21 November 2013

The five most heartbreaking ‘could-have-beens’

The automotive fossil record is littered with cars that were announced with a great deal of promise only to quickly sink into obscurity. Whether it was circumstances, bad luck, a fundamental defect in design or the undercapitalization of the manufacturer, here are five that should have been huge successes:

1964-67 Gordon-Keeble GK1: Perhaps the most heartbreaking of all of the cars on the list, the GK had nearly everything going for it. Great looks (courtesy of a young Giorgetto Giugiaro), good build quality from a maker who aspired to aircraft levels of execution, and perhaps the sweetest pushrod V-8 of all time, the Chevrolet Corvette 5.4-litre. Where most Yank V-8s are rather rev-averse, this one will easily exceed 6,000 RPMs, making the GK a potential Ferrari and Aston beater at a fraction of the running costs. Sadly, the economics just didn’t work, and in spite of at least one attempt to revive the car, fewer than 100 were built.

1979-84 AC 3000ME: AC might still be around and making cars in Thames Ditton if it could have beaten the Maserati Merak, Ferrari 308 GT4 and Lotus Esprit to market handily with this good-looking Essex V-6-powered middie. But changing safety standards delayed its introduction, and by the time it actually debuted, it had been thoroughly overshadowed by the aforementioned. It wasn’t long before the receivers moved in. Just over 100 were built.

1970 Monterverdi Hai 450S: Tiny Swiss company Monteverdi had a potential Miura-killer on its hands with the Hai (German for “shark”). Powered by a NASCAR-developed 7-litre Chrysler Hemi V-8, the Hai had 170 mph-plus potential and fantastic looks (albeit at the expense of aerodynamics and any down force). Unfortunately, buyers were skeptical of a supercar from a tiny Swiss company that cost more than a new Daytona, and ultimately only two were built.

1962-65 Apollo 3500 GT: The Apollo was America’s Gordon-Keeble — a stunning car with great promise that simply sank under the inability of the manufacturer to either price the car correctly or obtain proper financing. Young Californian Milt Brown set out to build a GT to rival the Ferraris and Astons of the day, and he did an amazingly credible job, enlisting former Bertone stylist Franco Scaglione to make it pretty. And although the car is likely a mystery to UK readers, it was powered by a very familiar engine — the aluminium 3.5-litre V-8 developed by Buick and later sold to Rover. Fewer than 70 of these American Ferrari lookalikes were built. Like the Gordon-Keeble, there was an attempt by a wealthy Texan to revive the car that came to naught.

1964 Facel-Vega Facel 6: The Facel 6 was an attempt to salvage something good out of the wreckage that was the Facellia, Facel-Vega’s would-be Mercedes 190SL competitor. The Facellia was powered by one of the most infamous engines of all time, a Pont-a-Mousson-built two main bearing twin-cam unit that was essentially a hand grenade waiting for the pin to fall out (which it inevitably did within 10,000 miles). The 6 was powered by the same 3-litre unit that served the Austin-Healey well, but it was too late to save the car or the company. The lovely little boulevardier had been done in by the reputation of the Facellia. Just 30 were built.

2 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Oliver Edwards Hampshire November 27, 2013 at 13:33
    Spot on. As someone with a love of the small British underdog I adore the Gordon Keeble, and quite fancy a 3000ME. Both the Monteverdi and the Apollo have TVR links, the Hai was designed by Trevor Fiore who did the Trident and the Apollo is linked to the Griffith 600 through that genius engineer Frank Reisner. I am not a big fan of French cars, but I love Facel Vegas.
  • 2
    Norman Purves Brackley Northants November 27, 2013 at 16:51
    Takes me back to my apprentice days .. the boss John Allen owned what was a new Red Gordon Keeble (it was later repainted into dark blue) .. maybe the car in the photo? the car ran rough and the dealer had never fixed it .. so the boss put the car into his factory maintenance department.. Took me two days to change the 8 x spark plugs ( it was not running on all 8 cyls; with shot spark plugs )..spark plugs access from the under side of the car, because of original fitted spark plug heat shields and very restricted room in the engine bay ..lots of cuts on my hands i remember .. first car i ever road tested that would do a proper 100mph and more! .. wow fantastic .. i was about 18 at the time.. petrol was about 5 shillings a gallon then! I looked at a Gordon Keeble @ Tesco Brackley this year and the owner after i asked he open the bonnet ..though i was a off my trolly talking about spark plug heat shields .. Gordon Keeble yes please..

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