A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

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Thread: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

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    A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Automobile Magazine
    May 21, 2019



    GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure
    They were supposed to change the automotive landscape, and they did—just not how the General planned.


    ow bad does your car have to be before it attracts a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice? Welcome to the story of General Motors’ X-body project, started in the late 1970s as a response to the onslaught of front-wheel-drive imports that were making inroads thanks to a combination of affordability, reliability, and high fuel economy.

    Initially, there was a lot of internal excitement at America’s largest automaker for what promised to be the light that would lead GM into the future. Yet right from their 1979 on-sale date, and all the way through their ignominious retreat from the market by the middle of the next decade, GM’s X-car family provided a master class in how not to engineer, build, or handle defects for brand-new automobiles. This was the peak of the General’s reach overextending its grasp as it tried to remain relevant among a rapidly changing landscape by packaging technologies it hadn’t mastered as cheaply as possible in cars it rushed to market.

    Although Cadillac and Oldsmobile had experimented with front-wheel drive in the past, it had always been in the context of enormous luxo-barges featuring traditional longitudinal engines. The edict from the top brass that kickstarted the X-car project was to create a unibody platform that could accept transverse, small-displacement engines and offer substantial improvements in fuel economy, cabin space, and assembly costs. It was square-one for General Motors, and inspiration came from an unlikely source: front-wheel-drive Lancias that were purchased and dissected to provide clues as to how the X platform should unfold.

    Pressure was intense to get the X-cars—which would be given to the Chevrolet (Citation), Oldsmobile (Omega), Buick (Skylark), and Pontiac (Phoenix) divisions—into showrooms as quickly as possible. This meant not only a significantly shortened development cycle, where testing of the radically new chassis and drivetrain setup was given the shortest possible shrift, but also a centralized engineering approach where each division would be expected to play nice and contribute to specific aspects of the project.

    Forward-thinking, at least at first blush. The realities of pulling together a car where Pontiac was responsible for the rear suspension and Chevrolet the front were something else entirely. Rather than a vehicle that functioned as a complete system, the hodgepodge of ideas and executions would contribute to its sensational fall from grace.

    Initially, the 1980-model-year X-body was a smashing success. More than 800,000 examples of the Chevrolet Citation alone would be sold during that heady early period. This was bolstered by enthusiastic reviews from the motoring press, who had been provided with a selection of hand-assembled, near-perfect non-production-spec models to test. Still, it quickly became apparent that the vehicle’s sales figures represented a pyrrhic victory at best. General Motors soon would be at odds not just with its own customers, but also the U.S. government.

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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    This was bolstered by enthusiastic reviews from the motoring press, who had been provided with a selection of hand-assembled, near-perfect non-production-spec models to test.
    I remember seeing my first Citation while in college - massively impressive - incredibly popular. My father tried to buy a Pontiac Phoenix, but could not find one in stock anywhere.

    GM had the product, they had supreme marketplace acceptance...If only the X-Cars had been engineered properly, GM would be a different company today.









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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    I have a "weird" thing for the X11
    my great grandma had an Omega when I was young and I remember being picked up in it often

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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Four-door coupe body style before it was cool.
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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    GM missed a few great market opportunities with these X-Car prototypes

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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Quote Originally Posted by richmond2000 View Post
    I have a "weird" thing for the X11
    my great grandma had an Omega when I was young and I remember being picked up in it often
    I drove a friend's X-11 a number of times. It was a fun car with a stick. I had learned to drive in a Chevette, so the V-6 in that Citation really felt fast.

    My Dad bought an '80 Citiation as a second car. It was sold to my sister after about 2 years. They kept it for 180K miles and never had any significant issues. Perhaps just lucky.
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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    I had a 1985 Citation X-11. GM had finally gotten the engineering right just as it went away. Motor Trend called that model America's Audi in their review. It was night and day better than my dad's end of model year special 1981 four door hatchback in burnt red (looked mostly orange) that had a modified bench seat that had so little rigidity it bent like a hockey stick in the middle. The only strength of that car was the 2.5L Iron Duke engine that gave good MPGs.

