Over the years, the General Motors Corporation has come out with some pretty off-beat vehicles, vehicles that shock the public and leave us scratching our heads.
Whenever a company introduces a new vehicle to the public that doesn't quite fit the mold of the companies profile, they are rolling the dice.
Will the new concept appeal to consumers or will it be a production flop?
Here is a list of 10 off-beat vehicles GM put into production, some of which went on to be a staple in the automobile industry, and some that just never had a chance.
'69-'71 COPO Camaro, Nova and Chevelle
General Motors' COPO (Central Office Production Order) division was designed for specialized vehicles. Heavy duty fleet work trucks, taxi cabs, police cars and other fleet type vehicles were all part of this division. But what no one could of imagined was that this division would also be responsible for producing some of the most rarest and bad-ass race cars of all time.
Although still considered production cars, if you wanted a COPO car they had to be ordered from the front office, and they came strictly for drag racing purposes only. The main reason for GM's decision to build and promote these cars was because of their poor competitiveness against their rivals, Ford and Chrysler, at national drag race events. GM looked at this as a huge missed opportunity for advertisement. Drag racing at the time was extremely popular among car guys and not being able to compete did not look good for the company.
Along with the more popular 1969 COPO Camaro, these COPO cars all came equipped with a much more powerful 427 cu. in. motor that would help drive GM back to the top of the drag racing circuits. Today not only are they the rarest of GM's muscle cars, but they are also the most sought-after cars, bringing in huge amounts of money at specialized car auction.
Although GM canceled the program after just a couple of short years, in 2013 they brought it back. GM was set to build 138 brand new COPO Camaros, and just like their predecessors they are all business. These Camaros come from the production line with no title, no Vin#, and can not be registered for public roads. These cars are made for drag racing only and are still being built today.
'66 Oldsmobile Toronado
This interesting looking car was fitted with technology that would eventually become the norm, not just for GM but for all of the American car companies, the front-wheel drive technology. By the mid-80s almost all cars outside of trucks and sports cars were fitted with front-wheel drive. They were said to be easier to drive in bad weather and easier for mechanics to work on.
In 1966 the odd but successful Toronado won the Motor Trend Car of the Year. And in its seven-year production process it became responsible for these other technology innovations:
- (THM425) 400 3-speed automatic heavy-duty Turbo-Hydramatic transmission
- 4-barrel Quadrajet carburetor produced by Rochester – which was used on many muscle cars in the future
- Exhaust manifold flange gaskets that were spherically shaped which provided freedom of movement in the exhaust system and prevented leaks
- A ventilation system that was draft free, this reduced wind noise considerably by eliminating the conventional front-door vent windows
Although it was not the first mass production front-wheel drive car, the 1937 Cord 810 took those honors, it was the first successful mass production front-wheel drive car. Oldsmobile kept the Toronado in production up until May 28, 1992, when the last car rolled off the assembly line in Hamtramck Mi.
The El Camino
It was an odd looking truck slash car with a Spanish name. This particular vehicle was not predicted to do very well. A lot of people probably recognize the El Camino as being part of Chevrolet's division, which is true, but it was actually introduced at the 1954 GM Motorama as a Cadillac. The ideal spent a year with Cadillac as a concept car before being dumped and picked up by Chevrolet in '59. Chevy spent about two years with the odd car and then they discontinued it only to pick it back up again in 1964.
The truck/car actually became a big seller for Chevy, spending the next 13 years in production with great success. So if you look back at its life span, including the year with Cadillac, the Spanish named truck/car ended up being produced for about a total of 15 years.
Even though it's no longer in production, the El Camino is far from a junkyard car. Car enthusiast love these cars for their uniqueness and racers love to soup them up due to the weight factor. Since there are only two front seats and a light rear-end because of the truck like bed in the back, they can be very fun to drive.
'96-'99 General Motors EV-1
Sufficient electric cars have always been a focus for automakers, especially since the California Air Resource Board (CARB) was stiffening their laws. In the mid-90s, if you wanted to market your cars in California you had to have at least one zero-emissions car in your product line-up.
So to qualify, General Motors came out with the EV-1 which was the first mass production electric car produced by any automotive company of the era. It really was nothing more than a test vehicle for GM. They only leased the car out and never gave it a designated division making it the only vehicle GM every made not identified by a division.
Through the years (CARB) loosened their laws and made it okay for companies to market in California if they had a super-low emission car in their product-line such as a hybrid. This gave GM what they wanted, a reason to discontinue the program and get rid of the all too expensive cars.
Since the cars were only available for lease the general public did not own any. So GM crushed all of the remaining cars except for about 21, with one going to the Smithsonian Museum and the other 20 going overseas. GM's cleaning up of these cars makes them the most rarest GM cars to existence these days. But if you do own one, don't expect it to be worth very much, it's not a car that enthusiast want.
