9 Iconic Cars That Saved Their Makers

No matter whether an automaker is enthusiast-focused or not, at its core, it’s a business. The most important part of any business is to generate revenue, and this includes automakers. That’s part of the reason why so many automakers are hopping on the crossover trend, that’s just what makes money these days. Like any other business, if the product lineup is not a hit with consumers, it leads to struggling and, if things get really bad, bankruptcy.
A lot of automakers have struggled or even faced bankruptcy for a variety of different reasons, including the aforementioned bad product lineup. Aston Martin, for example, went bankrupt seven times and still survived. But, some of them had an ace up their sleeve that they pulled out when all hope was lost, creating a true hit product that quite literally saved them.

9 Porsche Cayenne

Front 3/4 view of a black Cayenne on the move in the desert

During the 1990s, Porsche was definitely struggling. The 911 wasn’t doing all that well, and neither did the entry level models, or the flagship 928. Porsche had gotten to the point where they agreed to build cars for two other German automakers; the Mercedes 500E and the Audi RS2 Avant.

Rear 3/4 view of a green Cayenne on a desert dune

RELATED: 10 Reasons Why The Porsche Cayenne Is Awesome
Porsche’s ace up their sleeve came in two forms. An entry level mid-engined roadster, which became the Boxster, and a proper luxury SUV, which became the Cayenne. To this day, the Cayenne is one of Porsche’s best-selling cars, and it’s often credited with saving the brand

8 Ford Mondeo

Front 3/4 view of a silver Mk3 Mondeo Turnier on the move

After the Sierra and Scorpio’s successful stint during the 1980s, Ford wanted to put together an all-new type of midsize car. They were a little hesitant at first, as switching from a RWD to a FWD layout with a sideways engine layout might have alienated consumers, but they are pressed on anyway.

Rear 3/4 view of a Mk3 Mondeo Turnier on the move

The resulting Mondeo, which has been discontinued everywhere except China, went on to become a global juggernaut. It’s one of Europe’s favorite cars, and it had the unique distinction of being a benchmark for the class, especially in terms of practicality, driving dynamics and ingenious engineering solutions. What’s more, it was always a good-looking car, especially the pictured Mk3, sold from 2000 to 2007.

7 BMW 700

Front 3/4 view of a white 700 Coupe on the move
Lothar Spurzem | Wikimedia Commons

Before the 700 came out, BMW’s lineup was very difficult to sell. It was dated, and BMW itself was on the cusp of bankruptcy during this time. Then, in 1959, they launched the 700, which was the first car from the German automaker to use a monocoque structure, which was completely revolutionary at the time.

Rear 3/4 view of a white BMW 700 on a rainy day, surrounded by other classics
Lothar Spurzem | Wikimedia Commons

BMW offered the 700 until 1965, and it became one of their most successful models, pulling them out of the rut they were stuck in and allowing them to carry on. The capital from the 700 was so good, it allowed BMW to exit the economy car market and just focus on the premium segment. The rest is history.

6 Lotus Elise

Front 3/4 view of a gray Mk1 Elise

It’s no secret that, if you don’t count the 2020s, Lotus has been struggling more than they have been doing well. They were bought out by several automakers numerous times, including GM and Proton, and most recently, Geely.

Rear 3/4 view of a gray Mk1 Elise in the sunset

Lotus decided to take matters into its own hands and create a lightweight sports car that was all about handling, driver involvement and not much else. The resulting Elise was a truly fantastic little sports car, and it definitely did a lot to save the brand, with all the right ingredients to become a future classic. Fun fact about the first Elise, reliability is not its strong suit like the later cars, as it uses a Rover K-series four-cylinder instead of Toyota’s 1ZZ-FE.

5 Honda Civic (The Original)

The front of an orange Civic hatchback

Honda had no idea that their unassuming little hatchback, launched in 1972, would go on to become the car that a lot of the world thinks of when they hear the word “car,” second only to the Toyota Corolla. It’s now in its eleventh generation, and it’s just as good as ever.

The rear of a silver Civic wagon, tailgate open

RELATED: 10 Things To Know Before Buying The 2022 Honda Civic Si
The original Civic also paved the way for Honda and other Japanese automakers to enter the North American market, as the Civic hit the scene just when the gas crisis happened, forcing upset consumers to jump ship from American luxobarges and into economical, reliable, practical Japanese compacts. Once again, the rest is history.

4 1949 Ford

Front 3/4 view of a dark blue 1949 Ford on the move
Wikimedia Commons

After WWII wrapped up, Ford fell into a difficult situation. Most of their assembly line (which they pioneered) consisted of pre-war models that were far behind the competition, resulting in declining sales. This all changed in the mid 40s, when Henry Ford II took up the CEO throne.

Rear 3/4 view of a black 1949 Ford at a classic car show
Andrew Bone | Wikimedia Commons

Under his leadership, the engineers went to town on an all-new project, which ended up being the 1949 Ford. You have to specify the model year, as there really wasn’t a model name with the ’49 Ford. Nonetheless, it got Ford unstuck from its rut, and they went back to being competitive alongside the other two American automotive giants.

3 Nissan Qashqai / Rogue Sport

Front 3/4 view of a red Qashqai

By the time the 2000s rolled around, Nissan was in a bit of a pickle. At-the-time-CEO, Carlos Ghosn (yes, that Carlos Ghosn), had a plan to completely turn around this iconic Japanese automaker, and none of their models encapsulate this more than the original Qashqai, known as the Rogue Sport in North America.

Rear 3/4 view of a silver Qashqai

The reasoning for that is simple; this is the first ever compact crossover. It quite literally invented the segment. The Qashqai went on to become a best-seller in Europe, winning just about every conceivable award. This is the car we have to thank for the crossover craze of today.

2 Volvo XC90

Front 3/4 view of a dark blue XC90 in deep sand

Remember when Ford owned Volvo? That was the time when Volvo was one of the members of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, also featuring Jaguar and Land Rover, and Aston Martin. Back then, Volvo’s lineup was made up entirely of what the Swedish automaker did best; sedans and wagons.

Rear 3/4 view of a bluish gray XC90

RELATED: Why the 2011 Volvo XC90 Is The Perfect Family SUV
But as more of the world moved on to SUVs and crossovers, Volvo decided that they needed one to be competitive and enter the premium segment. The original XC90 put Volvo on the map, and because Volvo always strives to make the best car possible, the XC90 went on to become one of their all-time most successful models.

1 Bentley Continental GT

The front of a gray Continental GT Speed ​​Convertible

At one point, Bentley had the same problems as a lot of the others; a small, outdated lineup of cars that very few people were buying. Back in the 90s, the Germans stepped in; Whereas BMW acquired Rolls-Royce, Bentley was acquired by the VW Group. In 2003, under the leadership of VW, Bentley launched their new flagship grand tourer; the Continental GT.

Rear 3/4 view of a wine red Continental GT Speed ​​Convertible

It was an instant success. It finally gave VW a new product to use their (frankly ridiculous) W12 engine. With a lot of new VW Group components and a gorgeous new exterior and interior, the Continental GT went on to become one of the quintessential luxury GT cars of the 21st century.

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