"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." —Truman Capote. "My other Maserati is also a piece of shit." —Bumper sticker on a Chrysler TC by Maserati in Berkeley, California. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines a flop as "an act or sound of flopping," or "a complete failure." In the automotive world, a flop is an unholy convergence of economic, corporate, and design conditions that leads to a no-questions-asked sales disaster. Here are 10 of the biggest vehicular faceplants ever recorded.
Vector Motors founder Jerry Wiegert has been compared to P.T. Barnum, his company to Never-Never Land, and his cars to—well, most of the things said about his cars have been suspiciously positive or virtually unprintable. Such is the fate of the odd and boastful.
The Vector Motors Corporation was established in the early 1970s with the stated aim of producing an affordable American supercar. Its first running prototype, built in 1980, sported outlandish looks and a twin-turbocharged, 650-hp Chevrolet V8. Wiegert claimed that the car, dubbed the W2, would see production the following year and cost $125,000. To no one's surprise, the first customer Vector, a modified version of the W2 known as the W8, didn't appear until almost nine years later. Just 22 cars were built, and by the end of production, list price approached half a million dollars.
Vector was acquired by an Indonesian manufacturing conglomerate in 1993, and Wiegert was forcibly removed from command. A host of abortive projects followed, including the Lamborghini-powered M12, a machine that British journalist Jeremy Clarkson once called "very probably the worst car in the entire world."
Weigert regained control of Vector several years ago and that hasn't been heard from since.
What do you get when you combine a bunch of rehashed, last-generation Mercedes-Benz chassis components with overwrought styling and a bit of D-town pride? This bright-eyed hunk of weirdness, that's what.
The Crossfire fell victim to that most heinous of sporty-car sins: It did nothing uniquely. Its chassis was borrowed from the 1997–20004 Mercedes-Benz SLK, and like the SLK, the Crossfire was a decent, if not brilliant, GT. Potential buyers were put off by the art-deco looks and the $35,000- buy-in, and many simply bought an SLK instead.
Or an Infiniti G35 or a BMW 3-series, both of which were more fun to drive than the Crossfire, and neither of which looked like a dog in the middle of a life-altering dump.
How's this for flop: In the second year of Crossfire production, Chrysler actually resorted to dumping excess inventory on Overstock.com.
Here's a great idea: Take a crew-cab Ford F-150, give it a Lincoln Navigator fascia and a covered bed that's lined in carpeting and stainless and trimmed in imitation African wood on the outside. For extra utility, make sure that the power bed cover only opens to a 45-degree angle.
Oh, then make it available as a rear-drive-only truck that costs $52,000 and wait for the customers to come. And wait. And wait some more. Then pull the plug after two years of waiting.
But hey, since only 3000 were made, it's a genuine collector's item or something.
What we have here is the very definition of the phrase "dead on arrival."
First, Chrysler blessed us with the second-generation Dodge Durango, a truckish, forgettable SUV with all the road manners of a rudderless Queen Mary. When Durango sales took a powder, Auburn Hills introduced the world to the Chrysler Aspen, a Durango slathered in plastic chrome and fake wood and arguably the least necessary vehicle in history—until Chrysler birthed the hybrid version.
Two months later, all four models were toast. Like GM's sport-ute hybrids of the era, the Chryslers were being built at a loss. When the economy tanked, Chrysler shuttered the Duraspen's sole production plant, citing slumping SUV sales.
Ah, the Italians. When in doubt, design something beautiful. If you can't be bothered to come up with anything beautiful, then at least design something weird and pawn it off on someone else.
The SVX was definitely a case of the latter. The distinctive coupe came from the pen of Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro—the man who gave us the BMW M1, the Mk1 VW Golf, and the Maserati Ghibli.
The SVX was meant to be the car on which the "new" Subaru would be built—a revolutionary achievement that banished all thoughts of the marque's quirky past. A 230-hp, 3.3-liter, 24-valve flat-six lived under the hood, and a highly evolved, electronically managed all-wheel-drive system put power to the ground. Four-wheel steering was available in Japan, and Giugiaro's sweeping lines resulted in a drag coefficient of just 0.29.
