By on February 24, 2020

On Saturday night, the Carolina Hurricanes stared down the barrel of a rare occurrence in the NHL — both their goalies were on the sidelines. This necessitated bringing in the emergency backup goalie, a bloke named Dave who is quite literally a Zamboni driver. Their hapless opponents still couldn’t score enough goals and Dave notched a win for the team.

There have been more than a few Hail Marys in the automotive world as well, with manufacturers who are on the brink of bringing in a new model or gambling on a unique body style in order to stave off elimination. Sometimes it works and, well, sometimes it doesn’t.

We can look to Chrysler, who arguably pulled off a Dave moment on more than one occasion. In the early ’80s, the K-Car and its variants brought the company back from the brink and actually contributed to top brass paying back those pesky government loans ahead of time. About a dozen years later, the LH cars were arguably instrumental in evicting all manner of boxy vehicles from — and welcoming new buyers to — Chrysler showrooms.

Any other automotive Hail Mary examples you can think of, B&B? They don’t all have to be success stories (*ahem Packard ahem*). Post yer thoughts below.

[Image: Chrysler]

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74 Comments on “QOTD: Send In the Emergency Backup?...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    the Taurus?

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      The Taurus was my first thought as well. An example of a hail Mary that didn’t work….The Ford Flex. In the end, the steadily dwindling minivan segment has certainly taken the sting away from that failure.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        I don’t see how the Flex was a “hail mary” play, it wasn’t a “bet the company” product.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        The Taurus worked until it suddenly–and spectacularly–didn’t. Once Honda and (especially) Toyota were able to build a comfortable American-oriented sedan, that was it.

        The XV10 Camry (1992-1996), arguably the best and most-overbuilt Camry ever, gave the Taurus a run for its money.

        For the 1996 Taurus, Ford went all-in with an upscale and overbuilt product…right as the 1997 Camry debuted, having been considerably cost-cut in order to align with buyer expectations on price. The Camry’s demure, linear styling was also preferential to the alienating and ovoid Taurus.

        Ford responded by cost-cutting the sh*t out of the Taurus for the subsequent model years, and it soon came to be a product that mostly satiated rental fleets and people who didn’t cross-shop. The 2000 Taurus made that even worse. By 2002, no one really sought to buy a Taurus, it was kind of something that just happened.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Taurus nothing – Ford Five Hundred is what you want.

      After killing the Taurus with ovoid styling, use Volvo’s design system for its replacement, style the vehicle to perfection, introduce a new name, and then blame the boss when it goes wrong (see below).

      When *this* doesn’t work, consider just walking away from sedans entirely.

      Best stylist quote EVER:
      Ford designer J Mays said “I don’t think the Five Hundred or Freestyle was one of my brighter moments in Ford, but designing a car is not a solo effort and a lot of people have input on the kind of product they want. I’ve been at the company 13 years and I’ve been through five CEOs. Some of those CEOs have had more conservative tastes than others.”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Five_Hundred

      True fact: In 2020, J Mays designs appliances – at Whirlpool.

      • 0 avatar
        eng_alvarado90

        The 500 was far from a bad design. It was just bland and uninspiring. And the interior was super roomy and comfortable. How could Ford mess up the passenger volume with the last gen Taurus still puzzles me.

        On the other hand, the 500 was decidedly underpowered and the contemporary 300 and Avalon were much better in both regards

  • avatar
    la834

    The Studebaker Avanti was a Hail Mary if there ever was one. Too bad it fell short of the end zone.

    Yeah, the ’55-’56 Packards came closer but also weren’t enough.

    The ’49 Ford was.

    Perhaps the Mk.1 VW Golf/Rabbit was. The air-cooled rear-engine 411/412 fell flat and the Beetle wasn’t keeping up with newer cars from Japan and elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Good suggestions, especially the ’49 Ford.

      I’ll add another Ford: the Model A. The Model T was badly outdated by 1927, and Ford needed the Model A to be a success to compete with Chevrolet.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        @Featherston

        This Model A enthusiast agrees! Shocking to know that in 1929, before the stock market crash, The Ford Motor Company produced, via all its factories worldwide, more than 7000 Model As in a single day of production! This, of course, without benefit of computers of any kind. I would say Henry’s “hail Mary” with the Model A worked!

