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Top 10 Dumbest Halo Cars

By definition, a halo car in the auto industry is supposed to beam a positive light, or image, about its maker.

By definition, a “halo” car in the auto industry is supposed to beam a positive light, or image, about its maker.

Or, for more pragmatic reasons, simply get people into empty showrooms filled with less exciting vehicles.

Historically, the Dodge Viper is considered the most successful halo car of all time. It solidified Dodge’s role as Chrysler’s “performance” brand, and drew people into dealers who may have been only interested in a Neon, but wanted to check out the $100,000 hottie.

But, of course, not all halo cars have been seen as gems.

Here, from 10 down to 1, are the Top 10 Dumbest Halo Cars — so far:

10. 2002-2006 Volkswagen Phaeton

The Phaeton luxury sedan was then-VW boss Ferdinand Piech’s attempt to have the People’s Car brand take on the established German luxury automakers.

Sharing a platform with the Audi A8 and Bentley Continental, on its own, the Phaeton was an excellent car.

First, the Phaeton’s VW badge wasn’t worthy enough to get that primo valet parking spot at the golf club. Second, snooty high-end buyers — used to being coddled in exclusive BMW and Mercedes showrooms — had to purchase their Phaetons alongside plebeian Golf buyers.

The result? In the U.S., only 1,433 Phaetons were sold in 2004, and 820 in 2005. 2006 was the last year before VW wisely pulled it from the market.

But wait: Proving the definition of insanity (look it up), VW plans to reintroduce the Phaeton to North America.

9. 1991-1994 Jaguar XJ 220

Originally born to compete against other late-1980s supercars like the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959, the Jaguar XJ 220 may go down as one of the most botched-up halo cars of all time.

The car was officially announced in 1989 with a V12 engine, all-wheel-drive and the promise of a top speed of 220 mph (hence the name). And when an F40 sold for $400,000, Jaguar wanted $580,000 (all U.S. dollars).

By the time Jaguar got around to actually making the cars in 1992, though, the XJ 220’s engine had been castrated to a turbocharged V6, while AWD drive had reverted to RWD only.

And — this is the best/worst part — the car’s price had gone up by another $70,000.

Oh, and officially, the XJ 220 only ever got to 217 mph.

8. 1978-1981 Volvo 262C Bertone Coupe

Desperate to shed its “safety car” image, Volvo put the call into famous Italian design house Bertone to produce a new halo car: the 262C.

Hopefully Volvo didn’t pay Bertone too much for this quickie chop job.

Because 85 per cent of the regular 262 sedan’s structure was kept, Bertone only had to modify the roof, upper doors, and windshield.

Unfortunately, the end result looked like a Volvo that didn’t survive a rollover test.

Or a Lincoln Mark-whatever pimpmobile. You pick.

7. 1991-1997 Subaru SVX

Here’s the reason Subaru doesn’t do halo cars anymore: Just look at company’s first (and only) lame attempt at the GT coupe market:.

Like Volvo, Subaru went to Italy for styling help. This time, to Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign. Unfortunately, Giugiaro only had so much to work with.

Compared to other Japanese halo cars of the time, like the Acura NSX, Mazda RX-7 or Toyota Supra Turbo, the big and heavy Subaru was a dog when it came to on-road performance and handling.

Its most distinguishing feature, the mail-slot side windows, were a pain at drive-throughs.

Subaru intended to sell 10,000 SVXs each year. No surprise, it never managed to sell more than half that.

6. 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird

First seen as a concept in 1999, the 11th-generation Thunderbird was a halo car that should never have left the glare of its auto show stand. The car did nothing to help Ford’s image, other than, at the time, prove the automaker was fresh out of new ideas.

Based on shortened Lincoln LS rear-drive chassis, the two-seat T-Bird was slow in a straight-line and sloppy in the corners. A soft suspension made the car wiggle and jiggle over bad pavement like a Lincoln Town Car.

After Ford sold the car to anyone old enough to remember the original 1950s version, T-Bird sales predictably fell off a cliff. The car suffered on for only three more years.

5. 2001-2002 Lincoln Blackwood

Remember the F-150-in-pinstripes Lincoln Blackwood? Most Ford execs of the time wish you couldn’t.

With less than 4,000 examples pushed out the door, Lincoln’s $52,500 Escalade wannabe was on sale for all of 15 months.

Why? Ford said it couldn’t make the original Blackwood concept’s fancy-pants, carpeted bed liner meet their “stringent” production standards.


I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact you could only buy a Blackwood in “black” (Henry would have loved that,) there was no four-wheel-drive option, or the box could barely hold a case of gun shells, a six-pack and a stick of chew.

4. 2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR

Obviously the Chevy people missed the Blackwood incident.

How else can you explain why the automaker would produce a two-seat, retractable hardtop convertible pickup?

“There are three reasons we decided to build the SSR. First, it’s pretty cool, a halo vehicle for Chevrolet. Second, journalists all said we should build it. Third, Rick [GM chairman Wagoner] said we should build it,” Bowtie exec Tom Wallace told AutoWeek at the time.

Ah, of course. Blame the journalists.

Needless to say, the $42,000 SSR sold like bikinis in Thunder Bay in mid-February.

At least you could have ordered an SSR in colours other than black.

3. 1997, 1999-2002 Plymouth Prowler

Plymouth should have been working on small, fuel-efficient and well-made family cars to take on the Japanese or Koreans.

But instead, we got the Prowler: a modern take on the classic ’32 Ford bucket hot rods. Perfect.

Like the T-Bird, the two-seat Prowler (based on the 1993 concept car of the same name) was an attempt at cashing in on Boomer nostalgia.

But a weak V6 and a four-speed automatic didn’t exactly live up to its “hot rod” image.

Prowler owners love their cars. But as a halo car for Plymouth, the Prowler wasn’t enough to prevent the brand from disappearing in 2001.

2. 1987-1993 Cadillac Allanté

The Allanté was a halo car to restore Cadillac as a premium luxury brand by taking on the likes of other luxury roadsters, like the rear-drive Mercedes-Benz 560 SL. But like most ideas from Detroit during this era, things didn’t work out as planned.

Instead of casting a positive light on the brand, the Allanté was proof of General Motors’ inept financial management and myopic product planning.

How’s this for cost effectiveness: the body of the Allanté was designed and built in Italy by Pininfarina. Then finished bodies were flown in 747s (56 at a time) to Detroit for final assembly.

It also didn’t help that the front-drive Allanté was overpriced (about $60,000), a pig in the corners, and slow.

Over the course of five years, GM managed to fool over 20,000 people to buy an Allanté. God bless each and every one of you.

No. 1 Dumbest Halo Car — 1989-1991 Chrysler TC by Maserati

The TC by Maserati was supposed “to change the way the world looked at Chrysler” and to create a new image for the automaker. But like the Allanté, the complete opposite effect happened.

Clothing a front-drive K-car chassis with a two-seat convertible body, designed and built by Maserati, must have seemed like a good idea by somebody. Somewhere.

First, it took the American-Italian partnership five years to get the car to market. And the wait definitely wasn’t worth it.

At least the Allanté had a V8. A Chrysler four-banger with a Maserati cylinder head powered the TC. It drove like the LeBaron Convertible-in-Italian-drag it was, poorly made and unreliable.

And the buying public, who quickly saw through the cynicism, wasn’t buying it.

Over 30,000 were planned, but only 7,300 TCs were ever built before it was cancelled in 1991.

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