Our Two Cents: What we’d say to automakers, if we could time-travel

Bradley E. Clift for The Washington Post/Getty Images

I was introduced to the butterfly effect by Ray Bradbury’s book A Sound of Thunder, and it forever altered the way I considered historical moments. Or any moment in time, as the butterfly effect could make a serious impact on our lives as automotive enthusiasts, too. What if Henry Ford never bullied his son Edsel? What if Porsche killed the 911 when they introduced the 928? In this episode of Our Two Cents, I asked the staff here at Hagerty Media to consider such scenarios.

There are lot of these butterfly effects in automotive history, and one of the more forgettable examples is the time Infiniti made the Mercedes GLA into a QX30 crossover utility. Will someone on our team warn Infiniti not to make this Mercedes? Or will they warn Mercedes not to make this Infiniti? Probably not, so let’s see what they come up with.

Killing street cars/mass transit?

ucla.edu/Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection

For the record, this is a terribly complex issue and the automakers were only one part of the equation. But that doesn’t take away from the following message:

Dear automakers,

Please go back in time and don’t buy all the public transportation companies in our big cities (buses, trollies, trains, etc.). And then definitely don’t intentionally make them awful so people were forced to buy cars!

Ben Woodworth

That wretched diesel!


Dear GM,

Do not, under any circumstances, make a diesel engine based on a gas engine.

I owned a thoroughly used 1981 Olds Cutlass with the infamous 5.7-liter diesel, and there is a reason I got it so inexpensively: It sucked. It seems like my experience and that of countless Americans effectively killed any chance diesel power in passenger cars had here.

Greg Ingold

Swing out on the swing axle

Chevrolet Corvair torture test rear side suspension articulation
Richard Pardon

“Chevrolet, please save yourself the trouble and design the first generation Corvair with four-wheel independent suspension. No swing axle, no camber compensating spring. Feel free to leave the rest alone but the headache you will create with putting that swing axle design in will be significant and you would be best served by avoiding it all together. Please. You have a winner on your hands once that change is in place. No swing axles. Let that lawyer target the VW Beetle or something else. I know, that makes no sense now, but soon enough you’ll see–and I hope you believe me now because it only gets worse on the path you’re on.” — Kyle Smith

Ferrari vs. Nobody

24 hours Le Mans 1966 ford ferrari rivalry
GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Dear Enzo,

Maybe don’t be a jerk to Ford.

Stefan Lombard

Cross out this Murano

2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet

I would advise Nissan’s decision-makers to ignore whoever came up with the idea of a Murano CrossCabriolet. — Alex Sobran

Just because it’s good for General Motors…

Ralph Nader Corvair
Bradley E. Clift for The Washington Post/Getty Images

Dear GM of the 1960s:

Don’t mess with Ralph Nader, and don’t resist making cars safer.

Joe DeMatio

EV1: the butterfly we stepped on

1999 GM EV1 1000th vehicle plant workers

Hello General Motors,

I have come to the fourteenth floor to keep the EV1 program around so Tesla will never come to life. This a long play, and I know how much you guys hate experimenting here, but your failed partnership with Fiat is gonna cost you dearly just a few years from now. Have a look at Tesla’s stock 20 years from now: this can be you! And it is the right long play for your business.

Sajeev Mehta

More electricity, less fire

2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV charging connection


Fireproof the Bolt.

Grace Houghton

LS everything, sooner?

Brandan Gillogly

I’d take an iron LQ4 head back in time to 1954 and hand it to Ed Cole, save everyone a whole lot of work. — Brandan Gillogly

The Aztek, for a new reason


I was working at Car and Driver when the Pontiac Aztek was unveiled in 1999. I had an early look at it, and told a friend who was a Pontiac exec that it was a genuine stretch, and for goodness sakes not to show it in yellow with the little blackwall tires at the unveiling. They did, of course; it was pretty much a laughing stock for its entire model run, or at least until they removed all the plastic cladding, which made a huge difference. I wrote then that I at least respected the fact that Pontiac took a chance, but I knew when I first saw it that it was in for a tough reception. — Steven Cole Smith




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    I would have told auto makers to get serious about EV’s after the 1973 gas crisis. Had they successfully made this effort, the geopolitical landscape would be very different. To my thinking less oil money to the Middle East and Russia would have been beneficial to a more peaceful western world.

    “Successfully making the effort” has been the sticking point all along. Batteries good enough to replace IC cars have been ‘five years away’ since the ‘70s.