    The iron block, aluminum head 2.8L FI V-6 was way under-rated for official horsepower. You could spin the wheels in all 3 gears of the automatic and torque steer was crazy. The engine put 227 bhp at the front wheels on a dyno and I used to SCCA race it and win my class most weekends and commute in it during the week. It lasted until 1992 and went 280K miles with no engine or transmission work needed. By then the wipers didn't work and the paint on the roof was long gone and replaced by red primer from a can. The half shafts had worn to the point it felt like a CVT getting started.

    The hatchback could haul race tires and service gear with ease to the track. It could also move all the gear of three young kids to the grandparents and the beach. The only drawback was rear seat access in the coupe body.
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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    My parents had a Citation when I was young, we had good luck with it.

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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Such a wasted opportunity.

    I suspect most people here who rail on about how GM doesn't get a fair shake these days, probably don't remember back when they more than did, nor how/why that gradually changed.
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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Quote Originally Posted by 377Z View Post
    I suspect most people here who rail on about how GM doesn't get a fair shake these days, probably don't remember back when they more than did, nor how/why that gradually changed.
    The thing is most of the people who criticize GM today probably never stepped foot in an X car or a Cimarron or any of those 1980s GM debacles. We literally have car reviewers who can’t shut the **** up about the Cimarron who likely never seen one in person, and if they did they did, they’d have no basis to make a comparison.

    They hate GM because somebody told them about the X-cars or the Cimarron, not because they have any actual experience with them.
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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Quote Originally Posted by 377Z View Post
    Such a wasted opportunity.

    I suspect most people here who rail on about how GM doesn't get a fair shake these days, probably don't remember back when they more than did, nor how/why that gradually changed.
    Well, the Citation came out when I was 16. I'm 55 now. But most people who buy cars are considerably older than 16, so the bulk of Citation buyers may no longer be driving and are quite possibly dead.

    With GM and Ford, there seems to be no statute of limitation on bitterness. It's even passed on to future generations.
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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Quote Originally Posted by richmond2000 View Post
    I have a "weird" thing for the X11
    my great grandma had an Omega when I was young and I remember being picked up in it often
    Mom had an 81 Omega Brougham 2dr. Dad had a 78 Monte, he traded a 76 Pacer X for the Omega. 1983 time to trade again, the 78 Monte stayed, the 81 Omega Departed for a 83 Monte.

    He Hated that Car. I started driving then, if both cars were in the Garage, I would grab the 78 Monte. I even bought the 78 Monte in 88 when he bought a K1500 Scottsdale.

    The shortest life span that I can recall of my Father's Cars, next to a used 73 Gremlin he bought in 75 and traded for the Pacer X.

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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert1969 View Post
    The thing is most of the people who criticize GM today probably never stepped foot in an X car or a Cimarron or any of those 1980s GM debacles. We literally have car reviewers who can’t shut the **** up about the Cimarron who likely never seen one in person, and if they did they did, they’d have no basis to make a comparison.

    They hate GM because somebody told them about the X-cars or the Cimarron, not because they have any actual experience with them.
    That's how reputations work - easy to aquire a bad one but takes forever to (re)gain a good one.

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    I like the Citation the best ones IMO are the 2 door notchback .
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    Re: A Look Back: "GM’s X-Cars: Anatomy of a Miserable Failure"

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert1969 View Post
    The thing is most of the people who criticize GM today probably never stepped foot in an X car or a Cimarron or any of those 1980s GM debacles. We literally have car reviewers who can’t shut the **** up about the Cimarron who likely never seen one in person, and if they did they did, they’d have no basis to make a comparison.

    They hate GM because somebody told them about the X-cars or the Cimarron, not because they have any actual experience with them.
    Maybe not but I'm 29 years old and I can remember the countless crappy Cavalier, Sunfire, Grand Am, Alero, Catera, Lumina and Monte Carlo's from the 90's and it's easy to see why GM's reputation still hasn't recovered. Say what you want but get out of one of those into any comparable Honda, Toyota or Nissan from the same decade and it is blatantly obvious that GM was behind.
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