16 December 2014

You think you’ve got marriage problems? Try being an automaker

Looking at government statistics, you may wonder why people get married. After all, 48 percent of married couples will divorce before their 20th anniversary, with almost half of those occurring within five years.

That may seem gloomy, but it’s far superior to when automobile companies get together to build a car. More often than not, these unions produce a vehicle that pencils well, since the economies of scale yield greater profits. But mostly, the end product is a result of political and financial compromise rather than true inspiration.

If you need convincing, check out these six unhappy offspring of cooperative automaker ventures. One read will be enough to convince you that people, not automakers, are the ones who should get married.

1940-41 Graham Hollywood/Hupmobile Skylark
Like many other automakers, Graham and Hupmobile struggled through the Depression, using various means to survive as sales dwindled. By the late 1930s, Hupmobile had bought the dies for the Cord 812, but lacked the funds to get it into production. Graham supplied the backing and soon, both automakers had new models that differed mainly in styling details. But neither company took into account the cost and complexity of building these cars. These warmed-over models didn’t fool the public; it would be the death knell for both marques.

1987-91 Sterling
Given that the British auto industry was on its last legs, the Sterling sure seemed like an inspired idea. Combine the best of British car-building – the wood-paneled, leather-lined ambience, with the best of Asia, in this case a reliable Honda platform. Sounded great on paper; the reality was quite different. The same indifferent British work force that propelled British automakers to extinction assembled the resulting sedan. Known as the Sterling in the United States, sales never reached expectations, even after quality issues were rectified. Parent company Rover never recovered.

1989-91 Chrysler TC by Maserati
When it came to dressing up entrails into merchandise that could be passed off as something pricier, Lee Iacocca had few equals. Remember, this is a man who passed off the lowly Ford Falcon as the sporty Mustang. Or took K-Car parts and launched the Chrysler minivans. The formula finally failed with the debut of the Chrysler TC by Maserati. Not only did it resemble the far more common Chrysler LeBaron, the Milan-built TC used the K-Car’s platform and four-cylinder engine, although topped with Maserati cylinder heads. Later TCs even used a Mitsubishi V-6.

1991-94 Mercury Capri
The Capri started life in the 1970s as a European sports car, and went on to become little more than an overdressed Ford Mustang. Come 1991, the Capri name was applied to this marriage of Italian styling and front-wheel-drive Mazda 323 mechanicals. Ford had a controlling interest in Mazda at the time; what could go wrong? Lots. Assembled in Australia, the Capri suffered from lackluster build quality. What’s worse, it came to market in response to the rear-wheel-drive Mazda Miata, which used the same engine and parts, yet was more appealing to look at and drive.

2001-08 Jaguar X-Type
Another company that Ford took over in the 1990s was Jaguar. While the Yanks did much to improve quality, they stumbled when trying to compete with the rear-wheel-drive BMW 3-Series. Thanks should go to the corporation’s legendary bean counters, who couldn't resist extracting maximum profits by using the mundane front-wheel-drive Contour architecture. It didn’t fool consumers, who could tell that, somehow, this wasn't a real Jaguar. That is, until the car aged. Then, its lack of reliability reminded them that, yes, the X-Type was every bit the Jaguar of legend.

2004-08 Chrysler Crossfire
Once DaimlerChrysler's "merger of equals" was consummated, a series of vehicles emerged that failed to click with consumers. One of them was the Crossfire, an interestingly styled Art Deco  two-seater assembled in Germany using 1997-2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK hardware. This meant that the Crossfire inherited the SLK's confined cabin and less-than-sharp handling. Given that Mercedes-Benz quality control slipped in these years, the Crossfire suffered from numerous annoying gremlins, an attribute not unknown to Chrysler products of the era.

