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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    Honda took the same “stretch” as Pontiac did with the Aztec.
    They did it right and called it Element.
    Honestly, compare them side by side and you can compare success and failure.

    Dear Studebaker in 1962: The Avanti was a great car. But when you’re on life support, don’t spend what little is left of your life savings on a nicer hospital bed. Spend it on better doctors.

    Really liked my AMC Eagles, the 258 engine was bombproof with the 7 main bearings. The AWD worked very well in snow….

    Dear GM, Ralph Nader is a quack. Ignore him and bring back the Corvair. Oh, you already did but now call it Corvette with engine in the rear? Good thinking, much more expensive that way.

    No, Ralph Nader was not “a quack.” In the early ’90s, Nader accepted an invitation to the Corvair Club’s national meet, who gave him a standing ovation. Park the dated, clueless, reactionary jive and learn some auto history. Nader never said a thing about the Corvair that Sports Car Illustrated (the precursor to Car and Driver) and other buff magazines hadn’t pointed out, most of their objections remedied in the second generation Corvair, which was killed by GM because it could not compete with Mustang, let alone the new Camaro.

    This topic is so rich! MANY things come to mind! But, since I’m an AMC fan I’ll stick to the biggest mistake they ever made — don’t make Roy Abernethey CEO/President! He made the decision to “distance” the company from the “Rambler image”, which had supported the company for so long. Yeah, Rambler people were typically frugal, they liked their long lasting, more bang for the buck Ramblers. So he alienated their biggest customer base. Then he spent all the money AMC had made in their “golden years” (58-64 or so) upscaling the entire line (dropping the Rambler by 69) — to no avail. The Buick/Olds/Pontiac/Mercury/Plymouth (was Plymouth or Dodge the “mid level” Mopar?) market segment was crowded and highly competitive. Sure, if AMC could make more money on fewer cars it would be great, but to jump into a crowded pool and think you’re not going to be pushed around by the guys already there was stupid! So he helped drown AMC. To his credit he did think he was doing right by increasing profit on fewer cars built, and if it had worked we’d be singing a different tune… BUT IT DIDN’T!!! And really, it doesn’t take a lot of hindsight to see that was a risky move…

    Abernathy is not to blame; AMC had nowhere to go. Romney wisely bowed out at the top to step into politics. The economy car boom from the ’58 recession that Rambler benefitted from was over. The big 3 ’60 compacts competed directly with Rambler American. The ’64 GM intermediates offered a “Rambler size” lineup. People were buying upscale: austere economy cars and Ramblers stodgy image needed a refresh. Abernathy did the best he could with the resources at hand.

    Dear GM:
    Keep Pontiac and dump Buick. A “Buick” made in Korea? Really? Then let Pontiac run with the front engine rear drive platforms with lots of useless scoops. It sells.

    I hated to see Pontiac go away but Buick stayed because it was a working in China. The government overlords (noner of which were automotive people) demanded changes that included killing brands and GM had to comply.

    Jeff, let’s not blame “the government.” We get the govt. we deserve, that we elect. We are the government. It’s also only human to form cabals. But the responsibility lies with us.
    As the man said, “If you don’t like the news, make some of your own.”

    In this case the people that the government installed as part of the bailout decreed that GM needed to shed brands. They may not have been completely wrong in that asessment but do understand that not a one of these installed people had automotive experience. Norwas GM given a lot of time to deliberate over what were the best long term answers.

    Good points, Jeff. In Europe, the elected and industry work together. Here in the States we suffer an us/them mentality in just about every venue that leads nowhere.

    Dear Chrysler,
    Don’t scrap the Turbine car project! The potential of changing the whole automotive industry is in your hands, you just don’t know it!! Ignore the Government and big oil and make this car a production car and change the world!!!

    Turbines aren’t practical for automobiles because they are only efficient when running at full throttle… something that doesn’t work too well in cities.

