Less-Than-Captivating Imports

Every once in a while a car or truck comes to the United States and makes a splash onto the scene with bold marketing plans, flashy paint schemes, and technological breakthroughs from another country. 

Then, there are these cars. 

A 1988 Eagle Premier sedan makes its way to the valet stand. If you don't remember these re-badged Renault 25 sedans...you're not alone. Most everyone blinked and missed them, too.  Photo Credit: IMCDB
For whatever reason the automobiles on this page died a quick death and have largely been forgotten. We may be able to trace it to extreme cost-cutting measures employed by the car companies in a time of need. Nevertheless, mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and heads rolled at each respective company that gave the green light to assemble these cars.

That doesn't mean they're worthless.

Even a broken watch is right twice a day, and cars with a checkered past can still function in their intended capacity. Occasionally you may see one of these badge-engineered orphans on a lonely stretch of road barely clinging to life because replacement parts are in short supply. You may even do a double-take because you're not really sure of what you're seeing...but these cars and trucks are real did actually exist in large quantities at one point in time.

I'm skipping over the usual suspects such as the newer Pontiac GTO, Cadillac Catera, Opels, and stuff you've read about. Today's post is about cars nobody gave a hoot about, including some you may never have seen before. Why? I dunno. I was bored.

Travel along today as we recall forgettable automotive creations that "don't get around much anymore...."

1. Plymouth Cricket
Born: 1971
Died: 1973

As this YouTube clip explains, the Plymouth Cricket was only $1915 plus tax. Why don't we see more of them nowadays? Because they were built by the Rootes Group in the UK during a takeover by Chrysler. The Rootes Group tanked and quality was not very good. That may have something to do with why we see more Darts than Crickets today. This was the car Chrysler thought Americans wanted...

Former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca lamented the decision, and later horse-traded the company to Peugeot for some crappy Euro-spec engines so that some Chrysler cars could be sold in Europe without a hassle. It wouldn't be the last time Chrysler messed with European companies in an effort to stay alive. More to come.

The moral of this story? 1970's British cars were just as good as 1970's American cars if that tells you anything. Most are now long gone, and many have yet to see one in the wild.

2. Sterling 825 / 827
Born: 1987
Died: 1991

Have you been looking for a vessel to transport your Grey Poupon? Look no further than the Sterling 825 or 827. A mashup of Honda and Rover parts, the Sterling was another British car collaboration between Austin Rover and Honda made to appeal to the growing luxury sport sedan market of the mid 1980's. (Thanks Yuppies).

This 1990 Sterling advertisement showcases the car's premium features with a voiceover by someone who didn't get a job voicing Jaguar ads and thought the Sterling gig was a good fallback. Cheers.

The Sterling's rich looks appealed to many in their day. You can see why.  (Photo Credit: Motor Authority)

Powered by a Honda V6, the Sterling was a leather & wood trimmed beauty. Although sales took off initially, the build quality eventually caught the attention of the motoring press. J.D. Power lamented the poor electronics, corrosion issues, and the public started to walk away from the Sterling and into Acura showrooms where they could buy a similar car for less money and still have Honda reliability. I still want a hatchback because of its unique look and family resemblance to its UK predecessor, the Rover SD-1.

3. Merkur XR4Ti
Born: 1984
Died: 1989

Ford's Sierra sedan took Europe by storm in 1982. A fresh "aero" design by Uwe Bahnsen cleaned up the modern family car for folks across the pond who were used to seeing a dram, tiny vessel with small wheels. Ford execs decided to use the hot new car to field a sporty European hatchback (later sold alongside their sport sedan called the Scorpio) at the most logical place sportscar enthusiasts shop...their local Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Watch this commercial from 1986 and see if it tickles your fancy.

Trying to push these cars out the same doors as the Town Car, Sable and Grand Marquis *shockingly* didn't go so well, and the Merkur went away after only 5 model years. These Merkur XR4Ti's were fun to drive, and easy to modify to overcome a few design flaws and allow US drivers to see what handling was all about. If you see one pop up for sale, grab it and start toying with it. You won't be disappointed.

Ford missed the mark entirely with the Merkur. Years later they would try (with slightly more success) selling Australian-built Capris and Cougars in a similar effort to win over a younger, hipper demographic. In the end, they still couldn't save Mercury from the chopping block. It went the way of the Merkur in 2011.

