Car And Driver Fesses Up On Behalf Of America's Buff Books

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
car and driver fesses up on behalf of america s buff books

Would you believe it that the good folks at Americas buff books make mistakes every once in a while? Well, Car And Driver has decided to air the American motor press’s ten biggest bloopers in a blog post entitled Dishonorable Mention. “We’re not the only publication to recognize a few stinkers with its highest honor. The history of automotive journalism has seen flaming piles of poo named ‘Car of the Year’ even as they attract product liability lawsuits by the acre-foot and hunks of crud honored as “All-Stars” at the very moment buyers are seeking reimbursement under lemon laws,” write C&D’s editors. “It’s always a risk making judgments based on the initial exposure to a car, and sometimes a vehicle’s ultimate crappiness only reveals itself with the fullness of time. We’re all subject to hype for something that seems new, different, and maybe even better, and in this business, we all feel the crushing pressure to be timely, amusing, and authoritative. Being wrong is always a risk. Still, here are ten award winners for which somebody needs to apologize.”

The impetus for the entire piece comes from C&D’s decision to name the Renault Alliance as one of the “10 Best” cars of 1983. “For the last 26 years, it’s been gnawing at our collective gut like a shame-induced ulcer,” admits C&D. “The car was trash. We should have known that back then, and it’s taken us too long to confess our grievous mistake.” Oh, but the fact that Motor Trend named it Car Of The Year means they “share the shame.” Nice.

The 2002 Ford Thunderbird gets a nod as well. C&D admits to being taken in by the styling, only to be disappointed by the cheap interior, yawn-inducing driving dynamics, and outrageous price. “If anyone was going to drive this T-Bird, it was platinum-haired women prone to carrying small dogs wherever they go. It turns out there aren’t that many of those women out there,” admits C&D. But it is Motor Trend, which named the T-Bird COTY in 2002, that receives the brunt of the blame.

Speaking of Motor Trend, did you know that the geniuses at that buff book voted the Chevy Vega as Car Of The Year in 1971? They also named the Chevy Malibu COTY in 1997, the Lincoln Towncar in 1990, the Chevy Citation in 1980, and the Mustang II in 1974. Ouch. Those are some stinkers. But then again, this is Motor Trend we’re talking about.

Automobile Magazine’s hyping of the Cadillac Catera in 1997 also gets a dishonorable mention. An RWD Cadillac that zigs? Uh, no. A bland, unreliable porker that had no place on Automobile’s “All-Stars” list. Busted.

C&D takes a break from blaming their competitors to admit to the shame of touting the Merkur XR4Ti as one of its ten best of 1985. Given the product mix of the day, it’s not that surprising that C&D said the XR4Ti was “maybe the slickest thing ever to come out of the Ford Motor Company.” Of course, it wasn’t. Certainly not sales-wise, anyway. But it was a ray of excitement in a dreary period of automotive history.

Similarly, C&D’s naming of the 1995 Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique is fairly understandable, considering what Detroit was churning out at the time. Their assertion at the time that “if you didn’t see Ford’s oval logo, you might easily mistake it for a much more expensive European sports sedan,” definitely does seem worth apologizing for.

Did they miss any?

Join the conversation
2 of 40 comments
  • Geeber Geeber on Jan 21, 2009

    I'm inclined to give Car and Driver and Motor Trend a break on some of their choices. Remember, they were looking at these cars without the benefit of hindsight. The Alliance, for example, DID have some nice features, was quite economical, and offered a very nice interior for an early 1980s small car (particulary one made in America). I remember riding in one and being amazed at how quiet and comfortable it was at freeway speeds. The problems with lousy reliability didn't surface until later, but, to be honest, that is not an area that either magazine rates. And please note that the Alliance was initially a big sales success. If I recall correctly, for 1983 it was the second-best selling small car in the country, behind the Ford Escort. And remember that the domestic competition included the aging Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon and the doddering old Chevrolet Chevette/Pontiac T-1000. It's not hard to see why, in the context of the times, journalists AND customers were intially excited by the Alliance. The problem isn't that magazines gave the Alliance an award or glowing reviews. The problem is that AMC and Renault snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Lincoln Town Car is a questionable choice...not because it is a bad car (it wasn't), but because there really wasn't anything new or exciting about it. It did what is was supposed to do - provide quiet, comfortable and reliable transportation to an aging customer base. That is hardly earth-shattering or revolutionary, even for 1990. But that doesn't make it a bad car, or one worthy of ridicule. The Ford Contour was a decent car that had potential. The problem was that Ford took the typical narrow Detroit view, and dropped it because it wasn't as successful as the company had hoped. More money was to be made on SUVs. If Ford had taken the Toyota approach - bring out a new version that improved the weak points and built upon the strengths - that car would still be with us yet, and a strong contender in that segment. argentla: I still think Motor Trend’s most shameful COTY moment was in 1964, when they gave it to Ford’s entire ‘64 line for their “Total Performance” ad campaign. At the time, Ford’s actual performance line consisted of the Falcon Sprint (this was before the launch of the Mustang) and the fact that you could theoretically order a 427 in your full-size Galaxie (or the limited-production Fairlane Thunderbolt, which was a pure drag strip special). That was the same year Plymouth trounced them so badly on the track that Mopar dealers started handing out buttons saying “Total What?” If I recall correctly, Ford was offering four-speeds and heavy-duty suspension equipment in the Galaxie line as well. The early 1960s Galaxies are pretty well regarded by collectors today, as are the Falcon Sprints. While the Hemi blew all competitors off the track at the 1964 Daytona 500, it wasn't available as a regular production option in a Mopar until the 1966 model year. It didn't even debut at Daytona until the 1964 model year was well underway. And Ford still claimed the NASCAR Manufacturer's Championship for 1964. NickR: Not to flog a dead horse but has anyone ever read a case study of how the 91 Caprice actually made it to market? I’d love to read it. The GM committee that approved vehicles for production did not like the partially covered rear wheels. But the chief stylist, Chuck Jordan, held firm, and the car went into production as he styled it. Which was a mistake, as the partially covered rear wheels and resulting narrow track were the two main objections to the design. Once GM widened the rear track and opened up the rear wheel wells, the car looked good. The Impala SS based on this body is a very attractive car - and one that is already being collected. From what I've read, police officers loved the power and handling of their Caprices, and were quite upset when GM discontinued it.

  • Mark Mark on Jan 21, 2009

    As a used car purchase the Contour was a gem. For 40% of it's original price, in 98 I picked up a 3 year old 95 Contour SE which was lucky enough to have the European suspension on it as they softened it up for Amercian tastes the next year. I'd never driven a FWD car that came from the factory with such neutral handling without an LSD, and the engine was a worthy partner to the SHO motor in the Taurus at that time. In fact I picked it over an SHO because of the more compact size and tidier handling. I used to run it to redline just to hear it sing and missed it when we traded it in for a Jetta 1.8T in 04. I've recently picked up a 99 Contour SVT that Steven Lang would be proud of - 50k miles, full maintenance history for $3k and I've fallen in love wtih the Contour all over again.

  • Johnny ringo It's an interesting vehicle, I'd like to see VW offer the two row Buzz in the states also.
  • Chuck Norton And guys are having wide spread issues with the 10 speed transmission with the HP numbers out of the factory......
  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!