        Which manufacturer today can churn out 7000 cars in a single day?

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          “Which manufacturer today can churn out 7000 cars in a single day?” (“via all its factories worldwide”)

          Rough math: With say ~240 working days, you’d get ~1.7 million vehicles a year. So all the top ~15 OEM’s do 7,000 a day or significantly more. Toyota and VAG would be something over 40,000 per production day.

          (And yes that’s a lot of parts to track.)

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Studebaker truck shipments to Soviet forces during WWII was an important moment in automotive history.

  • avatar
    Greg Hamilton

    Chrysler Cordoba.
    My first thought was the Taurus, but that was taken.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      The Cordoba was not a Hail Mary, it was an entry into the fastest-growing segment of the market, the Personal Luxury Coupe. It was smaller and handled better than the GM and Ford alternatives. While it was not as successful as those, it was not a failure either.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    The first Chevy Astro and Ford Aerostar were hail-mary responses to the success of the Chysler minivans. What really makes them hail marys is the fact that they were truck-based and RWD. It took both GM and Ford many years to come up with FWD minivans that were competitive with the Mopars.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      It was fun to see Iacocca goad GM and Ford about that – here is one example:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUtHG-z2rcQ

      There was another one I’m not finding right now where he basically does a walkaround and says ‘we showed them what to do and they can’t do it right’ – load floor height, etc.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    How about Ford mortgaging the Blue Oval in 2006, enabling them to avoid a bailout and all the bad press that entailed?

    -I know it’s more complicated than that in reality, but that’s how it was reported, and Ford had a notable boost in public opinion after the fact.

    • 0 avatar
      cprescott

      This is the ultimate Hail Mary and you are so spot on for noting it. The Taurus was a product Hail Mary because it was so different from everything sold by a domestic automaker; and Ford did this right which annoys me because the way they developed it is now only done by their full-sized truck division and not replicated anywhere else – that is why Ford trucks are the leaders in the segment and everyone else is playing catch up. Only Ram has shown an ability to build a competent competitor with GM, Toyoduh, and Nissan offering tepid answers to prove they are builders of third rate products.

      But the story of the mortgaging of Ford assets had a timing and informed decision making that tops all other “hail mary’s” – it was NEEDED – and it was “the only option” other than seeking a bailout. And that money was heavily invested in the entire EcoBoost program which would not pay dividends for several years down the road which enabled Ford to have substantially superior power trains compared to the antiques with electronics that GM offered. The goodwill of not being bailed out was a side effect, but your bringing up the mortgage of the oval was brilliant and spot on and trumps all others that could possibly be offered.

      • 0 avatar
        smartascii

        This (i.e., full-size trucks being developed in a better way than everything else) may have been true at one point. But having owned three F-150s in a row, and having watched friends own Super Duty diesels, it seems to me that whatever excellence may have once existed in the big-truck department at Ford is a thing of the past. Maybe it was all the money spent on EcoBoosts and aluminum bodies, both of which are excellent, but the rest of the 1/2-ton experience has been quite a bit worse after 2015. And the legendary reliability of the Ford diesels seems to have died with the 7.3.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          No one expects “legendary reliability” diesels anymore. Ford hasn’t truly lost much share in the segment, and it’s hard to tell how widespread the problem really was, hype aside, especially as updates went on line, some 200+ before the 6.0 was “sorted”.

          The 6.4 was a different story, but Ford survived in the segment none the less. Part of the problem was that the 7.3 is basically un-killable and the 6.0/6.4 can’t be treated/abused the same way. Those engines are still everywhere working hard, but owner/drivers know how to deal with them. Basically no different than any current modern diesel.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            IIRC the core of the problems with the 6.0 was that it was a somewhat inherently “weak” design (e.g. only 4 head bolts around each cylinder) and Navistar never intended it to be pushed up to the power levels Ford was reaching in order to compete with the 6.6 Duramax. If you look at the Duramax block, it had 6 head bolts around each cylinder, like the 7.3 Powerstroke.

            plus the 6.0 still used the fidgety HEUI where Duramax had a simpler common rail injection system.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            The 7.3L was far from unkillable, or maybe it’s more accurate to say it will kill your wallet before it actually dies itself. My experience was certainly not what the conventional wisdom says for that engine. Turned me off of diesel trucks forever.

