It turned out that 1994 was a high point for the Nissan Maxima. The third-generation sedan was just about the ideal mix of driving dynamics, quality, luxury, and whiz-bang tech features. It was offered in well-equipped GXE trim for lovers of comfort, and sportier SE for Sports Enthusiasts (or something). After its introduction for the 1989 model year, Nissan made relatively few changes to its impressive sedan.
Sales were around 100,000 units in its first two years, and then around 85,000 for the next two years. But in its final model year of 1994 the third gen’s sales nearly doubled, to 163,138. It was time for a new Maxima in 1995. It was a generation that branched out to become other interesting vehicles but also started the model’s decline.
The new Continental Mark III coupe was a smash hit at its debut in 1969. The Thunderbird-based design proved a cost-saving device for the Lincoln-Mercury Division and put the company’s revenue in the black for the first time in a while. After an exceptionally long model year in 1969, regulatory forces, trim edits, and cost-saving measures took place for the model’s second year in 1970. We covered the exterior changes last time, and today slide into bucket seats in our polyester suits.
It was a long, uphill battle to get the Espada into production. Seemingly no designer would deliver on Ferruccio Lamborghini’s desire for a four-seat grand touring coupe. While style was fine, outlandish design was unacceptable. Yet designers disappointed him on the Islero (which was supposed to be a real four-seater) and fought him on what became the Espada.
Marcelo Gandini at Bertone was forced to redesign the Espada more than once to comply with Lamborghini’s wishes, even though its Jaguar Pirana looks stayed intact. Gullwing doors were a favorite feature of Gandini’s, but Ferruccio declared they were ridiculous and impractical for such a car. And while the styling was being settled, there was quite a bit of new engineering taking place for the Espada, too.
As the Chrysler LX platform heads toward its demise after the 2023 model year, Rare Rides Icons is making its way through the various large-ish vehicles that used the platform these past two decades. The starting point for this series are the original LX concepts that never made production. We covered the Airflite (basically a Crossfire hardtop hatchback) last week. And today we’ll take a look at the larger, more luxurious, and more obscure Nassau concept (of which there were two).
The new third-generation (J30) Nissan Maxima went in a bold new direction from its predecessors. Larger, more luxurious, more technologically savvy, and better made than the first two, the third Maxima was the first to cater to the North American market. The Maxima’s sudden transformation was so complete that it diverged from its former sibling the Bluebird to become an entirely separate model. First up today, we consider 4DSC styling.
Much to the delight of accountants at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, the new Thunderbird-based 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III was an immediate sales success. It was a case of the right product (a personal luxury coupe) at the right time. The Mark III went head-to-head with its rival and closest competition, the Cadillac Eldorado.
And though the Eldorado nameplate had a long history and was better established than the Mark, Lincoln’s offering topped the Cadillac in sales in its first year. Part of that was down to an exceptionally long first model year that padded the figures, but credit also went to the excitement generated by the Mark. Mark III was all new in 1968 (for the ‘69 model year), while the front-drive E-body Eldorado had been on sale since 1967. Though a few updates happened within its debut model year (that ran from March 1968 to December 1969), product vice president Lee Iacocca knew his pet project needed additional updates to keep consumer interest going.
Over 14 installments, we’ve finally reached the conclusion of our coverage of Kia’s midsize and large sedans. The Korean manufacturer’s original offerings were borrowed from other companies, most often Mazda. It’s been a long journey, but we finish our tale today with a promising-looking front-drive sedan that’s off-limits to North America. You might never have heard of it.
In 1968, Lamborghini launched two new front-engine grand touring coupes at the same time. It was only the second time the company introduced two new models in the same model year. The two cars in question were the restrained and conservative Islero 2+2, and the larger more in-your-face Espada. While we covered Islero’s rapid demise previously in this series, the four-seat Espada had a much more successful life.
It was the realization of a large four-seat coupe from company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, who’d wished for a car of said type since the company’s inception. The short-lived Islero turned into a last-of-moment for Lamborghini, as its sales flop proved the company with the raging bull logo was better served by more exciting, outlandish designs.
We covered Espada's styling in our previous entry. Penned by Marcelo Gandini at Bertone, the Espada was nearly a Xerox copy of the Jaguar Pirana concept, at 125 percent magnification. But its large size and generous interior space for four caused some new challenges for Lamborghini’s engineers; the road to the production Espada was not a smooth one.
Big change is in the air at Chrysler and company these days, as the rear-drive LX platform heads off into the sunset. With a longevity of two decades - far beyond the reach of the majority of current platforms - it seems fitting to eulogize the LX at this juncture. The end of the LX represents more than just the end of the rear-drive internal combustion vehicle at Chrysler.
