The cars that you're amazed were ever built


I was preparing for this week’s Carchive post and, unlike the chaotic bookcase landslide that led me to contemplate which stylish production car had the most disappointing interior, The Carchive remained neat and tidy and I found my target Citroen Pluriel brochure with very little fuss and bother.
But before I filleted, scrutinised and chronicled the publicity matter I had been looking for, my train of thought was derailed by the realisation that this was a car the likes of which could never conceivably make it into production today. In fact, that it was offered for sale in actual showrooms is still one of the more implausible notions of the 21st century motoring scene so far.
And it begs the question: Of all the cars that have been green-lit for production since roads were a thing, what’s the most baffling?


Just to get y’all in the mood, a little back story on the Pluriel. We’ll go into more detail when we all sit around the Hooniverse campfire and sing songs from the  brochure this time next week. For now, all you need to know is that 1999 brought a concept car called the Pluriel, and 2003 brought a production car…. called the Pluriel.
It’s fair to say that, in 1999, Citroen was rather struggling for an identity. The cars it sold at the time — the Citroen Saxo (close cousin to the Peugeot 106), the Citroen Xsara (pretty much a Peugeot 306 under the skin) and the Xsara Picasso (a hideous extension of the Xsara that almost had two planes of symmetry) were perfectly alright, but didn’t exactly shout “Spirit of Citroen”. To be fair, the Xantia and XM were still around, but appealed on something of an intellectual level, as opposed to appealing in a way that actually sold cars.
What Citroen needed was a return to its ‘fun, expressive’ routes, and a versatile convertible for fun in the sun would be just the ticket. In fact, giving it a roll-back canvas roof could channel the bare-bones, essential nature of the Citroen 2CV and its marginally less puritanical sister, Dyane. So, a concept was concocted, as was the name Pluriel — a portmanteau of the words Plural, for the multiplicity of ways the car could be used, and Muriel, for my Aunt who lives in a retirement apartment in Frinton-on-Sea.

Perhaps Citroen was really panicked by the appearance of youth-magnets like the ‘New’ Beetle and the ‘New’ MINI. At some point between ’99 and ’01, somebody in the boardroom sighed, exhaled and muttered “I suppose we could build the Pluriel”. The old concept sketches were fished out of a filing cabinet and the most insane of its details trimmed off — we lost the bizarre ribbed surface that disfigured one side and the roofline was made considerably more sensible. It was deflated for production, too: while the concept had bits of Citroen Berlingo van underpinning it, the production model would act as a prelude to the far smaller Citroen C3 that was lined up to replace the Saxo.
What did make it to production, though, is the overall concept of a four-seat car with a roll-back canvas roof, which could be made into a fully open-top car (or even a ‘spider pickup’ when the rear seats were folded down) by removing the longitudinal rails and rearmost pillars — without recourse to the hydraulic jaws of life. Yes, plein air motoring was a Pluriel speciality, but only among those truly confident in the day’s forecast: take those rails and pillars away and car ain’t got no roof at all.
So there we have it. As I say, there’ll be a more regimented critique on the Pluriel in a Carchive post soon. Right now we’re just concentrating on the fact that the thing existed at all. But that was my choice in the Parthenon of cars that happened but probably shouldn’t have.
What’s yours?
(Press images courtesy Citroen)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

121 Comments

  1. The French were all suffering problems during this period.
    Peugeot had the 1007 with electronic sliding doors that didn’t.
    The Renault Avantime. The two ‘coupe’ based on an MPV with huge doors and bulk. (Mind you Mini built another 2 door MPV coupe, the Pacer which was equally unsellable.)

    1. The 1007’s doors also extended past the back of the car when open, which was a problem in tight parking spaces.
      I won’t hear a word said against the Avantime, though, apart from that by selling badly it killed Matra.

        1. The biggest issue I had with the 1007 is it directly followed the magnificent 106 and was a harbinger of doom of the muddled period Peugeot was heading for.

