Here’s a list of our top 10 worst cars. Sometimes car producers don’t know how fulfill consumer demands and they produce models that neither satisfy the need nor the taste of the market… and they look plain UGLY. Here’s the shortlist… I’m sure some of them will bring back old memories…
Chevy and Ford championed the American muscle cars movement—but the two brands are also responsible for four of the 10 models on our list of worst ever.
10. 1976 Chevrolet Chevette
When the Chevette got wet, it would suck water into its engine. It normally fell apart after approx. 40,000 miles. The proverbial piece of junk, lemon of a vehicle.
I include the Chevy Chevette only to note that even the most unloved and unlovely cars have their partisans. There are Pacer fan clubs and Yugo fan clubs, and if there is a Chevette fan club, let it begin with me. My girlfriend in college had a diaper-brown Chevette three-door hatchback, as bare bones as an exhibit at the natural history museum. It had a 51-hp engine and a four-speed manual transmission and not much else. It was loud and it was tinny, but we drove that car across the country three times and it never failed us. Once I got a 85-mph speeding ticket in it. That was on the down slope of the Appalachians, but still. The last time I saw that Chevette it was still plugging along. Vaya con Dios, old paint.
9. 1958 Ford Edsel
The Edel is possibly the ugliest car ever rolled out from Detroit. One of the most poorly designed and poorly manufactured cars of all time.
That’s why we’re all here, right? To celebrate E Day, the date 50 years ago when Ford took one of the autodom’s most hilarious pratfalls. But why? It really wasn’t that bad a car. True, the car was kind of homely, fuel thirsty and too expensive, particularly at the outset of the late ’50s recession. But what else? It was the first victim of Madison Avenue hyper-hype. Ford’s marketing mavens had led the public to expect some plutonium-powered, pancake-making wondercar; what they got was a Mercury. Cultural critics speculated that the car was a flop because the vertical grill looked like a vagina. Maybe. America in the ’50s was certainly phobic about the female business. How did the Edsel come to be synonymous with failure? All of the above, consolidated into an irrational groupthink and pressurized by a joyously catty media. Interestingly, it was Ford President Robert McNamara who convinced the board to bail out of the Edsel project; a decade later, it was McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, who couldn’t bring himself to quit the disaster of Vietnam, even though he knew a lemon when he saw one.
8. AMC Matador
It’s not like a car but a spaceship. I guess you agree with that.
The unfortunate Matador, an undistinguished midsized car that was really a thinly made over AMC Rebel pitched as “all new,” may suffer from what McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, calls AMC’s “negative halo effect.” Cars like the Gremlin and the Pacer are tossed out as prime examples of automotive awfulness so the Matador gets thrown in there, too, even if it was merely not so great.
The Matador coupe was actually named “Best Styled Car” in 1974 by the editors of Car & Driver. The Matador even had a moment of MTV stardom. In the long version of Michael Jackson’s “Black and White” music video he smashes the glass out of a Matador.
AMC’s ultimate failure as a business – it was bought by Chrysler in 1987 and only its Jeep brand survives today – adds weight to the popular notion that AMC cars were all laughably bad.
7. 1961 Chevrolet Corvair
The Chevy Corvair was not only not powerful but it wasn’t safe either. If You ever had a chance to ride in one of them – it’s more terrifying than all the rides at any amusement park anywhere. If it got rear-ended it would catch on fire. If the Corvair were to ever slide sideways (for whatever outlandish reason) the tires would shred from their rims and the car would roll like tumbleweed.
Rear-engine cars are fun to drive and even more fun to crash. While rear-engine packaging offers enormous advantages, putting the vehicle’s heaviest component behind the rear axle gives cars a distinct tendency to spin out, sort of like an arrow weighted at the end. During World War II, Nazi officers in occupied Czechoslovakia were banned from driving the speedy rear-engined Tatras because so many had been killed behind the wheel. Chevrolet execs knew the Corvair — a lithe and lovely car with an air-cooled, flat-six in the back, a la the VW Beetle — was a handful, but they declined to spend the few dollars per car to make the swing-axle rear suspension more manageable. Ohhh, they came to regret that. Ralph Nader put the smackdown on GM in his book Unsafe at Any Speed, also noting that the Corvair’s single-piece steering column could impale the driver in a front collision. Ouch! Meanwhile, the Corvair had other problems. It leaked oil like a derelict tanker. Its heating system tended to pump noxious fumes into the cabin. It was offered for a while with a gasoline-burner heater located in the front “trunk,” a common but dangerously dumb accessory at the time. Even so, my family had a Corvair, white with red interior, and we loved it.
6. 1970 AMC Gremlin
The most dreadful proportioned car of all time. This car is a shocker. First model was introduced April 1th 1970 (April Fool). What should we say more?
