Halloween is a time when many characters come out. It is a time for children and even adults to dress up in costumes living out a persona through the day. For other adults, Halloween horror comes in realizing the price of candy for satisfying trick-or-treaters. For automobiles, Halloween involves recognizing nightmarish creatures of four wheels. There are movie star cars like Christine and The Car taking on roles similar to Jason or Freddy Krueger as fictionalized sheet metal beings of horror.
Automotive Halloween is also a chance to reflect on some of the most bizarre creatures introduced to the public. A mixture of different ideas, some vehicles become the creations of a Dr. Frankenstein. Like the Prometheus he brought to life, a collection of automobiles is regarded as misunderstood, misjudged, and/or rejected by the automotive public. For Halloween, the following list of vehicles is some notable products the defied conventional wisdom and now exist as haunting spirits:
A main element of fear is being exposed to something we cannot immediately define. Sometimes becoming accustomed to a source of fear is a way to conquer it. In the 1960s, a passenger car that can also operate as a boat may have given automobile and boat manufacturers a reason to be afraid. The Amphicar embodies the ability to travel on land and water as a peculiar anomaly few publicly available vehicles have mirrored. Though the vehicle provokes little fear, the Amphicar’s unique attributes have created a being conflicting with known nature.
First sold in 1961, the Amphicar performed only decently as a car or boat. Nonetheless, the vehicle’s four-cylinder 43 horsepower engine would allow the Amphicar to travel 70 miles per hour on roads or seven knots in water. Apparently, United States president Lyndon Johnson enjoyed playing tricks on guests with an Amphicar. For unsuspecting passengers unaware of the Amphicar’s abilities, Johnson would drive down a hill towards water, making his riders believe he did not have brakes. Certain to provoke some screams as the car enters the water, the Amphicar clearly provided quite a treat.
The SSR was Chevrolet’s big idea for replacing the discontinued Camaro with a modern day El Camino-like car. Few people outside of the General Motors corporate office would have requested the end for the Camaro; fewer would have asked the creation called the Chevrolet SSR to be the replacement vehicle.
Built on a truck platform, the Chevrolet SSR (an acronym for Super Sport Roadster) debuted as a 2000 model year concept car inspired by 1930s hot rods. A decision was made to green light the Chevrolet SSR for production as a niche performance vehicle. Also equipped with a power retractable hardtop, the twist with the SSR came through the incorporation of a tonneau-cover shielded pickup bed. Similar to the Plymouth Prowler, the Chevrolet SSR at least provided ample power from a 5.3 liter V-8 engine. Generating 300 horsepower when released for the 2004 model year, power was increased to 400 in 2006 if fitted with a six-speed manual transmission.
Forever being a vehicle failing to attract performance car or truck customers in even the modest production numbers General Motors set, the Chevrolet SSR was marred by poor sales. The vehicle also highlighted a trend at the time of Chevrolet to overuse the SS branding for products that were not quite super sport models. An unusual product living harbouring the realms of roadster and urban truck, the SSR have spooked Chevrolet into reconsidering the Camaro (At least the vehicle was successful in scaring General Motors straight).
Mitsubishi Debonair AMG
AMG is a lauded performance company that constructed modified Mercedes-Benz vehicle to such high quality it resulted in a corporate merger. Since the sale of a sedan nicknamed “The Hammer,” the pairing is today as synonymous as peanut butter and jelly. Little is known about AMG creations lacking the three-pointed star badge. A freaky tale from the 1980s involved a short-lived alliance with Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors.
Prior to Mercedes-Benz’s purchase of the AMG company, the German tuner was commissioned by Mitsubishi to bring personality to the Japanese market flagship called the Debonair. A typical boxy, 1980s sedan, the Mitsubishi Debonair provided a challenging basis for exercising AMG’s luxury performance character. The result was an underwhelming vehicle that Mitsubishi and AMG fear to mention. Mainly an appearance package, the AMG-equipped Mitsubishi Debonair was fitted with a unique front and rear spoiler, dual exhaust pipes, a custom steering wheel, and 15-inch aluminum wheels.
Limited only to the Japanese marketplace, the Mitsubishi Debonair was fortunately not a zombie apocalypse for AMG. In addition to the Debonair, a Mitsubishi Galant was also given the half-hearted AMG treatment. However, it might be the scariest skeleton in the German performance car builder’s closet.
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
The next tale of horror revolves around a recent event. In the labs of Nissan, an unearthly creation emerged from the form of Murano crossover utility. The Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet was brought to life as a crossover vehicle with a drop-top style. An amusing concept car, it provided quite a surprise to automobile journalists and car buyers that Nissan intended to produce the unusual vehicle.
Since the 2011 model year release, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet has existed as a misfit. A two-door convertible, the tall utility vehicle appearance will not appeal to the buyer of a Ford Mustang Convertible and Mazda MX-5. Despite the all-wheel drive system, its characteristics are more Rodeo Drive than the traditional spot on a family’s driveway. The Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet’s price tag is a ghoulish sight amounting to roughly over $6,000 in sticker shock over the luxury appointed Murano SL. In a way, the circumstance for the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet is sad since the world has embraced open cabin four-wheel drive vehicles like the original Jeep and Toyota Land Cruiser.
In 2000, the crossover utility was a new concept for automobile manufacturers to pioneer a healthy mix between truck-based sport utility vehicle and car. Eager to be an early participant in the emerging vehicle class, General Motors brand Pontiac saw a chance to apply their character to the budding segment. Creating the Pontiac Aztec, the crossover became a poster child for a design studio fright night.
Born from a concept vehicle of the same name, the Pontiac Aztec was promoted as a lifestyle companion. In an attempt to merge the attitude of a car with a sport utility vehicle, Pontiac’s end creation was an uneven design. At the time the Pontiac Aztec was introduced, the brand believed large strips of gray body cladding was fashionable. Prominent on the 2001 model, an attempt to refresh the Aztec in later model years withdrew the cladding.
What remained on the Pontiac Aztec throughout its five-year production run were the wacky headlights and an oddly sloped rear window. It is funny that the sloped roofline has since been adopted for crossovers belonging to other auto companies. The BMW X6 and Acura ZDX utilize a similar roof to the Aztec but have not received anywhere near the ridicule. There is not one styling cue that specifically defines the Pontiac Aztec as unattractive. Instead, it is the way the vehicle blended that resulted in a Frankenstein creation front to rear.
Did the Pontiac Aztec possess a design easily asserted as ugly? Most definitely. Was the Aztec a terrible vehicle? Not really. The Pontiac Aztec proved worthy enough for Walter White in Breaking Bad in addition to other loyal fans of the bizarre crossover. However, the design flax pas haunted Pontiac right up to the brand’s death.
Photo and Information source: General Motors, John Lloyd, Nissan North America