Iacocca shot down the Cardinal
Decision cost Ford the opportunity to be a leader in bringing front-wheel drive to the U.S. market
Rather than being ahead of the pack, Ford did not offer a small fuel-efficient fwd car in the U.S. market until four years after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, when consumers begged for four-cylinder engines that were stingy on gasoline.
In 1977, Ford imported the tiny fwd Ford Fiesta from Europe. It was followed in 1980 by the fwd Ford Escort, which was made in the United States.
General Motors introduced its first fwd models, the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, in the 1960s.
The fwd revolution in the United States began in the late 1970s when, fed up with fuel shortages and gas-guzzlers, consumers demanded smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
Chrysler began selling its Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon subcompacts in January 1978. GM debuted its 1980 fwd compacts - the Chevrolet Citation, Pontiac Phoenix, Oldsmobile Omega and Buick Skylark - in the spring of 1979.
The Cardinal, which was meant to appeal to Volkswagen buyers who were snapping up Beetles at a furious pace, would be inexpensive, basic transportation.
Ford of Germany was developing the vehicle, and Robert S. McNamara, who was president of Ford in late 1960, wanted the vehicle for the U.S. market.
It was supposed to make its American debut in the fall of 1962. Ford anticipated selling 300,000 of the subcompacts a year.
But McNamara resigned in December 1960 to become President John F. Kennedy's secretary of defense.
So Lee Iacocca was placed in charge of Cardinal development for the United States. Iacocca, who was appointed general manager of Ford Division in November 1960, recalled in his 1984 autobiography that he was underwhelmed by the Cardinal when he saw it in Germany.
"It was a fine car for the European market, with its V-4 engine and front-wheel-drive," he said in Iacocca: An Autobiography. "But in the United States, there was no way it could have sold the 300,000 units we were counting on. Among other problems, it was too small and had no trunk."
The other problems: In the 1960s, fuel economy was a tough sell in the United States. And the car looked like it was designed by committee, Iacocca wrote.
Upon his return from Germany, Iacocca told Henry Ford II that the Cardinal was a loser.
"We simply can't afford a new model that won't appeal to younger buyers," Iacocca wrote in his autobiography.
Built in Germany
While it never appeared in the United States, the Cardinal was produced by Ford of Germany and was introduced in September 1962 as the Taunus 12M. The fwd economy car, with its fanless 50-hp V-4 engine, was sold in Europe and other markets.
The two-door, five-seat vehicle had a top speed of 78 mph, and the company said it would deliver 31.4 mpg.
More than 2.5 million were sold in Europe from 1962 to 1970.