          1. That whole x07 range is the spawn of the devil. Malaise era Peugeot. Yet, 106, 306 and 406 were absolutely great.

          2. The 307 was good IMO (although it has its issues) from a packaging point of view, particularly the wagon. Doesn’t work so well as a hot hatch, but the 20x is better suited to that role.
            It is a shame it has reverted to being another Golf clone.

          3. Gotta disagree, my Dad had one, the woeful 1.4. Where a 1.4 in the 306 was actually a pretty decent machine, the 307 was a punishment beating. Most of the feel and chassis finesse of the previous car was gone, just as Ford was hitting its mojo with the Focus to make it worse. The real killer with this particular version was a low torque engine combined with one of the most on/off clutches I’ve ever encountered in a mainstream car.
            My Dad used to berate me when I drove it saying it was just my technique, then he got a Renault Modus and the scales fell from his eyes.
            You know a car is bad when a Renault Modus is an upgrade..

          4. Fair enough. I’m never surprised that a base engine in a European car is underpowered though, usually best avoided I would have thought.

          1. Getting tasked with such an odd job sounds like engineering heaven. Those doors must have a particular feel to them.

          2. The fact that such a mechanism was needed should have set off warning bells about what they were doing.

  2. The AMC AMX. It was a limited production sporty two seat coupe powered by a range of V8 engines going up to 390ci. Just three years prior to it’s debut the president of the company had claimed that the only race they cared about was the human race and the company was on the brink of death. It wound up breaking over 100 speed and endurance records in the hands of Craig Breedlove.
    What’s even more unfathomable, is that a mid engine sports car called the AMX/3 nearly made production. It used the same 390ci V8 as the AMX and was due to be built in Turin. Unfortunately, union strikes, increasing safety regulations, and the inability to find a suitable builder for the bodies ment that the project was scrapped after only six cars were produced (with a seventh built from the spare parts that were made).
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/211b2ae596d21ba5c2f51970f22cb9d56cfec223fde04665e85150cedd32ad34.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e86c97a441bf1e308902a5d463bbd0598ea4c742d6cf4b2d8624cae80731dcff.jpg

    1. I read recently that the AMX wasn’t a shortened Javelin, but rather the Javelin was a stretched AMX. Quite the conundrum really!

      1. Not exactly true. The Javelin was a product that the market fully expected (in order to compete with Mustang and Camaro), but the AMX was AMC’s curve-ball. And while the AMX and AMX II concepts were fiberglass-bodied cars independent of the Javelin, the body for the production AMX was actually designed from the clay model of the Javelin. The two cars were essentially co-developed, but technically speaking, the production AMX was a shortened Javelin.

        1. I should have added that I didn’t believe it, it was a theory from a Javelin/AMX owner. The AMX came out well after the Javelin too

          1. Yep. I think the AMX was a mid-year release, about 6 months after the Jav, though both were MY 1968.
            I was heavily shopping these cars in the mid-90s, and initially thought I wanted an AMX, but actually, I preferred the Javelin. My favorite was the Javelin SST with the 343/4V and 4-speed, but only because I thought it was the most balanced. The short-wheelbase AMX was downright squirrelly with the 390 Go Pack. Both cars are still on high on my favorite muscle car list, though.

          2. I saw a very hairy AMX running at some local hillclimbs around the same time, it made a big impression.

  3. On the fabric roof concept…my mother had a Fiat Panda with such a roof first, that incredibly quickly disintegrated into orange dust. They were followed by a succesion of Renault Twingos with the same feature. Opening up the roof on hot summer days was nothing short of fabulous. The sliding rear bench, a feature later adapted by several other manufacturers, was another amazing idea that made the Twingo such a massive success in its day.
    http://img.over-blog-kiwi.com/0/66/67/30/201311/ob_ac3bc4_fcia-french-cars-in-america-usa-canada-renault-tw.jpg

      1. Never noticed this before, but you’re dead right. This car started life as an an Autozam, Mazdas sub-brand that also gave us the AZ-1 which perhaps puts things in perspective.

        1. I had no idea Autozam was related to Mazda. I regret my ignorance of cars that weren’t made or imported to the U.S. Thanks for the education!

          1. Looks like a rebadged 626 or Xedos 6. Any idea what Lancias they sold? Were they still badged as Lancia and just sold through Autozam dealers or were they rebadged?

          2. That’s brilliant, the idea that if you had the means, you could have had a new AZ-1 and Delta HF Integrale out of the same showroom is just insane.

        1. I personally thought it was a lame interpretation of a 30s custom roadster, with an adequately-powerful but uninspiring V6 engine. I didn’t care for the Chevy SSR, either, though it was a considerably better effort.

          1. To each his/her own. The elements that made Foose’s Hemisfear such a hit are sorely absent here. I think it has potential (change the wheels, remove the headlights and replace with a pair from a Panoz roadster, change the bumpers), but the big killer is the minivan drivetrain. This car deserved a V8 manual — not a V6 automatic. No one in my late-90s car crowd thought much of the Prowler when it debuted, and given the 11k production run, apparently not many others did either.

          2. I do not give a damn whether you liked it or not , always that one asshole in every crowd.

          3. Easy, dude. I didn’t call your sister ugly– we’re just talking cars here. You asked me to explain why I was “appalled”, so I answered, and you then deleted the inquiry and posted insulting personal attacks in its place. If you’re seriously so thin-skinned that you can’t engage in civilized argument, then stick to posting in a diary and stay off of more public forums.

          4. For the record, peeps, I respect the opinion of every individual that contributes to this forum, even if I total disagree with it. A contradictory comment from me should never be taken as an insult or accusation, only as fodder for engaged discussion. Likewise, if you disagree with me, feel free to fire away– I won’t take offense. I love the car hobby, and input from readers and contributors of Hooniverse has expanded my perspective on it considerably.
            I regret that Victor felt he needed to react so defensively and then pull his posts completely. If every anyone feels I’m unduly attacking them personally, please say so and I will humbly apologize.

          5. I appreciate the advice. I need to better anticipate the breadth of my audience.

      1. Thought of the Prowler myself, now I don’t know where to comment. Chrysler/Plymouth couldn’t come out with the actual business case that earned it the green light (R&D, manufacturing innovation, etc.), but since it didn’t justify a whole new drivetrain, they went with what would fit, so in retrospect, I can’t blame them for using it, though at the time, it sure seemed an uninspiring choice. If someone could do one with a DI turbo 4 and a manual today, it would be pretty cool.

        1. This is pretty much it – would it have been better that to get a V6 Prowler, or no Prowler at all? Especially considering that (at least in the pickup trim they already existed in), the 318/360 weren’t exactly fire-breathing, and like you said, the transmissions apparently didn’t fit.

          1. Mopar Performance sold a 360 horse 360 crate engine at the time. IIRC, it was sub-$4,000 at the dealership.
            The 5.9 Magnum in the Dakota R/T made something like 20-30 more horsepower than Mustang GT as delivered, and DIY types could buy the emissions-and-warranty-compliant Mopar Performance heads, cam, computer, and headers to add another 80+ hp.
            They COULD HAVE equipped Prowler with a decently performing powerplant without using a lot of development resources, but the 5.2/5.9 engines were already being wound down in favor of the 4.7 by then. I understand why they chose instead to highlight the LH engine instead (look ahead, not behind), but should have supercharged it or done something similar to make it more special than an Intrepid.

          2. Fair, although presumably any changes to the LA V8’s (or a supercharged six) would have required jumping through too many emissions/fuel economy hoops (at best, they could have used a stock engine and the wink wink/nudge nudge that no hot rod was ever done being modified or something).
            Plus, where they skimped on power, they put inboard suspension on the thing!

    1. In its defense it was a successive stage of Chrysler using a low-volume halo car to experiment with alternative materials & team organization methods (Viper was an earlier stage) and it would probably have made more sense if the planned reinvention of Plymouth had happened (PT Cruiser was intended to be a Plymouth.)

