31 October 2013

The biggest automotive disappointments of all time

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.

4 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Donald Granger United States November 3, 2013 at 00:09
    Under mini-van there really shouldn't be just one entry, it should be ALL of them that have ever existed.
  • 2
    Mike Illinois November 20, 2013 at 21:01
    I have owned three of these maligned Dustbusters over the years and despite the comments in this article I believe they are brilliant vehicles. Having put 140K reliable trouble-free miles on our first 92 APV (purchased new), and 184K on our 92 Transport (purchased used in 2000) we have never had an engine problem or been left stranded on the side of the road, ever. The 3800 V6 is one of the best engines ever produced ours have never once even sputtered. Our current Dustbuster and my most favorite is a 93 Silhouette (purchased in 2010 with 15K) now has a shocking 53K miles and is absolutely mint, thanks to the elderly couple who only took it to church on Sundays. What people forget about these vehicles is their durable space frame and plastic body panels. Every time I see a late model Chysler or Ford Minivan, these so called superior vehicles completely rusted through, I reflect on what our Chevy salesman said in 1992. He said, "This APV will look brand new ten years from now." He was right. I kept these vehicles clean and polished and even when they were ten years old I had poeple ask me if they were new. The fact is my 95 lb wife can take all the seats out of these vans and reinstall them again by herself, whenever needed. Yes a brilliant design. My brother's neighbor has a 94 Tran Sport with 340K on the clock. These vehicles were and are bullet proof. Where are all the other early 90's minivans, the Previas, Windstars, Caravans? Good luck finding one that isn't completed rotted out much less on the road. I have always liked the look of the Silhouette the best, and parked next to the current model Toyota or Nissan Vans (which are hideous to look at from every angle) the old Dustbuster still looks modern some 21 model years later. If anyone else has a low mileage Dustbuster they want to part with I am willing to pay premium dollars for one of these brilliant vehicles. MCC
  • 3
    Matt Graham Tehachapi, CA December 1, 2013 at 18:37
    I remember when Jerry Weigert parked one of the Vector W8 prototypes in front of the Beverly Hills Hilton during the Society of Experimental Test Pilots national conventions (I don't think he realized test pilots don't make all THAT much money...). Shortly after he parked it, it proceeded to deposit a very large pool of bright green coolant on the ground. Not an auspicious beginning...
  • 4
    Glen WA January 23, 2014 at 12:29
    I remember driving through Los Angelas late in the afternoon decades ago on the way home from a road trip picking up a 914 my Uncle in Texas loaned me. We came up to a stop light and next to us was a W-8 with a middle aged man driving and a 'younger' blonde passenger. Was able to grab my trusty Kodak Instamatic 124 and snap a picture before the thing disappeared down a onramp. Still have that picture somewhere in my treasures.

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