    This is one of the all-time missed opportunities for the US automakers. It should have happened when these companies were all healthy. Too bad there were some CEO egos that couldn’t stand the prospect that they were going to be relegated to an underling. And, the board of directors were useless in performing their goal of best for the company instead of best for our top management.

    I’m going to have to disagree about Enzo not being a jerk to Ford. Had that relationship gone well, Ford may well have ended up owning Ferrari, and as much as I’m a fan of several of Ford’s everyday cars, they surely would have royally *messed* up Ferrari to the point of extinction, or nearly so. Rather, I’d say, “Ferrari of the late ’80s/early ’90s, get off your butts and design competitive cars again! It took the homely-but-effective NSX to shoot a wake-up call to Ferrari to bring about the F355 and later better cars.

    Other than the tiny wheels and tires the Aztek looks like a lot of crossovers do. A bit of lift, a tough looking bumper and some BFG all terrains? Still a POS I imagine

    Don’t kill off the true small pickups just to force people into full size. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who would die for something like a 2000 frontier, Tacoma, Ranger, or even S-10. Frame, manual transmission available, six foot bed, back seat not needed.

    Hear, hear! I’m in the (probably small) crowd that wants a late 80s Toyota pickup back and thinks the Tacoma is too large.

    I so wish I still had the awesome-looking, practical and fun ‘77 Datsun pickup that served as my dad’s company car.

    Tom, George, Lon, Jer, absolutely. A late friend ran a restoration shop catering to cars of the late ’30s and ’40s, managed to take engine blocks, etc. to the machine shop with his small pick up. For several years it was a Chevy Luv at that, not as good as a Toyota or Datsun.

    Few guys “need” a giant pick up. Urban cowboys; four doors and short bed, who are they kidding? The few times you really need a full-sized truck, rent one and leave the unrequited testosterone at home.

    It’s not about testosterone it’s about driving a car or truck that is large is comfortable as a good ride room for your stuff when you want it. I can’t stand riding around in a small car much less a midsize sedan look like everybody else plus the larger vehicles typically last a lot longer than most crappy small vehicles.

    We had a ‘92 GMC Jimmy that I miss sorely, even though it eventually got to the point where I couldn’t trust it to get me home. Before that, it was probably the most fun vehicle I ever owned, and there’s nothing close to it today.

    HaHa, is not every SUV a cousin of the Aztek. Looks like poop, drives like poop, is it poop? Is the modern automobile operator lacking skill to drive? Or are they dual tasking experts; driving their phones and operating the central control screen, eyes not on road? Ralph Nader, where are you???

    Dear Packard, Hudson, and Studebaker in 1947: You should all listen very carefully to George Mason – the CEO of Nash-Kelvinator – and seriously consider what he’s proposing…a merger of all four companies, covering the lower (Studebaker), middle (Hudson, Nash) and upper (Packard) segments of the automotive market! I know you’re flush with $$’s at the moment, and it’s a seller’s market, but that’s going to change in the not-too-distant future!!

    My Mazda CX-9 looks great, drives great, is not poop. I’m a driver, not an operator, I ignore my phone when I’m driving, and Ralph Nader can stay wherever he is.

    You drive a plump vehicle that consumes more space, gas, is over weight and probably has multiple seats vacant most times you drive – wasting mate! I’ll enjoy my German wagon; driving with respect, abiding the law, using less fuel, occupying less space, and probably has more luggage space than your potato. Merican you must be.

    Poor dude just likes his Mazda! If you brought your German wagon to Merica, as you like to call it, I would destroy you with my (German) plump potato SUV!! Bring on the potholes, the broken pavement, the unpaved roads, the 50cm of snow in an hour – I’ll crush you! Welcome to Merica! And my seats won’t be vacant; I’ll bring my poodles along to side-eye you in your general direction. It will be brutal.

    As I write this, people are abandoning their cars on 1-40, grabbing their luggage, and walking to the Nashville Airport to try and make their flight. Meanwhile, in Ghent, Belgium, someone walks out their door, hops on a tram to the rail station, rides to Brussels, (where the rail station is below the airport), and easily makes their flight. Thanks, Henry & cohorts.

    US isn’t Europe, will never be.

    San Diego CA to Bangor Maine – 3200 miles

    Key West FL to Bellingham WA – 3600 miles

    Marrakesh Morocco to Moscow Russia
    3300 miles (and how many border crossings?)

    Do the math. There’s not enough money on Earth to give the US the infrastructure that Europe has.

    FORD….if your going to redo the T-bird, make it look something like a 57 or 61 model, not that ugly fish eyed thing that looks like it’s wearing braces…….