    1. The story of this car is fascinating. Tatra engineers were told to develop something entirely different. But this was their pet project. When the Top Soviet on a whim realized they were short of prestigious limousines, the Tatra engineers revealed their secret labour of love. Against all odds, it got greenlit – and more than that. A V8 was something nobody would have dared to work on in the dark, so that needed to be developed in a hurry.

  4. I’m still surprised that the Honda S2000 ever made it to production, considering its appearance in 1999 marked Honda’s first RWD car in nearly thirty years. It was brilliant, a huge success, and lasted a decade with few changes, and are pretty coveted today. Sadly, though, we’ve not seen another RWD Honda since.
    https://d32c3oe4bky4k6.cloudfront.net/articles-videos/-/media/uscamediasite/images/story-images/2018/07/17/honda-s2000-passenger-side.ashx?modified=20180717172149

    1. I guess I should qualify by making exception with the NSX, which I realize was a Honda elsewhere, but my American myopia still thinks of it as an Acura. Regardless, it too was brilliant and surprising.

        1. If I ever bought an Acura, I would Honda-ize it, though their lack of RWDs makes that unlikely. I have frequently hit up Craigslist for a Lexus IS, but I would likewise Toyota-ize it if I got one. I think luxury sub-brands are stupid.

      1. It always amazed me that AMC could somehow fit a small block V8 into the space they were attempting to put a Wankel. I was hell-bent to drop a 401 into a Pacer back in high school, but did a Spirit 360 instead.

    1. Not entirely true. This was an AMC project from the get go. It was, however, originally planned to powered by a rotary engine that would have been supplied by GM. The problem was that GM dropped their rotary engine project fairly late in the Pacer’s development, leaving AMC no other choice than to use their own straight six instead.

  5. The Lincoln Blackwood. It always seemed to be a car with a market of exactly one person. I can believe there are people who want a Lincoln pickup, but then it’s locked down to one configuration, and only available in black, and only with a wood bed, and only with a bed that has carpeting and a complicated tailgate for no reason, and only in 2WD. That configuration is so specific that it almost feels chosen to not sell. And yet they tried to sell it. I kind of love it just because there is no way it should exist as a real product you could buy.
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/95/2002_Lincoln_Blackwood_2.jpg/1280px-2002_Lincoln_Blackwood_2.jpg

    1. Gloriously odd. I’m thinking they had a glut of F150 and Navigator parts in that particular spec that they needed to offload. Weren’t these put out just before the redesign.

    2. There can’t be much of a market for a guy who wants to haul four people and their clubs to the golf course but only two of them comfortably.

    1. At least that was a car that made sense. A great “what if?” would be how the car would have turned out without the rotary engine disaster.

      1. Without the rotary in the Ro80, Audi/Auto Union probably wouldn’t exist anymore. And VW might still be selling air-cooled and/or rear-engined cars. With both the RoK80 and K70, NSU might have been VERY successful for a small manufacturer.

      1. It has everywhere else though, seriously, try think of even a Euro super-sportscar that has an engine size above 4 litres (a size dictated by the Chinese market) – Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren, they all hover around 3 point something apart from the really expensive V12 monsters at the very top of the ranges. No big block 6.9 AMGs either – again, all 4 litre “hot vee” engines. Further down, you have 1 litre turbo VW golf sized cars now.
        These engines are very good of course, but sometimes I wish there was a balance, Europe keeps pushing for tougher CO2 standards, but had rubbish testing – which is why Dieselgate happened. Now we’re probably walking into a similar unintended consequences scenario with electrification.

        1. Things will be forced to eventually change here in the States, though not with the current administration, which doesn’t even recognize global warming. As much as I love the deep rumble of a big-cube V8, I agree that they are overkill for most situations. They just have such good acoustics. I personally would much prefer a cross-plane 3.0L V8 to a 3.0L V6, based on sound alone, but I’m sure they don’t make sense money-wise.

