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Trouble fulfilling promises: Outside vs Inside

Chris Haining September 17, 2018 Redusernab Asks, The Carchive 31 Comments

The Carchive has, once again, reached critical mass. The shelves are so densely packed that inserting one more brochure could lead to a black hole forming, and my study wasn’t built with that in mind. This morning the 1985-2000 North American section nigh on exploded off the racking, and Camaros, Imperials, Intrepids and many more fluttered down like massive obsolete confetti.

And when one particular brochure landed open at the interior view, there formed in my mind a topic for Hooniversal discussion. That is, out of all the cars on planet earth, which one has the biggest contrast between the promise of its exterior and the reality of its cockpit? We want to know your thoughts, so take the jump, where you can vehemently disagree with my nomination.

(You can click on the image below to make it bigger, if you like)

I was 16 when the C5 Chevy Corvette came out, and it didn’t take particularly long before the odd example was felt — and then a little while later, heard — rumbling around the narrow streets of Essex. It made an immediate impression on me, somehow seeming even longer and lower and wider than the already long, low and wide C4, which I had incidentally fallen head over heels in love with after first seeing on The A-Team, and had formed an even closer bond with when I first saw the up+over headlamp mechanism operate in A View To A Kill.

It was a great, great day, some time before I gained my driving license in ’99, when a chance encounter had me chatting to a C5 owner, who after humouring me as I fawned, dumbfounded, over his Corvette, offered me a seat behind the wheel. I could hardly refuse, so I swung my body in and reclined into the soft black leather throne… and then found it really hard to conceal my disappointment.

Here I was, sitting inside what was, well, a lower, darker version of literally any other American car you could buy at the time. In ’98 my family had hired a Lumina in Florida, and the C5’s Delco stereo looked virtually the same. The HVAC controls were family hatchback straightforward and the window and mirror controls were there on the door, like with almost any other car you could buy. The instrument pack, dominated by a huge, clear speedo and tach, was no more exotic than that of a Vauxhall Omega, and was nothing like as interesting as the old digi-analogue mix in the C4 — even if it was an order of magnitude better to actually use. The straight-row automatic gear selector, too, could have been from literally any other car GM made. It had come as a shock to find that the Corvette’s mundane interior seemed so disconnected from the potency of its outside look.

Of course, today, I appreciate that the C5 Corvette’s ‘just another GM car’ interior helped to make it easy to live with, as well as keeping the price down. But teenage me felt cheated. It was like finding out that Mickey Mouse at Disney World actually has a grad student inside him, or that Christmas presents don’t really come from the North pole. So that’s me and my disappointment. What about yours? I daresay there are far more notable examples  of the outside of a car writing cheques that the inside can’t even find to take to the bank.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. It was a Lumina 3.1 Euro, hired from Alamo. And I still love EPCOT)

  • P161911

    This interior literally looks like it was built in a shed. Some high school shop class project covered in Alacantra. A cheap kit car interior.
    Hard to believe it is attached to one of the wildest supercars ever.

    Got a chance to see one up close at the tire shop I frequent. The Fiero kit cars have better interiors.

    • Zentropy

      You beat me to it. It was the poster car of my generation, but an unrefined mess inside.

      • outback_ute

        Not just inside, I have read about people on tours of the factory seeing the main structure of the car being ‘adjusted’ for fit with large ‘knockometers’. A bit like how you don’t want to see how the sausage is made…

  • tonyola

    The Buick Grand National – Darth Vader on the outside, Grandma on the inside.

    • P161911

      Grandma never got a center console and, uhm, well, ok.

    • Zentropy

      1987 was a bad year for most GM interiors. And most domestics, for that matter. My ’87 535i, however, has an interior that I still find inviting.

    • ptschett

      Back in college one of my friends had a brown Malibu sedan (of the vintage where the rear door windows were fixed in place because reasons) with that exact dashboard.

  • Sjalabais

    This came up the other day in the JDM-in-Kansas post. The Nissan President: Gorgeous, shiny, East Asian baroque on the outside:

    Inside, switches, steering wheel and dashboard design are a true copy of any-mum’s bargain basement Primera:

    • Oh, that’s heartbreaking.

    • outback_ute

      Am I wrong to think that this interior would have debuted in the 1989-90 Infiniti Q45? Yes, dated by the time it finished production in 2002, but pretty amazing for 1990.

      • Sjalabais

        Yes, it might have been fresh and smooth in 1990, and it suffers from the passage of time and trickledown effects – cheaper cars got the same look. Probably a car whose interior disappoints in retrospect.

        • outback_ute

          I think it is a bit hard to fault the design because it was copied. Even the first Cadillac Seville still looks good for 1975, even though GM made half their cars look the same by 1984.

    • Tank

      Is it like the Toyota version where the best seat to be in is the back?

      • Sjalabais

        Definitely, much thought has been put into curtains and lace. It’s probably not particularly fun to drive either. But I like cars that are designed as simple as possible, with a five year old as head of grand design. This one hits right home with that…I mean, look at the front lights – this could be Lego!

  • Manic_King

    C4’s first, boxy dash could be one answer, but it has aeronautic look, because of its design and blackness. So, I’d say DeTomaso Bigua/Qvale Mangusta, full of kinda randomly located cheap Ford switchgear.

    • P161911

      Beats the similar (“exotic” car with Mustang parts), Panoz Esparante. Maybe nobody will notice we used the Mustang instrument cluster if we stick it in the middle.

      • outback_ute

        It is a pity on both counts, because a custom ‘mask’ and facia is not that difficult to make, and would make an enormous difference to the appearance.

  • Tomsk

    Say what you will about its mechanicals, but Ford clearly put a lot of effort into the last-gen Thunderbird’s retro exterior…

    …only to phone it in on the interior with a dash plucked straight from the Lincoln LS and given a few splotches of color and/or brightwork.

    • Zentropy

      I would argue that the New ‘Bird looked better on the inside than it did out. I hated that thing.

  • Van_Sarockin

    I don’t have a problem with the interior. And, no, it’s not an iconic dashboard. It’s also not an ergonomic disaster. I have a soft spot for this vette, since it was the first one that was really designed to be driven, not just to look flashy and claim a top speed. For what it delivered, it was an absolute bargain.

    • Zentropy

      “What it delivers” isn’t the point. The Corvette has always delivered bargain performance, at least relatively. Aesthetically, though, it’s been a craptastic mess since 1968.

      • Van_Sarockin

        Then don’t buy one. Make your own.

        • Zentropy

          Dude, I didn’t say your momma’s ugly. I love plenty of universally-hated cars. To each his own. If you like it, like it. I agree with you that for the money, it was an admirable performer, but that doesn’t make it pretty inside, and that was the point of the post.

    • outback_ute

      It also carried over the main theme of the instrument cluster shape and surround from the C4 (and didn’t look like the 27 parts had all been designed by completely independent team with only a single phone briefing to work on), as well as the Jesus handle on the passenger side – something that should have been retired surely?

      The main ‘lost opportunity’ for me is the shape of the section around the vent at the top of the centre stack. Very soft/blobby/nothing shape there.

      • Zentropy

        Agreed. But damn, that “oh-$#!+” handle looked awesome in the early 60s (along with the rest of the interior).

      • P161911

        The later C4 Vettes suffered from a series of minor and disconnected changes. Parts of the dash were still digital (like the early C4s), parts were analog, and a mishmash in general.

  • njhoon

    One of the most memorable quotes from that era about the Corvette was “All this money for a Caviler interior”



  • SlowJoeCrow

    I had similar feelings about the Acura NSX. I thought it lacked a sense of occasion because the interior looked like a Civic CRX.

    • Zentropy

      I would have agreed with you in 1991, but now I’m kicking myself for not picking one up one the used market when they were just “a used car”.

  • wunno sev

    i used to have this same beef with the C5, but i’m over it. i’m now resigned to the fact that someday, i will have a C5 hatchback, and i’ll just have to live with the image problems. it’s so hard to argue with the performance value proposition – at any given price point that a C5 or newer Corvette exists, it’s faster than anything else at that same price point.

  • Lokki

    The car interior that disappointed me most was that of the Cadillac XLR convertible. I test drove one and was shocked by the abundance of cheap silver plastic, and the zebra wood on the console reminded more of nicely finished plywood than anything else. For an $85,000 car it was very disappointing.

    Once again I am unable to post an image. This link is to a proxy linked photo.