The End of the Line:
Ten Vehicles Going Away
by the Editors of Carpoint
It is quite a year. At least ten automotive nameplates, including famous ones like the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, Lincoln Continental and Cadillac Eldorado, are going out of production after the 2002 model year—a number so high even an auto analyst and a classic car magazine editor call this an unusual period.
Typically, only a few models die off in any given year. But there "is a bit of a spring-cleaning year," said Jeff Schuster, director of North American forecasting and product analysis for Westlake Village, Calif.-based J.D. Power and Associates. "It's a little more than normal, a little bit unusual."
Auto analyst Chris Cedergren of Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Nextrend said the activity "is a reflection of changing market conditions, and the changes in the market have been more dramatic than in the past."
Changing Consumer Tastes
All the models but one—the Lincoln Blackwood—are cars, and their demise comes as Americans increasingly buy sport-utility vehicles, trucks and so-called crossover vehicles rather than cars.
All the end-of-the-line vehicles—ranging from the Camaro to Oldsmobile Intrigue—have posted disappointing sales.
"In the heyday of the Camaro, we were selling a couple hundred thousand a year," said Camaro brand manager Rick Baldic. "In the last few years, we've been selling 40,000 to 50,000."
Production of the Eldorado, which dates back to 1953, peaked in 1984 when 77,806 coupes and convertibles were built. By 2000, only 11,918 Eldorado coupes were produced.
Production of most of the dying models will halt by the end of summer, meaning buyers wanting one of these vehicles better act fast.
One model, the Chrysler Prowler, ended production in February 2002. But a company spokesman said the nationwide supplies of new, unsold Prowlers were expected to last for several months based on expected sales patterns.
Another soon-to-be-ended model, the Lincoln Blackwood, will halt production by early in calendar 2003 after just barely one year on the market. As a result, some dealer ads are touting the Blackwood—a luxury four-door vehicle with a luxury-appointed pickup bed at the back—as a "limited edition" vehicle.
Petitions Don't Stop Camaro End
Auto enthusiasts have mixed emotions about the production shutdowns.
"I'm sure the Continental is going to be missed, and the Eldorado," said Hemmings Motor News executive editor Richard Lentinello, who called the departure of so many nameplates at a single time "unusual.
Many Camaro enthusiasts are unhappy that the 35-year-old all-American muscle car will be no more.
"The demise of the car has been long rumored," Baldic, Camaro's brand manager, said. "With the Internet being so popular today, there have been 'save the Camaro' campaigns that have had petitions. We've read every last one of them."
But the reality is sales are slow, historically speaking, and "this is a fast-paced industry [where] the car side of the business" is changing, Baldic said. He added that buyers "have aged a little bit. Camaro buyers are kind of in their mid 40s [now]. A lot of them just have fond memories of their first Camaro."
Still, research has shown that Camaro "is the fifth most recognized nameplate in the industry," he said. But asked if the Camaro will return at a later time, all Baldic would say is "You can never say never, but we don't have any current plans to return with the car."
Because the Firebird shares its platform and Ste. Therese, Quebec, Canada, assembly line with the Camaro, it also is ending production.
No Tears for Cougar
Some Mercury Cougar fans aren't upset about the shutdown of Cougar production. After all, they have seen it before. Cougar production ended at the end of the 1997 model year as Ford Motor Co. decided to revamp the Ford Thunderbird. At the time, the Thunderbird shared its platform with the Cougar.
Cougar skipped just one model year, 1998, before it reappeared on the market as a smaller coupe offered with a four- or six-cylinder engine. "It was a front-wheel-drive car with no V8, so it wasn't the same thing," said Scott Ferguson, president of the Cougar Club of America. . . . There are some enthusiasts who think that basically the Cougar died in 1973."
Jim Karamanis, president of the Delmarva Cougar Club that represents Cougar enthusiasts in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, agreed, saying the end of the current-generation Cougar "honestly doesn't matter much. In our opinion, the car hasn't been a Cougar since 1972, '73."
Launched in 1966 as a 1967 model, the early Cougars "had the style of a Jaguar and the punch of a muscle car; that's what made them so special," Karamanis said.
Besides, he added, some Cougar club members have been recently contacted by Ford officials asking for opinions about a possible future Cougar. Indeed, "the Cougar will probably come back in about four or five years on the next Mustang platform," Cedergren said. Cougar's brand manager Mike Sprague declined to comment about future product plans, saying "I'm not at liberty to say" whether the Cougar will return again.
Cedergren said he expects the Eldorado "will probably be reincarnated," too.
And while GM's vice chairman, Bob Lutz, chided a member of the media in spring 2002 who bemoaned the loss of the Camaro—Lutz asked the fellow where he was when Camaro sales were falling—the Camaro name may be back, too.
Noting "that name carries a lot of weight" among consumers, Schuster said, "I wouldn't be surprised to see a Camaro replacement of some sort down the road."
