23 November 2015

Gobble, Gobble: Five automotive turkeys

Thanksgiving, otherwise known as “Turkey Day,” is a fine occasion to stuff yourself silly — or think about the automotive equivalents of everyone’s favorite bearded, flightless fowl. Here are five of our favorite turkeys of the automotive world:

  1. 1958-60 Edsel: Edsel fans will roll their eyes at seeing yet another list unfairly maligning their favorite car. We’re not going to do that. In truth, the Edsel was far from a bad car. Sure, its styling was controversial — an Oldsmobile sucking on a lemon or and Olds with a toilet seat for a grille were among those epithets that were printable. However it was largely circumstances, not the car itself, that sunk the Edsel. It was introduced in the middle of a recession, not particularly well-explained to the public and the market simply decided that there was no room for the Edsel to gain traction. It was gone after just a few model years.

  2. 1958-71 Subaru 360: Subaru’s first shot at taking on the American market is one we’re sure they’d prefer to forget. The 360, a 360 cc, two-cylinder micro car, had no place on American roads. Road & Track opined as much by writing, “You wouldn’t send your kid up in a crate like this would you?” It made the Yugo of several decades later look posh. Subaru of course recovered and is today one of the best-loved import manufacturers in the U.S., but the 360 was an inauspicious start to say the least.

  3. 1973-75 Austin Marina: British Leyland of the 1970s was a desperate place. Beset by labor troubles and shrinking R&D budgets, they desperately needed to come up with something that would sell in volume in both the home and export markets, which were dominated by long-in-the-tooth sports cars like the MGB and MG Midget. The Marina (sold as a Morris in the UK) was a hodge-podge of parts-bin items that borrowed most of its major components from other BL cars. U.S. cars got a single carburetor version of the 1.8L MGB engine. At a time when the best new small cars had hatchbacks and front-wheel drive, the Marina had neither, nor did it have the build quality of a Toyota Corolla or a Datsun 510. It was a true turkey in every sense of the word in North America, where it barely made a blip.

  4. 1971-77 Chevrolet Vega: GM invested a ton in the Vega, which was supposed to send Toyota and Datsun fleeing for their shores and thoroughly shame Ford’s new Pinto and AMC’s Gremlin. Sadly, the car’s aluminum block four was under-engineered and an almost immediate oil burner. Quality was dismal and rust problems were epic — cowls and windshield frames could rust badly enough for windshields to come loose. GM eventually sorted things out, and the fuel-injected Cosworth version was great fun, but the original Vega was the definition of a turkey.

  5. 1983-87 TVR 280i: TVR had always been a marginal player in the U.S., a market that was probably far too complex for such a small-volume company to try to certify cars for sale. As a result, the dart-shaped 280i looked dated when it finally hit the market in the U.S. in 1983. The wedge fad was fading and because of inflation, the car found itself priced at nearly $25,000, which was enough to buy something far more reliable and with a less homemade feeling. 280s were nearly sale-proof when new, and occasionally new cars still turn up with just delivery miles on them. Awash in unsold product and mounting warranty claims, TVR exited the U.S. market after the 1987 model year, and owner Peter Wheeler vowed never to return.

3 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Robert Spinello NY November 26, 2015 at 19:52
    Ok 5 RealTurkeys 1- 1971-76 Ford Pinto 2- 1975-80 AMC Pacer 3- 1970-75 Mazda Rotary 4- 1950s BMW Isetta 5- 1961-65 Amphicar ($3395. enough to buy a Chevrolet Biscayne, a boat and a trailer)
  • 2
    Sam Lincoln, Nebraska December 3, 2015 at 16:32
    I think people are just a little unfair to the Edsel. The car wasn't ugly, at least by the standards of the day, and the engineering wasn't really that bad although I have heard the reliability of the teletouch transmission was a little spotty. The problem was that Ford released a midlevel premium car in the midst of a recession. Ford did its best to try to reposition it in the market for 1959, advertising it could be purchased for less than some models of the big-three low priced makes. Unfortunately, it was too late to revive Edsel's fortunes. It's a shame that a car whose only real problem was being released in an economic recession is looked upon as being a lemon.
  • 3
    John C Cargill illinois September 8, 2016 at 18:03
    We've got Malcom Bricklin to thank for the Subaru 360 and the Yugo, as well as the "sports" car with his name. The Vega was a corporate disaster from day one. Nice looking, not bad to drive in GT form but turned to crap in a few months and miles. The Marina was done by a giant doomed company in desperation.

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