            On the other hand, the 6.2L gas is probably the best engine Ford has designed in a while for its combination of power and durability. Plenty of very high mile ones out there.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Navistar trucks were just as problematic, except fleet operators don’t make much noise on twitter or go nuts all over the internets. Once an engine overheats or blows all its oil out the exhaust, or sends shrapnel through the engine, head-bolt count is irrelevant.

            Just upgrading to head-studs would be silly without fixing all the inherent problems and weaknesses all around.

            Commercial trucks are de-tuned by nature, but once problems start, they’ll most likely go to catastrophic when working the hardest.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            I had a conversation with a retired heavy duty vehicle mechanic. He had a 6.0 Power Stroke and said that its main problems were oil flow to the turbo and head bolts. The turbo was an easy fix and there were upgraded stud kits for the head. Most of the problems he saw were due to major power modifications.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        cprescott,

        “the way they developed it is now only done by their full-sized truck division and not replicated anywhere else”

        Would be very interested in hearing more about this (not sure how much you can share).

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Most hail-marys get batted down and go unremembered. Very few end up being Doug Flutie vs. Miami or my favorite, Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott (1980 Ga vs. Florida…not technically a Hail Mary, but a last ditch desperate play that got the win).

    The ultimate Hail Mary that found a Receiver’s hands versus landing on the turf though?…the original Ford GT-40.

    As for the ones that hit the turf harmlessly, and I know I’ll stir the pot here but given the investment and expectations I stand by them…The 2007 Tundra (Less of a desperate Hail Mary and more of a Steve Spurrier type run up the score bomb that hit the turf) and the Titan.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I too thought of the Ford Taurus having just finiehd reading the suggested book “CAR ” .

    ? Was the Pontiac Aztec perhaps a Hail Mary ? .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Or the Pontiac Aztec just being ahead of its time by a few years.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Around the turn of the century, old GM developed a marketing model with a physical representation built from Lego bricks (don’t believe me? here’s a similar thing they did on the production side):
      https://www.fastcompany.com/1669468/how-gm-is-saving-cash-using-legos-as-a-data-viz-tool

      The model showed them “unmet needs” or what have you, and old GM proceeded to introduce potentially segment-busting vehicles:
      – Chevrolet Avalanche
      – Three-row seven-passenger TrailBlazer EXT
      – GMC Envoy XUV with a retractable roof
      – Chevrolet SSR
      – Malibu Maxx
      – and yes the Pontiac Aztek

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Someone already mentioned Studebaker, but the real Hail Mary pass was the 1959 Studebaker Lark. Developed in record time and minimal cost, it put the company in the black for the first time in years. Of course, 1960 changed everything with the Falcon, Corvair and Valiant.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Hamilton

      Stude,
      I always thought the Raymond Loewy designed 1953 Starliner/Champion was a beautiful car and was somewhat of a Hail Mary against the taller heavier American coupes, but poor execution dimmed its prospects.

    • 0 avatar
      210delray

      I agree on the 1959 Lark; it was able to keep Studebaker going for a few more years. The Avanti was a last-ditch effort but as a sports tourer, it really couldn’t help the company very much.

      I have read that Studebaker should have keep the regular sedans on the 1952 platform for at least one more year, and only introduced the striking Starliner coupe in 1953. It was too much to revamp the entire model line, and quality suffered badly.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Chevy SSR? “Well, we cant make any money saddled with UAW legacy costs unless it is a pickup……why don’t we just make everything a pickup?”

