A turkey is a special kind of car which, though no lemon, is out-of-date the second it rolls off the lot. Like the bird that gives it its name, it is an inferior creature that lacks an appeal to any superior automotive taste, even if enjoyed by the wealthiest consumer. Nevertheless, this is the week we can appreciate turkeys both in bird and car form. Below is our list of the ten greatest automotive turkeys, something to give thanks for — especially if you don't own one.
The Ferrari 400-series cars are the best example of everything that's wrong with the Italian automaker's Malaise Era attempts at front-engined grand touring cars. Hidden below the stylish, though decidedly un-Ferrari, skin was the first automatic transmission offered in a production Ferrari. The base 400i featured a GM-sourced hydromatic three-speed transmission. Nothing like Italian power being routed through three speeds of American glory! Modern Ferrari tourers, like the 599 GTB FIorano have taken the bad taste out of our mouth, but opening the doors on an original 400i is like cutting through a crisp, buttery pie crust and finding tapioca pudding.
If you're curious how Jaguar ended up being owned by an Indian company, look no further than the Jaguar X-Type. Designed to appeal to a wider audience than the typical Jag, thereby picking up significant market share, they hoped to sell 100,000 X-Types a year. That didn't happen. People saw through the distinctive Jaguar grille and headlights to the Ford Mondeo platform beneath. The FWD/AWD compact luxury car segment wasn't impressed by the lackluster performance, styling or luxury. Instead of saving the company, the X-Type became a moving example of Ford's mismanagement of the once premium brand. Cranberries out of the can do not an adequate side make.
A classic Datsun 240Z, the original Z, is such a fine car that it's almost hard to remember that the 280ZX ever existed... until you see one. The 280ZX essentially takes the beauty of the Z and "modernizes" it to what was modern in the late 1970s. Those smooth lines become crisper (or at least crunchier), the unbroken hood gets oh-so-many ducts, and the once solid roof gets a pair of cheap-looking T-tops. Even better, emissions laws meant a successor that was less powerful than its predecessor until the later Turbo model. It's like when one of your relatives tries to spice up the green bean casserole by adding capers and endive. If you're going to change it, don't make it worse.
Though the 2010 Honda Insight hopes to win back fame for Honda's hybrid brand, the original Insight still sticks in our minds as a rare misfire for the brand. It wasn't a problem of foresight as, we were soon to learn, hybrids were the next big thing. It wasn't engineering as the Hondas achieved incredible mileage and tend to hold up fairly well. It wasn't even price, though the $20,000 price was a high premium for the two-seater. The Insight's main fault was that it assumed the market for hybrids would be urban and require something that looks radically different and suits only two adults individuals. The original Prius didn't look much different from most compact cars and easily carried as many adults as a Toyota Corolla. Like the first person to offer tofu for Thanksgiving dinner, the Insight was a pioneer. But with the Tofurkey and Prius, it took someone willing to shape it more conventionally to build a proper demand.
There's nothing hotter than a "slant nose" Porsche 935 racer, yet there's also nothing lamer than a custom- or factory-built Porsche slant nose. Meant to mimic the racer, the slant-nosed Porsches somehow manage to transform the aerodynamic look of the competition cars into an image of a sleazy stock broker rocking the Don Johnson white jacket and pastel fitted t-shirt. Originally offered only by customer companies, Porsche rode the wave in the mid-to-late 1980s by selling a slant nose version for basically every rear-engine car for sale. Despite the factory blessing even the OEM slant noses looked as fake as easy cheese on apple pie. [Photo: PCA.org]
The retro-styled, hard-top convertible Chevrolet SSR was GM's answer to the retro-styled Plymouth Prowler though, perplexingly, it was designed as a truck. At over $40,000 a piece, the sport pickup wasn't exactly a bargain considering its Chevy TrailBlazer-based platform meant it wasn't quite sporty enough to be a sports car and its small bed large fender flares meant it wasn't quite useful enough to be a pickup. It also wasn't particularly fast. The SSR was simply as ill-timed and ill-designed as a Thanksgiving Day dessert of Easter-egg shaped candy canes.
Designed to be the Swedish answer to the Lincoln Mark IV, the two-door Volvo 262 C Bertone Coupe instead ended up as an expensive European oddity appreciated more for its strangeness than anything else. Based on the basic 262GL platform, the Volvos were shipped off to Bertone's factory in Turin for the addition of custom body panels, vinyl roof and leather interior. Rather than sporting a special engine, the Volvos carried the same V6 the company shared with Peugeot-Renault. Substituting a 262C for a true European coupe is much akin to showing up with Becherovka when you were asked to bring a bottle of wine. It's unique and memorable though you wouldn't go so far as to describe it as pleasurable. [Photo/Source: Hemmings]
The Chrysler Crossfire has the novelty of being one of the few cars so unloved it was sold en masse on Overstock.com. The successor to the Plymouth Prowler, a car that was more quail than turkey, the Crossfire is the only true progeny of the Mercedes-Chrysler marriage. German engineering and American design, what could go wrong? The coupe, and eventually the roadster, were built on a borrowed SLK platform but wrapped in an uninspiring body. The mix of old mechanicals, bland styling and a high price tag made the Crossfire the unofficial pace car for the DaimlerChrysler merger's race to dissolution. Like turkey stuffed with spaetzel, the Crossfire was only good on paper.
The BMZ Z1 was a car of the future that became part of the past before it went on sale. When it debuted at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show the Z1 received a lot of positive attention and it was set for a production launch in early 1989. Unfortunately, the time that passed between the concept and final car was not good to the design. The strange doors, which dropped into the car, were neat as a concept but strange in a production car. The drivetrain, consisting of a Getrag five-speed matched to the 170 HP inline-6, also didn't provide the zip to match the unique design. The Z stands for Zukunft, the German word for future, and the Z1 holds a special place as vehicle that eventually led to the far more successful Z3 Roadster/Coupe, Z4 and Z8. Like that first Thanksgiving dinner, not everything went right with the original Z but it laid the ground for a future that would be gobble gobbled up.
Then Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca gets a lot of credit for his role in the creation of the modern minivan, which is why history has been kind enough to forget the Chrysler TC by Maserati. Before Chrysler learned that mixing with the Germans wouldn't work they tried to shake some dollars out of a pairing with another Axis power, with similarly disastrous results. Though the 1989 TC came equipped with a powerful turbocharged version of the 2.2-liter Chrysler engine, few could get past the weird combination of Opera windows and a LeBaron-esque profile on what was a $33,000 car. Aunt Sally may claim that the "special" $12 jar of organic mayo in her spinach dip is worth the price, but like the TC, no one buys it.