When American GIs returned from Europe after the end of WWII they brought with them a new-found appreciation for things previously unencountered before the war. Along with predilections for cafe au lait and Belgian waffles, they also discovered the joys of European cars. Many a soldier came back to America bearing the scars of war and a fling -able little sports car like the MG TC to help forget them.
Of course import cars didn’t have much of an impact on the US auto makers until the late fifties when an economic downturn increased consumer demand for smaller, more efficient cars – cars like the Volvo PV and Volkswagen Type 1. Seeing sales of these economical models increase, the U.S. makers countered with small models of their own – cars like Ford’s Falcon, Chrysler’s Valiant, and Chevy’s radical Corvair. Oh sure, there had been small cars from U.S. makers before – the Crosley and Kaiser Henry J notable examples – but this was the first time that the Big Three attempted to address the issue of foreign makes usurping even a portion of their market share.
It didn’t work. Not only did European imports continue to make a dent in that share of consumers’ car buying choices, but starting in ’70s the Japanese came in and ate it like it was half-priced sushi. Still, the Americans tried to fight back, sometimes less successfully than others. In those same seventies they gave us the Pinto, Gremlin, and aluminum-engined Vega, cars that more generally translated the big car ethos to a smaller platform than competed directly with the Rabbits, Civics and Corollas that were true small cars. The eighties gave us GEO, the Neon, and an American take on Ford of Europe’s Escort that was a pale copy, while the nineties offered Saturn.
That’s a lot of American effort to out-do the interlopers, and while some have been valiant (no pun intended) efforts, some have been abject failures, and embarrassingly so too. Which American car do you think is the worst attempt by a US-based car maker to fight the import invasion?
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