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|Industry Analysis: Notable Victims of the Cash for Clunkers Program|
|Written by Jim Brennan|
|Saturday, 03 October 2009 05:10|
Cash for Clunkers is over and the Government and many dealers proclaim it as an overwhelming success. But at what cost? Here is a list of rather unusual and possibly valuable cars that were sacrificed during the program; a few that will make the car enthusiasts among us cringe.
According to the list published on September 9th by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) there were a number of questions raised when scanning through the document. To be eligible for the Cash for Clunkers program, eligible vehicles were specified to only get 19 miles-per-gallon or less measured by their previously published EPA rating. Yet a few vehicles that were submitted generally get better fuel mileage than the benchmark set by the program rules. For example, there were a number of four-cylinder BMW 318i models that based on their EPA numbers would seem to be ineligible for the program. Other vehicles fall into this same category, vehicles like the Acura 2.2 CLs, one Silverado Hybrid Pickup (who would trade in a virtually brand new hybrid?), a Chrysler PT Cruiser, a Dodge Aries, a 1998 Dodge Neon, a 1993 Ford Escort, a two-wheel-drive Geo Tracker, a Honda CRX, a Hyundai Accent as well as an Elantra, three Infiniti G20s, two Nissan 200SXs, a 2008 Altima Coupe, a 1990 Nissan Stanza, three Plymouth Breezes, a Saturn Ion, as well as a Saturn SL. And here's the biggest surprise of all, someone traded in a Scion xD. What were they thinking?
As troubling as this list was--think of all the economically-challenged people who would love to have any one of these relatively high-mileage, late model cars for transportation, an unfortunate byproduct of the program--it is underscored by the list of truly desirable enthusiast cars that were traded in as clunkers. This raises some troubling questions as to the reasoning behind the transaction. Or more to the point, what was the motive of the dealer that took these trades in for $3,500 or $4,500 when their value is obviously a lot more in the open market? Scanning through the list, here are 12 different vehicles that should have been saved from their eventual fate of being scrapped. These 12 cars will be met with the usual questions as to how this was allowed to happen in the first place, or what kind of person would trade such a vehicle, replacing it with a Hyundai or a Toyota? I'm not sure what they were traded for but let's take a look at what I would like to call "The Dirty Dozen."
There were quite a few desirable BMWs that met their fate during this program, and they include almost all the models offered on these shores over the last 25 years. People scrapped 325i convertibles, 5 Series station wagons, 6 Series coupes, V12-powered 7 Series sedans, even a couple of M3 and M5 models. However, there was one individual who scrapped a 1992 850i V-12 Coupe. These cars were rare when they were sold in the states with only about 4,200 imported for model years 1990 to 1994 according to some sources. The horsepower rating for the 5-litre V-12 engine was around 300 HP and true to BMW tradition it was available with either an automatic or a 6-speed Manual. With an original asking price hovering around $100,000 it's hard to fathom the trade price of less than $4,500 unless it was in non-drivable condition which would make this car ineligible according to the rules. Unfortunately there is one less 850i driving in America after this program.
There are few fans of Neo-Classic cars like the Zimmer Golden Spirit, the Panther Kallista, the Clenet Asha, or others carrying the names Tiffany, Destiny, or Baci. Be that as it may, the most famous Neo Classis has to be the Excalibur Series. These cars started as a styling exercise by none other than Brooks Stevens who was responsible for the last Studebaker models like the Hawk Gran Turismo and the Lark Wagonaire. The Excalibur was originally built on a Corvette Chassis with pure sports car power and performance but they eventually grew into the over-the-top vehicles that they are now best known. The Excalibur was offered as a coupe or a phaeton, which is basically either a two-seat or a four-seat version. Both models were offered as a hardtop or folding top models and were fully equipped including burled walnut interiors, leather seating, and acres of chrome. Three individuals saw fit to trade in their 1987 Excalibur Series IV Phaetons in for something more economical and they are now consigned to the scrap yard soon to be nothing but melted fiberglass and steel to be recycled into Chinese toaster ovens or fiberglass hot tubs.
During the late 80s and early 90s a new type of vehicle was racking up unheard of sales and generating record profits for the automakers, the Sports Utility Vehicle or SUV. So popular were these truck-based appliances that new versions were popping up almost weekly. A very curious addition came from Italy with a hand-formed body and a Ford power train. The vehicle was known as the Laforza. The Laforza company sold an Italian-built military and police vehicle styled by Tom Tjaarda, and then fitted an Italian leather interior and a fuel-injected Ford Windsor engine. It was marketed as a "Luxury 4x4" competing with the Range Rover. It was developed by the Rayton Fissore Company using a shortened Iveco 4X4 truck chassis that retained all the suspension and axle components. The chassis and bodies were shipped to the US between 1998 and 2002 where the power train was installed in Brighton, Michigan. As with all US/Italian designs there were problems and the program came to an end in 2003. There were three individuals that took advantage of getting rid of this unusual orphan but how many are left is subject to a lot of speculation.
Among the Italian supercar makers Maserati has one of the longest and most storied histories, among them race cars piloted by the indomitable Argentinean, Juan-Manuel Fangio. The company has also passed under a number of owners through the decades, including Citroen, Alessandro de Tomaso, and finally Fiat which merged it into Ferrari. Under de Tomaso's tenure Maserati launched some questionable product to increase its market share especially in North America. One of those products was the Maserati Biturbo, a car that had so many problems that Time magazine announced that it was the worst car of 1984. It was reported that these cars were so troublesome that dealers started refusing to sell them. Those that were sold racked up few miles and were never desirable in the used car market. This is not the only Maserati that was traded in the CARS program. It seems that one lovely 1985 Maserati Quattroporte was put to death after it was traded in on something like a Kia. Only 1876 of the V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive, Quattroporte III four-door sedans were produced between 1979 and 1988 with 50 of them designated as "Royal Sedans" that had a retail value at the time of $80,000. While four BMW 3 Series-sized Biturbos were traded in on this program were not really not that much of a loss, the destruction of even one Quattroporte is almost unforgivable as very few made it to the US. I wonder if this a Royal or a standard Series III?
England is the home of many unique cottage industry car companies and none was more famous than TVR. Along with Morgan and Bristol, TVR built a loyal following within its home market but could never duplicate abroad. One of the last TVR products available in the US was the TVR Tasmin 280i. This was a compact wedge-shaped rocket that was powered by the Cologne-built Ford 2.8-litre V6 that was also found under the hood of many Ford products--among them the German-built Capri and the Ford Ranger pickup among others--and it was also offered with an automatic gearbox as an option, the only model so equipped from the company. These cars were produced between 1981 and 1988 and they sold in limited numbers. This was the last TVR model exported to the US in 1987 with an estimated 400 to 500 units reaching these shores before production ended. Well, there seems to be one less because a 1985 280i convertible was traded for something as dull as a Camry and has probably been put to death by the time you read this. This is one of those cars that should have gone to a good home where it would have been properly enjoyed by another enthusiast.
GMC, the truck division of General Motors, produced a couple of very desirable rockets between 1991 and 1993. The Syclone is a Sonoma pickup with a heart transplant that was the first of these performance trucks. It featured a 280-horsepower turbocharged 4.3-liter V6 with a four-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive that were capable of running from zero to 60 in less than five seconds. All told 2,995 of these rocket sleds were produced for the 1991 model year before it was retired to make way for the Typhoon, a Jimmy-based twp-door SUV utilizing the same engine. Because of its weight it was just a tad slower than the Syclone and like its pickup counterpart sold in limited quantities. Just 2,500 were built in 1992 with 2,200 built for its final year in 1993. When these were new they retailed at just under $30,000 which made them a performance bargain as well as very hot collectible. Unfortunately, one owner decided it was time to trade a 1992 Typhoon for something more timid and there will be one less Super GMC truck that will be available for someone who would appreciate it.
You would expect to see plenty of Buicks on the Cash for Clunkers listing. Everything from Electras to Park Avenues to Roadmasters was sacrificed. Yet there was one Buick manufactured by ASC that did show up on the list of trades and that was the Buick Grand National GNX. This special Buick was introduced during the 1987 model year and it was to be the send-off car for the last rear-wheel-drive Buick as the Regal was scheduled to be replaced with a four-wheel-drive corporate clone. The engine was underrated at 276-horsepower but packed an amazing 360 pound-feet of torque. At the time it has been said that the Buick Regal GNX was the fastest production car available from a full-line production car company. Only 547 of these special Grand Nationals were ever produced and there will be one less thanks to the CARS Program. You have to wonder what the rationale was for trading in such a rare car in for something like a Honda Accord.
Aston Martin is responsible for some of the most breathtakingly beautiful machines ever produced, it legend powered in part to its connection to a certain British super spy. They have the panache thanks to its well heeled buyers and have performance credibility thanks to its racing heritage. Under the special watch of the Ford Motor Company, which owned this brand from 1988 to 2007 it also saw a remarkable comeback with fresh models and streamlined production process. The DB7 Coupe was introduced in 1994 derived from a still born Jaguar project. The Volante Convertible version was introduced at the North American International Auto Show in 1996 with a 330-horsepower supercharged six cylinder engine and a retail price of over $150,000. To have a car fall from these heights (updated 2004 version shown) to be worth only $4,500 is astonishing and quite unbelievable. Yet one person traded a 1997 Aston Martin Volante Convertible under the Cash for Clunkers program for something a lot less sporting.
The name Bentley conjures visions of old world money, English libraries, rolling estates in lush green meadows, polo matches on rare sunny afternoons, and of course British racing traditions. Bentley has a long and distinguished history in motorcar racing as well as the production of some of the most luxurious cars ever. For many years it was the sporting division of the Rolls Royce Motorcar Company in Crewe England. The Bentley Continental R is a large two-door coupe utilizing the 6.75-liter turbocharged V8 lifted from the Bentley Turbo R sedan producing 325-horsepowr and over 450 pound-feet of torque driven through a GM-sourced automatic transmission. This car had a retail price of over $270,000 when it was introduced in 1992. Only 1,290 of these imposing and powerful coupes were produced from 1992 to 2002. Again there was one owner who thought it was just the right car to trade in under the CARS program. Yes that's correct; a 1997 Bentley Continental R was traded in on something less luxurious. How in the hell is a Bentley only worth $4,500? It is an outrage that a Bentley was destroyed in this program and one has to wonder how this could happen? You have to speculate on the intelligence of the dealer in question; couldn't he or she simply offered a dollar more as a trade-in, then put the car on eBay for a much higher return?
Pontiac is now a name brand consigned to the history books. Throughout its history it will be remembered for the legendary performance cars produced between 1964 and 2002, specifically the GTO, Firebird, and Trans Am. The Firebird Trans Am almost singlehandedly carried the performance car torch through the dismal seventies to lead to a resurgence during the eighties and nineties. The Trans Am was once again selected to pace the Indianapolis 500 race in 1989 which was America's premiere racing event at that time. This also happens to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Trans Am, so a special model was introduced packing the Buick Grand National's V-6. It was the best-performing Trans Am ever. There was only 1,555 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Ams produced during the 1989 model year, each wearing a sticker price of over $31,000. So how this rare, historic, and highly collectible car could even be considered a clunker is beyond reason. One owner thought it was and traded a 20th Anniversary Trans Am for something a little slower and a lot less exciting. With one less Turbo Trans Am the remaining birds should increase in value.
There were a number of Mercedes-Benz models that were traded during this program. The list is astonishing and includes 128 300CEs, 11 300SLs, 41 380SLs, 28 500SECs, 13 500SLs, 91 560SECs, 72 560SLs, and many more. But the most outrageous had to be the inclusion of one 1995 S600 V-12 coupe that was traded in under this program. The S600 coupe was launched in 1993 as the 600SEC with an imposing 6-litre V-12 producing 322-horsepower. This leviathan weighed in at close to 5,000 pounds and had a sticker price of over $120,000. Just a little over 8,500 were produced during its production cycle with half going to the United States. While these cars were never as good looking as some of its competitors, it was still an outstanding motorcar and worth a lot more than the trade-in value of this program. It has been published that at least one Mercedes SL owner traded his car in on a Hyundai Elantra--in Rhode Island--so I wonder what piece of motoring obscurity this owner received for his or her trade?
Ford's SVT program produced some of the best performance vehicles available; The SVT Mustang Cobra, the SVT Focus, and of course the SVT F-150 Lightning pickup. The SVT F-150 was a dynamite package producing 360-horsepower from a supercharged Ford 5.4-litre Triton V8 allowing the little pickup truck to gallop from 0 to 60 in as little as 6.2 seconds. The wine from the Eaton supercharger is like nothing else under full steam and with its lowered suspension it looked unlike no other F-150. There was only 4,966 of these little monsters produced during the 2000 model year and yet, someone though it was time to take advantage of the CARS program and trade in a 2000 SVT F-150 Lightning for something with a little less power. With that marvelous supercharged power plant destroyed one can only wonder what is wrong with these people who would do such a thing. Overall there was another 23 1993 and 94 Lightnings trashed during this program.
As I have written before, this program was a general success to the average everyday consumer. Most of the machinery that was destroyed during this program was rather run-of-the-mill stuff, and included Explorers, Blazers, Caravans, Troopers, Grand Cherokees, Windstars, and other non-interesting vehicles. However, as these 12 vehicles have illustrated, sometimes there are gems that are sacrificed in the name of fuel economy. What it also points out is just how lazy some car dealers are taking the quick CARS cash--well almost the quick cash due to the delays in the program--rather than realizing a higher potential return by offering the previous owner a bigger trade-in, refreshing the car, and reselling it.