The CAR Top 10: delusions of grandeur

Published: 27 November 2015

► Woefully misguided ventures upmarket
► Badge (and brand) engineering at its worst 
► Even the best get it wrong sometimes...

Desperately forlorn attempts by underperforming car makers to notch up their desirability rating. Got an even worse example of a car-related grand plan gone wrong? Add your thoughts in the comments below...

1) Ford Orion 1600E

Ford Orion 1600E

Ford tried to tap into nostalgia for the Mk2 Cortina 1600E with this wood-and-leather-equipped booted Escort, which we called ‘the most cynically conceived mass-market car in Britain’. No, Ford couldn’t pull the velour over our eyes and in our tongue-in-cheek August 1989 Giant Test, the Orion was kicked black and blue by…

2) Austin Allegro Vanden Plas

Austin Allegro Vanden Plas

…a car we said was the preserve of retired music teachers and elderly kerbcrawlers. Sadly, this wasn’t the last shameful use of the once respectable VDP name. Metro and Maestro range-toppers got it too, though thankfully minus the faux-Rolls-Royce-grille (seemingly fitted by a demented yet talentless aftermarket modder) and rear-seat picnic tables.

3) Mini Clubman

Mini Clubman

Even before the Allegro VDP, British Leyland and its BMC predecessor had serious form when it came to disingenuous engineering. Fitting a square nose and new dashboard did not turn the ageing Mini into a luxury supermini. But it did make it easier to reach that infernal distributor every time the thing cut out in the wet.

4) Chrysler TC by Maserati

Chrysler TC Maserati

Lee Iacocca saved Chrysler in the 1980s, but he didn’t get it all right. This chopped-about, front-drive, four-cylinder Dodge Daytona is unlikely to figure big in Maserati’s centenary celebrations next year. It didn’t figure big in the sales charts either, thanks in part to its exorbitant price.

5) Cadillac Cimarron

Cadillac Cimarron

Needing a compact Cadillac saloon to fight the premium European imports and meet tough CAFE fuel economy rules, GM looked to its J-car platform, the basis for our Rolls-rivalling Mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier, and created the first four-cylinder Caddy since Charlie Chaplin was starting out.

6) Jaguar X-type

Jaguar X-type

Jaguar’s baby saloon didn’t stoop Cimarron low – it was only loosely based on the Mondeo, which was a clear leader in its class anyway. But it became less Jaguar-like as the years passed, starting as a four-wheel-drive V6, but then becoming available with front-wheel drive and sluggish 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines. Next one’s a proper rear-drive Jag.

7) Mercedes Musso

Mercedes Musso

In the days before the Mercedes ML SUV, Benz supplied Ssangyong with engines (but sadly not stylists) for its Musso off-roader. But in some markets, where Ssangyong had no presence and Mercedes was keen to take on the market-hogging Mitsubishi Pajeros, the car was actually sold through Merc dealers. As partnerships go, this one was about as equal as George Michael/Andrew Ridgeley.

8) Lexus LS400

Lexus LS400

Here’s the odd one out. Who’d have thought the people behind the Corolla could crack Europe’s stranglehold on the US luxury saloon market? The LS had the charisma of an autistic washing machine, and still struggles in Europe, but is a perennial sales hit stateside.

9) Renault Vel Satis

Renault Vel Satis

If the failure of Renault’s large Safrane taught it anything, it wasn’t letting on. Bizarrely reasoning that a large hatchback would fare much better in the luxury sector than a large saloon, Renault released the Vel Satis, a kind of super-sized Megane with the taut, sinewy visual punch of a flabby guinea pig. Did it fly? Yeah, like the Hindenburg.

10) Lancia Flavia

Lancia Flavia

Remember the Fulvia, Aurelia and Delta? The Grand Prix and rally wins? It’s getting harder because this once-proud Italian firm has spent the last 20 years becoming Italy’s answer to Vanden Plas. Here’s the Flavia, a rebadged Chrysler 200. If the Allegro was still around, you just know there’d be a Lancia version of that too.

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker