We Americans love to buy new cars. In fact, we’re buying more of them now than ever before. But with the influx of all those Ford F-150s, crossovers, compact crossovers, luxury compact-crossovers, premium compact crossovers, soft-roading crossovers, and the Toyota Camry, we’re shipping our older cars out to the scrap yard, and with them goes a part of history.
With each incoming automotive trend, we tend to lose touch with an older one. A few years ago, virtually every family had a station wagon, which was replaced by a minivan, which was replaced by an SUV, which was likely replaced by a crossover. Sure, RAV4s and CR-Vs are hot-sellers now, but in a decade or so, they’ll fall out of favor and be replaced by whatever compact electric autonopod is all the rage then.
Of course, new trends aren’t the only factor that makes an older car disappear. Luxury cars often have a longer life because the first owner or two will likely take great care of the car, then it will become more neglected as time goes on. That’s why in most parts of the country, you’re still likely to see an ’80s-era Cadillac or Mercedes still fighting the good fight. A lesser car, like a Plymouth or Datsun of similar vintage? Probably not so much.
We know that there are plenty of people out there who will disagree with this list, who will say “Hey, I just saw one of those last week,” or “My aunt still has one of those in mint condition.” Maybe you live in a dry climate where the tin worm isn’t as prevalent (you lucky devil), or maybe you’re one of the ones still fighting the good fight. But these 10 cars used to be everywhere, and by age, obsolescence, or engineering fault, are now in real danger of going extinct.
1. 1980-1992 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Just five years ago, the mighty W126 S-Class was everywhere. There are still a few grinding it out as daily drivers today, but that number seems to be shrinking weekly. The second-generation S-Class is in that twilight phase where the surviving beaters are going off to the scrap yard, and the nice ones are beginning to be scooped up by collectors. Next year, the newest of Mercedes’s long-serving flagship will officially be classified as a classic car. From then on, you’ll be more likely to see these at a car show than in the grocery store parking lot.
2. 1994-2004 Chevrolet S-10
When it was introduced for 1994, the second-generation S10 was a major styling leap forward for Chevrolet. Not only did they look good, but they proved their mettle as solid little work trucks, and were sold by the millions. Unfortunately, two decades of hard work mean that outside of dry, temperate climates, surviving examples of these compact pickups are rusty, high-mileage, and all but used up.
3. 1997-2001 Cadillac Catera
Cadillac’s second attempt at taking on the BMW 3 Series went about as well as its first (the 1981-88 Cimarron). The Catera was a rebadged Opel Omega imported from Germany, and despite a high-profile ad campaign, quickly sank to the bottom of the luxury compact sedan segment. Cadillac never sold the Catera in big numbers (roughly 95,000 cars over four years), but at a time when it’s not unusual to see 15-year-old cars still on the road, we can’t remember the last time we spotted one moving under its own power.
4. 1995-2005 Ford Taurus Wagon
Before 1996, the Ford Taurus was the best-selling car in the U.S. It was the polarizing styling of the third-generation car (as well as stiffer competition from Honda and Toyota) that soured America’s love affair with it, but there were bigger forces at play too. The ’90s were dominated by minivan and SUV sales, and by the time the third-generation Taurus wagon was introduced, it was already one of a dying breed. Astonishingly, Ford’s station wagon survived until 2005, when it was discontinued with the rest of the Taurus line. The nameplate quickly came back; the wagon didn’t.
5. 1991-1995 Honda Civic
The ’91-’95 Civic was Honda at its best: a good-looking, fantastically-built little car that punched well above its weight in economy, comfort, performance, and value. The fifth-generation Civic seemed like it would be around forever (and in some drier climates, it is), but in most parts of the country, few survive without rust-through on the fenders, a neglected drivetrain, a horrible body kit, a fart can exhaust, or a combination of all five. We never thought we’d see the day when a clean ’90s Civic would be a rare sight, but here we are.
6. 1995-2001 Audi A4
The early ’90s were a tough time for Audi in America. The brand was still reeling from a mid-’80s scandal, and its footprint in the luxury segment seemed to shrink year over year. But that changed seemingly overnight with the introduction of the A4. With a beautiful contemporary design, inventive engineering (the company’s first Tiptronic transmission), and fantastic driving manners, the A4 marked Audi’s biggest hit in years. But over the past decade, a high-maintenance drivetrain and finicky electrical systems have spelled doom for many first-generation A4s. A search on Craigslist will still turn up plenty of beaters for dirt cheap, but unless one has been immaculately maintained, even the good-looking ones are just about used up.
7. 1979-1994 Subaru Leone Wagon
The second- and third-generation Leone was the car that really broke Subaru in America. With its rugged construction, comfortable interior, and all-wheel drive system, the Leone – especially the wagon model – quickly became the go-to car for thousands of families in climates with harsh winter weather, and planted the seeds for Subaru’s loyal fan base today. Unfortunately, all that under-treated Japanese steel didn’t do great in climates where they salt the roads; as a result, most surviving Leones suffer from pretty severe rust issues. Those that avoided body rot can fetch surprisingly high prices for a decades-old Japanese car.
8. 1988-1996 BMW E34 5 Series
When it was introduced in 1988, BMW’s third-generation 5 Series was a massive technological leap forward for the brand. Featuring stability control, traction control, and a wide range of engines, it was a good-looking and sportier alternative to the more conservative Mercedes E-Class. But while you still see quite a few E-Classes on the road, the E34’s complex electronics and need for expensive mechanical upkeep have sent many to the scrap yard.
9. 1993-2004 Dodge Intrepid
In the early ’90s, Chrysler was flying high thanks to strong sales of its minivans. Dodge, its best-selling brand, would go on a major push from ’92 to ’94, marketing itself as “The New Dodge,” and releasing the popular Neon, and game-changing ’94 Ram pickup. But the star of the show was the Intrepid, a bold, modern midsize sedan that rode on Chrysler’s new LH platform, shared styling cues with a Lamborghini concept car, and showcased the company’s radical new “cab-forward” design language. But the cars were plagued with reliability issues, and second-generation cars with the 2.7-liter V6 had a fatal defect where oil sludge would build up and slowly clog the engine internals until it seized. Once a common sight a few years ago, Intrepids are becoming a rare breed.
10. 2000-2005 Kia Rio
When it was introduced, the Rio had the dubious honor of being the cheapest new car in America. It showed too; terrible build quality, a lackluster engine, and reliability issues made it a rolling punchline at worst, and a disposable car at best. First-generation Rios used to be a relatively common sight in cities and college towns, but they’re disappearing quick – which is convenient for Kia, as the automaker keeps getting better by the year.
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