Anniversary/Collector Editions Offered
Just because a car is going away doesn't mean its last year is routine. Several of this year's outgoing models, including the Eldorado, Camaro, Cougar and Continental, are offered in special editions that are built in limited numbers.
For example, Cadillac built 1,596 Collector Series 2002 Eldorados as part of the Eldorado's last assembly sequence.
The limited-production cars come in either Alpine White or Aztec Red, which are two original paint colors from the Eldorado's first model year, as well as seven-spoke chrome wheels and a retuned exhaust designed to emulate the original 1953 car. For collectors, these models include a plate on the instrument panel stating the car's production number, as in "1 of 1596."
"It was such a flagship vehicle, it seemed like a good last hurrah for it," a Cadillac spokeswoman said. She added that the large Eldorado coupe is, unfortunately, "in a shrinking market segment. [As an automaker,] you have to go with what customers are interested in."
There are 35th Anniversary Edition Camaro coupe and convertible models this year, and a 35th Anniversary Edition Cougar is limited to 3,000 units, too.
Lincoln offers 2,000 Continental Collector's Edition cars that include even more luxury touches than found in regular 2002 Continentals. And Chrysler painted its final 300 Prowlers in Deep Candy Red, a color which had never been offered before.
It's "a color that will be instantly recognizable in the hot rod community," said Tom Marinelli, vice president of Chrysler/Jeep Global Brand Center.
It's not just any Deep Candy Red, either. Marinelli said the paint uses new technology "in its pearl coat that will actually make the car sparkle in bright light."
Collectibility Can Depend on Volume
Just because a car is wrapping up production doesn't mean it's going to be an instant—or future—classic.
Jeffrey Broadus, publisher of the Titusville, Fla.-based Car Collector magazine, said a car that has been built in plentiful numbers over many years may not be rare enough to qualify. "What makes it a good collector car? Usually, they're limited-production cars . . . that would definitely favor the Prowler," he said.
Chrysler spokesman Bryan Zvibleman said company officials "expect the Prowler to be an instant collector car." Just over 11,000 Prowlers were built in a five-year run, and of those, only 151 were sold in the Woodward Edition black/red two-tone paint scheme.
But the most exclusive Prowler of all has to be the very last one produced. Built the day after Valentine's Day 2002, this most unique Prowler is the only one painted High-Voltage Blue and has signatures from Chrysler's Prowler team on its undercarriage. It came with a time capsule containing rare Prowler memorabilia and went to a bidder who paid $175,000 for it at a Christie's charity auction held in Manhattan in May.
In comparison, manufacturer's suggested retail price for a 2002 Prowler is $44,625.
Care in Collecting
Sheer numbers of cars built and sold don't explain everything about car collecting.
"Look at the Volkwagen Beetle," Broadus said. Despite U.S. sales that totaled nearly 5 million from 1948 to 1979, "that car today is still a popular car [for collecting]. There's a tremendous following."
Among those who bought a collectible Beetle in recent years: Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who found a 1966 convertible model with a reported 113 original miles on it.
In contrast, Broadus noted that other mainstream models, such as "some of the Isuzus, Mitsubishis and things that are basic," aren't likely to be collectible.
In fact, many cars disappear without much fuss. In spring 2002, Suzuki began selling the Aerio, the replacement vehicle for its Esteem car, even though the Esteem wasn't winding down until later in the year at the end of the 2002 model year. "Both the Esteem sedan and wagon lent sleek styling and solid value to the small car segment since 1994, when the Esteem went on sale in the U.S. as a 1995 model; but styles inevitably change and now the Aerio SX is leading the sport crossover trend, offering more room and more power than its crossover competition," said Rick Suzuki, president of American Suzuki.
And company spokeswoman Celeste Speier said Suzuki won't mark the passing of the Esteem with any ceremony.
On a related note, the Oldsmobile Intrigue is ending production with the 2002 model year, but its passing is overshadowed by the shutdown of the entire Olds division by the 2004 model year.
Broadus said he expects that despite volumes of Camaros sold over the past 35 years, some Camaro models will retain their value, though probably not the anniversary edition models being sold this year. Rather, the Camaro Indy pace cars hold promise, he said. "There's always going to be a good market for those," he said.
Broadus's general advice: "You shouldn't buy a car for investment. You should buy it because you like it, because you want it."
Noting History, Triva
Brian Kelley, president of Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division, noted that the Lincoln Continental and Mercury Cougar are among "the great nameplates . . . that historically have been icon vehicles, [as in] the '64 Continental and the '68 Cougar."
Indeed, a number of the names that are disappearing from showrooms this year hold a special place in history, on television or in movies.
Cadillac says the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado is often the car people envision when they talk about the large cars with huge tail fins in the 1950s.
And most Americans got their first glimpse of an Eldorado as a 1953 model that carried President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his first inaugural parade.
Mercury's Cougar had memorable "sign of the cat" TV ads in the late 1960s and early 1970s, complete with a live cougar jumping on the car accompanied by a cougar snarl.
And it was a Pontiac Firebird that helped actors Burt Reynolds and Sally Field escape Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the high-grossing 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit.