Like great artists who never live to see their success or great TV shows that networks cancel after only one season, automakers have been known to kill a great, iconic or just-too-weird-to-die car more than once. In wake of Chrysler Fiat's announcement that it will discontinue the Dodge Caravan minivan (pictured at left), which has been a fixture of suburban American life, here are some other innovative or popular cars that have driven off into the sunset.
—By CNBC's Robert Ferris
Posted 8 May 2014
Mourn the death the beloved American family station wagon, complete with fake wood paneling. First, Chrysler eliminated its classic wood-paneled wagon in favor of a bland suburban minivan. Then, Buick killed its Roadmaster Estate Wagon in 1996.
Some wonder why Ford ever nixed the Ranger. It was a pint-sized pickup good for hauling firewood or going camping, and it was the best-selling truck of its kind in America for years. Perhaps it was competition from models like Toyota's successful Tacoma and/or the surging popularity of four-door and slightly larger mid-size pickups that pushed Ford to end U.S. production of the vehicle in December 2011.
For a few years, Ford whimsically offered the world an American-made production supercar. Capable of going from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, according to Edmunds, the GT was modeled on the old GT40 race cars Ford made in the 1960s. Ford manufactured a little more than 4,000 of these machines from 2004 to 2006 before ending production short of its projected goal of 4,500.
The FJ Cruiser has a bit of a strange appearance—it almost looks like a giant toy. But behind that exterior was a well-made off-road monster that was one of the only real direct alternatives to the unconquerable Jeep Wrangler. FJ Cruisers have 9.6 inches of ground clearance (not much less than the Wrangler Rubicon's 10.3), and can drive through more than 2 feet of water. But sales declined steadily over the years. The 2014 model will be the line's last.
The humble and unassuming Crown Victoria was a favorite of taxi companies and police departments across America. The model ran for 30 years and, unlike many other cars Ford makes, the Crown Vic did not change much. Parts were always available and there were no surprises, which meant fixing them was quick and cheap. That they shared the same chassis and many other parts with the Lincoln Town Car, Mercury Grand Marquis and the Mercury Marauder was an added bonus for customers buying up entire fleets.
They were also sturdy—their large bodies were made with a lot of metal, which meant they were safe in accidents. It also meant the cars drank gas, which is perhaps, in part, what doomed them in a market increasingly concerned with fuel efficiency. The "interceptor" versions cops used came with larger gas tanks and other tweaks that made them much more fierce.
Why Honda killed the S2000 is no mystery—sales declined considerably in its last years. But why sales declined in the first place is a bit of a head scratcher. The S2000 was a fantastic all-around affordable sports car, and seemed to be making everyone's "best of" lists. J.D. Power and Associates consistently ranked it one of the top cars in its class, Jalopnik called it one of the best cars of its decade and Road & Track, Car and Driver and Edmunds all raved about it.
Saab originally made airplanes, and the company brought over many features traditionally found on aircrafts when it started making cars. The Saab 900 was its flagship model. The original 900s that were introduced in 1978 and made for nearly 15 years were unique and innovative. The windshield was deeply curved—as it is on an airplane—to improve visibility on the sides of the car. The company also introduced luminescent gauges on the dashboard for night driving, which was also borrowed from planes. Other features were double-wishbone suspension for a smoother ride and a curved dashboard to allow drivers to reach the controls more easily.
The BMW 8 series was a two-door version of the company's top-of-the-line 7 series sedans, and some of its models could reach the same 155 mph top speed the 12-cylinder 750s attained. Sold throughout the 1990s, these cars were discontinued before the turn of the century.