4. Mistubishi Precis  
Born: 1987
Died: 1994

Remember the Hyundai Excel? Mitsubishi used the same car to lure people into their showrooms...so they could sell them a Mirage instead.The Mitsubishi Precis was a clone that didn't sell well, but it just kind of hung on for a few years for reasons unknown to many. Nobody bought these, nobody cared about these, and it didn't fill a need that Mitsubishi had. They built and sold plenty of cars in this market already, so why add a rebadged Hyundai? Your guess is as good as mine. 

5. Daihatsu Charade
Born: 1988
Died: 1992

 The Daihatsu  Charade was a modest little Japanese car that sold in a few U.S. markets from 1988 to 1992. One of those markets was Florida, where I recall seeing them in large numbers along with their small 4x4 offering the Daihatsu Rocky many years ago. The cars bared a strong resemblance to a Toyota Tercel of the same era, but were a little smaller and shorter. There was very little trim on the cars and they were your typical, forgettable compact import...but for $6,500 it got you from point A to B. They left the U.S. market in 1992 but are now owned largely by Toyota and have partnered to build Scion vehicles.

6. Pontiac LeMans (Import)
Born: 1988
Died: 1993

Pontiac turned to South Korea's Daewoo to build them a compact FWD economy car in the late 80's and early 90's. That was bad enough. They slapped them together. That was worse. The whipped cream and cherry? They pulled a name out of their history books that most Americans identified with muscle, speed and style...and slapped it on a sticker on the back. This was the "new, imported Pontiac LeMans". Puke.  

 These cars were so bad, that I vividly recall a dark grey LeMans GSE catching on fire one day on U.S. Route 12 in Wisconsin. The owner got out, refused any help and simply started walking away from it. No worries, no cares. He was glad that he walked away from the incident, and that horrible little car was "finally dead". How's that for a testimonial?

7. Eagle Premier
Born: 1987
Died: 1991

In the early 1980's, the American Motors Corporation  merged with France's Renault in effort to stay afloat in uncertain times. That partnership eventually led to a controlling interest by Renault, and it wasn't all that great. Sales of Renault vehicles in the U.S. were lackluster and AMC models were simply warmed-over 1970's platforms with very little changes to keep up with modern demands. By 1987, Renault sold their portion of the company to Chrysler, and the Mopar folks now owned most of AMC, which included the Jeep / Eagle brands. What would they choose to do with them? Well, for starters they wanted to build a large family sedan to compete with the Ford Taurus, which was selling strong. Startup costs would take a while, and tooling was very expensive. The decision was made to use the Renault 25's underpinnings and touch up a few things with some fresh body lines sculpted by legendary designer Dick Teague, and built the
car in Ontario. The result: the Eagle Premier sedan. 

It didn't look bad for the time. In fact, the car was fresh enough to live a second life as the Dodge Monaco sedan for a few years. An AMC 2.5 four cylinder or Renault 3.0 liter V6 engine were the choices buyers could opt for under the hood, but a manual transmission was out of the picture. Plans were also scraped for a coupe and station wagon version of the car due to budget cuts. This car quietly and dutifully filled the niche between the AMC  Eagle 4x4 cars of the early 1980's and the Chrysler LH sedan-based Eagle Vision of the early 1990's. There wasn't much glory bestowed upon the Premier for filling this vital role, but that's usually what happens when you're the pack mule. It had a job to do, it did it, and then it was time to move on.

Eagle eventually was dropped altogether as a brand in 1998.

8. The Jeep BA10/5 Transmission
Born: 1987
Died: 1989, along the trail, on the open road

Here's another piece of the AMC/Jeep/Eagle/Renault puzzle: For cost-cutting reasons, the Renault folks decided in 1987 to trim some fat by stuffing a Peugeot car transmission behind the reliable 258 cubic-inch AMC six cylinder engine in their Jeep lineup. That meant that your Jeep YJ, XJ, or MJ would eventually have transmission problems due to stretched cases, bungled shifting and complete failures with little likelihood that repairs could be carried out due to a shortage of parts. This transmission, also found in the Peugeot 505 sedans, had a bad reputation from day one. It was phased out within 2 years and replaced by a Chrysler unit. 

Thanks for celebrating a few of these less-than-captivating, captive imports. Got more? Comment away on what cars or trucks you remember (not) seeing.



Popular Posts