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Publisher Bloomsbury USA
Published in Nonfiction/Automotive
When it came to picking the fifty unsavory subjects for this book, frankly, we were spoiled for choice. It was like gorging on the biggest buffet you've ever seen, and just as likely to make you puke. Some people won't like all the choices; that's probably because they've got one of them parked outside and there's still a year left on the payments. Other people will be the kind of nitpickers who are going to claim that in a specific year or with a certain option package one of these cars actually touched on the fringes of acceptability. Welt, we've thought of that, which is why we've tried to be as clear as possible about particular model names, production years, and so on. If you're either of these types of people, we apologize in advance for any offense caused or any mistakes made. On the other hand, maybe you should get out more. For the rest of you, enjoy the book. Unless you designed any of the cars in it. In which case, we hope it gives you a paper cut.
PORSCHE 924 (1976-1985)
Here's a phrase you never want to hear: Low-performance Porsche. The feeble 924's life started when Volkswagen asked Porsche to design a coupe for them. Then Volkswagen, having emptied out all their pockets, been through their spare jacket, and pulled all the cushions off the sofa, realized they didn't have the cash to pay for it and beat a red-faced retreat. However, since the car was pretty much ready, Porsche simply slapped their own badge on it and put it on sale without even changing the Volkswagen engine for one of their own. Which was an error because the motor was from a VW van. Doh! Unsurprisingly, the engine was utterly pathetic and imbued the 924 with all the get up and go of an octogenarian in lead shoes. A while later Porsche pulled up their lederhosen and fitted one of their own engines, but until then the 924 was as pointless as teaching a horse to play tennis.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... A REAL PORSCHE, MICHAEL JACKSON IS A REAL WHITE GUY.
BMW 318i (1984)
It's the eternal problem with BMWs: no one can deny most of their cars are engineering masterpieces, yet everyone will assume you're a pushy Yuppie jerk for driving one. And what better way to confirm that suspicion than by buying one of the few BMWs that wasn't an object of technical brilliance and, as a result, also wasn't even fast enough to leave them eating your stockbroker-scented exhaust fumes? BMW may have made its name with smooth, powerful six-cylinder engines, but don't expect one under the hood of an '84 318i. Instead there was a bandy-legged four-cylinder with all the rippling power of a newborn giraffe. And just to complete the tragedy, they had the nerve to jack up the price so that it cost twice as much as the previous 320. What's the German for "bamboozled" anyway?
IF THIS CAR WAS ... ANY MORE OF A CON, THEY'D PUT IT IN JAIL.
JAGUAR XJS-C (1988)
The main problem with turning a sports coupe into a convertible is that without a roof to hold it together, the whole car will become as rigid as a Jell-O ladder. The best way to solve this problem is to carefully engineer a series of subtle body-shell reinforcements to restore some of the strength without anyone noticing. Or, in Jaguar's case, you could simply weld a pile of scaffolding to the top of the car, jam a pair of targa panels above the passengers' heads, and fill in the hole behind them with a big canvas flap. Job done, chaps, let's all go to the pub. Except it wasn't job well done at all because it turned the once sleek XJS into a total disaster with all the visual appeal of a baboon in party dress.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... BETTER LOOKING, IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN QUITE NICE.
CADILLAC ETC (2000-2002)
Here's a great example of the marketing department really spoiling things. The Cadillac Etcetera? What kind of lame-ass name is that? Good thing those same genii weren't let loose on other products, or we'd all be buying Apple iWhatevers, chewing on Wrigley's Yadda Yadda Yadda, and being sold Coors, "the only beer with, like, y'know, some stuff in it." Of course, marketing can't take all the blame for this crap Caddy; someone should have fired the stylists too, because the last time something sported pillars that thick it stood on a mountain above Athens. The Etcetera is possibly the only car that should have come imprinted with the words "Objects in the rearview mirror may be completely invisible behind all that bodywork."
IF THIS CAR WAS ... MERGING ONTO A FREEWAY, THERE ISN'T A CHANCE IN HELL IT WOULD SEE YOU.
