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Top 8 Aussie motoring fails

The Australian motoring industry has seen its fair share of triumphs and fine achievements over the years, but as we enter the twilight phase, let’s have a look at some of the stinkers that have tainted an otherwise proud history.

Astron-engined Mitsubishi Magna

While the Magna was (rightfully) regarded as a unique and groundbreaking take on the family-sedan when it first released, we’re sure you’ll be hard pressed to find an Astron-II-powered TN-TS Magna without a plume of blue smoke in its wake. Enough said.

Mitsubishi Magna TS

Ford EA Falcon

What had the bones to become a best-seller for Ford, became an expensive lesson in poor execution.

The EA Falcon was an aerodynamic, modern and handsome design. Unfortunately, Ford was too gung-ho about beating the VN Commodore to the market, resulting in a rushed launch with catastrophic build-quality issues. Motoring writers even spoke of steering columns falling into their laps.

With a new OHC engine, choked by a single-point injection system, and a carry-over three-speed automatic gearbox from XF models, the EA Falcon was an incomplete vehicle that could have been so much more. Later EB, ED revisions addressed this, with the substantially refreshed EF Falcon becoming Australia’s best selling car of 1995.

Ford EA Falcon

Lightburn Zeta

It might be unfair to include this little trooper, because washing-machine manufacturer Harold Lightburn deserves a pat on the back for daring to enter into the automotive market.

He did so with this. A fibreglass-bodied compact car, with a two-stroke engine, plus uniqueness and simplicity in droves.

Harold saw a market opening up for small vehicles, but unfortunately so did other manufacturers. Most notably of which was BMC who offered the Mini for just £60 more than the comparatively diminutive, underpowered, under-engineered Zeta.

This might go some way to explaining why after shifting only 363 units, the Zeta was taken out the back and given the Old Yeller treatment. Nevertheless, the Zeta is nowadays quite a collectible and unique car, which speaks of character and Australian ingenuity.

Lightburn Zeta

Holden VF Sandman

While the VF Commodore is a superbly polished, excellent Aussie car, Holden’s latest limited-edition version has aroused raised-eyebrows and face-palms in equal measure.

The Sandman was introduced in 1974 as a sportier variant of the HQ panel van. It quickly developed a cult following, and became synonymous with airbrushed murals and rampant in-car intercourse –  if you had a daughter in the 1970s or 1980s, you hated them.

The new version, supposedly a tribute to the original, is nothing more than a cynical stickers-and-decals exercise. Given that Holden no longer offers a panelvan bodystyle, it’s hard to capture the spirit of the original in a mass-market wagon. Perhaps this is one that should have been left on the shelf.

Holden displayed a concept Sandman in 2000 with elaborate Mambo-designed murals and a more befitting bodystyle. How the mighty have fallen.


JOSS Supercar

Aussie car designer Matt Thomas first presented the JOSS Supercar at the Australian Motor Show in 2004. Since then the engine details and specs have changed, the launch date has been pushed back repeatedly, as it has failed to get off the ground.

It is now 11 years since the concept was first shown, and while many hope to see success for an Australian supercar – including us – it’s hard to see an 11-year-old design attracting sufficient attention from investors to come to fruition.


Button plan: badge-engineered cars

In the 1980s, Senator John Button introduced legislation aimed at increasing the quality of our locally produced cars through reduced-tariffs and the number of factories decreased.

As a result, Holden was making Toyotas, Toyota was making Holdens, Ford was re-badging Nissans, and some other strange concoctions. We had the Ford-badged Nissan Patrol and even a Toyota-badged Commodore. A bizarre arrangement with no key differentiators, aside from the badge, for only the most naïve customers.

Toyota Lexcen-red

Mitsubishi 380

When time came to replace the popular Magna range, Mitsubishi no longer had a Japanese donor model to call upon. The only similar product in the international Mitsubishi catalogue was the nasty-looking US-spec Galant. Given no alternative, Mitsubishi adapted Tonsley Park to build right-hook versions of this Seppo monstrosity. Despite being finely-tuned and doing the best with what the local company had, the 380 sunk them. Production of the 380 stopped in 2008, along with a complete closure of local Mitsubishi manufacturing.

Mitsubishi 380

Holden VC-VH ‘Starfire’ Commodore 1.9

As far as knee-jerk reactions to the Oil Crisis go, this one is a doozy. Holden, without a unique four-cylinder engine, ‘chopped’ two cylinders off its venerable 173 ‘blue motor’, culminating in an unbalanced, underpowered push-rod four-cylinder boat anchor. 58 stampeding kilowatts struggled to get you out of your own way, while, unbelievably, Toyota also offered the Holden engine in it’s Corona. With the next Commodore rumoured to return to four-cylinder power, engineers will no doubt want to ensure they don’t evoke this dark chapter.

