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Part one: 12 cars that died before their time

By Andy Enright, 13 Apr 2017 Features

2005 Ford GT group of three cars_wide

“Always leave them wanting more,” reckoned Walt Disney. It’s an adage that can equally be applied to some cars

“ALWAYS leave them wanting more,” reckoned Walt Disney.

As business mantras go it's not a bad one and Disney certainly spun a huge empire off the back of cartoons featuring household vermin. Enzo Ferrari took up the theme, claiming that the company should always build one less car than customers demand. Yet as a whole, we car enthusiasts don't like being short-changed. We like cars to be built over a long timescale, to be developed and honed to a point of perfection, and then debate how the older ones were better in any case.

Here are the first six of a dozen cars that we reckon died before their time.

Ford GT (2004-06)
Unashamedly retro, undoubtedly brilliant, Ford's GT demonstrated that even the most blue-collar of brands could mix it with the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini if the product was right. With a 5.4-litre supercharged V8 behind the driver's right shoulder mated to a sweet Ricardo-developed manual transmission this car was brilliant straight out of the crate. Unfortunately, timing was against it.

Ford GT (2004-06)Towards the end of 2005, Ford was looking at a loss of around a quarter of its domestic market share over the past decade. Something needed to be done. That something was a document called The Way Forward. Executing that plan led to Ford laying off 28 per cent of its staff, selling Hertz Rent-a-Car, and shutting six vehicle assembly plants; St Louis, Atlanta, Twin Cities, Norfolk, Windsor, and Wixom. The latter is key because it's where the SVT facility was located; where the GT was built. Years of building tired, sub-par products such as the Aspire and the Contour killed a world-class performance car. The misery of the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis ensured that it would be a decade before we saw the GT badge reappear.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 (1999-2002)
The Skyline GT-R is one of those cars that tends to divide opinion. To some it's a Nurburgring-slaying, Gran Turismo generation embodiment of everything that's exotic about Japanese tuner culture. To others it's an overweight and ugly relic that's had its day and is now a quaintly overpriced curio. The truth lies somewhere in between. Although the earlier R32 GT-R model might have represented the heyday of the Skyline in terms of technology and competition success, its cult status was cemented by the aggressive R34 GT-R. In Bayside Blue.

Nissan E34 Skyline GT-RIn 2002 Nissan announced plans to separate the Skyline and GT-R brands. The Skyline became a rather staid saloon, whereas the GT-R badge was put into cold storage until 2007 when it was revived with the launch of the quite magnificent R35 GT-R.  There's something very special about the Skyline R34 GT-R, though. It's got charisma, it’s brutish and angry and it packs the legendary RB26DETT straight-six engine that's tougher than a two-dollar steak. You only need to look at used values to see how the market values it, with late R34 GT-Rs significantly more expensive than early R35 models. How do you put a price on this much presence?

TVR Sagaris (2005-06)
It used to be so easy to poke fun at TVR. I remember an owner's forum where one frustrated Cerbera owner claimed that his car had let him down on every journey of more than 100 miles. When asked what feature would most improve his TVR, he replied: “A spare car in the boot.” While it's true that the build quality of TVRs from the 1980s and ’90s could most accurately be described as horrific and most generously be portrayed as variable, quality improved in the company's latter years. The Sagaris coupe is viewed by many as the most collectable of TVR’s contemporary output, yet even here there was that typical Wheeler-era bluster about it. With a claimed top speed of 195mph, it was pointed out by owners that any speed much above 150mph would result in the rear bonnet fixings and tailgate catches coming undone, with predictably disastrous effects.

Things looked grim for TVR when the company was taken over by a Russian youth who oversaw a transformation in sales from 12 cars a week to three. With the lease expiring on the factory site and working capital drying up fast, TVR's Blackpool plant shut its doors in 2006. The Sagaris could have been a great car. Events were just about the only thing that ever overtook it.

Nissan Silvia S15 (1999-2002)
Now this is a bit of an odd 'un. Nissan never brought this generation Silvia to this country. Had it done so, it would probably have worn a 200SX badge and its role in life would have been the same as the previous two generations of 200SX. It would have been bought by 40- and 50-somethings who wanted a vaguely handsome and reliable coupe that didn't cost the earth. Some years down the line, it would then depreciate to a point when it would find its true calling in the hands of hardcore drifters who would equip them with a set of LingLong ditchfinder tyres and drive them sideways into said ditches in an explosion of tie-wrapped plastic and Lynx Oriental.

Nissan Silvia S15The Silvia suffered a similar fate to the Skyline R34. It was based on a relatively creaky platform that had seen better days and was about to be replaced by a far more successful model, the 350Z. What was good news for Nissan was nevertheless a sad day for those who went through handbrake shoes quicker than most people changed their undercrackers.

Saab 9-5 SportWagon (2011-12)
“The much awaited SportWagon adds five-door versatility to the acclaimed attributes of the 9-5 Saloon, providing a distinctive, alternative choice for premium wagon customers. It is expected to become a major player in a vehicle segment where Saab has previously enjoyed sales volumes even higher than saloon levels.” So said Saab's press blurb for the 9-5 SportWagon back in 2011. A year later it was history. Perhaps Saab's downfall came because it never realised that there are really only two paths to happiness: improving your reality or lowering your expectations.

Saab 9-5 SportWagonSaab tried improving the product but in doing so, rather got ahead of itself on the expectation front, pricing it dead in the crosshairs of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Saab makes much of its aerospace heritage: you'd have thought it would have seen that this plan was never going to fly. On December 19, 2011, Saab filed for bankruptcy, its former owners General Motors vetoing a potentially life-saving sale to the Chinese over fears that current designs would be pirated. A few 9-5 SportWagons were sold in 2012 at discount prices and the range-topping 224kW XWD all-wheel-drive model might well become quite a prized possession. Architects, university lecturers and other chin strokers have since adopted the Skoda Superb wagon as the Saab’s spiritual successor.

BMW M1 (1978-80)
It's hard to believe that the BMW M1, a virtual automotive deity today, was once regarded as an unmitigated embarrassment to the Bavarian company. Designed to originally represent BMW in a manufacturers’ championship based on cars with production silhouettes, rule changes meant that its development could never hit a rapidly moving target. Jochen Neerpasch, the man responsible for BMW's racing program during the 1970s and the driving force behind the M1, found his career ruined by the M1. It was cursed almost from the outset. Lamborghini was contracted to build the car and then went bust. BMW retook control of the build process and commissioned Marchese to build the car's tubular chassis and TIR to mould the fibreglass body after which ItalDesign would mate the two and fit the interior. The cars would then be shipped from Italy to Stuttgart, where Baur would plumb in the transmissions before BMW Motorsports would perform the final prep in Munich.

BMW M1The race version of this Frankencar finally saw some action in the ProCar series where the top five qualifiers in each Formula One race would take the helm of BMW-prepared M1s and compete against a field of 15 privateers also in M1s. Can you imagine such a thing happening today on an F1 undercard with some cashed-up schlub trying to ram one up the inside of Sebastian Vettel at La Source? Against anything other than M1s, the M1 was a flop. The Group 4 entries at the Watkins Glen and Le Mans endurance races failed while the Group 5 car only achieved some success because it was fitted with a Chevy small-block V8. M1 production halted in December 1980 at around 390 road cars, yet what ought to have been a stinker turned out to be a quite brilliant supercar. Jochen Neerpasch, we salute you, sir.

See part two here!

Any cars you think we’ve overlooked? Let us know!