    A completely ridiculous product, but in hindsight, how wonderful would it be if we eliminated more than half of all the full sized pickups and replaced them with El-Camino inspired utes. I can dream.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    With the K Cars, the devil is in the details. What Chrysler did right with those was the opposite of what they did so wrong when they introduced the Aspen/Volaré a few years earlier- with the Aspen/Volaré, a car that *should* have been a competent bread-and-butter product for the brand, they laid off a lot of their technical people when those people should have been ironing out the bugs of the new product. Instead, they foisted a product on their customers that was not ready for prime time and they nearly destroyed the company for good. All this is easy to say in hindsight, and the key difference with the K Car launch was that they had cash on hand to pay those people instead of laying them off. The cash from the loan guarantees (not a true bailout but arguably a pretty good historical example of government interfering in the free market- retrained interference, not too much but not too little).

    Food for thought, yet like a lot of good case studies in business, it’s more complicated than what I just summarized.

    Hard to believe that was already forty years ago. Forty years before the K Cars hit the market was before Pearl Harbour and the country was emerging from the Great Depression. The U.S. automobile industry changed a lot more between 1940-1980 than it did between 1980-2020.

  • avatar
    smapdi

    The SUV I still want… Isuzu VehiCROSS.

    Possibly the Suzuki Kizashi? AWD sedan that was sized in its own slot I think (larger than the segment of Corollas and Foci, but smaller than the Fusions, Malibus, etc).

  • avatar
    MeJ

    I’m going to say the new Ford/Electric/Mustang/Mach E/whatever that thing is…
    It seems to me to be a desperate use of the Mustang heritage. Whether or not it’s successful is to be seen.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Cummins. Even fleets were burned out on the tired old dinosaurs, their prices couldn’t get low enough and there was absolutely no reason to consider Dodge Trucks before Cummins came to the rescue.

    To Chrysler, Dodge trucks were old dogs at the end of their life expectancy, no different than Furys, 5th Aves, etc, not to mention the old Wagoneer.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      even after that, the 1994 “Big Rig” Ram pickup. IIRC within two model years they had tripled their sales.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Cummins did save Dodge. That magic failed when Nissan put the Cummins in the Titan XD. Titan Cummins XD would be a failed “hail Mary”.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        was the ISV5.0 any good? Cummins offered it for motorhome and light-medium duty truck applications, but they’ve removed it from the lineup on their site.

        I wonder which party is ultimately responsible for the engine’s disappearance: Nissan dropping it leaving Cummins with no buyers, or Cummins dropping it leaving Nissan unable to buy it.

  • avatar
    ect

    The first-gen (1996) A4 brought Audi back from the dead and established a new styling language for the company. It was also a great car, very much fun to drive.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Buick Envision.

    (Dramatically innovative styling – massive U.S. sales volume – easily eclipses the Taurus for bold moves.)

  • avatar
    Zoomers_StandingOnGenius_Shoulders

    The Caprice Whale?

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      If you’re talking about the final B-bodies (and specifically the non-Cadillac offerings), those were more like GM *reluctantly* applying aerodynamic styling to the same traditional stuff it had been building for years.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I don’t know about a hail marry but Dave-moment for sure – Honda using Isuzu mules while working on own designes

  • avatar
    slavuta

    What about Jeep using MB-platform? JGC is still selling well on this

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It’s really not clear whether that was a Jeep platform or a Mercedes-Benz platform. My research says it was an actual DaimlerChrysler co-op (imagine that!) with both arms of the conglomerate making useful contributions.

      I’m guessing the Daimler side is responsible for the fact that my 2015 Grand Cherokee Overland’s battery is under the passenger seat, because that is a very Mercedes-Benz thing.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        “The W166 was one of the last vestiges of the joint venture between Daimler and Chrysler while they were a consolidated company. DaimlerChrysler developed the core platform and technology, benefitting from Chrysler’s strong SUV sales and R&D domestically. The underlying platform work was largely completed in 2006, as the two companies were separated. Chrysler uses the same platform to power the Jeep Grand Cherokee (WK2) and Dodge Durango.”

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Renault Alliance/Encore, the ‘Hail Mary’ product that put Renault out of business in the US and dragged poor AMC with it. The XJ’s success (another Hail Mary on it’s own) wasn’t enough to support the entire brand.

