Cars that felt the love - but not enough to make their milestone anniversaries
A few weeks back we took a look at cars celebrating anniversaries in 2017. Of course, if every car had the staying power of the Toyota Corolla, then the roads would be a rather boring place and there’d be no such thing as progress. We’d all still be driving Hillman Avengers.
So for every Jeep Wrangler there has to be a Jaguar X-Type. And that’s a good thing.
Here are a few examples of once-popular cars that would have been celebrating milestones next year, except — for a variety of reasons — they blew out their last set of candles a bit too early.
Daihatsu Charade (should’ve been turning 40 next year)
It may sound strange now — mainly because the Daihatsu Charade you have in your head will probably be the one your gran’s next door neighbour owned — but once upon a time this little hatchback enjoyed a bit of a cult following … as a performance car.
The model won Japan’s Car of the Year award for 1979, giving it extra cred in a sea of kei cars (small Japanese vehicles with maximum 660cc). But its reputation as a pocket rocket was helped immeasurably by DeTomaso (of Pantera supercar fame), who jointly developed a mid-engined Charade in 1985 that was designed to take part in the sub-1300cc class of the World Rally Championship.
The rally-spec Charade featured a turbocharged three-cylinder 926cc engine that was good for 88kW.
As the car weighed only 800kg it was a seriously fast wee thing; better still, because of WRC homologation rules, Daihatsu had to produce 200 Charade 926 Turbos, albeit with a slightly detuned version of the same performance engine.
They were still at it 10 years later in 1994, too, when the third-generation Charade line-up was graced with a 92kW Charade DeTomaso three-door model; a few of which made it to New Zealand. But cult adoration does not a fat profit make. Despite the many mainstream iterations of Charade sold over the years, brand owner Toyota looked to move on by 2000, replacing it with the Sirion. And no, there was never a “hot” one of those.
Mazda MX-6 (should’ve been turning 30 next year)
It’s hard living in the shadow of a successful sibling, especially when that sibling is perceived to be your little brother. Such was the familial frailty handed down to Mazda’s MX-6.
Even though the “MX” bit had nothing directly to do with the carmaker’s all-conquering MX-5 roadster (the MX-6 was actually a replacement for the 626/Capella coupe), in the public consciousness it was instantly part of a performance family of models.
It was the second-generation MX-6 (built between 1991 and 1997) that we first saw in numbers here. And Australia and New Zealand market cars came fully-loaded, too. Not only did local MX-6s boast clever dual-projector headlights, powered and heated wing mirrors and (in its last iteration) leather upholstery and digital climate control air conditioning as standard, the V6 coupe also featured the option of a trick rear-steer 4WS system.
Conceived during the heyday of Ford and Mazda’s shared development programme (which also spawned badge-engineered siblings such as the Mazda 121/Ford Fiesta and Mazda B2000/Ford Courier model combos), the MX-6 was the Hiroshima-headquartered manufacturer’s take on Ford’s Probe; a car one local motoring writer once referred to — somewhat accurately — as boasting styling cues akin to those of a melted sultana pastie.
The upshot of all this is that, although the Mazda MX-5 legend lives on and seems to get better and better with age, you can pick up a battered MX-6 on the used market for less than $5000.
Porsche 928 (should’ve been turning 40 next year)
For many Porsche-ists, the 928 has never gone away, despite having been out of production for more than 20 years.
This V8 coupe has a remarkably avid following even today, with S4 and GTS versions still commanding big money on the used market; hardly a surprise, of course, given they weren’t exactly cheap runabouts when new.
It seems somewhat remarkable with hindsight, but the 928 was initially conceived as a replacement for the perennial 911. Although the latter model was universally loved, Porsche management was concerned that they had reached the end of the developmental autobahn with the car and started scouting around for a successor.
The 928 was conceived as a powerful luxury take on the manufacturer’s successful sports car format. It even qualified as a 2+2, featuring passable rear seats … well, for people you weren’t particularly fond of. Despite Porsche’s aspirations to create a “new” 911, sales of the 928 had stalled by the mid-1990s and it was eventually deleted.
But proof of the 928’s staying power was underlined when the seemingly unrelated Panamera four-door arrived in 2009. Barely had the silk covers been pulled off to reveal the lines of the elongated GT, before car magazines the world over were publishing renders of what a short wheel-based Panamera would look like — i.e. a modern reinterpretation of a 928.
Could it be? No. Feasible on paper perhaps, but even now with the second-generation Panamera having been launched earlier this year, Porsche has never mentioned a reborn 928 as a possibility.
Ford Falcon GT (should’ve been turning 50 next year)
Of all the near misses mentioned here, this is perhaps the one that hurts the most.
Whereas our other examples in this list have in actual fact been gone for varying periods of time, the Ford Falcon GT was still with us until the end of last week.
The last V8 engine to be produced at Ford Australia’s Geelong assembly factory was screwed together only on Monday last week (ahead of the plant’s operational shutdown last Friday).
The Falcon GT is as Aussie as Uluru and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. But it’s soon to be about as relevant as Yahoo Serious.
The GT line-up of performance models started with the Falcon XR in 1967, but it was the legendary XY GT HO (“Handling Option”) added in 1969 that cemented the Blue Oval’s racing prowess. The GT HO was basically a race car for the road; a homologation effort built in tandem with the carmaker’s touring car track weapons.
The big slab-sided Falcon XW GT HO’s 351 cubic-inch Windsor V8 boasted 217kW (290bhp) peak power and 522Nm of torque. In 1969. With 1969 spec brakes.
It was safety fears — and a public campaign against cars like the Falcon GT — that eventually led to Ford abandoning the GT with the XA generation car in the 1970s. After Ford’s tuning partner Tickford was bought out by Prodrive in 2003, the new Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) joint venture was created to take on Holden’s HSV line of performance cars.
A GT version was subsequently added to every version of the Falcon from that point on until, in 2014, the dedicated FPV operation became the first victim of Ford Australia’s withdrawal from manufacturing.