Big hair, spandex, break dancing, boom boxes, and mixtapes all bring up fond memories of the 1980s. Unfortunately, while fashion and culture enjoyed tremendous strides forward, the auto industry took a big step back. From muscle cars with skinny performance numbers to luxury vehicles that lacked anything resembling good taste; this was a decade that was incredibly unkind to car designers. And, one can't forget the fun of top-priced sports cars that exploded onto the market, and then exploded on the roads. Some manufacturers never recovered from their 80s blunders.
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Sure, there's nostalgia for the iconic image of the DeLorean. The upward folding doors made it look futuristic, a perfect foil for the time machine in Back to the Future, but the poor road performance and time in the shop made this car anything but a consumer favorite. Thankfully, only 9200 of these ever left the manufacturing floor, before John DeLorean went out of business with a cloud of cocaine smuggling rumors rolling up any chance of a personally owned reboot.
Sold as a compact executive sedan, the Alfa Romeo Milano missed a lot of marks. Rust and maintenance issues plagued this Giulietta replacement, which was a surprise to buyers given the cutting edge on-dash diagnostic computer that was supposed to help owners find faults before they became significant repairs. Unfortunately, the idea might have been great, but the execution was not, creating a diagnostic computer that mostly diagnosed the fact that the car was a piece of crap.
In the history of bad decisions, taking a rear wheel drive sedan and turning it into a coupe or hatchback front wheel drive vehicle has to hit near the top of the list. The original Phoenix released in 1977 doesn't deserve a mention, but the redesign of 1980 certainly makes the list with a car that only retirees might actually consider, and even they might think twice. If you're looking for the reason why Pontiac ultimately went down in flames, the Phoenix is a good starting point.
For a crappy bucket of bolts, the Lada Riva showed surprising durability in the market, with production continuing in Egypt until 2015, but unsurprisingly, it was pulled from European and Canadian markets much earlier in 1997. The Lada Riva includes three different models for which the pros and cons can all be summed up with one word—cheap. Of course, it was so cheap because it was based on a car manufactured in the 1960s using 1950s tech.
Turbo makes you think fast and furious, like a rocket launching, and that's exactly what the Maserati Biturbo resembled as it exploded after too much time on the road. Even iconic brands known for quality can make engineering mistakes, as the Biturbo so eloquently demonstrated with fires as common in the turbo system as they were in the engine. The 225hp under the hood lured in plenty of buyers, but they weren't in love long with this shockingly bad design from one of Italy's premier luxury brands.
Even Ferrari gets it wrong sometimes. A big old V8 engine pumps out a seriously underwhelming 212hp in this 2+2 coupe, all packed into a bigger and heavier body than the much more performance-oriented predecessor-the 308. On the upside, it is still one of the cheapest ways to buy your way onto the rarefied list of Ferrari owners around the globe.
High gas prices, tanking global economies and rampant inflation all lead up to one of the worst Corvettes ever to roll off the floor-the 305 California. Increased emission standards made it impossible for the standard version to hit sales floors in the Golden State, so a moderate sportscar dropped to the bottom of the barrel with a 305-cubic-inch V8 and a 3-speed automatic transmission. With just 180-hp, it's amazing that this car actually carries the Corvette name.
Take a car known for its speed and power and drop the name on a 4-cylinder vehicle and you have the travesty known as the Chevrolet Camaro "Iron Duke." 90-hp. That's all the power you got with this purchase, and that doesn't look so good when cars coming off the lot 50 years earlier produced twice the hp. Add in a rust prone frame and flaky paint, and you have a recipe for one of the worst sports cars ever made.
The Yugo 45 is as crappy as the name advertises with 45hp in some models and an extremely stripped down interior. Any time you pop the hood and realize that the engine and spare tire share the same space, you'll want to stop and think a minute before buying. Small, cheap interior parts, very low-powered and prone to minor bugs and issues, this car still had a place on car lots with its incredibly reasonable price point that was well below anything else on the market.
Bad cars littered dealership lots in the early part of the decade and continued to be a problem well into the latter half with additions like the Cadillac Allante. Cadillac was a name synonymous with luxury in American-made cars, but the Allante failed to live up to that expectation. While it may have had leading hp numbers for a front wheel drive vehicle, it was still a front wheel drive vehicle - not what car enthusiasts are looking for.
The Pontiac Fiero dreamed big but crashed and burned. This car was supposed to feature a super lightweight body that would make the most of the installed Iron Duke engine, but the final weight hit a whopping 2,500-lbs, making it incredibly slow for a sports car. Add on the fact that running it with low oil led to fires in the engine compartment and you have a sports car that rapidly became a running (sometimes, anyway) joke.
The first few Chevy Cavalier's weren't great cars, so it should come as no surprise that the Tempo, Ford's response was just as underwhelming. They weren't bad cars, per se, but they sure didn't get the blood pumping, either. These cars did exactly what they were designed to do. The can get you from point A to point B, but don't expect to enjoy the ride. The Tempo was a commuter car in every sense, without any standout engineering to make it memorable.
Sometimes, it isn't that a car is terrible, it's that a car just isn't good. The Mercury Lynx, a re-branded Ford Escort, wasn't the world's worst car—though there are few movements as torturous as trying to get into the backseat of a 3-door wagon—it wasn't the best either, despite the price tag. A sluggish 70hp combined with a price tag that translates into upwards of 16k in today's dollars made for a costly piece of non-exciting automotive technology.
Branding can make or break a car. What Toyota puts on the road appeals to Toyota customers, but the Cadillac Cimarron was not designed for the luxury buyer. Instead, this 4-cylinder, 88 hp car came out wrapped in the Cadillac branding without any of the oomph that makes a Caddy.
The Pontiac Trans Am, depending on the year, is a great car. It's such a great car that it actually hurts a little to add any version to the list of worst cars, but the Turbo earned its spot with performance numbers nearly identical to the non-turbo version. When you sell a turbocharged system, you're selling speed, which this version did not have, making it a massive misstep in a lineup that has some pretty impressive designs.
No car manufacturer wants their lineup to be synonymous with bad jokes, but that's exactly what happened to the Skoda Estelle, the cheapest car on the market when it released in 1976. The rear engine was a throwback, making the car obsolete almost before it hit the roads, and it was years before it made any kind of comeback. The 1980s models were actually an improvement, with surprisingly good balance and handling, but a reputation like that doesn't go away overnight.