Most of the time, the automotive world doesn’t serve up a Godfather II, the rare sequel that is the equal or better of the original.
(Sometimes, of course, you get Godfather III.)
Here are the Top 5 cars that today are regarded as classics in their own right, but initially had a hard time living up to the legacy of their predecessors:
1. 1958 Thunderbird
The original two-seater 1955-57 Thunderbirds – or “Baby Birds” – were recognized as classics almost as soon as they went out of production. They were replaced by a larger four-seater that came to be known as “The Square Bird.” While the Square Bird was an immensely popular car that handily outsold its predecessor, the original two-seater remains the one that most people think of when the topic of T-Birds comes up.
2. 1979 Datsun 280ZX
The 280ZX had the misfortune of following one of the all-time greatest classic sports cars, the Datsun 240/260/280Z. And it also committed the cardinal sin in the eyes of sports car enthusiasts (although not necessarily in the eyes of the buying public) of being heavier and more luxurious.
It was derided by the magazines of the time as being a flashy “discomobile” and collectors are only now starting to realize the merits of the comfy and more grownup ZX.
3. 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado
The first generation Toronado that appeared in 1966 was a stylistic and engineering tour de force. Reminiscent of the great classic Cord 810 of 1936, it was a milestone car for GM. Hardly anyone remembers its successor, the second generation Toronado.
Where the ’66 broke the mold, the ’71 was the mold for generic American luxury cars of the 1970s.
4. 1976 Jaguar XJS
This one had the extreme misfortune of replacing one of the most beautiful cars of all time, the Jaguar E-Type. So naturally, people were predisposed to hate it when it came out. Other than initial quality control issues, which have become legendary, the XJS was neither a bad nor ugly car — quite the contrary.
But for Jaguar, lightning just couldn’t strike twice: There was simply no way that the XJS could be as lovely as the E-Type.
5. 1974 Ford Mustang II
The early 1970s were dark times for the automobile. The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 put the brakes on large displacement high performance engines. What was Ford to do about cars like the Mustang, whose reputation was built on V-8 performance? Replace it with a four-cylinder version based on the Pinto, of course. Although V-6s and V-8s were offered, it was the sting of the anemic four-banger that stuck with the II until Ford replaced it in 1979 with what would become the very good and very popular Fox body Mustang.