Cars Time Forgotten: Opel/Vauxhall Sintra

So many cars do badge engineering and this is usually prevalent among cars who are under the same umbrella and General Motors was not ashamed to admit this. Yes, it reduces the cost of developing new chassis and platform for the cars or minivans in this case. The Opel/Vauxhall Sintra started life not as a boring minivan but a futuristic-looking vacuum cleaner that made it the coolest looking minivan in the Western hemisphere.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

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In 1989, the future arrived in the form of a minivan. Minivans weren’t a new thing as five years before both Renault and Dodge gave the world a van that can transport families comfortably. A people’s carrier you might say. The Espace and Caravan were revolutionary in 1984 but when Pontiac launched the Trans Sport, it was the coolest and most eighties-tastic looking thing on four wheels that every kid wanted to have a ride in. It looks more like a space ship than a family-friendly minivan. Granted, it doesn’t look as futuristic cool as the original concept from 1986 but it was still pretty cool. Pontiac even sold it in Europe as a Pontiac and not an Opel which is weird since I have never heard of Pontiac being officially sold in Europe prior to this.

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When it came time to replace the Trans Sport which by the mid-90s seems a little bit on the age side, the replacement came in the form of an Opel for continental Europe and Vauxhall for the UK. It was called Sintra and as Wikipedia pointed out, the name comes a computer-generated program to see which is the easiest way to name it and not from a Portuguese town with the same name. Just like the Trans Sport, the Sintra will be built in good ol’ US of A. Unlike the Montana/Venture/Silhoutte that is based on the minivan is slightly shorter in length because Europeans prefer their cars to be small and easy to maneuver and park.

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Even so, the Sintra has the largest interior space in its class. It has configurations which allows it to be occupied with up to eight people seated. With that in mind, the Sintra is also narrower than the Trans Sport it replaced and this continued on for all subsequent U-platform minivans the Sintra and Trans Sport are based on. Engines that were offered were all sourced from Opel with a choice of either a 2.2 L petrol or diesel engine as well as a 3.2 V6 petrol engine. Unlike its American counterpart, a five-speed manual is offered besides a four-speed automatic.

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However, the Sintra was a sales disaster for Opel and Vauxhall mainly because it had reliability problems. Quality of the Sintra was seen below standard even for an Opel, Sales were hampered because of this unreliability and the Sintra was pulled out from the market after three years in 1999. Opel/Vauxhall did not give up with a minivan and saw success through the Zafira which is smaller than the Sintra. The rest of the U-platform minivans continued on until today in the form of a Buick minivan. As for the Sintra, it goes on to become a Car Time Forgotten.

 

 

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Cars Time Forgotten: Austin Ambassador

British Leyland. A brand synonymous with failure, rust, strikes, and innovation. That’s right, innovation is one of the ideals that kept the Brits from imploding even further. They’ve already lost an empire so why don’t they try propping up something they should be decent at; motoring ingenuity. The British were the one’s that gave us quirky little cars and exciting sports tourers but that was in the 1960s and before. In the seventies, things were changing in the form of the Japanese invading the ports of Dover. With cars that are reliable (SHOCK!) and cost less than what is offered by the local companies (HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?) and not kamikaze pilots.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

By the seventies, British Leyland was failing. Miserably I might add. Along with the words pathetic and did I mention about the strikes earlier. The company was plagued with a horrible reputation with reliability and every day there is news about ongoing workers strikes which affected production. Britain was not the cosmopolitan, hipster, cool country it is today. It was bleak and dark in the seventies. Heck, everything was bleak and dark in the 70s apart from the music and movies which were surprisingly among the most beloved in decades.

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The other issue BL was facing was weak sales. Austin was selling cars dating back to a decade ago and if you think that is bad, wait till you see what Morris decided to do to replace the Minor? Things were going bad but BL decided to launch a new car anyway because as the saying goes, the show must go on! Or at least a pantomime of a show. Enter the Princess. Initially, it was badged as an Austin or a Wolseley but BL decided “Fuck it” and just made a new brand instead.

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Thus, the Princess brand was born and initially sales were strong. BL finally had the moment of triumph they have been waiting for. But it did not last long. Soon the reliability issue popped in and the car gained a reputation for being a hassle due to its reliability. Then there was the design. BL literally redesigned the wheel with the Allegro, now with the Princess they decided to fuck the whole convention of the word hatchback. The Princess looks like a hatchback, feels like a hatchback but it is anything but a hatchback. The rear window is fixed to the car and boot is placed separately below. In other words, it opens like a conventional sedan, Heck even the designer initially wanted it to open like a normal hatchback but the dumbasses executives in BL thought otherwise for fear it may affect sales of another hatchback from another car company under BL.

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By the time the eighties rolled in, BL went from miserable to just shitfaced. What remained from a conglomerate of nine car companies in the 1970s is just a husk of what remained at the the turn of the 1980s. Jaguar was sold off and as the eighties come towards an end so did almost all the companies in BL and BL itself died out in 1986. The Princess brand did not make it pass the big eight-zero but rather continued on as an Austin. While the Princess received much fanfare when it was launched, the Ambassador’s launch was muted.

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At least they got one thing right, the car now has an actual hatch. Even that wasn’t enough to save the Ambassador or whatever reputation the car had when it was a Princess. Many fans of the Princess (and there are some) thought the Ambassador lacked charisma and is merely the same car underneath with a newer, more modern grille and a hatchback. The Ambassador only lasted for two years in production and was not exported overseas.

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As such, the Ambassador is very rare car and by rare, I meant endangered. According to Honest John, a pretty reputable British car buying guide, there are only 73 remaining! Do remember, that almost all 43,500 made were only available in the UK and few were exported overseas. The Ambassador is not meant for long term production as BL were pretty broke and although it has significant changes, this is truly a Car Time Forgotten.

Cars Time Forgotten: Perodua Nautica

Ah yes. Malaysia. My own home country where anything and everything is possible. We always think that the two biggest car companies in Malaysia, Proton and Perodua are the best and we are winners when a Western publication gives a shout-out to either one, especially Proton. Those were the days when they dominated everything in the market but all that changed in 2008 when Perodua launched the Nautica and we began to see the beginning of the change in the Malaysian car landscape.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

The Nautica was not Perodua’s first foray into SUVs and 4WDs. Perodua is essentially seen as a younger brother to Proton. While Proton was supposed to be Malaysia’s pride and joy in engineering, Perodua is seen as the cheap and cheerful carmaker. Their first car was the Kancil which was based off a Daihatsu Mira and this was followed by the Rusa (Daihatsu Zebra), Kembara (Daihatsu Terios), Kenari (Daihatsu Move), Kelisa (Daihatsu Cuore), Myvi (Daihatsu Sirion), Viva (Daihatsu Mira AVY), and then this, the Nautica. You may see a pattern in the cars Perodua produced and what they are based on. Beginning with the Myvi, which was launched in 2005, Perodua became a serious contender for Proton and moved their focus from being cheap and cheerful to a legitimate car company who wants to show big brother who’s in charge.

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Perhaps Perodua went a little too overambitious when they launch the Nautica. Even if Perodua was still seen as a company that makes rebadged Japanese kei cars with unfair import tax regulations that makes Malaysians buy local cars even if they are shit affordable prices, the main emphasis here is affordability. As mentioned before, the Nautica is not Perodua’s first try in an SUV market. The Kembara was well loved by many Malaysians with its quirky size and off-road attitude. It was on the market for nearly ten years with minimal cosmetic changes. To many off-roaders who wanted something cheap to bash around with, it’s either this or a used Suzuki SJ.

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When news got out that Perodua is bringing back an SUV into its lineup, Malaysians couldn’t control their excitement. The Kembara was well-received and popular and ever since the Myvi was launched, every Perodua that is launched became a golden egg for the company. By this time, Perodua was the number one carmaker in Malaysia. It was the best-selling car manufacturer thanks to their affordable cars, overtaking big brother Proton. Malaysian car nerds who are well versed in Perodua’s product strategy knew that the new Kembara would be based off the second-generation Daihatsu Terios, making this a successor to the original.

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At this point, people were holding their breath. People are getting excited for the new Kembara. And so, came May 2008. Perodua announced the all new Nautica. HURRAY! It will be imported from Japan. ALRIGHT! And it will cost RM89,000 (around USD21,000, a high spec Perodua Myvi at the time costs around USD12,000). WAIT! WHAT THE M#^*$%##*&&%F***K?! The main cause of panic is not the price. At RM89,000, that is a lot for a car with a small size and also with a badge that screams out AFFORDABILITY. Also, we forgot to mention it will only be available in automatic. OH THE HUMANITY!

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Being imported from Japan means that quality is not of the issue here. The main issue is the price that could gauge someone’s eye out. It is also not true that Perodua executives did not know that the car would not sell out in huge volumes like the Kembara which took a 60% market share in the SUV class a year after it was launched. They knew the price is of concern but perhaps they went a little to optimistic in sales figure. Perodua is an established brand and they figured “Hmm…Perodua will have no problems moving sales up despite of the price. We predict 150 to 200 Nauticas will be sold monthly”.

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Boy, were they wrong! In its first year of sales, only 489 were sold. That’s right, less than 500 of these cars were sold. And that was that. Perodua quietly discontinued sales of the Nautica citing insufficient Approval Permits (AP) for importation. Essentially, the reason for Perodua and Proton to succeed well in its home country bit off the back of the instigators. Oh the sweet irony that plays upon them! The Nautica was not really a bad car to begin with. The reason for its failure isn’t the importation permits but rather the price.

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For around the same price, Malaysians could get a Toyota Rush that is A) able to fit in seven people instead of just five in the Nautica and B) is actually available in manual if you want to rev that 1.5 liter engine off-roading. Put this into consideration and you could see which would be a logical selection between the Nautica and the Rush for around the same price. Also, further disclosure, the Rush and the Nautica are essentially the same except the Rush is an extended wheelbase version. Obviously, Toyota is seen as the winner here.

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Perodua learned its lessons. Now it continues on to make affordable cars and maintained its position as the best-selling car brand in Malaysia. But many things have changed in the past nearly ten years since the Nautica came and quickly left. For one, the car landscape in Malaysia has become more varied. What used to consist of mainly Protons and Peroduas are now dwindling. Perodua holds the top position for best-selling automaker but Proton is slowly losing its edge. What used to hold nearly 90% of the Malaysian car market is now behind Honda. The importation tax that the government used to support Proton and Perodua is now relaxed as Malaysians are spoiled for choice on the cars they wished to get. Cars are now priced so closely, you could actually buy the brand of your dreams instead of a Proton or a Perodua. Perodua’s recent offerings, the Bezza saloon and the Axia hatchback have their very own style that is different to the Daihatsus they are based on. The Nautica though has been quickly dusted off and became a Car Time Forgotten.

 

Cars Time Forgotten: Isuzu Oasis

When I mention the name Isuzu, what is the first thing that pops up in your mind? For many of us it could be this, this, this, or even this. If you grew up in the States in the 80s and 90s you remember Isuzu as a man. But Isuzu wasn’t just only about selling commercial vehicles and trucks (and occasionally lying to people to buy said trucks). Isuzu was a small car company and actually sold passenger cars. Granted, the company was more famous in selling pick-up trucks and light commercial vehicles but in the 1990s, Isuzu struck a deal with Honda to produce some of its cars under the Isuzu badge.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

Under this agreement, Isuzu will build the Domani/Civic, Accord, and the Odyssey as the Gemini, Aska, and Oasis respectively and Honda will badge the Rodeo and Trooper as the Passport and Acura SLX respectively. But of all the three Isuzu rebadges, why is the Oasis is of significance here? Well, the Gemini had its nameplate since the 1970s and the Aska had a tuner version in the 1980s. Speaking of the Gemini, Isuzu made what is possibly the most beautiful art of car ballet seen in a commercial ever.

Isuzu made a few cars prior to the Honda agreement. There was the Piazza sports car, the I-Mark/Gemini, the Bellett, and what is probably the nicest looking coupe that is built by a company you never thought would make a car like this, the 117 Coupe.

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In truth, why focus on the minivan instead of the 117 Coupe? It is after all a car that not many people may have known it was an Isuzu. Well, the reason for that is the 117 is now a sought after collectible and once a car has become so rare that prices shoot up, it is not forgotten by time but merely revived again by sight. The Oasis is rare now but it is truly forgotten. The Odyssey it was based on is currently in its fifth generation and there are two variants too. One for North America and the other for international markets.

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Unlike the Gemini and the Aska, the Oasis is imported into America while the Gemini and Aska remain only available in Japan. Meaning it is the only Isuzu based-Honda to be sold outside of Japan.  Isuzu made another rebadged Honda that time has completely forgotten besides the three, the Integra-based Vertex and this one is sold in Thailand. Oh and when I mentioned Integra, you thought it’s gonna be the coolest looking Isuzu that is not a jacked-up truck on ‘roids? Sorry to break it to you but this is more Civic-based as seen in the picture below.

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You can check out more on the story of the Vertex in this article here except I have to point out that this car is apparently only available in Thailand not Indonesia. I don’t see records of it being sold in Japan other than as a Honda Integra. Kinda cool, Thailand! Then again, as I research a bit more on the Vertex, I came across the Honda Tourmaster, a pick-up truck based off a, drumroll please, Isuzu Faster. Again, this is a Thailand exclusive truck. So, that makes the total badge engineering between Honda and Isuzu to seven.

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We seem to be straying off track here a bit on the car we’re focusing on this week. Back to the Oasis. Essentially, everything about it is similar to the first-gen Odyssey it is based on but it has better warranty and is sold at a cheaper price. Kinda like what Proton did with the Inspira when it was sold alongside the Mitsubishi Lancer it is based on, except just with a cheaper price. Unfortunately, Americans aren’t like Malaysians. The Oasis was hampered by poor sales because Isuzu was not as well known as Honda. Despite offering a lower sticker price, brand recognition trumps here. The car sold poorly with less than 3000 units sold each year from 1996 to 1999. To put that in perspective, Honda sold 27.025 units of the Odyssey in 1996 ALONE. That’s essentially more than twice the number sold by Isuzu.

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To compensate for the low sales, some Oasis (or should I say Oases?) were used as NYC taxicabs. That brings a bit of recognition for the car, right? Well, it didn’t really muster up anything but it did change the whole landscape of the NYC taxi scene. In the 90s when a program was launched to seek out alternatives for the Caprices and Crown Victorias, the Oasis (and the Odyssey) made waves as one of the first non-American carmakers to hold the famed medallion in decades and it was also unthinkable to see minivans being used as taxis back then. Nowadays, it is common to see Toyota Camrys and Siennas used as taxis in New York City ever since they phased out the Crown Vics.

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In the end, the Oasis was quickly forgotten after three unsuccessful years in production. Isuzu called it quits and left the American market in 2009. The last passenger car model was the Aska which ended production in 2002. Isuzu now focuses more on commercial vehicles as its bread and butter. The company is still in partners with General Motors but the relationship between Honda ended after the final Aska left the production line. The Oasis on the other hand, despite having a cheaper price for what is essentially the same car as its far more popular twin, became a Car Time Forgotten.

 

Cars Time Forgotten: Opel/Vauxhall Signum

The Opel/Vauxhall Vectra is seen by many Europeans as their version of the Toyota Camry; a boring but useful car to bring one from A to B. It was common but bland and it did its job well as a white goods on wheels. So imagine when the head honchos at General Motors Europe decide to spice things up by launching a hatchback version of the Vectra. Thus, in came the Signum

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

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Like most cars at the turn of the 21st century, the Signum started life as a concept, the Signum2 in 2001. Most of the design elements from the Signum2 was brought into the production Signum which was launched two years later in 2003. The Signum was initially billed as a luxury hatchback. It was based on the Vectra Caravan, an estate/station wagon version of the Vectra, which is why it looks bigger than the car it is initially based on. The Signum was also priced significantly higher than the Vectra, thus cementing it as a “luxury” car.

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Most of the parts and design are similar to the Vectra except for the rear which is completely different. Opel rebadged this as a Vauxhall for right hand drive (RHD) markets like the UK and Ireland and even sold in the States as a Chevrolet. Weirdly enough, the Americans called this a station wagon instead of a hatchback. Then again, as a hatchback it is pretty large and for once the Americans have a point when it comes to classifying these cars.

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The Signum’s engine variations are similar to the Vectra which ranged from a 1.8L Ecotec to a 3.2 V6. Nothing much to shout about it. Pretty decent for a car like this. Since it is European, it does come with a manual or automatic option and there is diesel option available too. Interior wise, the car is similar to the Vectra with the added feature of Flexspace which allows the rear seats to be folded easily, similar to the features seen in the Zafira or other Caravan variants in the Opel/Vauxhall model range.

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Three years into production, Opel launched a facelift for the Signum. The car now has a sharper front…and that’s about it. There are a few minor cosmetic changes but everything else feels and looks the same. Same engine displacements, same interior design, same practicality. Unfortunately, a sharper image did not help push sales further and the Signum died after 2008 with no direct replacement. The Vectra also stopped production in 2008 and is replaced by the Insignia. Whereas the Vectra continued on with its soul now in the form of a new car, the Signum was wiped out and became a Car Time Forgotten.