The Most Unloved Automotive Experiments in History

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Bad automotive decisions abound, like Ford killing the Ranger, Ford killing the Bronco, Ford killing its car business…but we digress. Many other manufacturers made horrendous product decisions over the years. It’s hard to remember how big a gamble the Miata was for Mazda. It could’ve just as easily been washed up on the shore of horrible automotive decisions like these catastrophes.

There are plenty of plain old bad cars. The Chevy Vega comes to mind. Then there are the pathetically ugly, like the Aztec. But those were volume cars that actually sold in fairly respectable numbers in their day.

There are only a handful of cars that are not only ill-conceived, but aimed at a ridiculously small niche, wildly expensive to produce and land so far off the mark that they require lengthy explanation.

Chevrolet SSR

One of the many automotive lies that product planners and marketing people have told over the years is “Americans no longer want a sport coupe.” General Motors jumped on this bandwagon in 2002, deciding to drive a stake in the heart of the F-Body — the venerable Camaro and Firebird twins that had provided the only solid competition to Ford’s Mustang juggernaut since 1967.

In its place came this: a convertible pickup truck with a permanent, hard tonneau cover, based on the GM368 platform that underpinned the Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy.

Find a Chevrolet SSR at BestRide.com

For the first two years, the SSR came with a wheezy truck motor, the 300hp Vortec 5300 V-8, which would bring the truck to 60 miles per hour in a lazy 7.7 seconds, and cross the quarter mile in 15.9 seconds at a barely moving 86.4 mph. In the 2006 model year, it finally got an engine that performed — the 395hp LS2 from the Corvette, Pontiac GTO and Cadillac CTS-V, and as a result, more than 8,000 people paid the $47,715 equipped price.

It wasn’t enough to save it, though. Unlike the Camaro, which featured tooling that had been paid for around the time Bill Clinton was taking office, the SSR was expensive to build with custom steel roof design farmed out to famous roof-cutter-offer ASC. It had deep-draw steel fender stampings, a process that needed to be relearned after being rendered obsolete in about 1958. The truck was produced in the Lansing Craft Center, essentially a custom build facility that produced other low-volume, expensive failures such as the Buick Reatta and Chevrolet EV1.

Citing a 301-day supply of SSRs, GM announced a five-week layoff at the Craft Center, and by 2006, nailed the door shut permanently. In total, 24,112 SSRs were made available to the public, and you can find one for sale at just about every classic car auction in America.

Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet

Unsatisfied with Chevrolet’s idea of affixing a removable top to a pickup truck, those forward-thinking one-uppers at Nissan decided to hack the roof off of a crossover, creating the single most confusing vehicle in the 21st century.

At every step, from the concept vehicle shown at the LA Auto Show in 2010, to the day it finally arrived in showrooms, nearly every media outlet tried to wave Nissan off from running a CrossCabriolet off of an assembly line.

Find a Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet at BestRide.com

In a business completely dominated — to a fault — by focus groups, this was literally a car that not only nobody asked for, but that nobody would even think to ask for. Unless, of course, Nissan knew about some secret core of consumers that were salivating over the prospect of a $46,000, 4,500-pound, all-wheel drive mutant with two doors, a rear passenger compartment suitable for infants and not quite enough cargo space for a sack lunch.

Nissan persevered for three years with the CrossCabriolet before mercifully ditching it after the 2014 model year.

Plymouth Prowler

As referenced with the SSR, there are cars that are sure-fire classic car auction fodder. Every time more than a handful of special interest car fans gather and there’s a gavel present, you will find the following: Cadillac Allante. Subaru SVX. Chevrolet SSR.

And the king of them all, the Plymouth Prowler. From the second the Prowler hit the streets, it looked like it would achieve “instant classic” status, and collectors the world around snapped them up to be hermetically sealed in heated storage, waiting, waiting for the day when they’d cash in, bigly.

Remember that Plymouth Belvedere that was buried in a time capsule in Oklahoma? In 1998, the buried a Prowler on the same site. In 2048, they’ll crack it open. Nobody will care.

Find a Plymouth Prowler at BestRide.com

More than 20 years later, that day still hasn’t arrived. After two decades, a quick internet search will reveal dozens within driving distance, with less than 1,000 miles a year on the odometer, for sale in the $25,000 range, and struggling to achieve that. In 1997, the Prowler sold for $38,000. Adjusted for inflation, a Prowler sold for $25,000 in 2018 money represents a $34,000 loss.

You’d have been better off holding onto your Enron stock.

Chrysler Crossfire

Chrysler wasn’t done making bad decisions with the Prowler. Not by a long shot. It had killed off an entire brand with a funky two-seat roadster, so why not continue to commemorate terrible decisions as it embarked on the DaimlerChrysler fiasco?

Man, it was crazy times at Chrysler in 2003. The DaimlerChrysler merger was wearing pretty thin. Chrysler went about trying to build cars around every old Mercedes-Benz chassis it could, including the old first-generation R170 platform that was exclusively used for the Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster.

Find a Chrysler Crossfire at BestRide.com

By the time of the Crossfire’s production, Mercedes had already moved along to the second generation R171 platform, so the Crossfire felt like it was built out of the used parts bin before it even started.

Prior to the Crossfire’s production, Chrysler Designer Joe Dehner told Car and Driver: “We want to polarize our audience—we want people to love it or hate it.”

Well:

In his review of the Crossfire, Detroit News auto writer Paul Lienert noted that the “distinctive boat-tail rear end that reminds more than one observer of the old Rambler Marlin.”

Say, that’ll get the kids flooding into the showroom.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Crossfire actually sold in fairly respectable numbers. The soft-top Roadster was the largest volume seller, with over 25,000 sold in five model years. In total, more than 76,000 Crossfires were produced, but it’s interesting to note that 35,000 of those were in the first year. By  the second year, sales had dwindled to around 8,800, and sales dropped by half every year thereafter.

What’s your favorite failed automotive experiment?

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Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.