MERKUR SCORPIO (1987-1989)
Coming straight out of the Long-Forgotten File, the Merkur was a European Ford, inexplicably adapted for sale in the United States. Back in its homeland, this was a large car and pretty radical in a blobby sort of way. But transplanted to a place where gas doesn't cost more than liquid platinum, the Scorp made rather less sense. In fact, it made no sense at all. Unsurprisingly, sales were pathetic until Ford decided to stop being so silly. They deleted the Scorpio from American price lists, and then killed the entire Merkur brand, just to be safe. In fairness, this car was reasonably popular in Germany. But so is oompah music.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... A MOVIE, IT WOULD BE "LOST IN TRANSLATION."
VOLVO 262C (1977-1981)
One of the greatest things about mankind is our constantly inquiring minds-minds that led us to conquer continents, explore space, and invent a way to electrically clip nose hair. But there are some questions that don't need answering. Questions such as "1 wonder if I could drop this glockenspiel on my own head?," or "What would happen if I lived entirely on potato chips?," or, worst of all, "What would happen if you sliced the roof off a Volvo sedan and replaced it with what appears to be the top of a mid-70s pimp-mobile?" Well, here's your answer-it would look ridiculous. But that didn't stop them making it.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... IN YOUR DREAMS, THEY'D CHANGE YOUR MEDICATION.
NISSAN NX (1991-1993)
Sometimes the strangest things can seem like a good idea. Ironing your clothes while wearing them, for example. Perhaps putting your breakfast, lunch, and dinner into a blender and drinking it all at once. Or, for that matter, buying a car with interchangeable rear ends so that you could switch between driving a sedan and a small wagon. But if you think about it, they're not good ideas at all. In fact, they're completely stupid. Especially the car.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... SUCH A GOOD IDEA, WHY'D THEY STOP MAKING IT?
GM EV1 (1996-1999)
Every so often GM stops being lazy and predictable and actually tries hard to do something different. Unfortunately this is normally a guarantee of an epic mistake on the horizon. Bingo! The EV1, GM's honest attempt to make the world's first electric car. Designed to appeal to the world's first car buyers who only ever wanted to go a few miles from their house. And just so your neighbors knew you were doing your bit to save the planet, they gave it a distinctive body that looked like a snake trapped under a rock.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... BLESSED WITH ANY LESS RANGE, THEY MIGHT AS WELL HAVE LEFT IT PLUGGED IN.
JAGUAR XJ6 (1987-1994)
When the XJ6 was announced in 1986 it was described as a "clean sheet design." In which case Jaguar had clearly taken that clean sheet, written on it everything that people loved about their cars, and then thrown it in the trash. Good-bye to curvaceous styling, strong performance, and traditionally luxurious interiors, hello to the box-fronted horror you see here with its appalling Atari-like dashboard and all the acceleration of a tired snail. Still, there were at least two "traditional" Jaguar qualities that remained: the one that made various major components work on a strictly part-time basis and the one that allowed sundry pieces of the interior to fall off. In fairness to Jaguar, the XJ6 was developed on the kind of budget that BMW would allocate to a new ashtray, which perhaps explains why, once they'd carved the finished design out of clay and sent it away to be turned into metal, the back end melted, giving it an unintentionally saggy appearance that nobody bothered to fix. This was probably the greatest travesty of all. Because no one expects the back of a Jag to look like the buttocks of a plumber poking over the top of his slack-assed jeans.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... YOUR FAVORITE JAGUAR, YOU DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT JAGUARS.
