A long time ago General Motors was a big dog in the auto industry but let's be honest; some of the whelps they birthed should have stayed on the drawing board. GM can take credit for some of the most classic of American autos in history. Concurrently, they have had more than their fair share of turds. It just boggles the mind that the same people who conceived the 1953 Corvette could come up with the Citation or the Chevette. What's worse is what they often did to some of their greatest car lines. Seriously, a four-cylinder Camaro with a top end of 90 mph going downhill with a tailwind. What could they have been thinking? Sadly, thanks to a marketing department that often outperforms its engineering division thousands of people endure through these models like piles on church pews.
Continue scrolling to keep reading
Click the button below to start article in quick view
A classic case of politics over good sense the 1923 Chevrolet Series-C Copper Cooled was the car that almost destroyed GM before it had a chance to become the world's largest company. The brainchild of Charles F. Kettering a company executive that was known for being more than just a bully; he was an asshole. Despite objections from brand managers and engineering staff, he pushed his baby to the front of the production line where it quickly began to overheat and explode in the company's face leaving GM with no option but to buy back and destroy all but two of the cars.
In the mid-seventies, Americans were jumping on the Japanese bandwagon and looking for cheaper transportation with better Gas mileage. Unfortunately, GM answered their cry by producing one of the greatest embarrassments that any U.S. automaker ever suffered; the Chevy Chevette. With standard liveries like a single speaker radio, no AC and a 52-horsepower engine it was cheap, but it was also a snail of a car that waddled down the road just long enough to be converted back into the beer cans from which it was made.
It takes a lot of headaches to make a behemoth company like GM bite the bullet, issue a stop sale and recall every car that was produced of a certain model but the Fiero succeeded at doing just that. You can’t breed thoroughbred racers on a donkey budget, but that is precisely what General Motors tried to do. The company dreamed of producing America’s first true mid-engine sports car but kept the purse strings so tight that they ended up borrowing some of the worst of the worst, like the ‘Iron Duke’ four-cylinder, in order to keep development costs down.
You may ask what the name Corvette is doing on a list of terrible cars. Well, my friend, the story goes like this. When Mr. Peanut was in office a slew of new EPA regulations came out that all but killed the American muscle car culture. All at once the vaunted 5.7-liter V8 that had driven these dream machines at blistering speeds was reduced to a poultry 185 hp making them drive more like a turtle on Xanax than the speed demons they were meant to be.
Named as Motor Trend’s car of the year in 1980 the Chevy Citation leaves one wondering what the hell they were thinking. They were uncomfortable to ride in, deplorable to drive with their mushy suspensions and weak rear brakes. The Citation, and the step-siblings of budget meetings - the Oldsmobile Omega, the Pontiac Phoenix, and the Buick Skylark - claim to fame is they set a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration record for government-mandated recalls that still stands today. If you owned one don’t feel bad it was the number one seller in 1980 so you’re not alone.
What can be said against the Vega that hasn’t already been said a thousand time over, not much. They were a good idea poorly executed. Envisioned as an economy sports car to challenge the Pinto they had a sexy design that looked good coming off the sales lot but quickly turned into oil drinking, rust buckets once they entered into the real world. Less we forget there was also the Pontiac Astre for those wanting a little more stylish piece of junk.
While many considered the 1965 Corvair Corsa as an emerging classic, the same could not be said for any model that came before it. Developed on a shoestring budget to combat the Beetles growing market share the 1960-1964 Corvairs had some rather nasty habits that made them less than ideal for most drivers. They tended to explode when hit from the rear which may have been the reason that GM designed them with a suspension that was so poorly balanced that the backend had a nasty habit of passing the front end in the gentlest of curves.
The most surprising thing about the Camaro “Iron Duke” is that GM never got sued for false advertising or at least for degrading a classic. You use the name Camaro and descriptions like ‘Sports Coupe,’ and people are going to expect a certain amount of performance from a car. Sorry, but a snail’s acceleration rate delivering 0 to 60 in under 20 seconds and a top end of a blistering 90 mph really doesn’t qualify in either category.
It is hard to believe that the cavalier lasted in the Chevrolet lineup for 23 years. Part of its success could be that it was introduced at a time when most Chevy fans had a choice between it a Chevrolet Chevette, a Chevy Citation and of course, the Camaro “Iron Duke.” Besides the fact that it was introduced among dismal competition, part of the Cavalier’s success could be that it never pretended to something it wasn’t; cheap basic transportation that would take you from A to B most days of the week, sometimes.
The best way to describe the 1992 Geo Metro Convertible is to consider it a street legal golf cart that is marginally safer, depending on the point of impact. Equipped with a 55 hp! The 3-cylinder engine it delivered amazing fuel economy until it struck a squirrel or pit of dust in the air. Heavy impacts left the driver at risk of severe bodily injury and the fact that it was a convertible only added to that daredevil feeling it brought to the highway.
The Chevrolet Uplander was a vehicle that suffered from an extreme identity crisis. It seemed that the designers at General Motors could never decide if they wanted a new larger minivan or more economical SUV, so they decided to poorly execute both at the same time. An anemic engine for its size, a lack of standard amenities such as folding seats and overall crappy execution on every front doomed this vehicle almost from its inception.
If you wanted proof positive that GM quit giving a shit about anything beyond their truck and SUV lineups in the late 90s, look no further than the 1997-2003 Chevrolet Malibu. Underpowered, overpriced and built with an eye towards maximizing profits while minimizing customer satisfaction it was a car that disappointed on almost every front. It’s one saving grace was it was a hit with rust fans especially around the fuel cell, filler pipe, and engine mounts.
One car that exemplifies everything that was going wrong with the American auto industry in the early 90s is the 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Built out of recycled plastic toys and aluminum cans it was a profit dog that relied more on NASCAR fans blindly laying down their cash than on the quality of production or engineering. The best thing about the reintroduced Monte is that it only lasted for one year.
Many people don’t even remember that GM once owned the hollowed British automaker Lotus, but they surely did their part to put their stamp of half-ass onto the company's reputation. GM took the wheel of the then-bankrupt Lotus in 1986 and immediately set a course for mediocrity. Their first and last new offering was the Lotus Elan, a car with a Detroit designed shrinking plastic body, front wheeled drive engine, and transmission engineered and built by Isuzu, that they marketed as being completely Lotus.
Here is a quiz that everyone should be able to pass without even breaking a sweat. What happens when you take one of the worst cars an automaker ever produced, don’t change anything but the trim and bump the MSRP up by several thousand dollars? Well, you get the Cadillac Cimarron a car that was nothing more than a Chevy Cavalier with nothing worthwhile added but a big chunk of change to the price tag.