5 Cars That Used to Be Way Cooler Than You Realized
Sometimes, when carmakers introduce a new model, it's the automotive equivalent of the color beige: totally inoffensive, reliable, and easy to sell, but doesn't exactly set any hearts on fire. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you've got cars that are so far beyond the scope of rational practicality, they're locked into a niche enthusiast market for automotive eternity.
And then, there are cars like these -- the ones that used to be cool. They started out as righteous, badass, innovative, or at least intrinsically interesting automobiles -- before ultimately descending into bland ubiquity, blending into the beige wasteland of our roads. Everyone remembers the Chevy Impala and its oh-so-1950s flair (shown above; for comparison, it, uh, looks like this now). But what about the ones whose heyday no one remembers?
Prepare yourself: this is like finding out your socks-and-sandals-wearing dad was captain of the football team.
Even as you read this, vintage Datsun enthusiasts the world over are becoming agitated at seeing a classic 510 listed as a Maxima. The Datsun 510 -- legendary today for its diminutiveness -- steadily grew in size throughout the 1970s, first into the 610, then the 810, then finally the 910, by which point it was sold in the US as... the original Nissan Maxima.
Oh. My. God. Buick! Look at those tailfins! They're just so... big! I want to take this overly forced Sir Mix-A-Lot analogy further, but, honestly, LeSabre was at its absolute worst when it achieved full roundness at the turn of the century. From its 1959 debut through the '60s, it had an abundance of character, with an edge. The late 1970s brought around a much smaller version that nevertheless could fit quite a few smaller cars in its trunk. But 1986 saw the start of a 20-year descent that even Buick's current personnel has to admit was painful to watch.
It's difficult to describe just how cool a fender-mounted mirror is. Maybe it's something about its form-follows-function nature -- you don't have to move your entire head just to check it, after all -- that lends the car an inherently sporting feel. The Corolla had many variants in its earlier days, from bona-fide 2+2 coupes with rear-wheel drive and manual transmissions, to station wagons, and even to the low-calorie sedans that unwittingly laid the groundwork for Toyota's now-50-year-old stalwart.
Fun fact: the original Malibu wasn't a family sedan. Hell, it wasn't even a car. As an optional package on the Chevelle, it represented the top of the lineup. When the Chevelle nameplate met its date with the history books, Malibu graduated to become its very own mid-sized car... then died a few years later, only to be revived in the 1990s as the front-wheel-drive family car you know today.
The Taurus might be somewhat of an outlier here. So overwhelming was its original intent to become a sedan for the masses, that market research dictated entire swaths of the decision-making process. Yet... the car sparked a revolution in the industry, with innovations like flush-mounted headlights and some legitimately good aerodynamics for its day, thanks to a radiator that took air in from the bottom, instead of the middle of the front. It handled well, too, and a performance variant, the SHO, came a couple years later to fight against the likes of the BMW M5s of the world. When the time came to develop a second-generation Taurus, Ford tapped a pre-existing partnership with Jackie Stewart, who worked with engineers to help fine-tune the car.
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