Sometimes, an automaker will launch a model and quickly realize it’s not worth any more investment. Maybe it was a stopgap solution to plug a hole in a model lineup using an existing car, or to placate a dealer network that feels it’s been missing out on a key product. Sometimes, there doesn’t even seem to be any strategy to it at all: A car is launched and advertised, then unceremoniously dumped after just one model year. Today, let’s look at a few cars that disappeared after a short time on the market, and which you probably haven’t seen by the curbside in years. Maybe, you never saw any of them at all.
The 1977-only Cougar wagon has been covered on Curbside Classic before, thanks to a pristine Villager that makes the rounds at vintage car shows. For those unaware, Mercury rebodied its 1972-vintage Montego sedan and coupe for 1977 and applied the Cougar nameplate. The Montego wagon retained its sheetmetal but received the same front clip as the others (as well as the XR-7 coupe), becoming the first Cougar wagon.
It lasted a year. For whatever reason, the Cougar wagon and its LTD II wagon stablemate were axed. The smaller Fairmont/Zephyr wagons had just come on board so perhaps Ford didn’t see the need for its aging midsize wagon duo, even though the Cougar sedans and coupes would continue until 1979. The Cougar wagon, thus, is a rare cat and the sheer name debasement of the wagon experiment has meant these have virtually no following. Mercury, inexplicably, would reintroduce a Cougar wagon in 1982, and it too would last only a year.
There are so few Cougar wagons surviving because only 8,569 Cougar Villagers were produced. However, there was an even rarer Cougar for 1977: the base wagon. With only 4,951 produced, it’s almost mythical. The base wagon differed from the Villager in trim, with the former lacking the Villager’s wood-grain siding. Powertrains were the same, though, with your choice of 351 or 400 cubic inch V8s. By choosing the base wagon, you saved $259: MSRP was $5,104.
They didn’t even bother to put the base wagon in the 1977 Cougar brochures, and even the flossier Villager barely received acknowledgement. I thought the lesser wagon had been lost to antiquity until I stumbled across this example on Station Wagon Forums. I can’t verify if it is simply a Villager missing its wood-grain siding, but it seems likely that this is one of the last 1977 base wagons.
A little bit more Google-fu reveals only images from that era: a couple of movie/TV stills from IMCDB, as well as this Canadian magazine ad. Otherwise, what few base wagons were made may as well be Mercury Tasmanian Tigers now.
Chrysler also experimented with a little name debasement of its own, and the result lasted just a year: the 1976 Dodge Charger hardtop and Charger Sport. The first Charger, launched in 1966, was simply a Coronet with a fastback; you could still get a Coronet coupe. This changed in 1971, when Dodge simplified matters: it was a Coronet sedan/wagon or a Charger coupe. The latter had a unique and beautiful body, and scarcely looked like a Coronet. Of course, the trend towards personal luxury coupes could not be properly addressed by the swoopy Charger, and 1975 would see a new body shared with the Chrysler Cordoba atop the existing platform. Mystifyingly, though, the very next year this new Charger “SE” would be joined by a cheaper Charger, differing only in grille from the new “small” Plymouth Fury.
The cheaper Charger would be known as simply Charger and Charger Sport, and they would reintroduce a six-cylinder engine option to the Charger – the venerable 225 cu. In. Slant Six – after a two-year absence. “Turn it on – it’ll do the same for you,” Dodge’s sales brochure implored. The interior as neither as plush as the SE’s nor the exterior as wild as the Daytona, but the new base Charger listed for $3,736, and the Sport with its slightly nicer trim and exterior mouldings was $4,025; this was still $700 cheaper than the SE. A 318 V8 was the only optional engine.
It’s fair to say the Cordoba absolutely annihilated the Charger SE in terms of sales. The best the latter could ever manage in a year was 42k units, while 150k Cordobas were produced in 1975 alone. But these cheaper Chargers couldn’t even best the slow-selling SE: just 22k units were produced for 1976. The experiment was over, and for 1977 the cheap Chargers would return but now wearing Monaco badges.
The Chevrolet Monza enjoys the distinction of being one of the few sub-compacts ever available with four, six and eight cylinder engines; the Monza was initially available with the short-lived 262 V8, as well as the Chevy 305 and a Chevy 350 in California. These big engines were so tightly-packed into the Monza’s tiny engine bay that you needed to loosen the engine mounts and raise the block to get to the rearmost spark plugs. Monzas were fairly successful for Chevrolet, selling at least 70k units a year from its 1975 debut until a final, extended 1980 model year. With the fuel crisis a fresh memory, Buick and Oldsmobile dealers (as well as Pontiac) wanted to get their hands on GM’s stylish new subcompact. But did you know that Oldsmobile’s version, the Starfire, also received an optional V8, as well as garish sport editions?
One would expect Pontiac to receive a V8 option, with its somewhat sporty image (although plenty of Sunbirds came with vinyl roofs and Iron Dukes), but Oldsmobile was a bit more of a surprise. It’s not that the idea of a sporty Oldsmobile was so incongruous–the 442 had been available for years, and it and the Omega SX were available with quite garish tape stripes–but rather, the Starfire had been launched as an economical option for Oldsmobile loyalists and it just hadn’t sold. It was the same story as the Skyhawk, which could sell only 25k units in a good year. The Starfire debuted for 1975, like the Monza, and sold 31k units. Sales would drop each year, except for a small spike in 1979.
As with most GM cars of the 1970s, the Starfire played musical engines. Initially only launched with the Buick 231 V6, 1977 saw the arrival of the revised “Dura-Built” Chevy 140 four. It was replaced in 1978 by the Pontiac’s 151 “Iron Duke”, and joined by the Chevy 305 2-bbl. The Starfire’s only V8 option would last just two model years, being axed for 1980 along with the other V8 H-Bodies to help meet CAFE standards (Ford would also axe the Pinto/Bobcat V6 for 1980 for the same reason). Interestingly, only the Chevy and Pontiac would receive the notchback; surprising, given Oldsmobile/Buick’s more upscale image. The Starfire and Skyhawk shared the same body as the Monza 2+2 but with different grilles, however both models received unique front fasciae for 1979.
Reports on the Starfire’s 0-60 time varied from 11 to 13 seconds, and the V8 only had 140hp and 240 ft-lbs. In contrast, the Iron Duke’s 0-60 was closer to 17 seconds, with 85hp and 123 ft-lbs. Still, you paid the price in fuel economy with the V8 and although there is no breakdown of Starfire production by engine, it’s likely the cheaper V6 outsold it: just 17k units were produced in 1978 and 20k units in 1979. This was despite Oldsmobile offering two sporty Starfires: the GT and the Firenza. The former added full gauges, tape stripes and a standard V6, while the latter added even more garish tape stripes, fender flares and a rear spoiler. Starfires, like their fellow GM H-Bodies, weren’t renowned for their durability or assembly quality and, being cheap cars new, the survival rate isn’t high. Although these V8 Starfires weren’t exactly rockets–in fact, they didn’t even use a Rocket V8–they may well have been all chewed up and spit out by enthusiastic drivers.
Curbsiders, had you forgotten these cars existed or did you never know? Did they all rust away in the mid-1980s, or have you seen one since?