(first posted 2/8/2016) One of Australia’s oldest and most popular car magazines, Wheels, recently published an article with renderings and photographs of clay mock-ups of several Zeta-based Holden Commodore derivatives that were in development. One was a crossover SUV, the Nullarbor, which would have likely been a huge success; the other two were a more rakish ute and a planned production version of the Coupe 60 concept, pictured above, which would have replaced the Monaro (aka Pontiac GTO). The article is definitely worth a read, but the Nullarbor and its kin were not the only cars to be mooted for production before being shelved.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Nullarbor would be a peculiar name for a crossover SUV, even if it wasn’t to be a hardcore off-roader. Why? Well, this is the Nullarbor Plain, the cancelled crossover’s namesake. It is a flat expanse of nothingness. Naming a crossover after this would be like Jeep launching an SUV called the Kansas.
Speaking of the Holden Commodore, the Pontiac G8 sedan was to be joined in North America by rebadged versions of the Commodore wagon and ute. The wagon plan was dropped fairly quickly, given the unpopularity of station wagons. However, the ute – which would have been GM’s first car-based pickup since the death of the Chevrolet El Camino and GMC Caballero in 1987 – was an idea that had traction. Scheduled to be launched in 2009 as a 2010 model, the G8 ute would have come with only the 361 hp, 385 ft-lb 6.0 V8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
GM was serious about bringing the ute over, even as the dollar weakened and GM’s financial situation spiralled downwards. In 2008, a competition was launched on the Pontiac website to name the G8 ute that had been given the placeholder title of “ST”, or Sport Truck. The winner of the competition? ST, or Sport Truck.
Although it had been twenty years since the El Camino and the niche’s commercial viability was unknown, GM evidently thought there was a sufficient business case to be made. The G8 ST would have been aimed at young, active types who wanted something with acceptable load-carrying capacity but also a truck that was fun to drive. The payload was around 1300 pounds with a towing capacity of 2000 pounds; the bed was 73.9 inches long. As Holden has seen in Australia, the Commodore Ute had become increasingly popular in performance trims; in essence, it was much like a two-door coupe but with a lot more practicality. Unfortunately, GM’s financial problems killed the launch plans and the Pontiac division altogether. GM would eventually relaunch the Commodore, in heavily revised VF form, as the Chevrolet SS but any hopes of an El Camino revival were dashed.
The idea of a Pontiac “El Camino” had been floated before. Here is a picture of a Grand Am/El Camino hybrid developed by General Motors…
…and a similar idea from 20 years prior, the 1959 “El Catalina” prototype. Bunkie Knudsen rejected the proposal after seeing slow sales of the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino, but a working prototype was manufactured and changed hands a few times, before eventually being restored. Hemmings Classic Car published a feature on the El Catalina.
This photograph is of a planned coupe version of the Eagle Premier, known as the Eagle Allure. A wagon was also planned, as was a five-speed manual transmission for the AMC 2.5 four-cylinder engine. But the coupe actually reached the clay mock-up stage as this photograph shows. Although fairly far along in development and planned for a 1989 launch, the Allure was cancelled when Chrysler purchased American Motors Corporation in 1987. This was a shame as it would have given Eagle another unique product – although the Premier proved to be a slow seller – and thus fleshed out the lineup somewhat. Instead, the Eagle exercise was mostly bungled and a missed opportunity.
Much like Chrysler didn’t know what to do with Eagle, Ford didn’t seem to have a clue what to do with Mercury. And if you need proof of this assertion, I submit as proof the Mercury Magellan and the proposed reintroduction of the Mercury Tracer. The Magellan was presaged by the Meta One concept. Effectively, Mercury’s first full-size crossover was to be a lightly restyled version of the Ford Freestyle. Although this seems like unnecessary duplication, the Meta One concept at least featured unique front and rear styling, which was more than could be said for many contemporary Mercury models that differed from their respective Fords only in taillight lenses and grilles. Ford announced there would be no Mercury version of the Freestyle, before changing their minds, and then finally changing their minds again and deciding the Freestyle would remain a Ford exclusive.
The Magellan would have been a compelling offering had it featured the Meta One’s powertrain, but that would have been highly implausible as the Meta One concept was powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 diesel engine with an electric motor. Ultimately, Mercury received no crossover beyond the compact Mariner despite the format soaring in popularity.
After the Magellan was scrapped, Ford contemplated turning Mercury into a marque specializing in premium compact offerings. The first step in this process was axing the slow-selling Sable (née Montego). The second step was to dust off the Tracer nameplate for a restyled version of the 2011 Ford Focus. Ford executives confirmed these plans in early 2010. Just a few months later, the shuttering of the brand was announced for 2011. Those holding out hope for a distinctly differentiated Tracer would likely have been disappointed; unlike the later, similarly-themed Buick Verano, which was completely different inside and out from its Chevrolet Cruze platform-mate, the Tracer would probably have shared most sheetmetal with the Focus.
There are many more stillborn vehicles from throughout automotive history whose stories will be told, as well as some cancelled projects for which little or no information exists, like this Oldsmobile-badged Corvair. Until next time.