1980 Holden VC Commodore

The end of the line

The biggest Aussie motoring fail has to be this. First Ford announcing in 2013 that it would no longer continue manufacturing the unique-to-Australia Falcon and Territory. This was due primarily to Ford’s One Ford mantra, which doesn’t allow automotive orphans, and also because of adverse manufacturing conditions. Holden and Toyota had plans to continue into the next decade, but this was contingent on government funding. After a change of government, and public sentiment which shifted against the local manfucaturers, they both pulled the plug in 2014.

Arguably, this could have been prevented with smarter legislation and no funding cuts, but given the huge pool of talent Australia has in the industry, it is a tragedy. The component sector is doing it’s best to transition and adapt, but without an automotive industry to support it, is almost certain to face widespread extinction.

There have been whispers of new Australian start-ups, and, while a remote possibility, stranger things have happened.

Holden production

Mitchell is a contributing journalist and features writer at PerformanceDrive. He has been a passionate petrol-head from a very young age. He is excited by the future of the industry, and considers himself as a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the technical aspects of cars. He is also fascinated by new cars that are popping up in developing markets.

  • Mick

    I have to disagree with the 380. While it was a commercial flop. It was a very nice car. I replaced mine recently with a commodore. I’d have it back any day

    • stephen

      with regards to the 380 it didnt sell but its a great car i get 6.8l/100km after owning an 81 sigma its my dream car and exceptional value, mitsubishis former employees can be proud!

  • marc

    The TN-TS Magnas were a break through car for the Aus motor industry from the mid 1980s. The Astron engine with counter rotating balance shafts was a very smooth engine. It performed well. The author’s comments are completely unjustified. Same with the 380 – it’s quite a good car made out of a thin air budget. The original Magna would be in my top ten best Aussie cars.

    The Camira should be on this list as a example of GMH racing to get to market and put together a car made out of cheap glue.

    As with Mick’s comment, Falcons and Commodores build quality, in general, has always been poor. There’s no longevity in the product.

  • Maggie Dee

    These cars are not even close! not even the 4 cylinder commodore!
    Worst ten….from my memory…..

    – Lada Samara…Not even Brocky could save it
    – New 2015 Nissan Navara….Designed in Thailand.. Overheats in Australia! (If this was a Commodore, regular media would be going off their faces)
    – Dodge Neon, no explanation necessary
    – Holden (nee Vauxhall) Vectra…Have you ever driven one? It has the worst steering this side of a model T
    – Hummer H3.. Not even the Americans wanted this one!
    – Ssangyong Stavic….Just look at one and loose your lunch, drive one and loose all self respect!
    – Niki FSM….never heard of it? I’m not surprised!
    – W202 C class Mercedes. Crap electronics, ravaged by rust and still bloody expensive to buy….and fix!
    – VW….anything with the DSG transmission, What US? problems? NOOOOO, all of you are wrong, We are perfect…..Even the ones that work are horrible to drive!
    – V6 Mitsubishi Magnas…That is what you get for putting single oil rings on the pistons for better fuel consumption!
    Any other (yes even the P76) Australian made cars are bloody diamonds compared to these!

  • Try again

    I’m a Ford fanboy, and I have to strongly disagree with the disparaging comments about the two Mitsubishis. They were good cars, not all Magnas blew smoke, they drove really well, were well made and they will go for years and years. The 380 was hobbled by the lack of a 4 cylinder engine and came in at the tail end of the sunset years of the Aussie large car so it didn’t really stand a chance. But it was still a well made car with good driving dynamics that deserved to do better.

  • Major Sceptic

    Sadly our local car makers have been behind the eight ball for years, policy makers on both sides from decades ago and successive governments made sure our country was going to lose a lot of manufacturing and become importers, imo our last big 3 car makers deserve a bit of credit for lasting as long as they have.

    From memory nearly every major car maker in this country has either packed up and left for fairer pastures or gone broke, how is that for a statistic ?
    when was the last time you heard a pollie say ….. support australian jobs and industry, please buy Australian products ? thats right you never ever hear that.

  • JP

    Not sure how the EA got on there but the VN was left off… they are both equally deserving of a place on this list. Horrible era in Australia’s illustrious automotive industry…