Which Cars Have Earned Reputations They Don’t Deserve?
A recent reader submission in the form of an early orange 928 and its owner’s well-reasoned approach to the idea of automotive favoritism got me thinking about how we form our opinions on cars that were built before we were. So many people call the 928 a maintenance nightmare that was overly engineered or worse poorly so, but who are they? And to put it simply, what do they know? Do they speak from experience, or from memory of a persuasive rant that somebody else posted on a forum once upon a time?
If you weren’t around in 1978 when Porsche released their front-engined GT, everything you know about the car’s place in its period is secondhand information or just cold stats with no context. Reputations are increasingly skewed over time, and the most vocal crowd tends to be the one in control of them, and since those who speak loudest and most often are likely to carry the strongest opinions, the true story can get lost between the extremes. This goes both ways, negative and positive, and even for one model—the E30, and the M3 especially, has a yin and yang reputation of being the carriage of deities and among the biggest letdowns in hero-meeting history—and with classic cars these myths can be very hard to undue. Not because they’re necessarily well-founded, but rather just deeply-rooted in time.
Think about a journalist who test drives a new car from a brand that competes with his favorite (nobody is purely objective). Maybe he also had food poisoning the night prior and found some eggshells in his omelet the morning of. Now his review gets read over the years and it becomes something of a reference point, even if it was biased. The point is, who knows? Does Alfa Romeo deserve its reputation of building pretty cars with wonderful engines with temperaments fickler than a puppy? Why don’t we ask the Milanese police about curb-hopping and powersliding around the city grid or the Malaysian force about the Alfetta’s capability as a pursuit and escort vehicle? The durability of an Alfa Romeo can refer to an aluminum skin wrapped on a thin-gauge jungle gym or a sedan that didn’t mind getting sent down a set of stairs if need be, it’s just that it’s more fun for people to think of them as charmingly temperamental beauty queens rather than robust service vehicles.
Surely many marque and model reputations have their basis in fact, but it’s likely they’ve been exaggerated and need some reigning in. Which examples come to your mind? Better yet, which cars best defy the stereotypes of their makers? The Corvair comes to mind.