Unfortunately, tech wizardry wasn't enough to overcome its awkward styling and high price (almost $25,000 in 1992). Sales never took off. The SVX was a good car that flopped thanks to the hubris of its maker.
Arrogance, thy name is Lee Iacocca. In the late 1980s, the Chrysler chairman and perpetual huckster turned a friendship with Alejandro de Tomaso, then president of Maserati, into the most shudder-worthy example of corporate avarice ever to roll off an assembly line.
Chrysler's TC by Maserati was little more than a Milan-built K-car with a few pricey underhood components and some styling hackery—a wrinkly grandmother dressed up in custom running shoes and ill-fitting hot pants. The Maserati trident plastered on the grille just added insult to injury.
To be fair, Iacocca's brainchild wasn't without its es. For 1989, the TC sported a 200-hp, 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a Maserati-designed 16-valve cylinder head. A five-speed Getrag manual was also available that year, and Fichtel & Sachs dampers took care of wheel control. But by and large, however, the TC was a dud.
In 1990 and 1991, Chrysler ditched the turbo four for a Mitsubishi-built V6, neutering the Italian connection even further. Just over 7000 examples were sold over the course of three years.
For a brief—and I do mean brief—period of time in the early aughts, this scribe worked at a Jaguar dealership as a parts guy. Most of my time was spent learning the million and one ways that an X-Type could fall apart.
Engines seized, interiors collapsed, transmissions exploded, and driveshafts—oh, the countless, countless driveshafts—ate their U-joints so regularly that you could set your watch by them. At a time when Jaguar reliability was finally approaching respectable, the all-wheel-drive X-Type was the lone, laughable holdout. It was obnoxiously underbuilt, remarkably overpriced, and about as charming as a hernia.
The X-Type was Coventry's business-case company saver, an entry-level sports sedan for the wooden-drawing-room set. It was built on the bones of then patent-company Ford's , and it was intended to resurrect Jag's financial fortunes, providing the dignified marque with a way to snag young, affluent buyers.
What the bean counters neglected to consider, however, was that young, affluent buyers are not lobotomy patients. A tarted-up economy sedan sold at luxury-car prices is still just a tarted-up economy sedan, especially if it tries to self-immolate every time you turn the key.
There was also an impossibly unpopular . The dealer that I worked for had one that sat on the lot for—I am not making this up—two years.
On paper, the plan was ingenious: Build a retractable roof and a movable, watertight partition into the back half of an SUV. One minute, you have lockable, covered cargo space; the next, you're hauling Christmas trees and grandfather clocks and hosing out cargo bay. Makes sense, right?
The pickup-slash-SUV concept was sound—witness the success of the Chevrolet Avalanche—but for the Envoy XUV, the devil lay in the details.
Strike 1: The XUV was made by slicing and dicing an extended-wheelbase GMC Envoy Heavy, bumbling chassis? Check. Fisher-Price interior and the fuel mileage of a 747? Check.
Strike 2: While the Envoy was merely unattractive, the XUV was hideous.
Strike 3: Impracticality. Even with folding seats, an open roof, and a trick swing-open/lay-down tailgate, the XUV couldn't haul much more than an ordinary Envoy.
But it was more expensive...
It's a convertible. It's a pickup. It's a car. It's yet another example of how the American people refuse to pay for anything even remotely corporate where hot-rod culture is concerned.
That's the Chevrolet SSR in a nutshell.
You'd think that GM executives would have taken a lesson from the much-maligned , another awkward, underpowered, and overpriced factory hot rod that failed miserably following a relatively short production life.
To GM's credit, the company at least attempted avoid the Prowler's pitfalls. The SSR got a 300-hp, 5.3-liter V8, not a puny V6. After post-launch complaints of sluggish performance, the 4700-pound, $40,000- SSR was upgraded with a and an optional six-speed manual.
It still wasn't enough to overpower the un-custom convertible truck rod's inherent dorkiness. Few cried when the SSR got the axe.