It’s also the end of two gasoline-powered Dodge muscle cars, the Charger and Challenger (only the Charger returns as an EV). The LX is also the basis of the last two remaining full-size American sedans: Charger and 300C. In 2023 all the last LX-based vehicles will roll off the line, wearing their various gaudy special edition gingerbread. Before that time comes, we should consider all the cars that brought us to this point.
After its short-lived first generation outing as a rear-drive car from 1981 to 1984, the PU11 Maxima of 1985 adopted the front-engine, front-wheel drive format the Maxima kept permanently. But that wasn’t the only precedent set by the PU11, as Nissan decided to move forward with V6 engine configurations and leave the inline-six in the past.
The addition of the sporty SE trim with its monochromatic details, and fancy electronic options like a Sonar Suspension System were both indications of where Nissan was headed with the Maxima. It was a sportier and more interesting direction than its stiffest competition, the staid and conservative rear-drive Cressida. Sales showed what buyers preferred, as the Maxima outsold the Cressida many times over throughout the mid-Eighties. And at the end of the decade, Nissan gave customers more of what they wanted with the very first 4DSC, a four-door sports car.
Today we return to the groovy year of 1968 in our Lincoln Mark timeline. In March, the quickly and affordably developed Continental Mark III made its debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida. It generated plenty of buyer excitement overnight, and went on sale immediately. Based on the fifth generation Thunderbird, Lincoln’s most exciting car was once again a halo personal luxury coupe.
After almost a decade where Lincoln offered a small number of variations of the Continental sedan that debuted in 1961, the Mark III was something different. We covered its development and styling in our last entry, and now it’s time to step inside a world of gently tufted luxury.
Last time in our Kia large car saga, we learned much about the second-generation K9. Kia’s large, rear-drive luxury sedan wore K900 badging most places (including North America) but was also called Quoris on occasion. After a first generation that failed to capture the interest of global consumers, Kia went bigger and better for its second attempt.
The larger, more luxurious, and more refined K900 debuted in 2018 for the 2019 model year. It was as good a car as Kia could offer, a statement that was printed with an asterisk: From inception, any Kia flagship had to be lesser than its Genesis (nee Hyundai) sibling. Not as large, not as luxurious, not as showy, not as expensive, and without a long-wheelbase limousine. Let’s find out how it fared.
Rare Rides Icons has been embroiled in the Stutz story since February of this year. Through six months and 20 total installments, we’ve covered the entirety of the Stutz brand’s evolution. Stutz started with a win at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 and eventually morphed into a manufacturer of high-powered luxury cars. After the emphasis turned to safety and away from racing, Stutz lost its footing quickly and went extinct.
Decades later it was resurrected by a wealthy man with a background in banking. In 1970 the new Stutz Motor Car Company capitalized on a wave of gauche neoclassical styling that the well-heeled of Hollywood and the Middle East so lovingly embraced. From there the Stutz lineup grew larger, more ostentatious, and more ridiculous. For a time the company sold its wares almost exclusively to foreign regimes, the exported vehicles long lost to time.
We finish the series with the largest and most exclusive Stutz ever built. Massive in length, it was much larger than the Duplex, IV-Porte, Victoria, and indeed the Diplomatica. We close out the Stutz chapter of our lives with Royale and a very interesting recent announcement.
After its first few years as an 810, 910, Datsun by Nissan, Maxima by Datsun, Datsun/Nissan, and similar, the Maxima settled into its permanent home under Nissan branding. The well-equipped compact sedan sold over 198,000 copies in the United States between 1982 and 1984 (‘82 is the earliest year sales data is available) before an all-new Maxima arrived in 1985. With its second generation, Nissan veered off to distinguish the Maxima from its most direct competition, Toyota’s Cressida. Picture it, October 1984.
We return to the Lincoln Mark story at a very promising time for the personal luxury coupe. Aside from Ford’s floundering Thunderbird, several other new PLC models arrived in the late sixties. Every major Detroit automaker had one, and circa the turn of the Seventies even more would arrive!
Together, they formed three tiers of personal luxury, segmented by asking price. At the top was the long-standing Cadillac Eldorado, and in the middle were the Thunderbird, Buick Riviera, and Oldsmobile Toronado. They’d be joined in the Seventies by the likes of the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chrysler Cordoba, and Chevy Monte Carlo.
In 1965 Ford’s VP of passenger car product, Lee Iacocca, decided he’d make some use of the fifth-generation Thunderbird’s platform for a higher PLC purpose. With as much parts sharing and cost saving as possible, he’d create a luxurious new Mark that could take on the Eldorado. Ignoring the Marks III, IV, and V of the Fifties, the new Mark would start at III, and attempt to connect itself with the ultra-luxurious Continental Mark II of 1956. We begin today (oddly) with some endurance racing.