Hall of Shame: The Worst Cars of All Time
Many things make up the worst cars of all time. Some start with so much promise and years of manufacturing expertise but fall flat once they hit the highway. Other are ambitious and try to push the boundaries of motoring history. Except they to end up with a hunk of scrap for the junkyard. There are more that simply explode, crumple, fall apart, or can’t be insured. And then there are those cars that just can’t seem to stay vertical. There are even cars who never make it simply because their names are absolutely terrible. Here are 15 of the best examples of the worst: some are from reputable car manufacturers that really should have known better, and others from companies that luckily, for our safety and sanity, no longer exist.
Sales are not necessarily a measure of the quality of a car, and the Ford Mustang is a perfect example. A great seller at the time, the Mustang frequently tops the list of the greatest muscle cars ever made. However, the 74′ Mustang stood out for completely missing the mark in every category that made it famous. It was unattractive and lacked any power, resulting in many people calling it a rebadged Pinto. It’s all about context with this one, as Ford’s 1974 release was a reaction to rising gas prices and a general shift in car owners needs. The Mustang II was the only model to come without a V-8 engine, effectively turning it into the Trojan Horse of muscle cars. The Mustang did, however, win the Motor Trend Award for Car of the Year in 1974, but this is yet more proof that the 70s were a strange time, and that no one is immune.
What do you get when you cross a demoralized workforce, incompetently run factories and a communist state that discouraged innovation? The answer is the Trabant, an East German car made out of compressed cardboard covered in plastic resin. Unsurprisingly, reliability was a real problem, and the transmission is generally considered to be the worst ever produced. Somehow, demand for the Trabant was through the roof and even up to its demise in 1990, there was a ten-year waiting list. How you ask? Well, it’s not hard to corner the market when you’re the only car available in the country. The Scorpions brought the Winds of Change not a moment too soon for East German car owners.
Toyota Estima Lucida G Luxury Joyful Canopy, Mitsubishi Lettuce, Honda That's, Izuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard (tie)
What’s in a name? Well in the case of these incredibly named cars, quite a lot. The Toyota Estima Lucida G Luxury Joyful Canopy, a futuristic van that hit the market in the 90’s, underwent a name change and is now known as the Toyota Lucida, a move that probably saved it from the scrap heap. The Lettuce was a tiny hatchback and a version of the Mincia whose name could conjure up the best-wilted diner platter you’ve never had. The Honda That’s was only available in Japan, where they may not have spent all that much time figuring out what ‘that’ actually was. The Izuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard must be the winner for the best worst title of a car ever, or at least of the greatest victim of Japanese-English transliteration. Are any of these cars any good? Who knows! Would anyone admit to owning one of them? Probably not! Names like these prove that it’s not just the car you put out, but the package you wrap it in.
We ask for certain simple things of our cars: four wheels, an ability to get us places and not being readily combustible. The Ford Pinto ticked the first two boxes but could manage the third. In rear-end collisions, the Pinto had the unfortunate habit of bursting into flames. To make matters worse, Ford knew about the problem before releasing the car but calculated that damage payments would be lower than actually fixing the problem. Armed with an actual fireball of a product, production went ahead, and the car exploded onto the market in 1971. However, the Pinto soon became synonymous with faulty engineering, and while the damage payments may have been lower for Ford, the cost of rebuilding a reputation was considerable.
Any car made famous as a long-running joke on a tv show really must take its place on a Worst Cars list. A supporting actor on the iconic British TV show Only Fools and Horses, the Reliant Robin stands out as one of the most design flawed vehicles ever to grace the road. The three-wheel design had one on the front and two in the back, which was thought to make the car easier to maneuver through narrow streets and thus the perfect vehicle for city driving. However, the Robin wasn’t built with a counterbalance for the three-wheel design, so if you happened to be driving around alone, the weight of the driver tended to make the entire car tip over. This was particularly problematic, as the Robin was only built to carry the driver alone. You can see why this made the perfect punchline for an 80’s sitcom in the UK.
We are currently facing a turning point in our driving culture, as autonomous vehicles threaten to take over our streets. Around the world, companies and governments are stepping over each other to be the first to transition to the future fully. However, these companies are way behind the time because more than a century ago Uriah Smith in Battle Creek, Michigan was at the forefront of an automotive revolution. You see, there was once a time when people thought the transition from horse and carriage to automobile would be tough. Smith’s Horsey Horseless, the most subtly named car ever, had the bust of a horse’s head bolted to the front of the carriage. If that’s not enough to give you nightmares, the head was hollow and filled with petrol, making this one blazing steed.
In the height of the counterculture, the quirky shape of the VW beetle became a symbol of peace, love, and freedom. Subaru wanted a piece of the action so; in 1968, they released the 360, a car so bad it made the Beetle look like a tall, blond, 100m sprinter. Someone in the Subaru marketing department made a real miscalculation of the counterculture aesthetic, formulating the never-so-true-as-now tagline of “cheap and ugly.” It stood out from the crowd alright, but not for the reasons Subaru would have liked. A 1969 Consumer Reports article labeled the 360 as ‘unacceptably hazardous,’ and much like a Tinder profile with the same results, it bombed. The 360 was out of the car game in a year, a painful reminder that when your crumple zone is as all-encompassing as your name, you might want to go back to the drawing board.
When Plymouth announced they would put their concept hotrod street car into production, the excitement among car enthusiasts was widespread. The idea of a street legal, drag race styled V8 beast produced somewhere other than someones shed was enough to bring people clamoring to check out the new Prowler, and the resurgence of muscle car dreams made expectations high for the result. Imagine the blanket disappointment when Plymouth released the Prowler, a V6 house cat of a street rod that was quiet and serene and just about everything it shouldn’t have been. The front bumper was, for reasons apparent to one, designed to look like two plastic bulldozers, and the fenders turned along with the steering wheel. The body looked like a Hot Wheels car come to life, and not in a good way. The V6 engine is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission that Plymouth borrowed from the Ford Intrepid, making it barely faster than an early model Prius. Despite a couple of upgrades making it louder and more interesting, the Prowler lasted five years before people went back their kits. The lesson here: it’s never a good thing when your car makes a PT Cruiser look cool in comparison.
Frequently voted one of the ugliest cars ever made, the AMC Pacer has the look of two different cars welded together. Market testing revealed at every stage that no one liked the look, but AMC was convinced that people would come to embrace the Frankenstein nature of the Pacer. Indeed, they may have been onto something: upon its release, the Pacer got great reviews, being called “futuristic,” “bold,” and “unique.” In a way, it was each of those things, and AMC even came out with an electric version to respond to the oil crises that plagued drivers throughout the 1970’s. However, people never quite fell in love with that design. AMC wanted to sell great cabin space in a slim package, but what they ended up with was a car with a huge trunk, double-barrelled side exhausts, faux wooden interior and no air conditioning. Needless to say, the Pacer has not aged well.
Although it became world famous on movie posters, the Delorean is actually the poster child of motoring disasters. Originally planned to be assembled in Puerto Rico, Delorean production moved to Dublin, lured by financial incentives that the cash-strapped company couldn’t pass up. Despite (or because of) the move, the car was doomed from the start. Production was delayed for five years when the original engine ended production, and the new engine they purchases didn’t actually fit into the chassis. This meant that the Delorean had to move the powertrain to the back, with disastrous results for the power output. It really could have used a flux capacitor, because the poor thing could hardly run at all. Although Delorean managed to build 9,000 cars in the first year, their inexperienced labor force resulted in a poor quality build. The underwhelming end product, coupled with a slump in the US car market meant that the DMC-12 failed to make it even a year into the future.
Someone really should make it a rule that cars are much better off when they have four wheels. The second three-wheeler to make our list, the Peel Trident was clearly designed by someone at the Peel Engineering Company with a fascination for the classic cartoon ‘The Jetsons.’ Unlike the Robin, the Trident’s wheel design was one in the back and two in the front, and it did have space for two people, even though it was just over 4 feet long. Indeed, it claimed the title of the world’s smallest car and for reasons unknown, captured a segment of the UK driving population. However, the design problems didn’t end at the fact that this was basically a go-kart with a fishbowl and seats. The Plexiglas domed roof tended to act as a heat amplifier, cooking the people who actually managed to fit inside. On the long list of must-haves for a car, “recreating what happens when you hold a magnifying glass over ants in the sun” isn’t normally high up. The Trident is a collector’s item now, which is fair enough, as it probably fits on most living room display shelves.