    Dear Jensen Motor cars:
    Don’t use the Lotus 907 motor in the Jensen Healey until they have properly developed it as the motor will have teething problems and give the car a bad reputation. In a couple of years it will be a great motor but sales will suffer and help drag the company into receivership. Push the 25-28 MPG as an upcoming oil crises will factor too. And don’t use a plastic fuel T between the Stromberg carbs above the starter that when it fails will start a fire.
    Also don’t use British steel without proper protection. Rust never sleeps!

    1. To the GM Board of Directors, do not decimate the legacy of Bill Mitchell and Harley Earl by selecting Irv as the next VP of Design.

    2. For the failed Ford acquisition of Ferrari – HFII should have made a trip to personally meet Enzo as an equal. But, I am happier that the deal failed anyway.

    3. For Ford, do whatever was necessary to keep Alan Mulally as the CEO. The most competent leader they have had for a long time.

    4. IRL/CART – do not let the petulance of Tony George succeed in destroying a great and successful racing series.

    5. Chrysler – do not make Exner be the fall guy for the board room battle and ill-conceived downsizing.

    6. Cerberus – you have no business being in the car business. Buy the suppliers or something you can understand.

    7. Detroit in the 1960s – just because the Big 3 have relatively similar cost structures does not mean that there aren’t competitors that have far better cost structures than yours. Do not miss the point that they can offer more content for the same price or less price with the same content.

    I once read an interview with a project manager from the Aztec program. He was defiant in the face of the criticism, and said he was proud of the work they did, it was the most cohesive group he had ever worked with. Well, it seemed pretty obvious to me that the group was so cohesive because there was no one who had the guts to say ‘Hey, this thing is ugly. Tell the design team to start over.’ They had weeded out all of the independent thinkers when they formed their ‘team’ of yes-men.
    On a related and somewhat contradictory note, I have noticed that someone in my neighborhood recently purchased and old, ratty Aztec and spiffed it up. I may be crazy, but all these years later, in a world of ugly highway toads like the BMW X4/6, the Aztec doesn’t look so bad. It was definitely not the right car for the time, though.

    The Design studio head for the Aztec was Tom Peters. A man of impeccable talent going back to this days at Art Center. Post Aztec he would continue a great career with Camaros and Corvettes. Do not blame the studio designers for this failure. Design knew it was a train wreck being driven by other segments of the corporation. But when the train wreck became evident the guilty parties headed for the hills claiming absolution and let it dump on the hapless studio designers. Shame on all those spineless weasels.

    100 years too late on that one. And if you ever enjoyed ANY benefit at your workplace, you have unions to thank for that.

    MarineBob and Paul, amen cubed and squared. But the leopard cannot change his spots. Packard moved from Warren, Ohio to Detroit in 1903 not just to be nearer hardwood and ore shipping, but for Detroit’s open shop environment. Three years later, Packard was the first automaker to implement Taylor Time and Motion studies. The even more stringent “Fordism” was well lampooned in Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 “Modern Times.

    In recent decades, out of touch executives make unions the scapegoat, as when they flew to Washington in their private jets in 2008 to pick up their welfar—oops, “Federal bail out checks.”

    Solely about the use of the corporate jets for the trip to DC. Made perfect real world sense but only in the PR realm was it wrong. The corporate jet provided absolute control of schedule, would have had a team of people along with the CEO, could hold a meeting on board, able to stay in touch with whomever they might need to.

    You would have preferred that they sit in the last row of coach, arrive a hour plus early to the airport for a flight schedule that was not optimized to their needs, can’t have confidential meeting with their staff as they prepare for critical hearing.

    All this while the US Government has a fleet of corporate jets parked at Andrews Air Force Base to haul around members of congress and other government officials. I might remind everyone of the lunacy of how a former Speaker of the House demanded use of a Boeing 757 to make her west coast runs to home instead of a Gulfstream. That put the Air Force into the position of lying that the Gulfstream was not reliably able to make the flight with its range. Hammer the CEOs for doing what was logical while dismissing what they themselves are doing.

    Am sure their welfar—“Federal bail out” — checks could’ve been Fed Exed or sent USPS registered mail, and a conference call could’ve handled all else. Let’s not buy into this corporate demigod high and mighty rubbish.

    In commercial lending a quarter century, and other than occasionally an in-person visit to the facility, routinely booked deals of varying size using phone, computer, FedEx. Am sure the Fed has some reps in Michigan who could’ve made a house call, looked at the factory.

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