Flashes in the pan: 7 cars that flamed out in no time

Bringing a new car to market is never cheap. Automakers spend millions of dollars developing, testing, and certifying a model before it ever goes on sale. But sometimes, the finished product vastly misses the mark. The only choice is to kill it before the losses mount.

These flashes in the pan—models that only make a brief appearance in the product lineup—disappear after just a single year.

Reasons for such a short shelf life can vary greatly. Sometimes a rare engine option coincides with a short tenure. Others are simply victims of poor timing. Then there are the cars that are so atrociously planned, so poorly conceived and executed, the only mercy is to give them the hook as quickly as possible.

Let’s take a look through the past four decades to explore some of the most prominent examples of automotive ephemera.

1977 Mercury Cougar Wagon

1977 Mercury Cougar Wagon ad
1977 Mercury Cougar Wagon Ford

Only 10 years after its introduction, the Mercury Cougar transformed from a punchy Mustang-based sports car into a bloated, soggy mess. For 1977, Mercury diluted the character of the name even further, also calling it the Villager and slapping the badge on a Torino-based station wagon version that nobody asked for, nor bought. Mercury reversed course after just one year and tied this barge to the dock. But don’t worry! The company clearly didn’t learn its lesson and made the same mistake soon enough…

1980 International Scout II Turbodiesel

1980 International Scout II Turbodiesel
1980 International Scout II Turbodiesel GR Auto Gallery

Like other SUVs of the 1970s, the Scout II was most popular in V-8 form. But the most sought after Scout IIs of the era were those with the innovative inline-six diesel engines, sourced from Nissan beginning in 1976. Things really got interesting when a turbodiesel appeared in 1980. The engine left almost as quickly as it arrived—International abandoned the light-truck market to concentrate on commercial vehicles, and the last Scout II rolled off the assembly line on October 21, 1980. These days, the short-lived Turbodiesel is considered highly collectible in Scout circles.

1981 Cadillac V8-6-4

1981 Cadillac Eldorado
1981 Cadillac Eldorado Mecum

Developed in the late ’70s as a solution to the second OPEC oil embargo, Cadillac’s V8-6-4 engine was offered on every model in 1981. It offered the promise of big-block V-8 power with four-cylinder fuel economy. Sadly, the technology at the time couldn’t keep up. GM, ever loath to admit defeat, saw the writing on the wall after 13 updates and took the V8-6-4 behind the barn after just one year. The good news is that GM today has mastered this technology, and it’s used in V-8 engines from the Escalade to the Corvette.

1982 Mercury Cougar Wagon

1982 Mercury Cougar Wagon
1982 Mercury Cougar Wagon Mecum

…And we’re back! No, this isn’t a repeat: Only five years after its first attempt, Mercury tried once again to sell the Cougar as a station wagon. This time it was on the Ford Fox platform, shared with the Capri. Mercury’s second attempt was just as unsuccessful as its first, and the Cougar wagon disappeared for good.

1993 Cadillac Allanté Northstar

1993 Cadillac Allanté Northstar
1993 Cadillac Allanté Northstar Mecum

Billed as Cadillac’s “Mercedes SL-fighter,” the Allanté arrived in 1987 with a V-8 that wheezed out 170 hp, hardly adequate to fight much of anything. But by 1993, Cadillac’s new 295-hp Northstar engine debuted under the Allanté hood, and for a brief, shining moment, the Allanté was truly a contender. Nevertheless, GM pulled the plug on the Allanté after 1993—quality issues were widespread, and it was no longer sensible (was it ever?) to keep shipping them from Pininfarina in Italy on a 747 cargo plane bound for final assembly in Detroit.

2002 Lincoln Blackwood

2002 Lincoln Blackwood
2002 Lincoln Blackwood Mecum

The Blackwood was billed as a “luxury truck,” offered only in two-wheel drive and with a cargo bed lined with carpet. Not much of a truck. The price buyers paid for this impracticality was an eye-popping $52,500 ($72,600 in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation). Ugly, absurd, and expensive, the Blackwood bowed out of the U.S. market after just one year and 3356 units sold, despite Lincoln expecting a volume of 18,000. Good riddance.

2009 Kia Borrego

Kia Borrego
Kia Borrego Kia

As Kia’s first full-size SUV, the Borrego was actually pretty impressive. When equipped with an optional V-8 (another first for Kia), it could tow up to 7500 pounds. Unfortunately, the Borrego premiered at the nadir of the global recession and it found few takers. Kia acted swiftly, first placing the Borrego “on hiatus” for 2010 before axing it altogether.

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