Generally known as the worst car ever produced, The Yugo was imported into the US from Yugoslavia (hence the name) as a cost-conscious option for the American market. This dubious honor was not without merit: the build quality of the Yugo was so poor, and it broke down so often that people would joke that the rear window warmer was for your hands when you inevitably had to push it. Things got so bad that many insurance companies refused to cover it: with pieces that regularly fell off, short-circuiting electrical systems and exploding engines (seriously), it’s not that much of a surprise. Although, in retrospect, it wasn’t that hard to anticipate that the Yugo would have a short life in the USA. The 55 horsepower engine shared space under the hood with the spare tire, and the tire was actually bigger than the engine. But some still inevitably sold: really, how could you resist a car that lists “carpets” as one of its features? Today, the Yugo remains a cult item that evokes a Cold War era type of nostalgia, kind of like Yakov Smirnov in a New York Mets cap.
The Alfasud was projected to be another amazing addition to the Alfa Romeo range, which enjoyed a level of success and international distribution that few other Italian car makers could claim. As a subcompact, the Alfasud was touted as faster and better handling than any other car in its class, and pre-orders flooded in. Alfa Romeo worked hard to meet these demands, quickly producing 1 million cars in their new factory just outside of Naples. However, this was Italy in the 70s, so they had a pretty big problem. The Mafia ran most of southern Italy at the time, and they ‘encouraged’ Alfa Romeo to use an entirely Mafia led workforce. Inexperienced and altogether unwilling to learn, the crew commonly stopped production on the line altogether, with over 700 work stoppages reported during the production of the Alfasud. Things got worse: the cheap Soviet steel was all left outside to rust before being painted over, only to eventually fall apart. It seems there are some offers that you really must refuse.
Bricklin started out with three noble goals in mind when they developed the SV-1: they wanted something sporty, efficient and safe. It’s a real shame that they barely managed to do one of those things. The heavy frame, roll bars and bumpers needed to make the car safe weighed it down so heavily that it needed a V8 engine, which effectively killed its efficiency in a market trying to stay afloat during a gas crisis. The plastic body panels were so prone to temperature change that they became difficult to fit in their freezing factory in Canada. Another brainchild of Malcolm Bricklin, the owner of Subaru, the cars were designed without an ashtray or lighter, to discourage smoking (Bricklin believed it was unsafe to smoke and drive). Ahead of his time on that, he was behind in some other crucial areas: namely, payments for the production of the SV-1. The provincial government of New Brunswick, where the car was made, had advanced Bricklin the money to produce the car but this was mostly spent on research and engineering, along with the costs of keeping his workforce alive in US companies. That, coupled with the $15,000 production cost and $5,000 price tag gave the SV-1 a lifespan of only two years, or slighter shorter than the wingspan of that death trap like gullwing doors.
Have you ever looked at a car and thought, that must be an April Fools Joke? If you’ve ever seen the Aston Martin Cygnet, the answer is probably yes. You see, Aston Martin is a luxury car maker that badly needed to raise their fuel economy profile, and in the last decade, this meant getting in on the miniature city car market. Cars like the Smart of the Toyota iQ were ditching the frills and installing electric motors on vehicles that would be perfect for buzzing around town and parking just about anywhere. Aston Martin took their cues from the latter, basing the Cygnet on the Toyota Scion iQ microcar. However, the results were less than stellar for the car maker famous for outfitting James Bond with his getaway rides. The small, stubby shape wrapped around a 1.3-liter engine and cost three times more than the Scion iQ. Needless to say, the car sold way below expectations. Apparently, not many people wanted to capture the spirit of an out of work James Bond, who has let himself go a little and now shuffles back and forth to the shops to pick up some bits for dinner.
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