20 Reader Comments

  • 1
    John Clement Fort Worth, TX December 17, 2014 at 13:22
    I had expected to see the AMC/Renault marriage on this list so I was pleasantly surprised it wasn't mentioned. Renault has made several unsuccessful attempts to move into the American marketplace through the years, including buying up a substantial portion of AMC in the early 80's. The Alliance and Encore models were actually excellent little cars, roomy and comfortable for their size and price point, but the technological elements that allowed for this also made them very difficult to work on by shade tree and independent mechanics and the subsequent bad-mouthing they received - in addition to the considerable (also often undeserved) aversion of many Americans to French-influenced or French-built products led to ultimate failure in the marketplace. In retrospect, that is a shame because these were really very good cars. And like so many other AMC efforts never got the respect they deserved. I had four of them through the years and they all served me well. Thanks for an interesting article!
  • 2
    Steve Michigan December 17, 2014 at 13:55
    Many seem to forget that the Jaguar X-Type was the marque's best selling car for most of the years it was in production. Some have suggested it kept the mark from folding all together during some slow sales years. Other than a few quirky electrical gremlins and a very specific wheel alignment procedure, these can be had on the cheap and are very (mechanically) reliable.
  • 3
    Bruce Berst Casper,wyoming December 17, 2014 at 14:21
    Great article. How about the marriages of other American auto makers , Kaiser/Frasier, Studebaker/Packard, and the list goes on.
  • 4
    David Northampton UK December 17, 2014 at 15:17
    Not buying this guff about the Jag, I had one for 4 years and 97,000 miles, no problems. Good mpg too. I bet it is still out there as a 7 year old now.
  • 5
    Dave C Metuchen NJ December 17, 2014 at 15:55
    I called my Chrysler dealer when I saw the Crossfire at the New York car show. I told them I wanted the first one that came in. He called me when they were unloading the car. Magnificent but when I went to get into it I could'nt get in. What German builds a car with no legroom?
  • 6
    Peter Cohen California December 17, 2014 at 16:19
    I had a 1989 Rover Sterling 827S for 8 years and 130,000 miles. It was a great car, but only because I have excellent electrical troubleshooting skills. What killed this car was bean-counters. They used cheap electrical connectors, which quickly oxidized and led to intermittent contact (or no contact). Had they spent an extra $20 (maximum) on quality connectors, the car might have succeeded. (They also used poor quality leather on the seats, but this didn't become apparent until it was already too late for Rover.)
  • 7
    JJ Key West, FL December 17, 2014 at 17:06
    Well, excuuuuuuse me!?! :-( I absolutely love my '91 Capri with 43,8xx miles on it that I've had for 16 years and will never give it up!
  • 8
    Dave Richard Harvard, MA December 17, 2014 at 17:57
    The Hollywood Graham was then, and given todays monstrosities, still is, one of the best looking cars ever produced.
  • 9
    Doc Indiana December 17, 2014 at 20:59
    Obviously you have never been behind the wheel of a crossfire SRT6.
  • 10
    Allen Texas December 17, 2014 at 11:10
    Interesting enough I own three of the six models just showcased. They only shipped 300 of the 1994 Mercury Capri XR2's to the states and I own 3 of them. I have two of the Chrysler TC's, one 4 cylinder turbo and the other a 6 cylinder. And I have one of the Sterlings, one of the nicest riding cars I have. I am proud to have them in my collection.
  • 11
    john a malvaso United States December 17, 2014 at 11:32
    Looks like you guys forgot the ill fated Porsche-Vw marriage that produced the country cousin 914. It was despised early on by the Porsche crowd as a poser. In the U.S. it was branded a Porsche but with the euro crowd a vw-porsche. It was a great idea until the main advocate at vw died and his successor not so crazy about the idea. Even though not a good marriage the union produced 130k ish cars from 1970 til the plug was finally pulled in 1976. History today is kinder as the 914 has finally arrived as a true porsche collector car; especially the 6 cyl variant (which I owned and foolishly sold).
  • 12
    Art Wegweiser Allison Park, PA December 17, 2014 at 11:42
    The great Hudson - including ahead of its time Jet./bath tub Nash Wonderful Studebaker (Not the Scotsman but Hawks, anyway)/with huge, and, early on, ugly Packard Ahead of its time Willys Aero series/Very odd Kaiser and the fascinating Dragon.
  • 13
    Bill Ohio December 17, 2014 at 11:59
    Don't forget about the Ford-Nissan joint venture in the 1990's. The Nissan Quest became the Mercury Villager. It was interesting to note that in the rust belt, the Villager rotted out far faster and was of poorer quality overall than the Quest. It was obvious that Mercury probably ended up with the rejected Quest components.
  • 14
    Chris Richmond, VA December 17, 2014 at 12:32
    I've driven a Crossfire and the only good thing about it was the engine. The transmission was a piece of vague rubbery crap, and my old TR6 has more room inside with the top up than this thing did! And regarding the Ford / Jag X Type, I am still amazed when these things pop up in European car shows. Sad. I always feel like walking up to the owners and saying, "Hey, nice Ford!"
  • 15
    M. Pfeiffer Surprise,AZ December 18, 2014 at 01:53
    I think the Crossfire was a sharp car, two of my friends have them without the" numerous annoying gremlins" you'r talking about. This car as a convertible is on the recomendet future collector cars list.
  • 16
    RetroRick Fallbrook, CA December 18, 2014 at 15:38
    PackardBakers. 'Nuff said.
  • 17
    Archie1954 Vancouver December 18, 2014 at 00:00
    I beg to differ with respect to the Jaguar XType. The article criticizes it for being poorly built and unworthy of the Jaguar name. I had one for several years before I bought an Audi and gave the Jag to my brother as a gift. all these years later he is still driving it with nary a problem. Its all wheel drive has proved itself during many a cold winter storm. It is comfortable, fun to drive and economical on fuel. Its leather interior is impeccable and luxurious. What in Heaven's name more do you want?
  • 18
    Michael Mann Mississippi December 18, 2014 at 00:03
    When I saw the email heading, I checked to see if you included the Crossfire. Thanks for tempering your comments. I'm lucky enough to own an 05 Roadster, and there is no weakness in its handling or performance. I guess you are right about it's being "art deco," but it is a thing of beauty to me.
  • 19
    Cary Portland OR January 4, 2015 at 19:07
    I just loved my Crossfire but have to agree with gremlins totally! I Had more problems in the four years than any other car I've owned, sadly traded it in for a Hyundai and no problems!!!
  • 20
    CB Syr NY March 29, 2015 at 18:29
    Own a 2007 Pacifica looks like Crossfire in front same D-C era other than no heat car is comfortable & handles well with 4 litre V-6

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