Best Muscle Cars

Retro Muscle Car Failures

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Americans are known around the world for having a closer relationship with cars than any other country. We own more cars, we drive more, and we are more passionate about our vehicles. Many Americans have a soft spot for a special vehicle—their first car, their parent’s family car, or a car they always dreamed of having—which is why classic auto auctions are so successful.

The American auto companies recognize this and often try to tempt buyers with a modern remake of a classic favorite. While many of these retro models are just as beloved as the originals, there have been some, through the years, that have just fallen flat. We’ll take a look at some of our favorite retro failures.

What Makes a Retro Car?

To define a retro remake, we first have to define a classic car. While the exact definition varies depending on whom you ask, or even where you are, there is a Classic Car Club of America that gives a good explanation. They even keep a list of cars that are eligible for “classic” status as long as they are preserved in their original, unmodified state. They define a classic car as a fine or distinctive automobile produced between 1915 and 1948.

While many American favorites were built after 1948, the terms “fine” and “distinctive” can apply to plenty of vehicles produced in later years. Popular opinion factors into the equation as well. The cars that people still want to buy are elevated to classic, collector status. That leaves us to define retro. If you’re a dictionary purist, retro means “imitative of a style from the recent past.”

So, anything that makes you feel a little nostalgic or revives an old style can be retro. These cars on our list definitely aimed for that goal but missed their marks by more than just a little.


Ford Thunderbird

Probably the most widely recognizable retro remake failure, the Ford Thunderbird draws looks of horror from every classic car enthusiast. The rounded styling fails to evoke the iconic mid-century look that made the Thunderbird a true American icon. That rounded look didn’t age very well, leaving it sitting on used car lots and headed to junkyards far before other early 2000s models.

The lackluster performance doesn’t help, either. Ford went the comfortable route, turning the candy-colored T-bird into a beach cruiser rather than a drag racer. The first model year in 2002 had relatively strong sales, but it dropped off steeply after the die-hard Thunderbird fans had all bought their rides. Ford put the revived bird out of its misery after just three years of production.


Dodge Charger

The Charger may be a commercial success, but, in the eyes of anyone who loves classic cars, it is an epic failure. But it really is not the fault of the car itself. The styling is appropriately retro—evocative of the classic muscle car without being a re-creation. The performance packages are even up to expectations.

The stumbling blocks of this vehicle are twofold: the underwhelming performance in the base models and its adoption by police forces around the country. The spirit of American muscle cars is somehow outside the law, breaking the rules. So, the last thing the Charger needs is to be adopted as the vehicle of choice by thousands of police officers. These cars are still rolling out of the factories and being bought up by the boys and girls in blue, but not by many others.


Chevrolet SSR

If you blinked in the early 2000s, you probably missed this short-lived Chevy flop. The concept really made sense. Chevy is known for creating the iconic American truck, so why wouldn’t a retro version be a best seller? Unfortunately, the designers tried to go in a few too many directions when they conceived the SSR. The classic truck styling is great, but the addition of a convertible top leaves us mystified.

The chassis is a conundrum as well. They placed that heavy truck body on their lightweight Trailblazer chassis, and the performance just wasn’t there. The price tag might have been the nail in the coffin. Classic car enthusiasts just didn’t want to drop $50,000 on a sluggish, lumbering toy. Chevy pushed these oddball trucks through three model years—and then dropped them right off the assembly line.

Plymouth/Chrysler Prowler

The Prowler leaves us scratching our heads. This has the sleek looks and classic styling that should have made it a success! Maybe because it was the last new Plymouth model before the death of the brand, but this excellent vehicle design just never got the attention it deserved for the designers and engineers.

As unimaginable as it seems, this sleek machine was only ever built with a V6 under the hood with an automatic transmission that never topped 260 horsepower. It wasn’t a comfortable ride, either, with a rough suspension that prevented anyone from using the convenient cup holders. While the unique design was definitely eye-catching, it was nowhere near practical. Chrysler recognized the absurdly small trunk space and tried to compensate by offering a $5,000 option to purchase the vehicle with a matching trailer. Like we said—a true head-scratcher.

Chevrolet HHR

You may be surprised to know that HHR does not, in fact, stand for “Humongous Heap of Rubbish” because that’s really what it seems to be. That’s before you realize that Chevy’s worst crime is that it tried to copy the horribly successful Chrysler PT Cruiser.

The Chevy Heritage High Roof (yes, that’s the real name) was even designed by the same person as the PT Cruiser. The strange SUV-wagon hybrid actually made better-than-mediocre sales in its first couple of years, but it never achieved the success for which the company was hoping.

It became a popular choice among handymen and plumbers—not the retro icon they were aiming to create. The cult following never developed, even after staggering through six years of production.

Final Thoughts

If you own and love one of these classic car remakes, we sincerely apologize for bashing your ride. But, honestly, you have to admit the car companies did not put their best effort forward on these less-than-outstanding retro models. Whether the shortcoming was the styling, performance, or just a combination of underwhelming features, these well-intentioned retro models are consigned to cautionary tales of automotive failures.

These five models are, by no means, the only missteps in retro remakes, but we feel they are some of the most visible disasters that everyone loves to hate. But the companies can take heart—none of these flops are quite as notorious as the fabled Ford Edsel.


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