I was driving along a lovely country road on the vineyard-dotted peninsula where I live in northern Michigan when a Pontiac Aztek whizzed by. That alone wasn’t out of the ordinary. There are still a lot of Azteks on the road even though GM sold only 119,000 of them and stopped production in 2005 after a rather inglorious five-year run. What was extraordinary was that four more soon followed. Outside of a repair shop, five Azteks in the same place at the same time does not just “happen.” What I was probably witnessing was an Aztek fan club out for a Sunday wine-country tour. Good for them.
I’ll grant you, the words “fan club” and “Aztek” are not often used in tandem, considering the vehicle was widely panned on arrival for its unusual styling (“a basketball shoe with tires” was one description), underpowered engine, and odd vision-blocking bar in the back window. Despite its critics, the Aztek—once labeled by Time as one of the 50 worst inventions ever—has its admirers, many of whom view it as a collectible. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Remember the AMC Pacer? I owned one briefly. It leaked like a sieve when it rained. Can you believe one just sold at auction a few months ago in Texas for $28,600? It was probably because the Pacer delighted the buyer in his youth. I think collecting some of these 1970s cars is more about a love of that decade than the cars themselves, but again, to each his or her own.
Who’s to say what’s “worthy,” anyway? I’ve never been comfortable with a narrow definition of what constitutes a classic or collectible car. There are a million cars and a million reasons to want to own one. Love what you love, whether the apple of your eye is a Plymouth Voyager minivan (the first of which was just enshrined in the National Historic Vehicle Register) or a 1967 Polo Red Porsche 911S, which is my all-time favorite ride, not because it’s the best car ever built but because I hauled one out of a snowbank with my dad and restored it.
We’re all here to learn from one another and share our automotive passions. So I put a few questions to Ken Rhyno, an Aztek fan who for a time ran AztekFanClub.com, which has more than 3000 members.
MH: Do friends tease you about the Aztek?
Ken: Constantly, but mostly about how it looks.
MH: Tell me about a typical Aztek fan.
Ken: I have met so many interesting people at rallies and get-togethers—everyone from aircraft mechanics to retirees to soccer moms. One thing they all have in common is that they are very interesting and friendly people.
MH: What’s its place in auto history?
Ken: The Aztek was ahead of its time and deserves a place in history. It was polarizing—you loved it or hated it. There didn’t seem to be any in between. Even the Edsel has its following, and that car is regarded as one of the worst in history.
MH: Are there upsides to the Aztek’s not being widely popular?
Ken: It does make it easy to get into the collectors’ market.
Spoken like a true fan.
A final question to you readers: What group name should we give to a fleet of five Azteks driving down the road? Please be (reasonably) polite.