Ford could have picked any name for its new electric crossover. It could have gone for something all-new and fresh like Volkswagen’s ID sub-range, or BMW’s i. Instead, though, it has picked a name that directly references one of the most iconic performance cars ever made. The Mustang Mach E is fast, but it’s neither an noise-centric pony car nor even a coupe. It’s a rival to the Tesla Model X, not to the Chevrolet Camaro.
Does this blatant thievery of established nameplates and/or reputations actually work, or is it as transparent as the Ann Summers Christmas collection? We’ve had a look at some other cars that were spun off from icons, and some were disasters.
When it was launched in 2012, the automotive media raised its eyebrows at what it saw as a distasteful recycling of the brilliantly reborn Fiat 500’s precious identity. It was seen as an unnecessary and not especially charming spin-off from a modern classic, a bit like the heinous sitcom Joey.
Well, as sometimes happens, the automotive media were totally out of touch with the buying public. Hijacking the famous 500 helped catapult the L to the tops of sales charts all across mainland Europe and kept it among the best-selling cars across the continent for years. We’re still not really sure why.
Much more understandable to us was the controversial resurrection of the Ferrari GTO badge, one of the most evocative in history. It had only graced two cars in the brand’s illustrious history; the legendary 250 GTO of the 1960s and the knee-wibblingly stunning 288 GTO; both of which were effectively racing-bred specials.
The 2011 599 GTO wasn’t deemed worthy by some. For the people who drove it, though, it was more than special enough. Chris Harris, at the time writing for our sister title evo, called it “a detail masterpiece, a track genius, a road tonic and yet another great Ferrari.” To him, it fully deserved the badge. ‘Nuff said.
Jaguar openly called the F-Type the spiritual successor to the E-Type, playing on that link as fast and loose as it dared. Clearly it was a different beast in a different age, but Jaguar did draw the heritage card at every chance it could. Naturally some E-Type aficionados were a little offended, but the commercial success of the F-Type was secured.
Across V6, V8 and V8 R versions the F-Type bewitched drivers with noise. They overlooked its rubbish steering and chronic outward visibility issues because the car made you feel good in a way few others can manage. There’s a four-cylinder one these days that doesn’t perform the same trick quite so well, but for the purposes of this feature there’s no argument that the beautiful F-Type – to which the new Ferrari Roma bears a shapely resemblance – has been both a PR and a sales winner.
Alas, for every success story there has also been a fubar. The Mini Coupe was one such mess, launching in 2011 with an explanation that the roof was meant to look like a baseball cap being worn backwards. As marketing lines go, it didn’t wash. Even the much-loved and highly sought-after Mini badge and nose couldn’t save the Coupe or its soft-top sister, the Roadster.
The Coupe was even less practical than the hatchback yet more expensive, but the real stick of dynamite in its tailpipe was that it was inexplicably ugly. Sales were good initially as the fashionistas chose the newest Mini, but then the numbers nosedived. The model was canned after just five years, leaving a full range of petrol, diesel and John Cooper Works versions behind it.
Calling this one a failure is contentious, but we’re doing it anyway. It used a 911 body with a cheap, cheerful and old 1.6-litre flat-four nicked from the late 356. Its purpose was to bolster sales until the six-cylinder 911 had really taken root in the market. To be fair, it did so, outselling the more expensive 911 at first. But then it fell away as people realised it didn’t really offer the driving enjoyment Porsche was beginning to make a name for. Why buy a Twix when you could have a Wispa for a bit more money?
That’s why we’re calling the 912 a flop. It piggy-backed on the 911’s image but the styling wrote cheques the engine couldn’t cash. Porsche knew it, too, and binned the idea after five years in full awareness that an entry-level model could look nothing like its flagship. The 912’s replacement was the mid-engined 914, and these days you’ll find more doe-eyed enthusiasts lusting after those (especially the six-pot 914/6) than after a decent 912.
The final cautionary tale comes from Ford itself, and with none other than a Mustang-related faux-pas. When you mention the lineage of the famous badge, specifically which models to avoid, the MkIII and MkIV cars usually come top of the list. The Fox platform beneath the MkIII (known as the Fox-body iteration) was already compromised by the fact that it was meant to fulfil a number of different briefs for different models, and Ford hadn’t worked out how to do that properly yet.
The MkIV, surely the blandest and most depressing of all Mustangs, used an updated version of this old and inadequate chassis. The meant that by the mid-1990s the Mustang had become something even true fanboys must have bought reluctantly, knowing that it was based on 1970s tech that wasn’t even good when it was new. Its reputation today is pretty much on the floor except among tiny circles of bloody-minded Mustang devotees whose favourite pastime is clutching at straws.
The Mustang Mach E is playing a dangerous game. People who know, love and buy Mustangs because of their driving experience and heritage will lend the electric crossover less credibility than a G-Wiz with Ferrari graphics. Most simply won’t buy it.
Ford is banking on a significant number of non-Mustang fans being just about aware enough of the badge to see it as a positive USP, but not so aware that they see through to the underlying exercise of image over substantive connection. This is the age of the internet, though, and we’re not sure how well it’ll work.