          1. The real word economy difference between a modern US 5.0 V8 vs a 3.0V6 probably isn’t that great in the real world – it’s the vehicles themselves that are the problem in both markets, which keep getting bigger.
            As far as I can see, the US main problem (like Ireland funnily enough, which is terrible in terms of overall CO2 emissions) is less about what you drive and more about how much you drive. My colleagues in the SF area all seem to do insane 1 1/2 to 2 hour commutes and there isn’t a lot invested in public transport, cycling seemed non existent.
            I like driving, but not commuting unless my commute was an empty touge every morning .

          2. On the highway I’d agree there isn’t much difference, but in urban traffic it would depend on your driving habits – faster acceleration uses much more fuel. We had a direct comparison with Commodores and Falcons, with turbo Falcons thrown in for an extra.
            Thanks for the info about the China 4L thing, I wonder why BMW has stayed with a 4.4 then?

          3. I’m not sure, but if you look at anything sub M5/M6, it’s all 2-3 litre engines, even the M3/4/.
            You pay higher purchase taxes on anything over 4L but I guess BMW figured Chinese M5 buyers were loaded enough not to care. It’s the stuff in the high-middle of most car ranges that’s affected – e.g. Alfa Giulia, BMW M3/4, Porsche 911, McLaren 570c, Ferrari 488 etc. while some of them like Ferrari and Lamborghini still retain high capacity V12s..for now, but even they are talking hybridization at some point. The Ferrar FF had its V12 replaced to become the GTC4Lusso with a 3.9 V8, which arguably improved the car, but also made it an easier sell.

          4. There is also the 550 with the 4.4. If it is offered in China again buyers probably wouldn’t care or perhaps even consider it a positive in a flaunting sense, but it is curious that they are the only >4L engine.

          5. The latest federal study out, does recognise global warming, but then says that it’s too late to do anything about it as there are already some effects, so no need for any tighter regulations.
            It appears to be the same logic that says we shouldn’t put the kitchen fire out because it won’t stop the smoke damage that has already occurred.

  6. The optimism of the 1950s and 1960s American car industry produced lots of clever and unique answers to automotive questions that didn’t really need clever or unique answers or that really weren’t even questions.
    Did we need a turbocharged V8 in 1962 when gas was cheap and bigger V8s did the same thing? No, but Olds built one anyway (and Chevy built the Corvair Turbo soon after).
    Did we need a chain drive FWD V8 powered personal coupe? No, but Olds built the Toronado anyway.
    Did we need a chain drive FWD V8 powered motor home with an aluminum space frame? No, but GMC built one anyway.
    Were we ready to build a fully retractable hardtop convertible in 1957? Probably not, but Ford built the Skyliner anyway.
    Did a compact car need a flexible driveshaft and a rear mounted transaxle? No, but Pontiac created the Tempest anyway.
    In some ways, “Because we can.” seems to be the motto of the era.

    1. The GMC motorhome is just a pure packaging genius move to me. I read an article recently that compared it to the Winnebago of the time and the difference is hilarious.

    2. The Tempest had a rear transaxle? That’s awesome! I swear I was once under a friend’s ’64 and now feel stupid that I didn’t notice. That really ups my interest in and respect for that model.

      1. It was only the first generation of Tempest that had a rear mounted transaxle. In ’64 it moved up to a bigger, more conventional platform that used a normal transmission and solid stick axle in the rear.

        1. Ok, that makes me feel less the moron. If I can’t recognize a transmission from a transaxle, I have no business wrenching on cars.

    3. And all of the GM stuff of the early 60’s made them realise the consumer didn’t care anyway, so they basically stopped innovating after that.

    4. Early attempts at fuel injection fall in here too. Both GM’s mechanical fuel injection and Chrysler/Bendix ill fated attempt at electronic fuel injection in the 1950s.

      1. My granddad had a Belair with the “Power Pack”. It was gone long before I came along but I can still remember him bitching about it.

