Nothing in this world makes me grin quite the way I do when I read about automotive oddities. Yes there are those rarities that you stumble upon, like a Stout Scarab, but what most people fail to realize is that oddities are just failed mainstream vehicles. Many of these vehicles were ahead of their time, predicting future trends possible a decade before they take hold and root.
While I’m sure numerous examples exist I’ll focus on three that I feel are quite obvious (to the trained eye that is). I’ve talked about it before and gee-bye-gosh-golly I’m going to again. The Pontiac Aztek. The General and it’s now non-existent Pontiac subdivision dreamt of a midsize car-based SUV long before 50% of the over 50 crowd was “zipping” down the road in a 2006+ Lexus RX. In 1999 Pontiac debuted a very different Aztek concept car than the box you all know and love today.
The exterior of said concept was then grafted onto a GM minivan front wheel drive chassis and behold we have a car everyone loves to hate. Today there are three types of Aztek drivers: originals, opportunists and millennials. If you find an original they will tell you they love the car and have been driving it for years. An opportunist picked up a 2005 model brand new in 2008 with serious serious rebates or perhaps they found one on craigslist for less than a grand and just needed a whip. The millennials are the most ingesting of the bunch as they have caused a resurgence and, albeit modest, price rise. Something about the quirky box and fudged up front fascia antiestablishment that gets them going. I bet Bernie Sanders has one.
Sure you may say, “The CRV and Rav4 were around earlier and had equally ridiculous names” and you’d be right. Based off of then compact or subcompact cars, they weren’t going to be hauling Kate (minus John) plus eight. They were more of an alternative Jeep Wrangler with no real merit as either a car or a truck.
Oh yeah it had a fucking tent on the back.
Alas life can’t be all obscene angles and tents. But there is nothing that early century moms love more than BIG ASS crossovers. AKA car-based SUVs on full-size or oversize vehicular platforms. Who did it first? Chrysler… the king (or queen, I’m going to try gender neutrality here) of missed or squandered opportunity. You may know the Pacific now as a hybrid mini-van that gets driven around by a comedian you know but can never recall his name but in 2003 it was a huge boat with three rows and little useable space.
While I’ve had the pleasure of driving an Aztek I’ve had the privilege of owning an original Pacific. Not only did I own it, I actively sought it. The knee jerk reaction to having my first kid I had it all of six months before trading it on a MKIV VR6 GTI. That isn’t to say it was a bad car but I was stationed in Europe and a big car in the United States equals an 18-wheeler there.
The engine was adequate but could’ve used more power. The space was decent unless you wanted to use the third row seats. There were some nice creature features and the ride was like a dream. Oh, and that Chrysler transmission, it was delightfully shitty. This car had less than 60k and it shifted like a 16 year old girl trying to take selfies while driving a 5-speed manual 1997 four door Chevy Cavalier.
Consequently, I later found out when we got our 2014 Dodge Caravan (a knee jerk reaction to having our second kid) that is how all Chrysler group transmissions shift, new or used. That is until the most recent release of the 9-speed auto under Fiat. Ya know, the one with the funky knob where you can never be sure it is in park and then it kills you.
I digress, the car never really took off despite being relatively good looking from the front. Later models came with the “Chrysler-design-of-the-time” speed grooves in the hood that really did it for me… mmmm grooves. Conspiracy theorist come hither, compare the headlights of a late model Pacifica to the Aztek.
Have you seen the new Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave (same as the Traverse), Saturn Outlook (also the same as the Traverse but now dead), GMC Acadia (yeah Traverse again but uses the Outlooks taillights), Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot? They are all long car-based SUVs. Alas the Pacifica was discontinued in 2008 and Chrysler continues to drift off into obscurity.
This article is getting a little long in the tooth. Who even says that anymore? Do teeth really get that long? I guess if you are a sabre tooth tiger? Man how cool would it be to be a sabre tooth tiger!? Rawr!
Oh yes! The AMC Eagle Wagon. The one you should’ve known was coming. If you can’t figure out what segment this predicted then you should stop reading or perhaps move to the north west and discover the wonderment that is the Subaru All Wheel Drive Outback. I spent almost ten years of my life thinking these were the only cars in the United States that came from Australia. Don’t be fooled by the name… this thing is from Japan.
I’m not sure I really need to fill everybody in on this one. AMC Eagle wagons are ridiculously 1980’s but they had an optional 4×4 system that put Jeeps to shame. Consequently they were under the same corporate umbrella as Jeep and stuck around for a eight years until Chrysler – yes that same Chrysler – bought AMC in 1987. The Eagle wagon was scrapped a year later. Chrysler then squandered the Eagle marque on a few Intrepid and Mitsubishi rebadges before sending them off the road just in front of Plymouth. I really need to do a write up on the things Chrysler mucked up, it would be epic.
Sadly the eagle didn’t share a headlight design with the Aztek and Pacifica but they were all large hatchback vehicles so maybe there is something there. Either way you look at it, these cars may have paved the wave for some pretty substantial segments of today’s market. Or you could look at it the other way, that I’m wrong and you just wasted 15 minutes reading over 1000 words of mindless drivel and looking at a picture of a fucking sabre tooth tiger.
No matter what I win.
In the end it just proves that we, as Americans, are stupid about the vehicles we choose. With the exception of the Subaru, the segments spawned by the Aztek and Pacifica are a blight on the pages of automotive history. Large, lumbering cars with a high center of gravity and poor handling. They are bloated wagons and hatchbacks… and wagons and hatchbacks are awesome. We’ve become so anti wagon, so anti hatchback as a society you have to justify this stupidity by buying one that, due to the design of riding higher, results in more weight, funky handling and more fuel consumption. It’s the practicality of being impractical.
Save yourself money, buy a Golf, Golf Sportwagen, a Cruze Hatchback. Then drive it like a race car. If you insist on you’re CUV realize it’s not normal to feel like you are going to roll over at every turn. And damnit stop coming to a complete stop at every little bump in the road you have more ground clearance than you need.
That’s right, A Sabre Tooth Tiger Car!