Eclectic Motoring: The Unique, The Bad and The Ugly

Welcome to the unique, the bad, and the ugly!

Over the years, automakers past and present have offered a variety of cars and light trucks for sale in the American marketplace.  Occasionally, the same have attempted to field vehicles that were designed to satisfy a market or meet a need in the marketplace.  While some have been successful, others have failed spectacularly.  Often exterior design, value proposition or even usefulness for the task at hand left many scratching their heads, while others wondered why the vehicle was ever built in the first place.

This new feature will explore those vehicles that offered consumer’s something different – for better or for worse.  While this series may not cover every vehicle that may deem worthy, it should bring back some memories for those who have owned, shopped or even seen them on our nation’s roadways.   On to the list!

Pontiac Aztek crossover – (model years produced: 2001-2005) – What were they thinking? This was GM at its overstaffed, micromanaged, committee killing worst.  The styling was polarizing at best, and a host of design, marketing and financial decisions reduced the usefulness of what could have been an awesome vehicle.  The Aztek rode on a shortened version of the automaker’s minivan platform.  The Buick Rendezvous is a mechanical sibling.  Interesting fact: In recent years, this vehicle has enjoyed a bit of cult status popularity as the vehicle used by the character Walter White in AMC Network’s series Breaking Bad.

AMC Pacer two-door hatchback – (model years produced: 1975-1980) – This combination of the American Motors Corporation and the Pacer went together like oil and water.  Because it was as wide as conventional mid-size sedans at the time, it was billed as the first “wide small car”.   The Pacer’s rounded and aerodynamic “jellybean” styling and its short wheelbase made it the subject of many bad jokes.  Built at the automaker’s aging plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the automaker’s reputation for poor quality didn’t help its cause either.   Interesting fact: The Pacer was the first modern US market mass-produced vehicle to employ cab-forward design.

Subaru Baja open bed pickup truck – (model years produced: 2003-2006) – Built in the United States, I am sure that Subaru thought that it was a good idea at the time.  After all, less than 10 years before it’s launch, the automaker had scored big with a heavy-duty SUV-like rendition of its Legacy wagon called the Outback.  This unibody  design also borrowed heavily from the existing mechanicals, platform and sheet metal of the Subaru Legacy/Outback wagon as well.  Subaru nicknamed the Baja as a “multiple-choice vehicle” as a result of its unique design and versatility. But limited advertising, late arrival of the turbo-charged model, heavily styled lower-body plastic cladding and a yellow-and-silver introductory color scheme discouraged broad appeal. Interesting fact: the Baja received the highest score for reliability in the pickup truck category from Consumer Reports in 2006.

GMC Envoy XUV – (model years produced: 2004-2005). It didn’t work for Studebaker either. The five-passenger Envoy XUV introduced for 2004 was an attempt to create a combination of pickup truck and SUV.  It featured a retractable rear roof section that slid forward, giving an open-topped load area like the 1960s car Studebaker Wagonaire.  A ‘MidGate’ could be raised to partition the load area off from the passenger compartment.  This was a solid, waist-height plastic-lined panel and with a retractable glass partition for the top half. The two-way tailgate could either hinge sideways or drop down; the tailgate glass retracted into the solid tailgate. The cargo area was waterproofed and fitted with a drainage system, allowing it to be easily hosed down for cleaning. Interesting fact: Envoy XUV sales, projected at approximately a third of Envoy production, were actually much lower.

Suzuki X-90 – (model years produced: 1995-1997).  The Suzuki X-90 was a two-door, two-seater SUV that was related to the Suzuki Sidekick.  The X-90 also featured a T-section removable roof.   The X-90 was the replacement for the maligned Samurai which was largely discredited due to its easy tendency to roll over in emergency avoidance maneuvers.  Despite its small size, the Suzuki X-90 was well equipped – available with four wheel drive or rear wheel drive and either a five-speed manual or automatic transmission.  The X-90 also featured dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, optional air conditioning and a dealer-installed six-disc CD changer.  Unfortunately, it was a vehicle in search of a market – it never caught on in the United States.  Interesting fact: The X-90 was the base vehicle for Red Bull’s advertising vehicles, which featured a 5′ mockup of the company’s product can mounted over the trunk.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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