Did anyone ever wonder if maybe, just maybe General Motors was ahead of its time when they introduced the Pontiac Aztek in 2000? Going along with most critics upon its introduction, I too, thought it was a pretty homely vehicle. However, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that it handled fairly well, was easy to drive, and comfortable. It even offered a few innovations; namely, the center console held a lunch box of sorts. Handy for camping, or road-tripping.
After some time, the Aztek also offered a canopy tent-like arrangement for camping. This was, in many ways, a multi-purpose vehicle. SUV-ish? A crossover utility vehicle. The much-unloved and criticized vehicle of all of GM’s offerings (well, let’s not forget the infamous Vega), the Aztek did offer some commendable features; namely, it just might have turned into a collectible.
According to Autoblog, the Aztek could potentially be worth something, and compiled some reasons why: It follows the Edsel strategy. Also thought of as one of the ugliest cars, the Edsel turned into a collectible. According to Autoblog, people “rallied around the Edsel in a community fashion.” If you can find one today, you might be expected to pay around $50,000.
As far as collector clubs go, the Aztek boasts a large number of members. The Aztek Fan Club brags about their ‘huge’ following. At the time, the Aztek received so much bad press, but it just may have been in their favor over the long term. Featured across American pop culture, the Aztek got some play in the series Breaking Bad and American Dad. It’s competition at the time was also the oddly-designed Isuzu Vehicross. Who didn’t think that was a bomb? However, the Vehicross is also a ‘cult classic,’ and was featured in the film Mission to Mars.
Just as road-tripping has struck a chord with Millennials, so has the Pontiac Aztek. Apparently, this age group has been buying them up for cheap, as worthy road warriors and cross-country wagons. After all, one can liken the Aztek to those vehicles that followed, such as the Honda Element and Nissan Juke.
A mid-size crossover (yes, it can now be referred to as a ‘crossover’), the Pontiac Aztek was offered from 2001-2005, along with its corporate stablemate, the Buick Rendezvous. A 4-door vehicle with a front engine and four-wheel-drive, the Aztek was designed by chief designer Tom Peters (who, by the way, designed the iconic C6 and C7 Corvette) in 1997. Its platform was the GM U platform, and its predecessor, the Chevrolet Tracker (one of my personal favorites). Its successor, the Torrent. Pontiac was the division offering the Aztek, and its functional design was in some ways, ahead of its time.
Looking for a radical design, GM saw an opportunity to offer an active outdoor lifestyle vehicle, especially in California. Peters offered the idea of taking a Blazer and a Camaro and putting them in a blender!! Wala: the AWD, sporty vehicle that could carry gear and people. At the time, no one had come up with the name “crossover,’ so they called it the ‘Bear Claw.’
Rather than being built on GM’s S-series truck platform, though, it was decided the Aztek would be produced on the GMT200 minivan platform. According to Peters, this created serious design challenges and they moved away from the original design intent. In hindsight, Peters says he would have stayed with the framed, 4-wheel drive platform and the capability and proportions that went with it.
So is it possible today to rethink how we regarded the ahead-of-its-time Pontiac Aztek? Was it the first sign of a trend, rather than a joke? Since it rolled out in 2000, some wonder if perhaps it was a ‘pioneer in car design.’ Looking at today’s most sought-after vehicles, one can very much see those Aztek lines.
Who would have thought?
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