Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Top Five Automotive Failures … and the lessons learned

You’d think the motor industry, with all its money and experience, would only offer automobiles that had been thought through from every angle. Turns out… not.

Ford Pinto (1971–1980)
Lesson: Don’t design a car that explodes
In order to cut costs on their new fuel crises-beating cheapie, the lads at Ford decided to put the fuel tank behind the rear bumper. As a result, even a low-speed rear impact would cause bolts protruding from both the bumper and diff to puncture the fuel tank… and whumpff. Oh. And the doors had an annoying tendency to jam. Cue multi-million dollar payouts. Conservative estimates put Pinto fireball deaths at 500.

Yugo GV (1984–1991)
Lesson: Don’t build cars if you’re Yugoslavian
The Yanks have a high tolerance for terrible cars. But not even they could put up with the Yugoslavian-built Yugo. It seemed like a good deal when launched in the US back in ’84 – low price and a 10 year/250 000km warranty – but it’s build quality was terminally bad… not that much of a surprise when “carpets” were listed as a special feature. Interestingly, production ended when the Yugo’s Zastava factory was bombed by NATO in ’91. America is part of NATO isn’t it? Just saying.

Chrysler/Desoto Airflow (1934)
Lesson: “Ahead of its time” is not a good thing
Make no mistake, this was a good car. A great one, even. Boasting a light-weight, steel-spaceframe construction and near 50-50 front-rear weight distribution, it should’ve been celebrated. But no. Unfortunately its ground-breaking, streamlined body looked a little too utilitarian for American tastes… “Hell! *spit* Looks it’s been designed by one of them damn Bolsheviks.” No-one bought it.

Dodge Custom Royal (1955)
Lesson: Vinyl seats work in car. Vinyl records don’t.
You can see what they were thinking. After all, everyone listens to their iPods in the car these days. Unfortunately playing the musical tech of the time – records – in an automobile proved a little more problematic. Potholes and turntable needles do not make for good bedfellows. Chrysler even developed custom-made LPs that were the size of a 45rpm single, but played at 16 2/3 rpm. It was an expensive flop.

Crosley Hotshot (1949)
Lesson: Don’t call your car a “Hotshot” unless it actually is.
It might work these days with a sophisticated motorbike engine, but no post-war car weighing 500kg and boasting a 750cc engine was going to produce anything resembling “hot” in the performance stakes. What was hot however, was its dual-overhead cam engine brazed together by pieces of, not iron, but tin. When the welds let go – which they frequently did – things did indeed quickly get very “hot”. 

As appeared in the Oct 2012 issue of the Kulula in-flight magazine