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by Jay Traugott
Many remember the Eighties as a time when American luxury cars weren't exactly at their finest. Here are a few of the most notable (or notorious) examples.
The 1980s were clearly not the best time for luxury cars, especially those coming from American automakers. It was an era that really lacked the style from the decades prior but there were some nifty bits of technical and mechanical innovation here and there. But still, US automakers in particular had a hard time building good luxury cars that could compete with import brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Although they tried, here are a few luxury blunders that are best left in the dustpan of history.
Oy vey, where to begin with this one? The Cadillac Cimarron represents just about everything wrong not just with Cadillac but also GM in the Eighties. Launched in 1982, the Cimarron was nothing more than a rebadged Chevy Cavalier with a Caddy grille, emblems and leather seats. And the Cavalier wasn't exactly the best starting point to begin with. Yes, Cadillac actually thought people would buy and like this ugly piece of crap. Needless to say, it was mistaken.
As the brainchild of Chrysler's then-CEO Lee Iacocca, the idea behind the TC by Maserati was to take a stretched K car platform and turn it into a luxury car. That already doesn't sound good. It was co-developed with – you guessed it – Maserati, but that famous Italian brand's influence wasn’t enough to make the car good. From 1989 until 1991, we had to see this overpriced sorry example of luxury on American roads.
The Ford Thunderbird had a wonderful start but it eventually became a shell of what it originally was. In 1989 Ford launched the tenth-generation Thunderbird. It wasn’t a bad car in general, but it was certainly no Corvette competitor like it hadn’t been for decades. Nor was it a very good luxury car. It was bland compared to its import competitors and did absolutely nothing to exemplify the Thunderbird brand name, even if it did rack up some wins on the NASCAR speedways, where drivers had the good sense to crash them at high speeds.
Yes, its body was styled by Italian design firm Pininfarina, and yes, it was available with a Northstar V8, but the Cadillac Allante was no competitor to the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. Launched in 1987, the Allante had a removable aluminum hardtop and an industry-first retractable telephone antenna. Despite all that, the Allante didn’t handle particularly well, partly due to it being front-wheel-drive. Was it horrible? No, but the Allante, despite its lower price, couldn’t keep up with European luxury.
The Merkur Scorpio had the potential to be a success. But due to bad marketing decisions and other issues, it never took off with buyers. The Scorpio was really a rebadged version of the Ford model of the same name that was sold in Europe. Available at just a few Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, the Scorpio was meant to be a sportier alternative for those who typically bought Continentals and Town Cars. It wasn’t, and it lasted for just two model years. We can't help but wonder if the confusion between the Merkur and Mercury brand names didn't play some part.