Sometimes, we ask ourselves, “why does this car even exist?” There have been numerous odd designs that have been introduced that do not seem to meet any demand as well as models that overlap with other parts of a company’s lineup.
They are not all necessarily poorly built cars. Some were well made and technically sound, but still did not actually fulfil any needs of the public.
So, we sought out to find the most bewildering cars that have been introduced over the course of history that have truly perplexed us. The most surprising part is that a lot of these odd cars still captured some sales.
So, let’s see what are the most bewildering cars that have been produced over the last 100 years or so.
1982 Cadillac Cimarron
The Cimarron is well-known for being the example of badge engineering gone wrong. The idea on paper actually sounded good. Cadillac wanted to introduce an entry-level compact car into its lineup to expand its potential market.
But, the execution of this plan was significantly flawed. Instead of creating a new car altogether, Cadillac borrowed the Chevrolet Cavalier from its parent, General Motors.
On its own, this decision is also not that terrible, as the design team could have then gussied up the exterior and interior while the engineering team could have added a more powerful engine.
But, that is not what happened.
Instead, Cadillac just pushed out a more-optioned version of the Cavalier with leather seats. Dynamically, it was virtually the same. Inside, you would not have been able to tell the difference between the Cimarron and the Cavalier if you removed the badges.
Compared to its European rivals at the time, like the BMW 320i and Audi 5000, the Cimarron was lightyears behind.
Yet somehow, Cadillac sold almost 26,000 Cimarrons in its first model year in 1982! Even at the end of its run in 1988, when everyone realized it was just a Cavalier in disguise, they still sold 6,400 units.
This mistake nearly killed Cadillac altogether, but they were able to recover and eventually put out a proper entry-level luxury car, although that was more than 20 years later with the CTS in 2003.
2010 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo
We thought BMW had filled every nook and cranny of the luxury car market, but they must have thought they had one more hole to fill, which was the mid-size, fastback, half-sedan, half-station wagon niche.
This Hunchback of Bavaria sported a raised roofline and actually offered more passenger space than the previous generation 5 Series wagon and similar headroom as an X5.
But, it just looked odd.
Additionally, it was an answer to a question that nobody really asked. If you wanted extra space in the mid-size market, why not go for the 5 Series wagon, X3, or X5?
We think that the 5 Series Gran Turismo added extra complexity to BMW’s already vast lineup with very little benefit in return.
1998 Fiat Multipla
Speaking of odd looking cars, Fiat’s design team seemed to have gained inspiration from a variety of bug-eyed insects and waterfowls when creating the first-generation Multipla.
The outcome was a front-end with three separate tiers of rounded lights and a bulging greenhouse that sure looked unique. It was even featured in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which we are not sure was a good thing or not.
The interior was just as strange, with center vents that looked like a Transformer’s face and knobs and buttons that were strewn across the dash.
But, the car was moderately popular in the Italian market, who must have overlooked the Multipla’s strange styling in favor of its utility and cheap price.
It did feature 3 seats in both the front and back rows, meaning that it could hold up to 6 people in just 2 rows, which was and still is quite rare.
2003 Chevrolet SSR
The SSR stood for “Super Sport Roadster,” which, on the surface, sounds like General Motors’ follow-up to the Corvette. Instead, what we got was a souped-up retro pickup truck that tried to rely on its looks and performance rather than its utility.
The initial SSR debuted with a 5.3 liter V8 that produced 300 horsepower. But, despite being labeled as a “sport roadster,” that sluggish power plant propelled the SSR from 0-60 in 7.7 seconds.
The 2005 and 2006 SSR were available with a more powerful 390 horsepower engine, but it was too little, too late and the SSR was discontinued after a 4 year production run.
1989 Chrysler TC by Maserati
The TC was a bizarre joint collaboration between Chrysler and Maserati in the mid-1980s. After years of development delays, the final product was a bland grand tourer that looked pretty much like the Chrysler LeBaron.
They expected to sell about 5,000 to 10,000 units every year as Chrysler’s halo car, but they only managed to sell just over 7,000 units over the course of 3 years, at which point the car was discontinued.
Perhaps the low demand also had to do with its pricing. The 1989 TC debuted with a price tag of $33,000, which is about $75,000 in today’s value after inflation.
Imagine paying $75,000 for any Chrysler in today’s market.
The most striking part of this relationship is how much it cost the company. Chrysler executive Bob Lutz estimated that the partnership cost them close to $600 million.
2002 Lincoln Blackwood
“Okay, you guys want a new option for a 4-door pickup truck?”
“Yeah, sure. There aren’t many good ones on the market right now.”
“Of course, you would want it from a luxury manufacturer, correct?”
“Well, that seems contradictory and unnecessary seeing that we want it for function and utility rather than status, but we are willing to listen. After all, you must be talking about a luxury brand that has years of experience with pickup trucks, right?”
“How about Lincoln?”
That is the story of the Lincoln Blackwood, a luxury pickup truck from a brand not known for pickup trucks and in a segment not known for luxury.
Luckily, Lincoln realized the error of its ways and ended production of the Blackwood in the US just 1 year after its launch. Only 3,356 units were made.
Unluckily, Lincoln re-entered the luxury pickup market with the introduction of the 2006 Lincoln Mark LT, which is a story for another day.
2020 Porsche Taycan
The jury is still out on the Taycan, but we think it was quite bewildering as to why Porsche created a whole new car for its first all-electric vehicle.
Why not just electrify the Panamera? They both belong in the large luxury sedan segment and are pretty much the same size.
Or, why not build a unique offering that doesn’t currently exist in the Porsche lineup, like a mid-size sedan or build off their existing 2-door models with an all-electric 911 or Boxster/Cayman?
Eventually, we think that the Panamera will be phased out, but we are not sure the Porsche management team has fully thought out the roadmap for these two competing sedans.
1997 Chevrolet Malibu
At least with Porsche, the Panamera and Taycan are both excellent sedan options. The fifth generation Chevy Malibu was anything but that.
Chevrolet revived the Malibu name after a 10 year hiatus only to roll out one of the most nondescript sedans in the history of history.
Its design is what animators draw when they need to use a generic car in one of their scenes. It would certainly blend right into the non-branded cars found in Grand Theft Auto.
The Malibu’s interior was no better. It was just a sea of beige or gray plastic.
Several of our older staff members remember how every car rental turned out to be a Malibu (and how unexcited they were to see one each time). It seemed that they were made just to be fleet cars.
2003 Pontiac GTO
The legendary GTO nameplate was reborn in 2003, but the result did not resemble anything like the original muscle car.
Instead, the US market got a modified Holden from Australia with a bland, jelly bean shape. Yes, there was a 5.7 liter V8 borrowed from the Corvette, but it was not enough to overcome the monotony of the rest of the package.
Why didn’t GM just base the whole car off of the Corvette? They might have been better off even using the more striking fourth generation Camaro/Firebird platform that ended production in 2002.
But instead, we got a pedestrian-looking coupe that failed to bring back any feelings of nostalgia.
We don’t want to be too harsh on these models as they all served some sort of purpose. It’s also easy to point out these oddities after the fact with hindsight.
Still, they all exist in our automotive history and are hopefully lessons that future companies can learn from.
We are hopeful that car manufacturers will now be able to gather more data on market research in the digital age to help them make smarter lineup choices.