It’s no big secret that car companies lie to sell cars.
In some cases, it’s a simple, fairly innocuous lie, projecting base horse power as road horsepower, claiming a mpg average that can only be achieved on a brand new road in ideal weather conditions at a reasonable driving speed, onward and upward.
Sometimes, the lies are a little more unforgivable, like the GM’s ignition switches, the recall on airbags, and Volkswagen’s all too deliberate emissions scandal.
There are some instances, however, where the companies might not even have known they were lying – some cars where only the test of time can truly highlight just how ridiculous the claims are.
Check out some of history’s funniest attempts at selling cars, with all the knowledge of what actually happened to them.
The Ford Edsel:
The emphasis is on engineering, but the accent is on elegance.
There is no way Edsel would escape this list. A car determined to influence the auto industry, it did so in a way it had never intended. The Edsel was intended to bridge the gap between Ford and the other Big Three automakers. With Ford’s move to a publicly traded corporation in the mid-50s, much was riding on the unique, if risky, Edsel to put the company ahead.
More than a single advertisement boasts of the Edsel’s elegance –
The most beautiful thing that ever happened to horsepower
The Edsel look is here to stay – and the 1959 cars will prove it
A car for men whose taste is sure.
It’s almost as if the ad execs at Ford were going off a sketch on the back of a napkin, without having ever seen an Edsel in person. A far cry from the massive success Ford was expecting, the Edsel was a sales dud, and has come to be a symbol for an epic commercial disaster.
With many blaming the styling, most distinctly the now-infamous grille, which has been likened to a toilet seat, “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon”, and most gratuitously, elements of the female genitalia, there is only one ad with any truth to it.
“They’ll know you’ve arrived when you drive up in an Edsel.” They will indeed…
The Chevy Vega:
The Little Car That Does Everything Well
In defense of the Little Chevy That Couldn’t, the Vega put on a hell of a show in beginning. A Motor Trend Car of the Year recipient and successful seller, it did appear that the Vega might actually live up to the claims. It was only after the car had been in production for some time, did the Vega’s one, singular, unignorable problem surface – The little car did nothing well.
By 1972, GM was recalling the car by the masses, in three batches, the largest of which reached half a million models. The cars were so cheaply made that they became notorious for rusting out before they left the dealer’s lots.
Vega comes with a winning streak. See what it’s like to drive a winner.
Winning bull, maybe. The car’s run lasted seven years, and through that time it went from economy drive darling to an industry pariah, plagued by low quality parts, lazy engineering, and simple fixes. With the early successes in mind, it’s hard not to look at those ads – and heave a big, longing sigh for what the Vega could have been. Because trust us, Chevy, You should not hear what they’re saying about Vega.
Admittedly, expectations shouldn’t be particularly high for a car imported from a Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia. If cars in the United States were questioning who they were in the 1980s, like young adults in their first years at college making questionable decisions; the Yugo was still in diapers, barely able to stand on its own four wheels. Good maintenance was crucial to the car’s survival, including changing the interference engine’s timing belt every 40,000 miles. Failure to do so had the potential to destroy the car’s engine, and a lot of owners failed to do so.
The technology was antiquated, the quality less than stellar, and the ownership stressful. It truly a wonder, then, why they would print an ad which placed the Yugo at the end of the line up including a Ford Model T and Volkswagen Beetle, claiming, Introducing the Same Old Idea. Henry and Ferdinand would have balked at the comparison.
We do have the Yugo to thank for one thing, however. Truly, was there ever a nickname greater than the Yugo Nowhere?
The Reliant Robin:
It’s possible that the ad men working for Reliant Robin had a bit of clairvoyance – though obviously not enough to save the car from itself. A three wheel little beastie inspired by England’s driving and licensing regulation, the Reliant Robin was incredibly successful, with a run of three decades, and continued popularity. It was just a little bit – well, unbalanced.
Whereas most three wheeled vehicles of the era were being produced with the singular wheel in the back, the folks at Reliant came up with the ingenious-why-has-nobody-
But make no mistake, the car was far from stable. It did wobble, it did tottle, and it did roll over. That’s why it’s so funny to check out the classic Reliant Robin adverts –
Reliant Robin. You can’t beat it for all around economy – What about around and around and around and….
What would your four wheel friends say? – Oh look, we can take corners.
Sheer Logic – Does it even need to be said?
The little car lasted a long time, and it was well-loved and continues to be. But, like the car’s singular front wheel, and the Edsel’s 10th grade health class grille, this one just seemed a little bit obvious.
Saab. Just Saab.
It’s unfair to mock the little Swedish monster, given how long it lasted despite the odds, and how truly loved it was by Saab owners the world over. Saab wasn’t all bad. When it ran, it did run well, and it was quirky, unique and a little something special. Unfortunately, being one shiny snowflake in an automotive blizzard wasn’t enough to keep the company’s head above water. In the last decade, Saab has folded and been re-bought and reopened several times, each one leading hopeful car enthusiasts on another disappointing journey.
It’s Saab’s extinction, more than anything, that adds a little dark humor to this particular ad text. Over a lineup of cars, bright white letters boast, of the Saab 9000 Turbo,
If you want a car that holds more than a Mercedes, Volvo, and BMW combined and goes like a Porsche… you only have one choice.
Considering Mercedes, Volvo, BMW, and Porsche are all still operating, successful car companies, it seems as though Saab’s optimistic, if unrealistic, advertisement was a serious case of denial. We’re also fond of:
You’ve waited years to buy a new car, don’t blow it now, and,
You can love it without getting your heart broken.
Because you may have waited years to purchase the car, but there’s no amount of time saving money to make it possible to work on. And your heart won’t get broken, but your head will hurt like hell. Ah, the joys of Saab ownership.
Every car, good and bad, fantastic and atrocious, styling icons, performance disasters, has their place in history. They influence each other in turn, change the tides of consumerism, create and kill markets, influence fashion, movies, and politics.
It is easy to be thankful for the heroes, the Mustangs, and the Curved Dash Oldsmobiles, the Volkswagen Bugs, the Model Ts. But maybe, we should give a should give a shout out to history’s least, worst, and ugliest, for their efforts in the industry we love so much. And hey, they’ll always be worth a good laugh.
(The most beautiful thing to happen to horsepower – seriously, who did they think they were fooling with that one?)
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About the Author
Ruby Rae Scalera is an automotive journalist from NJ. She loves spicy food, travel, books, fitness, nature, and all things car related. Check out more of her posts and find a car show near you at http://www.carshowsafari.com.