March can be a cruel, crazy month.
Mother Nature teases us with glimpses of sunlight and warmer weather, and thanks to Daylight Saving Time, we’re no longer living in the proverbial dark ages. Car show and race seasons are so tantalizingly close, we can practically taste the fried cheese and assorted carnival fare.
And then, like a bitter California emissions officer, Mother Nature kills our hot-rodding buzz by raining (or snowing) on our parade.
Early March is a great time to start wrenching on your spring projects, planning your show or race schedules, and dreaming up summer road trips before things really heat up at the end of the month. It’s like the old saying goes: “March comes in like a lion and goes out like lamb.” To get you prepared—and to celebrate the arrival of March—we present you with five American rides that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.
Along with the Corvette, Camaro, and Chevelle, few rides conjure up images of Chevy Bowtie power like the Chevrolet Nova. Naturally, those images of power must’ve come from the 1960s and 70s when the Nova offered small and big block power, head-spinning sports packages (see Nova SS at left), and killer performance versions (Yenko Nova).
If you’re flashing back to the 1980s, though, you’d be wowed by an array of four-cylinder, front-wheel drive subcompacts in four-door and hatchback configurations. So much for the big 80s.
So much for the Nova we knew and loved.
Introduced to help celebrate Buick’s 50th anniversary in 1953, the Buick Skylark was born as a Nailhead-powered sports convertible and grew into a muscled- up street machine (see photo at right) during the muscle car heyday of the 1960s and 70s. The Buick Skylark Gran Sport looked right at home prowling the streets with the Chevelles, Novas, GTOs, and 442s of the day.
Somehow, between the 1960s and the late-1990s, the Skylark went from a power-packing Amercan muscle car to a vehicle you’d likely see parked in grandma’s drive—or at the Bingo parlor. Featuring a lineup of four- or six-cylinder engine options (and perhaps a perpetually blinking left turn signal), the final Skylark went out with a “baaa” in 1998.
The first generation Mercury Cougar was offered in V8 options, including the 289, 351W, and 428FE. The final generation of the Cougar came with your choice of a 2.0L or 2.5L powerplant.
The first Cougars were known for combining performance and luxury. The final Cougars were known for gas-sipping practicality.
The first version of the Mercury Cougar was based on the Ford Mustang; the final version was based on the Ford Contour. Checkmate.
The Chevy SSR roared in like a lion for the 2003 model year. The truck—er, sports car…er, convertible—was even one of the darlings of the SEMA Show, which is the automotive aftermarket’s largest trade show. The SSR’s retro styling was hot, and aftermarket manufacturers lined up for a chance to put their own spin on it.
And then it was gone.
The SSR was discontinued following the 2006 model year, and the truck that once seemed to be everywhere could no longer be found.
So how exactly does a car go from Hemi-packing fastback (pictured at left) to terrorizing the backroads of Hazzard County to…front-wheel drive subcompact? Yep, that really happened.
Following a break in production, the vaunted Dodge Charger was reintroduced as the compact, front-wheel drive L-body Charger in the 1980s. Engines like the 318, 426 Hemi, and 440 from earlier models were replaced with 1.7L and 2.2L mills. Good thing we had the General Lee to remind us of the good old days.
Dodge has since restored the Charger’s good name with the latest incarnation of the Charger, but the Dodge engineers were looking mighty sheepish after the Charger went on extended hiatus in the late 1980s.
There are others. Share your thoughts about other vehicles that entered the automotive scene with a bang and then limped off into the sunset. Add your comments below.