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Top 10: Cars that should’ve sold better

The launch of a new car usually brings high expectations and a sense of optimism. At least, that’s the theory. But many manufacturers have had their corporate fingers burnt over the years by lower-than-expected sales of various models.

Most famous of all was Ford’s disastrous Edsel episode of the 1950s, but the British market has also seen its fair share of failures over the years. We’re not necessarily talking complete flops here, simply those models that deserved to sell better than they did.

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Austin Maxi

How can a car that enjoyed a twelve-year career and sales of around 450,000 units really be considered not popular enough? Well, in the case of the Maxi, it’s true. This was British Leyland’s first ever brand new model, launched in 1969 and featuring such innovation as front-wheel drive, a new OHC engine, five-speed transmission and a versatile five-door bodyshell. Leyland reckoned they’d be producing around 6000 Maxis a week, yet the average figure throughout its career was little more than one-tenth of that. It may have had its faults but the Maxi deserved better.


Jim Holder    on 5 September 2016

"It may have had its faults..." May have? Original model had a cable driven gearbox. Changing gear was a lottery, it would (eventually) find one but not the one you thought you'd selected. Cables were replaced by levers. This was an improvement in that the surprise was muted by the fact that whilst going forward reverse was no longer selected. The only good thing about tis pile of stuff was that,with the front seats folded backward, one had a half decent double bed. Somewhere to sleep while you waited for the AA with a replacement part.

Edited by Jim Holder on 05/09/2016 at 15:42

Jim Holder    on 5 September 2016

Consul Capri. See those razor sharp edges? That;s where the rust first appeared.

modelman093    on 6 September 2016

"cable driven gearbox" Hmm , stick to the glossy stuff and leave the oily bits to others!

SLO76    on 6 September 2016

Had a few 605's through my hands during the 90's. The 2.1 diesel in particular was a nice combination but the build quality was nowhere compared to German execs and depreciation was horrendous which certainly made them excellent value used. Reliability wise I never had any bother with any 90's Pugs I've sold believe it or not, though the Mot was a little more accepting of the occasional dashboard warning light than it is today...

WilliamRead    on 24 April 2017

Dacia Denem - what a contrast between this Renault 12 relaunch and the recent Renault Clio (and others) re-launch under the Dacia name.

Dominic Raffo    on 24 April 2017

All the top notch mojo's of the time thought the AC was an overpriced, under developed pile of junk. More a curiousity than a rarity.

DCmusic    on 24 April 2017

My Dad had three maxi'sand my second car was one. Used it for transport of band equipment. Brilliant motors imo. Very little went wrong with any of them. Wish the maestro had been half as good. Never had a problem with gears on it either....

Harrovian    on 24 April 2017

Most critics of the Maxi have never actually owned one, I ran two, one in the family from 1973 to 2002 when it's subframe failed, this car covered 130,000 miles and never broke down, it always started, was comfortable, practical and nice to drive. My second one, a 1977 model was similarly good, its only problem attributable to the dubious French Ducellier distributor, this car was bought in 1998 and run as my daily transport until an idiot in a Peugeot wrote it off, I still miss the cars character and space.

This was a car which certainly should and would have sold better if only Leyland had developed it properly and not been so strike bound!

Edward Hughes    on 24 April 2017

I had one. Practical, but not a looker, which was probably where it came unstuck. Usual BL cost-saving - front doors same as Austin 1800 as I recall... Brilliant in snow, and the five-speed box was a market-leader. The cable gear-change was soon dropped, and in the context of its day, the latter 1750 was quite nippy. Some electrical issues - they used some dodgy wiper/light switches when Lucas were on strike, but then Lucas "Prince of darkness" kit wasn't always outstanding in itself...

Edward Hughes    on 24 April 2017

Peugeot 605.... Had a petrol low pressure turbo (150 b.h.p. as I recall) auto as a company car, mainly because the alternative was walking. Criminally short of headroom (as was the 405) because designed for the French market - where they didn't want sunroofs - and then supplied in the UK with one... There was an £80 modification offered to remove the totally unnecessary electric height adjustment on the driver's seat, to give a bit more clearance, which made the position just about OK. And I'm not that tall. No fold-through seats, which was a bit limiting, though there was a ski-hatch. I must say it drove reasonably well, but was as bland as bland can be visually, with no character at all. Only had it for six months before I moved on, but no issues in that time (and quite a lot of mileage) and colleagues with them didn't seem to have issues either. Some actually opted for the diesel, which was very economical. I preferred petrol as it was free for company and private use, and an earlier Peugeot 505, whilst a great car in itself, had put me off diesel given the performance deficit - which was HUGE in the 505's case, less so on the 605. Worth noting that the build-date was about nine months before the date of registration - Peugeot had no end of trouble shifting these things, and the discounts were HUGE. I think we paid about £11k (in a fleet deal with a fairly large fleet) for what was ostensibly about £19k's worth of vehicle as I recall. So good value, in that sense. And reasonably swift, quiet, and after the seat mod., quite comfortable. And always remember, second-class driving is better than first-class walking!

Edward Hughes    on 24 April 2017

Just to add to my earlier comment on the 605.... And the Maxi. Both were "parts-bin" jobs, curiously both in terms of the front doors. The Maxi shared with the Austin 1800 and the 605's doors were from the 405. In the Maxi's case it isn't that obvious in the flesh (though the first design for the car was a much swisher, swoopy affair that BL in their infinite wisdom decided they couldn't afford to tool-up for), but it was always notable to me that the 605's rear doors were much bigger than, and out of proportion to the front ones. Take a look at the photo - there must be five or six inches in it, and I can't think of another four-door saloon with this kind of imbalance. "Well-proportioned and handsome"???? maybe maybe not, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but for this reason it always looked like a "cut and shut" to me, or maybe the front designed by one team, and the back by another. The following model, the 607, really was a handsome beast in my opinion, and equally unsuccessful.

bobber    on 25 April 2017

Some folks are getting a bit confused. NONE of the doors on the 605 were common with the 405 (look at the swage line).
ALL 4 doors on the Maxi were common with the 1800/2200 (AND the Austin 3 litre, which added quarter lights in the front doors). Gear change linkage was cable on early Maxis, change to rods on minor facelift with introduction of wooden dashboard and new grille and body side mouldings.
I think all cars of the era had dodgy electrics, not just BL. Although unreliable, relatively easy to fix. Today's electronics are inherently more reliable, but a nightmare when they go awry.

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