San Diego Automotive Museum

Unpopular Mechanics

Unpopular Mechanics
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While certain cars are cemented in public memory as classics due to their exceptional craftsmanship, mechanical reliability, or aesthetic beauty, others garner disdain at their very mention.

The negative reputation of these vehicles typically stems from things like mechanical or design issues, radically new exteriors, or just bad publicity. Cars such as the Ford Edsel or the Pontiac Aztek are prime examples of cars that were disappointing to or poorly received by consumers.

Many of these automotive "failures" were the result of circumstance, media hype, or rushed production, with notorious mechanical issues quickly ironed out as production continued. Unfortunately, bad first impressions are hard to undo, and cars like the Chevrolet Corvair and Ford Pinto are still widely remembered for being "unsafe at any speed" or "a barbeque that seats four." Yet despite their poor reputations, these vehicles were typically genuine attempts at innovation that were often ahead of their time; some, like the Corvair, sold quite well considering the bad press.

"Unpopular" but aesthetically groundbreaking cars the Chrysler Airflow sought to completely change how a vehicle could look, with its round aerodynamic exterior design. AMC's relatively tiny Gremlin was an early attempt by an American automaker to make a compact, fuel-efficient car in an era dominated by Detroit's massive, heavy luxury vehicles.

Each such example of "unpopular mechanics" has a similar origin story. While these vehicles were misfires at the time of their release, modern vehicles incorporate similar design philosophies, some of which are now seen as industry standard or even cutting-edge.

As so many of these ground-breaking but infamous cars are interesting innovations in retrospect, many are appreciated by contemporary car enthusiasts, garnering significant cult followings due to appearances in museums, films, television, and other media. With time, these vehicles were seen as critical steps in the automotive industry's road forward and certainly will not be the last cars of their kind.

On Exhibit:

  • 2001 Pontiac Aztek
  • 1959 Ford Edsel Ranger 2-Door Hardtop
  • 1975 Gremlin X Levi's Edition
  • 1936 DeSoto Airflow II Series S2
  • 1936 Chrysler Imperial Series C-11