    A contemporary successful ‘Hail Mary’ would be the now omnipresent VW’s MQB platform, basically the modular K platform of today. I know, VW was far from bankruptcy, but it was designed in a time when they aimed for the #1 car sales spot and relied on this platform for more than half of their new products

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I wouldn’t categorize “MQB” as a Hail Mary. It was really just the next phase for Golf development, and everything derived from the Golf. And it’s not even different from what they’d been doing, basing larger transverse-FWD cars on the Golf. For instance, the B6, B7 and NMS Passat were A5/A6 Golf offshoots.

      The Chrysler K cars and the later LH and Cloud cars were more like Hail Marys.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    AMC Gremlin. AMC lopped off the trunk of the Hornet and had a huge hit on their hands. AMC threw a lot of Hail Marys during their final days. The AMX and 4X4 Eagles among them

  • avatar
    Weltron

    For an attempted Hail Mary, one could say the 1995 Aurora was one for Oldsmobile. Unfortunately it didn’t work, but they at least went out on a beautiful note.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’d say GM has had the most Hail Marys of any automaker, and most of them didn’t work. Especially in the last ten years. The Pontiac G8, 2013-2015 Malibu, both generations of Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac CT6 come to mind.

    Over on the Lincoln side, I’d definitely call the Continental a Hail Mary, as well as the MKS that preceded it. Unfortunately, that didn’t work, and Lincoln’s sedan presence has effectively code-blue’d.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      TBH, after reading a whole bunch of anecdata on the Continental, I think Lincoln might have made it work as a low-volume image-building device if they had leaned into exclusivity.

      – Sell loaded Reserve and Black Label only, and turbo AWD only. Include the 30-way seats, the turbine wheels, and the LED lighting elements as standard.
      – Get to the suicide-door version sooner, build more than 100 of them, and make a bigger deal of it.
      – Sell it with the expensive brushed rockers, etc. that the concept had. People loved the look of the concept, and it was all surface detail; the panels were mostly the same as the production car.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    The first Ford Explorer. Up to that point Ford had been happy to sell a barely-engineered Ranger with a roof as the Bronco II. But they saw Jeep Cherokee Limiteds suddenly becoming the trendiest thing among suburban moms with money to burn, and said, “hey, we can grab that business with the very same Ranger platform we already have.” The product planning of the first Explorer (trims, options, colors, pricing) was absolutely brilliant, and the thing managed to start a decade-long BOF SUV boom.

    Surprised that no one has mentioned the Lexus LS 400. Toyota didn’t just say “how can we maximize profits when our volume is fixed by trade restrictions,” which was pretty much what motivated Acura and Infiniti. Instead, Toyota said “how can we climb onto par with Mercedes?” And they executed on that goal near-flawlessly, with the best-built car in history and pitch-perfect marketing.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I’m sure the Voluntary Export Restriction also had a lot to do with the inception of Lexus, Acura and INFINITI in general. The Japanese responded by:

      1. Deciding that if they were going to be restricted on how many cars they could import, then some or many of those cars needed to be higher-profit luxury products, and

      2. Creating facilities in right-to-work states (thereby avoiding the unions) to produce some of their more-commodity-oriented products here in the US.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Chrysler’s LX platform which gave them a full-size rear wheel drive automobile that they seem to have left for dead after the last M-body Fifth Avenue and Diplomat made it off of the assembly line in 1989.
    It resurrected the classic names 300 and Charger and also was spun off for the shorter wheelbase Challenger.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Ford’s North American shift away from cars and to pickups CUV’s/SUV’s could be seen as a “Hail Mary”. Time will tell if it was successful.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    The one that springs to my mind is Mazda’s GLC / 323. It saved the company’s bacon after all the warranty repairs they had to shell out for for the rotaries. Mazda execs in Japan were going door to door to try to sell cars. The agreement with Ford helped out as well.
    I’ve got to hand it to the company though. They came through replacing or repairing all those engines.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Studebaker Avanti

  • avatar
    BoltEVJay

    The Corvair.

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