Weird and Wonky American Cars

Feb 8, 2016 by Ian (Driver Weekly)

We love American cars. American cars are bold with unmatched power and serious attitude. But America’s been making cars for over a hundred years, and the price of innovation is the occasional oddity—and, sometimes, fiery explosions. These weird cars made it into the hands of real drivers, including bizarre three-wheelers, serious muscle cars, the first SUV, and everything from the classic AMC Gremlin to the notorious Pontiac Aztek.

1977 Ford Ranchero


Maurizio Boi - flickr.com

In 1957, the Ford Ranchero introduced American consumers to the Australian oddity of the “coupe utility,” a two-door coupe with a truck bed fused to the rear end. Ford Australia had invented a car that could take the family to church or throw cargo in the back, a compromise between a commercial utility vehicle and the wheel-bed and cost of a smaller passenger vehicle. So while it might look like a small pickup truck, the Ford Ranchero was built on the body of a station wagon. After 1959, Ford continued to release new models of the Ranchero based on a series of Fords (including the Falcon and the Torino) until 1976. That year, the Torino was discontinued, and Ford made the decision to switch the Ranchero to the frame of the LTD II. But the LTD II was a fattened mid-size, that, unfortunately, used a series of recycled parts from Ford’s previous lines. The new Ranchero added a cargo bed and a lot of weight for not a lot of power. While earlier models had complemented a sporty, compact look with a useful cargo bed, the ungainly LTD II was a poor fit for a coupe utility. Unsurprisingly, no one wanted an underpowered, wonky little pickup truck! The ’77 Ranchero was the end of the line for the coupe utility, and Ford discontinued the line in 1979. In the end, Ranchero paved the way for the Ford Ranger and other light pickups that combined work and fun in one package.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser


Daisy Shutan - flickr.com

At one point in time, the Chrysler PT Cruiser won Car of the Year. Now, the PT Cruiser is a series regular on lists of the worst cars ever made. What explains the dramatic fall of this controversial vehicle? It’s not just changing tastes, although that’s part of the equation. The PT Cruiser just didn’t stand up to scrutiny. First launched in 2001, the PT Cruiser was a 5-door hatchback designed to evoke the gangster getaway cars of the 1930s, featuring smooth curves, fat fenders, and a high roofline. The audacious vehicle wowed reviewers and consumers when it first appeared and the PT Cruiser had a few things going for it, sure: it was big, roomy, with a bold new look. The problem? It looked like a dwarfish minivan rather than a sedan, let alone a hatchback. The 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four engine was lifted from a minivan and still had trouble getting the PT Cruiser’s 3123 pounds moving.

Fuel efficiency and handling lagged almost as much as acceleration. Chrysler wanted to create a new segment with the PT Cruiser—but they forgot what, exactly, they were supposed to be creating, and ended up with the worst of both worlds. Chrysler’s reorganization in 2009 witnessed the end of the PT Cruiser, and it was definitely for the best. The initial shock had worn off, and people were waking up to the fact that weird and new doesn’t always equal good. The car is panned as one of the ugliest mementos of the early 2000s. Still, we have to admire the boldn (if very odd) design choices.

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