The cars that pleased everybody apart from the dealers who couldn’t sell them
Automotive history is littered with cars that were supposed to represent some kind of new benchmark in motoring.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason – dodgy reliability, hopeful pricing, badge snobbery, or simply bad timing – the hopes and dreams of many manufacturers have all too often turned to ashes in front of their eyes.
Let’s have a skim back through time to look at the ‘big moment’ cars whose moment didn’t arrive in the way it was meant to – but which may have unwittingly given a useful lead for cars that came along later.
Chrysler Gas Turbine (1963)
This jet-age-inspired car was trumpeted as the future of motoring. It sounded like a jet, which was only right as it actually had a jet engine, but it drank like a fish and the power was too much for the chassis. Only nine of the 50 cars built weren’t scrapped.
Bricklin SV-1 (1974)
Sexy but also safe. The thinking behind Malcolm Bricklin’s SV-1 should have been bang on for the 1970s, but nobody seemed to think so. It was a sales disaster.
Aston Martin Lagonda (1976)
Nobody expected such a wacked-out machine to come from this conservative British car builder. Examples of William Towns’ design are now appreciating in value, but that’s with the benefit of restored electronics that work.
Audi A2 (1999)
A lightweight aluminium city car that could easily seat four big passengers seemed perfect, but the price tag frightened most buyers off.
Burney Streamline (1929)
37 of these wonderfully aerodynamic seven-seaters were built. They had twin-cam straight-eight engines in the rear and were the creation of ex-naval officer Sir Dennistoun Burney, who went on to design airships. You can see one of the two survivors (many caught fire) at England’s National Motor Museum.
Citroen C6 (2005)
Official French Presidential car for some time, the Citroen C6 suffered from the usual ‘large French car syndrome’, which was that nobody wanted to risk buying one when they could have something reliable and German instead.
Chrysler Airflow (1934)
Another pre-war aerodynamic special but this one was badly put together, weighty and too heavy on fuel. Oh, and it broke down a lot too.
Citroen Traction Avant (1934)
Front-wheel drive was just one of the Traction Avant’s pioneering technologies. It also had semi-monocoque construction and self-levelling suspension. Nobody had managed to put all that into a mass-produced car, and nor did Citroen: the Traction Avant bankrupted the company.
Ford B-Max (2012)
Ford’s Fiesta-based pillarless micro-MPV should have done better. It was versatile and a good drive, but it simply never took off, and Ford recently announced that it’s going to be dropped from the range.
General Motors EV-1 (1996)
This super-aerodynamic electric-powered two-seater used the best batteries that were available at the time. Sadly they weren’t good enough to deliver a credible range. The 1100 or so that were leased out were hastily taken back and scrapped. It’s the one and only GM car to be produced under GM’s corporate badge.
Honda Insight (1999)
Few cars divided opinion as much as Honda’s original Insight, a concept car made real out of smooth aluminium panels and a hybrid powertrain. It weighed just 850kg and good examples today are holding on to their value
Honda CR-Z (2010)
Despite the Insight’s poor sales, Honda carried on with the hybrid theme in its CR-Z, which offered sportiness with green efficiency. The public was confused by the fact that it looked fast but wasn’t. Only around 4,300 were sold in the UK.
Jowett Javelin (1947)
Jowett set out to build a British six-seater with American comfort levels. Low weight gave it good fuel efficiency and the price was right too at under £500. Sadly the flat-four engine and the gearbox were horribly unreliable. By 1954 the Javelin (and Jowett) was finished.
Matra Rancho (1977)
40 years before today’s fascination with soft-roaders and crossovers, Simca came out with this 1.4-litre seven-seater. It was slow, as were sales, but it’s looking surprisingly fresh now.
NSU Ro80 (1967)
How do you lose a fortune in car manufacturing? By giving your car a rotary engine. That seems to be one lesson of history. The Ro80 was Car of the Year, and it drove brilliantly, but warranty claims killed off the NSU company.
Renault A610 (1991)
Another French car that frightened off buyers, by virtue of it promising big performance without the reliability. When it was on the road, the turbo 3.0-litre V6 gave the A610 a near-170mph top speed, and it looked as well as it drove, but the same money bought you a Porsche. Only 67 were sold in the UK.
Chevrolet Volt/Vauxhall Ampera (2012)
This was one of the first electric cars with a built-in generator, a good idea to be sure, but potential buyers were either scared by the badge or by the technology, or both. High prices and a four-seater layout didn’t help.
Volkswagen Phaeton (2002)
When its S-Class rival came out, VW was seen as a manufacturer of small cars. That didn’t play well with anyone who wanted others to see them as successful. Badge snobbery killed this one off before it really got going. Well, that and the fact that the VW group already had a ‘Phaeton’ – the Audi A8.
Volvo Carioca (1935)
Eight years into Volvo’s history, the PV36 (nicknamed ‘Carioca’ after a popular 1930s dance) appeared as a study in modern, streamlined styling. Unfortunately the buying public wasn’t modern or streamlined. A few hundred were made.
Invicta Black Prince (1946)
Who wouldn’t buy something with a gearbox called a Brockhouse Hydro-Kinetic Turbo Transmitter? Everybody apart from 16, turned out to be the answer. That brave 16 got a streamlined body, a 3.0-litre all-alloy engine and even an integral immersion heater. A shame its price was ten times that of a regular family saloon.