    To all car companies-reject the government stuffing ev’s down our throats. Thousand killed every year mining cobalt and as volunteer fireman maybe save us the fire hazard. Also no way to dispose of the batteries.

    You’re so right, Gerry. We autoholics well know EVs no panaca; that gasoline is a terrific fuel, higher BTUs than alcohol, the latter a net energy consumer, unless produced entirely from agwaste as in Brazil, not corn as in the US. There are not enough raw materials for the world to swap all ICE (internal combustion) cars for EVs. EVs run on petroleum tires (producing most the dust in urban areas), and use six (6) times as many minerals as i.c. cars, including cobalt, lithium, nickel, copper, manganese, graphite, zinc, rare earths like neodymium and dysprosium, the latters’ extraction requiring huge amounts of carcinogens like ammonia, hydrochloric acid, sulphates. Much of these minerals are imported from politically unstable regions.

    Thallium has been a common ingredient in rat poison. It’s tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless. While those who tested positive hadn’t consumed poisonous levels of the metal, it was enough to cause fatigue, heart arrhythmia, nausea, digestive trouble, neurological problems, and hair loss. The scariest part is that even after patients completed detoxification regiments, thallium continued to show up in their systems.

    “We now know that heavy metals are additive and synergistic,” says David Quid, the lead scientist at Doctors Data, PhD in nutritional biochemistry. “If you get a little thallium, and a little lead, and a little cadmium in your system, you’ve got one plus one plus one equals five or six, not just three.” In other words, these metals do more damage when they’re combined.
    “This stuff bioaccumulates,” he added. “Down the road, it’s going to kick you in the ass one way or another.”

    I fail to understand why the ICE promoters continue to bash EV’s in light of all of the government subsidies/grants that the oil industry gets, both in Canada and the States. The oil industry is the epitome of corporate welfare. Here in Canada, the oil industry has been getting annual welfare payments from the federal government of at least $2 billion CDN since the early 1980’s. But then the oil industry are masters at extracting the right “incentives” from government to help get a country’s oil resources “developed”.

    I was doing just fine until I scrolled down and saw the Nissan Murano convertible. Now, the rest of my week is destroyed.

    Ensure Ford does not kill the Ranger pickup when it was the highest selling small pickup in the US. (Ford execs sure make a lot of stupid decisions, over and over again. Believing everyone needs and wants an F150 when looking for a truck is downright idiotic. You see the same stupidity in the corporate decision to stop making and selling sedans. Americans sure continue to buy a hell of a lot of sedans, they just aren’t from Ford, GM or Chrysler. Not everyone wants a SUV or truck).

    Peter, you’re not the only one mystified by those myopic decisions. It’s like the US is stuck in perpetual 1958 Harley Earl land yacht mode.

    I remember “trackless” busses in England up to the late 1950s. They were ‘trackless’ in that they did not run on rails. They were regular, rubber-tired busses with electric motor propulsion, getting their power from overhead wires via conducting poles mounted on the roof. They had a driver and a ‘conductor,’ (the normal crew). The conductor’s job was to collect fares and to occasionally get off the bus to use a long, insulated pole with which to lift a conducting pole which fell off an overhead wire and rehang it over the overhead electrical conductor wire, thus completing the circuit and allowing the bus to move. The Arabs dropped the price of oil to pennies per gallon, making diesel engined busses much cheaper to run than electric busses (powered by electricity produced by the burning of coal). The mandarins replaced the electric busses with diesel versions, rendering the air in cities almost unbreathable, and tore out all the overhead wires. Then of course the Arabs jacked up the oil prices.
    Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, shame on me, etc., etc.
    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, govern.
    Even when the morons (mandarins) are replaced in bloody revolutions, they are replaced by other morons.
    It seems to be a terminal human condition in which we get the government we deserve. (Moron vote in, moron legislator out?)

    Okay you might be right warning GM about the Corvair swing axles.
    But Ralph Nadar cheated on his Corvair testing by using ramps to get the car up on two wheels and roll over.
    Ralph should drive a Corvair, it made him rich.

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