Home > Columns > What’s Old is New Again

What’s Old is New Again

February 10th, 2012

2013 GMC Acadia Denali

      The grumblings coming out of the Windy City this auto show season have been clear. The GMC Acadia is aged and is barely getting a facelift after 6 model years on the market. But look closer folks. That large crossover you see with the gleaming red GMC badge is hardly an Acadia. No, that my friend, is a facelifted Saturn Outlook.
     Yes, that is why the vehicle looks like the long lost friend you haven’t seen in years but somehow still recognize. When the Saturn brand was scuttled after the 2009 model year the Outlook was only in its third model year. The Outlook tooling was likely never fully amortized after the abbreviated run while the Acadia soldiered on as a successful backbone of the GMC brand’s somewhat surprising survival. In an effort to recoup costs while simultaneously making the Acadia unique from its 2007-2012 forbears, the Saturn’s tooling was dusted off and used to produce every exterior metal stamping save the hood. Granted, the Acadia and Outlook had always shared their door skins, but the rest of the exterior was surprising unique. This is hardly the first time old tooling has been used to update a model in need of a refresh in order to soldier on for another model year. Here are a few notable examples:
     In the US Chevrolet offered the aerodynamic Corsica for more years that it should have despite being the second best-selling car in the US in 1988. In Canada, Pontiac dealers sold a clone and slapped the nostalgic Tempest name to the deck lid. One of the few differentiations was the taillight lens. Chevrolet made use of the lack of the Tempest’s availability stateside and used its ridged lenses to replace those with Chevy logos in 1991. The taillights only served double duty in Canada for one year as the Tempest was phased out after 1991.
     Perhaps more difficult to observe was Cadillac’s reuse of the Eldorado grille from 1974 on the 1977 model year. Cadillac and convertible fans probably never noticed since they were mourning the loss of what was believed to be the last American branded convertibles when the last 1976 Eldorado drop top was produced. Cadillac pulled old grille moldings out of retirement a second time when they used the 1981 deVille and Fleetwood grille on stately 1987-88 Broughams.
      Pontiac’s B-body full size sedans endured a strange re-use of old tooling and name shuffling in the 1980s. The large Bonneville was shifted to the A-body platform in 1982, replacing the LeMans. Dealers cried foul as their large car customers sought Caprices, Impalas and Eighty Eights from Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. To stop the mass exodus, Pontiac brought the Parisienne down from Canada, which itself was nothing much more than a badge engineered Chevy Impala. This worked for model years ’83-84 until someone decided that resurrecting the 1981 Bonneville tooling would make the cars a bit classier. Indeed, the Parisienne served its final model years wearing the body treatment – including fender skirts, tail lights and decklid from the ’81 Bonneville with the nose of the ’83-84 Parisienne grafted on to maintain some level of continuity.
     In 1994 when complaints of the long nose on the Lumina APV and Pontiac Trans Sport was too much for GM stylists to endure, they lopped 3” off the nose of the vans and fitted them with headlights previously unique to the 1992 Pontiac Bonneville. The Oldsmobile cousin, the Silhouette did some strange parts sharing of its own when it received the facelift intended for the Euro-spec vans the same model year which was devoid of the Bonneville lamps. This helped to further distinguish the Olds from its lower class Chevy and Pontiac associates. Much more recently GM transferred the body of the Oldsmobile Bravada to the Buick Rainier and SAAB 9-7x when it buried the storied century old brand. Many complained that the Rainier and 9-7x were nothing more than rebadged TrailBlazers, but the situation would have been far worse had the deceased Oldsmobile not donated its vital stampings to the cause.
     Lest you think GM is the only manufacturer to surprise the eagle eyed car spotter, Ford managed to differentiate the SHO in 1992 from its lesser Taurus siblings by using the hood and fenders from its Sable sister. The Crown Victoria received an overdue update in 1998 by sharing its entire body shell with the Grand Marquis, when the cars had been completely unique externally since their updates in 1992. Ever wonder why the Mercury Mountaineer had odd running lights in the rear bumper? The original Mountaineer differentiated itself from the Explorer through the use of the rear bumper from the euro-spec SUV. And who could forget the use of Econoline tail lamps on the gigantic Excursion? Indeed, those tail light shapes are still in production several model years after their shared use on Super Duty based SUV.
     Chrysler is not exempt either. While the LHS and Concorde shared body shells from 1997-2001, the LHS was discontinued for the ’02 model year. At this point the Concorde began using all exterior fascia previously reserved for the sportier LHS and would remain this way until its demise in 2004. While the Dodge Caravan donated its tail lights to the first generation Durango and rear hatch to the Mexican market Ramcharger, my favorite reuse of old Mopar tooling is the drastic measures Chrysler Corporation took to save its Dodge dealers from utter destruction for the 1962 model year. In a disastrous decision to make all Dodge and Plymouth models mid-sized for 1962, traditional Dodge and Plymouth buyers had no place to go but up market Chrysler for a large car without heading to GM and Ford. Chrysler had just started offering the lower priced Newport for its upscale brand. Dodge quickly grafted the 1961 Polara front clip onto the Newport body shell, and designers were literally given a bushel-basket of chrome trim from previous model year Dodges and told to make the trim fit. Within months Dodge had its full size car back in time for January 1962, a few months late for the model year.
      While each of these re-uses of old or common tooling is often frowned upon by enthusiasts, how many of these examples are we really aware? Is this clever resourcefulness or lazy badge engineering? The aesthetic result and success in the market place are perhaps the real measure.

Photos courtesy of General Motors

Comments are closed.