American Motors designer Richard Teague — remember that name — was responsible for some of the coolest cars of the era. The Gremlin wasn’t one of them. AMC was profoundly in the weeds at the time, and the Gremlin was the company’s attempt to beat Ford and GM to the subcompact punch. To save time and money, Teague’s design team basically whacked off the rear of the AMC Hornet with a cleaver. The result was one of the most curiously proportioned cars ever, with a long low snout, long front overhang and a truncated tail, like the tail snapped off a salamander. Cheap and incredibly deprived — with vacuum-operated windshield wipers, no less — the Gremlin was also awful to drive, with a heavy six-cylinder motor and choppy, unhappy handling due to the loss of suspension travel in the back. The Gremlin was quicker than other subcompacts but, alas, that only meant you heard the jeers and laughter that much sooner.
5. 1971-77 Chevrolet Vega
Cheaply built, rough running, rough riding, prone to rusting… It was without doubt one of the worst vehicles ever made. It’s the next generation of bad cars manufactured by GM. It was one of the many forerunners of the initial collapse of the world’s largest car producer.
The Vega was an early attempt by General Motors to break into the fuel-efficient compact car market. Unfortunately, the Vega quickly earned a reputation for consuming, not gasoline, but motor oil. The Vega’s aluminum engine just wasn’t up to the job and, according to various sources, the cars were plagued by mechanical problems, including a hearty appetite for lubricants. Premature rusting was another commonly reported issue.
If true, it was probably a bad sign when, eight miles into a test run on GM’s proving track, a Vega literally fell apart, as related in a book by John DeLorean recalling his days as head of Chevrolet.
Despite its many issues, the Vega was a fairly popular model in its day and almost 2 million were produced. (A little over 2 million if you count its Pontiac sister model, the Astre.)
GM produced about 3,500 (relatively) high-performance Cosworth Vegas which are (relatively) collectible today. “They sell for more than you’d think,” said McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, which conducted the survey.
The vehicle shown here is an example of the even lesser known Yenko Vega in racing trim.
4. 2001 Pontiac Aztek
When this car was being designed there must have been a design team for the front of the car and one for the rear end. The Aztek was a modernized dump truck. Just look at this thing… Were they serious?
I was in the audience at the Detroit auto show the day GM unveiled the Pontiac Aztek and I will never forget the gasp that audience made. Holy hell! This car could not have been more instantly hated if it had a Swastika tattoo on its forehead. In later interviews with GM designers — who, for decency’s sake, will remain unnamed — it emerged that the Aztek design had been fiddled with, fussed over, cost-shaved and otherwise compromised until the tough, cool-looking concept had been reduced to a bulky, plastic-clad mess. A classic case of losing the plot. The Aztek violates one of the principal rules of car design: We like cars that look like us. With its multiple eyes and supernumerary nostrils, the Aztek looks deformed and scary, something that dogs bark at and cathedrals employ to ring bells (cf., Fiat Multipla). The shame is, under all that ugliness, there was a useful, competent crossover.
3. 1971 Ford Pinto
With an easily exploding rear end gas tank the “classic” Pinto was a bomb waiting to happen.
They shoot horses, don’t they? Well, this is fish in a barrel. Of course the Pinto goes on the Worst list, but not because it was a particularly bad car — not particularly — but because it had a rather volatile nature. The car tended to erupt in flame in rear-end collisions. The Pinto is at the end of one of autodom’s most notorious paper trails, the Ford Pinto memo , which ruthlessly calculates the cost of reinforcing the rear end ($121 million) versus the potential payout to victims ($50 million). Conclusion? Let ’em burn.
2. 1985 Yugo GV
The Yugo had a rear-window defroster (reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it). The engines would explode, the electrical systems (or what they would call it) would sizzle and fry themselves out, and overall things would just fall off.
Malcolm Bricklin, he of the Bricklin SV1, wouldn’t be satisfied until he had forced every American to walk to work. To that end, in 1985, he began importing the Yugo GV, which turned out to be the Mona Lisa of bad cars. Built in Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia, the Yugo had the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint. Interestingly, in a car where “carpet” was listed as a standard feature, the Yugo had a rear-window defroster — reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it. The engines went ka-blooey, the electrical system — such as it was — would sizzle, and things would just fall off. Yugo. Or not.
1. 1978 AMC Pacer
The car’s unusual rounded shape with massive glass area greatly contrasted with the “three-box architecture, square, boxy designs” incorporating upright grills and slab-sides of the era. This thing was just plain ugly.
A recent poll by Hagerty Insurance asked enthusiasts to name the worst car design of all time: This glassine bolus of dorkiness is the pathetic winner. Remember Richard Teague, designer of the amputated Gremlin? Him again. But, come on, the Pacer, it’s Wayne and Garth’s Mirth-mobile, for Heaven’s sake! You can’t hate on that. Indeed, my family owned a dark green Pacer with that Navajo-blanket upholstery, and it worked just fine until I drove it through a ditch, after which the heavy doors hung off their hinges like beagle ears. What I remember of this car is that, in the summer, it was like being an ant under a mean kid’s magnifying glass. The air conditioning was non-existent. You could actually see fumes of volatile petrochemicals out-gassing from the plastic dash. Wayne, I feel woozy.
Want a little more of everything cool?
Get the weekly digest when you sign up for our "Everything cool" mailing list.