The course of automotive history has run parallel with that of 20th century industrialization in America in more ways than one. One of those ways is through the introduction of words that provide a shorthand for discourse. For a couple of generations of Americans all that was needed to describe something as hopelessly outdated the very moment it became available was to refer to it as an Edsel. The Ford Edsel is certainly the most famous flop in American automotive history, but hardly the only example of a vehicle being released at a date not exactly coincident with its destiny of positivity.
One of the weirdest-looking cars of all time, the AMC Pacer represented the death knell for a company that itself would soon be place in the dusty archives. The Pacer was ugly, but that was only half its problem. It was supposed to arrive with a more energy-efficient rotary engine. Combine the unpleasant aesthetics with no return on gas efficiency and there just wasn’t a place for the Pacer in 1970s America. I would argue that the styling of the Pacer placed onto an efficient electric engine would give this car a chance to redefine its destiny as the Edsel of the Me-Decade.
If a movie had been made in which the Edsel was turned into a time travel machine, perhaps it would not still be the poster boy for crappy American cars nobody wanted and the DeLorean would have taken its place. Take “Back to the Future” out of the picture and the DeLorean loses all its coolness. Literally. I mean, seriously, can you imagine driving around in a stainless steel car in the age of global warming? It would be like driving around in a pizza oven if the air conditioning ever went out. I have conducted an in-depth study of John DeLorean life between coming up with his car and going down into CEO scam history, but I refuse to believe that he ever for a minute planned for this thing to be manufactured in any way that could even come close to being described with the term mass. If he ever had any plans to actually build it, you have to imagine it was on a small scale for all his (alleged, of course) rich white collar criminal friends.
Not only is the Pontiac Aztek the 21st century philosophical offspring of the Edsel, but it is a lesson in not learning from history. The Edsel failed in part because it was a huge throwback to an era already on its slow march to death. The Aztek was uglier than the Pacer and managed to be offensive to those looking for a car instead of an SUV as well as those looking for an SUV instead of a car. The Aztek’s idea of a crossover hybrid that combines a car and SUV is not without merit from a theoretical perspective, but in reality it does seem quite pointless. Even the pointlessness of trying to make a car into an SUV and an SUV into a car would probably not have been enough to turn the Aztek into our own Edsel, however, if only the thing had not been one of the ugliest cars….or SUVs…to ever appear on American roads.