Six Cars That Could’ve Made It

Always root for the underdogs.

By Blake Z. Rong | October 22, 2012
"I coulda been a contender," said Brando, and indeed these cars could’ve been too. Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. But for reasons beyond the padded salaries of product planning executives, they didn’t, and now you, Mister or Miss Enterprising And Savvy Consumer, can pick one up for cheap. Are they bad cars? Well, they’re no class leaders. But will they lower your social standing in front of your neighbors, or give you an embarrassing rash in an area of your body that only your general practitioner knows about? No. So, instead, let’s use the phrase "under-appreciated." Spurred by the glorious, unyielding force of nature that is depreciation, these cars are great bargains, serving their intended functions as well as when they were new. And just think—if you squirrel them away in your parents’ Upstate New York bungalow for 50 years, as old cars are wont to turn up, they’ll be worth up to $2,500 dollars on Future Ebay. And isn’t that worth it?

Ford Freestyle/Taurus X

X marks the spot, which is where pirates and late-'80s rappers claim is where all the booty is hiding. The Ford Freestyle--later known as the Taurus X--had a pretty big booty itself, sufficient for any amount of heavy pirate lucre, but it did more hiding than being discovered by consumers. Ford called it a "crossover," simply because they raised the suspension to clear a Juicy Juice box and because crossovers were reaching Tamagotchi-levels of popularity. It's like calling yourself an actor because someone gave you a Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles T-shirt. The Freestyle didn’t fare any better when its Mountain-Dew-inspired name was changed to the dramatic-sounding "Taurus X," which seemed to recall pornography and a long-running 1990s conspiracy drama at the same time. Which is a shame. Because a roomy, practical car is a roomy, practical car, no matter what inane moniker it’s saddled with. And the FreeTaurus X pleasantly anonymous styling is coupled with decent driving manners and, oh yeah, that commodious cargo hold.

Volkswagen Phaeton

Volkswagen may own a good chunk of the world’s most esteemed luxury brands, but that didn’t stop it from building the Phaeton—its schizophrenic response to the Volkswagen Group's own Audi A8, manifested in a convoluted attempt to compete with itself. What’s the point of a luxury car, Americans asked themselves, if it doesn’t convey a sense of holier-than-thou snobbery with it? Besides, they have better coffee at the Audi showrooms—French roasted, in those fancy Keurig machines. Well, the same people that eschewed the materialistic realm and the fancy coffee and bought a Phaeton are now looking to make you a deal. Did you know the Phaeton came with a 12-cylinder engine—the same one in the Bentley Continental GT, where the coffee is even fancier? Real Arabica beans and all that. The Phaeton is by any measure a sumptuous machine: deceptively smooth, dubiously reliable, and styled anonymously but handsomely, in case you drive past a disgruntled and displaced Occupy protestor that’s still hanging on. Plus, that engine. Plus, the vents disappear behind wooden slats when you turn it off. It's like Kopi Luwak for the price of Folger’s.

Suzuki Grand Vitara

We could probably put the entire Suzuki lineup here. But that would be too cruel, like stomping on a daddy longlegs after you’ve already whacked it with a newspaper. Instead, the Suzuki Grand Vitara remains one of the last proper, body-on-frame compact SUVs of yore—the sort that used to roam the countrysides of America, packing V-8s and thrilling names like Blazer, Bronco, and Scout. The Grand Vitara lacks much of the hyper-outdoorsman appeal of the aforementioned SUVs, but it does come with the same sort of durable underpinnings that made the Samurai cool among the Consumer Reports-illiterate. And if you can find a Suzuki dealer anywhere on the West Coast, they’ll practically beg you to take one off their hands before their showroom gets paved over for a Del Taco.

Lexus SC 430

Ho boy, here's a point of contention. Car enthusiasts hated this car when it was around. They derided it as a Beverly Hills Taxi, a lumbering, obnoxious leather-ensconced barge, driven by Paris-Hiltonites with yappy dogs and a disdain for reality. Its longevity only allowed our disdain to simmer. But how little car enthusiasts know. The SC 430 still captivated with its folding metal hardtop, its literal topper and well worth the $60,000 price when new. Today, you can pick one up for around the price of a Kia Rio. But, a caveat: if you keep the car for long, be prepared to express befuddlement at this rectangular slot in the dashboard known as a "cassette player," as the SC 430 was the last production car to feature such a device.

Pontiac GTO

What kind of country do we live in when a big honkin’ 365 cubic-inch two-door coupe with a vee-bloody-eight garners barely any attention? A country that’s managed to successfully divorce itself from the era when our highest leader appeared on prime-time variety shows. The Pontiac GTO failed not because it was lacking in power or noise, but because some people thought it needed more hood scoops, screaming chickens, eight-foot wings, gold wheels, or other assorted filigree to reflect a sufficient level of redneck credibility. In doing so, they killed a great car and therefore doomed any chance we’d ever get of another V-8, rear-wheel drive car imported from Australia, inexplicably the last bastion of the V-8 and the rear-wheel drive mainstream cars. Which means you can pick one up for real cheap, if you can find one.

Pontiac G8

The poor Pontiac sold as well as 50 Cent in Branson, Missouri, but it lives on: in one way or another. Its Holden matriarch has been rebranded as a Chevy Caprice, which can only be bought by police and government agencies. Ignored during its prime, the Pontiac G8 really only found popularity after its brand had been discontinued in 2009. Three variants were available--V-6, V-8 powered GT, and the Corvette-engined GXP with its standard six-speed manual--with the GXP having the possible added bonus of actually becoming collectible someday, considering that it was basically Pontiac's high-performance swan song.
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