3 December 2009

Hagerty Lists Top 'Threatened, Endangered and Extinct' Cars

The passenger pigeon was once the most common bird in North America. Flocks were said to have blackened the skies. Yet history records that the last passenger pigeon—a bird named “Martha”— died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Scant attention, however, was paid to the last chirp of the Plymouth Cricket. Thousands of these British-made captive imports were sold by Chrysler-Plymouth dealers in the early 1970s, yet evidence of it in the automotive fossil record is nearly non-existent. The Chevrolet Monza did an even bigger disappearing act. More than 300,000 Monzas were produced between 1975 and 1980, yet recent sightings have been so infrequent that the Chevy Monza must surely be considered “threatened.”

Other once popular cars have likely disappeared to the extent that they’re “endangered” or even “extinct.” Honestly, when’s the last time anyone saw a Chrysler Cordoba (with or without the “rich Corinthian leather?”)

If someone turns up a running and driving example of a car on the Hagerty “Extinct” list, we’ll happily remove it – when presented with the proper evidence, of course, such as a photo of the car with the owner standing in front of it holding the day’s newspaper. Send your tips to mediaservices@hagerty.com. And, for obvious reasons, we prefer breeding pairs to single cars.

The Hagerty “Threatened” List
Cars originally built in numbers greater than 10,000 of which Hagerty insures fewer than 25

1. 1975-80 Chevrolet Monza: The Monza, based on the infamous Chevy Vega, might well have been the most attractive GM car of the mid-1970s. It was also available with a small V-8 and a manual transmission. Monzas raced successfully, and although the styling was a quality job, build quality wasn’t better than anything else of the era, which may explain the scarcity of survivors.

2. 1963-66 Studebaker Wagonaire: Old station wagons are hot, but few Studebaker Wagonaires ever seem to surface. A pity, as they could be ordered with column shift manual transmissions and V-8s with four barrel carburetors. A unique sliding roof over the cargo area also meant that everything from surfboards to refrigerators could be carried inside.

3. 1971-74 BMW Bavaria: The Bavaria, a precursor to the modern 5-series BMW, followed the successful formula of the 2002 in putting the largest possible engine in the lightest platform – in this case, the 2.8 liter six in the basic 2500 body. Mercedes sedans of the era are still quite common but their competitors from Munich seem to have all but disappeared.

4. 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT: Pitched as an economic commuter car, the four-cylinder mid-engine two-seater was initially no sports car. But by 1988, it had a potent V-6 and a re-worked suspension tuned by Lotus engineers. Alas, it was all for naught. GM killed the car after finally getting it right.

5. 1971-77 Toyota Celica: In 1971 – a little late to the pony car craze – Toyota fielded this Shetland that resembled a miniature Mustang. While it lacked the V-8 engine of a real Detroit pony car, or for that matter the more potent twin-cam home market motors, the first-generation Celica handled pleasantly and was an attractive, well-built car. And as we mentioned, the Liftback was a dead-ringer for a 3/4 scale 1967 Mustang.

The Hagerty “Endangered” List
Cars originally built in numbers greater than 10,000 of which Hagerty insures fewer than 15

1. 1971-76 Mercury Capri: The Capri was Ford of Europe’s answer to the Mustang. Like the Mustang, it was built on rather ordinary sedan underpinnings but the result was handsome, well made and, in the case of the V-6 powered cars, fast. It was quite popular in the early 1970s, selling more than 100,000 units in its first two years. Where they all went is anyone’s guess.

2. 1971-74 Mazda RX-2: The RX-2 was the first rotary-powered car to make an impact in the U.S. market. The engine, built under license from NSU Wankel in Germany, was compact, had few moving parts and ran very smoothly. It also offered V-8 performance in a small car. Unfortunately, it also offered V-8 thirst and when the fuel crisis hit, most early rotary cars disappeared.

3. 1975-81 Volkswagen Scirocco: The first-generation VW Scirocco was positioned as a replacement for the popular Karmann-Ghia. It was a thoroughly modern, VW Rabbit-based, front-wheel drive, water-cooled car with angular styling courtesy of Ital Design and Giorgetto Giugiaro. As rust-prone as anything of the era, the ranks of first-generation Sciroccos have thinned to the point that extinction may loom, particularly for first-year cars with pretty chrome bumpers and funky plaid seats.

4. 1979-81 Toyota Supra: If anyone ever decides to chronicle the history of Toyota’s luxury division, this car has to go down as the proto-Lexus. By adding a few inches of wheelbase, a fancier grille, leather seats and a big, smooth straight six, Toyota discovered that there was a market in the U.S. for Japanese quality and execution in a bigger, cushier and pricier package.

5. 1971 Plymouth Cricket: Produced in the U.K. by Chrysler’s subsidiary, The Rootes Group, it was known there as the Hillman Avenger. Like most captive imports, Chrysler’s heart was never into selling the car in the U.S. and its dealers were perplexed. Chrysler squashed it just before the energy crisis, selling the entire design to Iran’s state car company where it was produced under license. Add that to the Shah’s litany of crimes. As a genuine car guy himself, he should have known better.

Update: The 1971 Cricket was originally listed as "extinct," but a reader – and '71 Cricket owner – has pointed out that his car has been insured by Hagerty since September. We've confirmed his claim and we stand corrected. We're happy to upgrade the car to "endangered" status!

6. 1981-85 Chevrolet Citation X-11: The Citation was one of GM’s X-cars, its first high-volume front-drivers. Any of its stablemates, such as the Oldsmobile Omega, Buick Skyhawk and Pontiac Phoenix, could have made this list, but the X-11 – the performance version of the Citation – was the most interesting and clearly the best candidate for species preservation via a captive breeding program.



The Hagerty “Extinct” List
Cars originally built in numbers greater than 10,000 that Hagerty insures no examples of

1. 1980 Dodge St. Regis: One of the “lost” cars built during Chrysler’s first flirtation with bankruptcy, the St. Regis was a full-sized, four-door sedan with little to distinguish it other than its occasional service with police departments, which were evidently disappointed with the lack of continued availability of the AMC Matador.

2. 1985-86 Chrysler Laser XE: The Chrysler twin to the Dodge Daytona Turbo Z emphasized luxury, but the 2.2 liter turbo engine produced a bit of performance which was unusual for the era. Chrysler’s mediocre build quality at the time and years of deferred maintenance by owners no doubt accounts for the fact that the car has gone the way of leg warmers, really big hair and Men at Work albums as an ‘80s artifact.

3. 1987 Renault/AMC Alliance Convertible: Truth really was stranger than fiction with the Alliance—a French Renault built in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Consumer magazines of the day were dismayed to find out that the Wisconsinites assembled the cars as indifferently as the French. Still, the convertible was interesting as AMC’s fist drop-top since the 1968. We’re hoping that when somebody cuts their grass for the first time since 1992, one of these will turn up.

4. 1983-86 Isuzu Impulse: The Impulse’s Giugiaro styling caused a sensation when it was introduced at the 1979 Geneva Auto Show as the Isuzu Ace of Clubs concept car. Surprisingly, it went into production almost unaltered. Unfortunately, the best Isuzu could do for underpinnings was an uninspired Chevette-derived chassis. The clay mockup may have handled better. Later versions had chassis tuning by Lotus and more competent handling.

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