The world's automakers scored some big hits and some big misses in the 1980s.
Some of the cars that turned out to be real dogs in the showroom, like the 1980-81 Rover 3500 SD1 and the 1981-82 Chrysler Imperial, were really fine automobiles. But they never found their niche because of poor marketing or other problems that had nothing to do with the cars' styling or reliability. The Pontiac Fiero had potential but ended up a failure because GM failed to carry through with a good idea.In the Rover's case, however, the timing was all wrong, and the dealers were apathetic. The Rover came with a V-8 engine when gas prices were on the rise. And the exchange rate between the British pound and the dollar forced British Leyland to jack up the price so high that the Rover 3500 SD1 cost more than an Audi, said Mike Cook, Jaguar's public relations manager. Except in the United States, the Rover 3500 SD1 was a hit all over the world and still is being used by many British police forces. Only about 2,500 Rovers were sold in America, where they have become something of a collector's item.
High gas prices and a major recession also contributed to the short life of the 1981-82 Chrysler Imperial. "We tried to sell a V-8 luxury car in a market that was just falling apart," said Chrysler spokesman Baron Bates on the demise of the Imperial.
But other autos like GM's X-cars, the front-wheel drive Chevrolet Citation and Pontiac Phoenix were designed in the '70s and were fraught with mechanical problems and prone to rust. They were also slow and not especially good on gas. Though the X-cars sold well initially, consumers soon turned away and GM discontinued the line in 1985.
The Fiero is another General Motors failure that still has people guessing what went wrong at GM in the 1980s. The idea was to build an affordable, durable commuter car. Built on a space frame covered with body panels made from a type of plastic, the Fiero looked like a car that would be around for a while. The development possibilities seemed endless but just ended instead.
The 1988 Fiero GT with the V-6 engine and five-speed transmission is already being called a future classic by several auto magazines. Just days before GM announced the Fiero's demise, several enthusiast magazines declared the 1988 GT model to be nothing short of excellent, and one, England's Autocar and Motor, proclaimed the Fiero one of the best mid-engine two seaters money could buy.
What GM learned about space frames and plastic body panels can be seen today on the company's Pontiac TranSport, Chevrolet Lumina and Oldsmobile Silhouette vans. Although GM had a rough decade, the nation's No. 1 automaker rebounded strongly, ending the '80s on a high note with the Chevrolet Corsica/Beretta, Buick LeSabre and Pontiac Grand Prix and SSE models.
A combination of negative publicity and poor public relations killed sales of at least two vehicles in the 1980s. Who can forget the "unintended acceleration" bad rap given the Audi 5000 or the Suzuki Samurai rollover controversy?
If you own one of the cars that bombed in the '80s, you might consider hanging on to it. No one liked the Edsel when it debuted in 1958. Now, if you can find one in showroom condition, it'll cost as much as $20,000.
CARS THAT BOMBED: Rover 3500 SD1, Lancia Zagato, Pontiac Fiero, Cadillac Cimarron, Suzuki Samurai, Audi 5000, GM's X-Cars, Pontiac Phoenix, Chevrolet Citation, Yugo, Merkur Scorpio and XR4Ti, Renault Alliance, Encore, Fuego, Le Car, Cadillac's with the V-8-6-4 engine, Any GM diesel-powered automobile, Ford Mustang SVO, DeLorean DMC-12, 1981-82 Chrysler Imperial.