fair amount of CJ DNA in today’s Wrangler. 
31949-80 Volkswagen Beetle: For a car that was a virtual orphan cast-off at the end of WWII, the Beetle wound up doing OK. The Allied occupying powers didn’t quite know what they should do with the car, which was commissioned by the Nazis to give loyal subjects mobility on the new Autobahn superhighways. As it turned out, invading Poland and plunging the world into a catastrophic war took precedence over the automobile business, and the Allies found the remnants of a new factory in a new town known as Wolfsburg. They elected to let the post-war Germans keep the funny little car, and the rest is history. Although the last Super Beetle Cabriolets were sold in the U.S. from 1980-81, production of the basic Beetle sedan continued in Mexico until 2006.
41964-89 Porsche 911 (air-cooled): The 911 celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, but to be fair, we cut this off in 1989, the last year for the original torsion-bar suspension, air-cooled 911. It’s simply amazing how little of the basic car changed over the course of 25 years, from the primitive heating system, to most of the glass, roof and doors, as well as the basic engine design. 911 fans seemed just fine with that as the car outlived its intended successor — the 928.
51968-82 C3 Corvette: Corvettes through their history had been on a somewhat fast and furious development pace ever since Zora Arkus-Duntov decided to show Chevy how to make it into a real V-8-powered sports car in 1955. The second generation, or C2, Corvette (which many argue was the best of the classic Corvettes) was only around from 1963-67. The car that replaced that version, however, hung around for 14 long years. To be fair, these were tough years for GM, which was getting hammered by imports and two fuel crises. There were several mid-engine design studies that came perilously close to replacing the C3, but it never happened, and the same basic design lasted from LBJ to Reagan.
61960-82 Checker Marathon: Who doesn’t miss the Checker Marathon? One of the few purpose-built taxi cabs ever sold in the U.S., they were infinitely nicer to ride in than the clapped-out Ford Crown Vics that seem to serve as cabs everywhere in the U.S. Similar in roominess to the classic London taxis still in service, with their handy fold-down jump seats, the Marathon also added a useful trunk to the mix.  Although the vast majority were used as cabs, ultra-practical eccentrics did from time to time buy Marathons as civilian transportation.  Twenty-two years wasn’t long enough.

Biggest automotive disappointments of all time

The Vector
The Vector

Some new cars sneak into the world under the radar with little baggage in the form of expectations (realistic or otherwise).  Others are so heavily touted or anticipated that even the best can sink under the weight of unrealistic pressures. Here are some that, in addition to being under the microscope when introduced, suffered from more glitches than the Obamacare website:


1990-93 Pontiac Trans Sport: GM perceived an unexploited niche for a minivan with some style, much like the European Renault Espace. The concept car was brilliant, with gullwing doors and a glass roof. Unfortunately, none of these features translated into the production model, whose awkward profile resembled a Black and Decker Dustbuster mini vacuum. The nickname “Dustbuster” stuck, and sales were modest. Buyers found them hard to see out of because of the huge distance between the steering wheel and the windshield.


1971-77 Chevrolet Vega: The Vega was supposed to be the small car that sent the new wave of Japanese imports back across the Pacific. Instead, it pushed a giant wave of buyers into Toyota and Datsun showrooms. The aluminum engine, which was prone to overheating and oil burning, and the hideously rust-prone bodies were often just the tip of the misery iceberg for Vega owners. Even the air in the tires seemed substandard.


1981 Cadillac DeVille V8-6-4: GM struggled to maintain a sense of traditional luxury under the weight of the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy (“CAFE”) regulations. And while the idea of a V-8 engine that turned off cylinders when they weren’t needed  had promise that would eventually be realized, the technology of the day wasn’t up to the task and the feeling of the cylinders shutting off and on was perceptible to the point of being nausea-inducing.  Cadillac introduced at least 13 new computer chips for the cylinder deactivation control system before giving up.


1972-75 Jensen-Healey: The Jensen-Healey was designed to be the successor to the much-loved Austin-Healey 3000, with input from the legendary Donald Healey.  Unfortunately, where the earlier car had a lovely and curvaceous style to it, the J-H was perceived as bland and derivative.  Also problematic was the new and untested Lotus twin-cam engine. Broken timing belts, oil leaks and low oil pressure issues ensured that warranty claims added up quickly, and the Jensen-Healey was gone after just four model years.


1989-93 Vector W8: Promoted heavily as America’s answer to supercars like the Lamborghini Diablo, the Vector was underfunded, underdeveloped and (some said) amateurishly styled. Tennis star Andre Agassi was an early and unhappy customer when his car failed spectacularly on his first day of ownership, by some accounts setting his garden on fire. Accusations and legal threats flew both ways, and in the end, just 17 cars were built before the whole venture collapsed. The original price was $455,000.