    5. Bubble era-Japan says “hold my Sake” in terms of crazy stuff…though in fairness, a lot of what came out of that era is more relavant to today than 50s/60s America.

  7. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4b9004dd5af482e910dedc3d09d952f19b395d216a0234d12ab92fddbeb24b94.jpg It’s beating an ancient, mummified horse at this point but the fact that the Mustang II was
    not only made, but SUCCESSFUL in it’s run, always boggles my mind. I get it, the 71-73 Mustang was bloated and ugly, but in my eyes it was at least somewhat sinister like it’s predecessors. What the fuck is sinister, or even cool, about this turd? It look like the designers forgot to dry a clay model and it started to lose it’s shape, except instead of tossing the whole design they looked at it and were like “It’s shaped like a moldy pear… I like it.”
    Not only that but it was an awful car to drive by any measure. The suspension was soggy in any tuning, the engines were all lethargic, and it wasn’t even economical. What was the point? What did people see in this thing? It enrages me to even look at it because I know that people bought this Walmart-mom hipped blob, and not just a few people. A LOT of people bought these, when a Capri or a Celica was a far better car in every. Single. Way.
    Why? Why Ford? Why 70s America?

    1. Yeah, it was a turd. The mid-70s pretty much sucked no matter what domestic car you considered, but I agree with you on the Celica (I had money in my pocket to buy a ’77 hatchback and didn’t do it) and the Capri (never seen one in person, but they look great to me now). I still think even the humble Maverick would have made a better Mustang sequel than the Mustang II.

      1. I’ve always thought the same thing about the Maverick. I mean yeah it was on the crude side but so were the other domestic compacts. I mean the Camaro had rear leaf springs ffs and it was considered one of the best handling cars of the era.

      2. The plan was to use the Maverick platform for the Mustang. But just like everything else, the Mustang got large and wasn’t true to what the meant when it was introduced. The pendulum swing back and the Pinto was the platform.
        The Mustang II may be the stepchild of the Ford family but it sold a ton in the day.

        1. Interesting– I didn’t know that. It’s surprising, though, considering the Maverick is nearly 7″ shorter than a ’65 Mustang, with a 5″ shorter wheelbase. But I guess by the early 70s, everything was shrinking, so I guess size was relative.
          I’m now itching to hit Craigslist for a Maverick that I can “Mustang-ize”.

          1. How much Mustang-izing does it need? I’ve seen a couple of hotted-up Maverick coupes and they look pretty good as-is.

          2. I agree with you, there. I used to never give them a second look, but I’ve seen some pretty sweet examples at shows. I would probably only alter the tail lights, as they’re pretty plain. I’m sure a set of t’bird lights would fit (for a Shelby or C/S appearance), or even ’71-’74 lights would look cool if they would fit.
            A quick Autotempest search yesterday brought up a number of pricey restomod Mavericks, but very few affordable drivers.

    2. As an Italian I have to say that quite the whole American production looks strange, expecially if you compare it to our cars of the same eras. (if you aren’t a muscle car fan, of course)

      1. American car culture has always been pretty unique until fairly recently. In the 70s, excess was the name of the game because there was no performance to keep people interested.

  8. My mother’s friend (a woman) had a C3 Pluriel.
    I once said to her: “How’s the car? Is it easy to remove the pillars?”
    She answered with a confused expression: “What? Removing the pillars?”

  9. I can think of some:
    – the Mini coupe/convertible
    – Nissan Murano convertible, and to a lesser degree Range Rover Evoque
    – Mini Paceman, Evoque 2-door, etc
    – Mitsubishi 380 – the writing on the wall was a neon sign, they should have built an SUV or pickup locally instead and been the only locally-manufactured option.

    1. Take the most mainstream midsize SUV you can think of, and make it expensive, impractical and weird!

    1. Isn’t that the one that Bob Lutz knew was going to be a turkey, but was too far down the line to stop?

      1. Maybe, although I thought I recall reading that he had a similar opinion of the Aztek and how even to this day, the people that worked on the project are proud of it.

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