OLDSMOBILE TORONADO TROFEO (1989)
God bless General Motors and its amazing ability to shuttle wildly between technology that was either stubbornly old-fashioned or inadvisably advanced. This, in case you're wondering, is one from the inadvisable file. Specifically, we're talking about the nightmarish future world that was predicted by the introduction of a touch-screen on-board computer, which GM charmingly called VIC, or Visual Information Center. Forget your boring conventional dashboard controls, because this little baby would take care of your in-car entertainment and air conditioning settings, as well as giving you information such as the time and the fuel consumption plus a whole crazy vista of additional features including something called a "date book." Of course, it's safe to say that you're much less likely to get an actual date if you spend all your time outside playing with the stupid computer in your car. If VIC was meant to be a precursor of the near future then the 1990s would have been a time of needless complexity, garish graphics, and the endless smear of fingerprints. In fact, all you need to know about VIC is that one reviewer strongly advised any keen Trofeo buyer to seek out an example that didn't have this system.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... TO GET ITS OWN COMPUTER TO WRITE THIS BIT, IT WOULD SAY: ;BQA43R;OUJ\SD'AK,F.
FERRARI 400 (1976-1979)
It doesn't take a genius to explain that the two things you should expect from any Ferrari are performance and beauty. Unfortunately Ferrari themselves completely forgot about that when they designed this monster. With a 4.8-liter V12 engine up front you might have vainly hoped that this car would be quick, but it wasn't, especially when hooked up to a smothering automatic gearbox. Couple this with graceless cornering and disturbingly feeble brakes and you had a real recipe for misery. Expensive, handmade misery, but misery nonetheless. In any other Ferrari you might have consoled yourself by slipping down to the garage and simply drinking in its smooth, sinuous curves, but not with this horror. Not unless you got really excited by large-scale origami. A sobering reminder that the intern is there to make coffee and photocopy stuff, not to design a whole car.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... AN ACTUAL HORSE, YOU'D SHOOT IT.
STERLING 825/827 (1987-1991)
It seemed like such a good idea. Rover of Britain and Honda of Japan would join forces to make a luxury car. The Japanese would bring the build quality, reliability, and precision engineering. The British would garnish it with their talent for suspension tuning and tasteful design. Both companies were so excited about the prospect of wooing the American market that each invented a whole new brand with which to sell their brilliant new car; Acura for Honda's version, Sterling for Rover's. What could possibly go wrong? For Acura, nothing. For Sterling? Absolutely everything. Maybe if they'd listened to Honda's suggestions on, for example, how to make the doors fit properly they would have ended up with a good car. But they didn't, so they didn't. Instead the Sterling was a shabby festival of lame quality, including a dashboard that turned green in strong sunlight, and it was marketed with all the competence of the Three Stooges let loose in an ad agency. In fact, the only bit of the Sterling that was even remotely dependable was the engine. And-surprise, surprise-that came from Honda.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... TRYING ANY HARDER TO BE BRITISH, IT'D BE MADONNA.
ROLLS-ROYCE CAMARGUE (1975-1986)
In the 1970s Rolls-Royce decided to break with tradition by getting respected Italian design studio Pininfarina to create a stylish body for its new coupe. Unfortunately it looks like there was some sort of mix-up and the job was actually given to Gianni Pininfarina, a plumber from Milan, who knew nothing whatsoever about car design. As a result the Camargue looked utterly terrible, not least because the entire body appeared too big for the wheels, making it unpleasantly reminiscent of a fat man sitting on a bar stool. It's also worth noting that there was some huffing, puffing, and high-frequency mustache twitching among hard-core Rolls-Royce fans because those damned Italians had dared to give the company's famous radiator grille a slight rearward slant. Obviously this rather overlooked the more pressing point that even if you tilt a hog's nose back a couple of degrees, it's still a big fat pig.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... TO PROVE ONE THING, IT'S THAT EVEN THE SUPER RICH HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR.