'86-'87 Buick Grand National
Buick is often thought of as a grocery-getter, a grandmother's car – dull and boring in style while packing on a lot of extra weight without a lot of power to push them down the road. But in 1984, Buick gave their Regal, their sportiest of cars, a V-6 turbocharged engine and called it a Grand National. It was not the most impressive thing that was being produced at the time and was still overlooked by car enthusiast. Then, in 1986 and '87, Buick gave the Grand National an engine setup that would make it one of the fastest performing American production cars of the decade.
The V-6 turbo intercooled engine setup produced enough power to leave Camaros, Trans Ams and Mustangs way behind in the performance department, and much to everyone's surprise, even the king of all American sports cars, the Corvette, was left behind as well.
What made this so unusually, is the above-mentioned sports cars used the bigger V-8 engine setups, whereas the Buick used a smaller technology-driven V-6. Even odder, you think of fast cars from that era with small cramped cockpits and light frames, but the Buick, on the other hand, was a full-bodied car with plenty of room on the inside to fit five people comfortably. This is why, till this day, most people still call this car the last true muscle car.
1989 20th Anniversary Pontiac Turbo Trans Am
Pontiac decided to do something different for their 20th Anniversary of the Trans Am, something so different that the unveiling of it would leave the public a little dazed and confused.
Pontiac decided to use the Buick Grand National drivetrain to make their special 20th Anniversary Trans Am even more special. It's unconventional but it works, a sports car known for heavy breathing V-8's gets a fuel efficient turbocharged V-6 and turns the Trans Am into one of the most sought-after F-Body cars from the 1980s.
The reasoning behind putting a Buick drive-train in a Pontiac, especially an anniversary edition celebrating the Pontiac Trans Am, has yet to be understood. But one can only expect that Buick did such a good job with the Grand National drivetrain, Pontiac decided to borrow it.
'91-'93 GMC: Syclone and Typhoon
GMC decided it liked Buick's progress so much with the turbo drivetrains they would get in on the action as well. The GMC Sylcone was a truck based off the GMC Sonoma and the Typhoon was based off the GMC Jimmy. GMC hired in a corporation called (PAS) Production Automotive Systems. This company was known for their aftermarket success and went to work to turn the Sonoma and Jimmy into some of the most iconic trucks in GM's history.
What really put these trucks in a class of their own was the rare all-wheel-drive system. Although the all-wheel drive was not a new form of technology at the time, it was considered new to find it on a vehicle that was built for performance. That technology is what made these trucks the fastest production trucks on the planet, and at the time the fastest all-around American made vehicles.
Unfortunately for the PAS company, GM discontinued the program to look into the future of electric cars and focus more on making their sports cars the fastest cars of their fleet. That took most of the business away from the PAS company and they had to close their doors shortly afterwards.
2001-2005 Pontiac Aztek
The Aztek cross-over may be one of GM's worst styling blunders of all-time. Although the Aztek was quite a functional, well-rounded vehicle, the outside looks of it were something that just seemed to plague it from the day GM unveiled it at the North American Auto Show.
The Aztek was designed to target consumers who did not want to drive a mini-van, but still needed the luxury of one. It was also designed to offer people who needed mini-van capabilities, but also some off-road capabilities as well. The only problem was the Aztek did not offer much of any off-road capabilities making it hard to compete with some of Ford and Chrysler cross-overs. The reason why GM allowed this vehicle in production for so long is still a mystery.
'03-'06 Chevrolet SSR
Starting out as a concept and eventually making its way into Chevrolet's product line-up, the SSR was a mix of an old school look with a futuristic twist to it. It was a two-seater truck that looked more like a roadster, and even though it was technically a truck, it was never meant for hauling, it was meant to be fancy.
Unfortunately the price tag and the poor performance of the SSR when it first came out never really gave this cool looking vehicle the success GM thought it deserved. Even though in 2005, GM beefed up the performance with a Corvette drivetrain, experts believe that the vehicle was already doomed from its poor start from the earlier years.
GM claimed the SSR was going to be such a big hit that people would have to spend time on a waiting list just to get one. But that was just not the way things went, some dealerships had a hard time even selling one. After 2006, the SSR was dropped out of production.
2004-Present Day: The Cadillac CTS-V
Outside of a few exterior hop-ups, just by looking at a CTS-V you would not see much to tell you that it was anything other than just an average Cadillac. But, what makes this CTS-V so much more special than any other Cadillac, was Cadillac's decision to put a sports car drivetrain in a luxury car, a first for GM.
A Corvette drivetrain is placed in these Cadillacs in what turned out to be a huge hit for GM. GM originally unveiled it as a special edition car in 2004, but it had such positive potential it's now a regular in the Cadillac product-line. With this particular car, Cadillac proves something that Italian car makers have known for a while, luxury with awesome horsepower is a great combination. In fact, Cadillac made such a big hit with the CTS-V, they now host a whole line of performing Cadillacs called the V-Series.
Every car company has taken its risks, some risks turn out to be gold mines and some end up being nothing more than a money pit. My assumptions for the future: The biggest risks we will end up seeing auto companies making will be the push for the fastest and the most efficient all electric vehicles with self-driving abilities.