Which is more frustrating for the hopeless car geek: a car company that once ruled the universe brought to its knees by decades of bad decisions, or a car company that sold its soul in order to build better appliances?


As recently as the mid-1960s, GM led the automaking world in engineering and innovation, with Cadillac building some of the best high-end cars in the universe and Chevrolet putting high-dollar style in the driveways of your average schmoe. The General spared no R&D expense back then, and this philosophy paid off like crazy with such home runs as the small-block Chevrolet engine and Turbo-Hydramatic transmission bringing in significant-percentage-of-GDP revenue. The list of great GM cars goes on for so long that, hell, we're afraid to even begin to enumerate them. Then, heartbreakingly, the marketers and focus groups took over, and The General lost the ability to make money building good stuff. Exhibit A: the Vega.

Meanwhile, Toyota built an empire of Crowns and Coronas and Starlets with plenty of Japanese quirkiness in every car. As recently as the mid-1980s, you could still buy lovably oddball-looking machines such as the Tercel 4WD Wagon… but then the suits in the quality-control department seem to have staged some sort of coup. Yes, they took the Toyota execs to a certain rural crossroads at midnight, where a shadowy figure taught them how to build the most reliable vehicles in the world for cheap… but in exchange, Toyota's end of the bargain mandated that they expunge all character and personality from their products. Exhibit A: the Camry.

So, as a certified car freak, which of these trajectories represents the biggest disappointment to you, and why?

[Photo sources: Toyota.co.jp, Beautiful Life]