DELOREAN DMC-12 (1981-1983)
John Z. DeLorean spent much of the 1960s and early 1970s working for GM, where he created cars such as the legendary Pontiac GTO. That's the sort of cool stuff you get to do when you're a handsome cowboy figure and your middle name starts with a Z. The trouble started when John Z. got sick of working for The Man and decided to create his own "ethical" sports car. Originally his "ethics" revolved around environmental friendliness, although this soon gave way to the rather less ethical business of persuading the British government to give him enormous bags of cash so he could set up a brand-new factory in Northern Ireland. The end result was, frankly, dismal. Sure that stainless steel body looked good, at least until it got covered in fingerprints, but the build quality was appalling and that 2.8-liter V6 engine was so weak it would struggle to pull a hobo off your sister. DMC-12 sales were dismal, falling rapidly to zero when John Z. got caught in a doomed money laundering sting and had to shut his car factory forever. The car did rise again as the star of the movie Back to the Future, although even in 1955 they'd probably have noticed it was a broken promise.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... A REAL TIME MACHINE, MAYBE THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT COULD GO GET THEIR MONEY BACK.
AMC/RENAULT ALLIANCE (1983-1988)
When Renault decided to join forces with a domestic manufacturer in order to increase their sales across America they could barely have chosen a worse partner than AMC. Unless of course they wanted to pick the only automaker whose own products made Renaults look attractive. In which case, job done. The Alliance set the tone for the new partnership and that tone can only be described as underwhelming. In fact this was a car of such crushing dismalness and feeble construction that it made you want to walk to work, even if your office was seventy miles away. In Europe, where the Alliance was sold as the Renault 9, it inexplicably won the Car of the Year award, which just goes to show that if people can't agree on the candidate they like, the winner will be the one that no one likes at all.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... WEATHER, IT WOULD BE DRIZZLE.
CHRYSLER IMPERIAL (1990)
The Imperial was based on the K-car, which, as bad starts go, is up there with being the offspring of Tom Arnold. To cover the embarrassing parentage Chrysler had to disguise it, apparently by asking everyone in the company for styling suggestions. And then they used them. All of them. Covered headlights? Yep! Chrome mirrors? Okay! Chrome window surrounds? Sure! Yet more strips of chrome stuck to the fenders and door handles and taillights and all over the car as if it had been attacked by a toddler with an electrolysis kit? You got it! And then, to cap it all, they gave it an opera roof. Wow! Welcome to the 1990s. Same as it ever was-crap.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... ANY MORE OVERDESIGNED, IT WOULD COLLAPSE.
MASERATI BITURBO (1984-1994)
Mmm, Maserati. Doesn't the very mention of its name make you think of swishing across Europe in a cool sixties coupe, en route to a rendezvous in a Monte Carlo casino where you'll win the money, shoot the baddies, and get the girl? Then you see this-the Biturbo. Old Maseratis were called exotic things such as Mistral, Khamsin, and Kyalami, so what sort of tediously functional name was Biturbo? And what sort of tediously functional design was it pinned to? Maseratis were meant to be ruthlessly rakish, not stubby and square. Who wants to swish to the South of France in something that looks like a child's drawing of a car? Mind you, given build quality best described as approximate, you'd count yourself lucky even to reach the Alps before something went catastrophically wrong. Which would at least spare you the embarrassment of arriving in Monaco in a really crap Maserati.
IF THIS CAR WAS ... SOLD WITHOUT A STEERING WHEEL, IT COULD BARELY HAVE BEEN LESS ERRATIC.
TRIUMPH TR7 (1975-1981)
The 1970s weren't a good time for British sports car makers. Without fail their products were as fresh as monthold milk, and proposed new safety regulations threatened to keep them from American soil forever. Triumph had a solution. They would design-shock!-a brand-new car, and one that would meet anything the federal legislators could throw at it. Unfortunately someone must have mis-read the projected plans for rollover protection and assumed that, if the car did flip over, the roof must be so ugly that the ground would actually attempt to repel it. Legend has it that upon first encountering a TR7, Italian car design guru Giorgetto Giugiaro drank in the strange creases up the flanks, walked slowly halfway around the car, and exclaimed, "My God! They've done it to the other side as well!" History doesn't record his next utterance but I like to think it was, "Get it away, get it away! Arrrgh! My eyes!"
IF THIS CAR WAS ... A "TRIUMPH," IMAGINE WHAT A FAILURE WOULD LOOK LIKE.
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