Every car company on the planet has produced a lemon or two through the years. It is one of those things that just happens. Someone has a bad day and lets one slip by that shouldn’t have left the plant. Then there are these models. Cars that were so flawed from their conception that getting one that ran right was like winning the lottery. These are the cars that cost companies their reputations, dealerships their customers and made a comfortable pair of walking shoes a driver’s best friend. If you were unlucky enough to have owned one of these jewels you have our pity and your mechanic's thanks for putting his kids through college. If it makes you feel better in at least one case, they led to a company closing its doors forever.
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Literally a fireball on wheels, the Pinto was designed with one idea in mind, cutting every possible corner to make Ford as much profit as possible from its 2k base price. Unfortunately, one thing the company chose not to install was protection for its rear-mounted gas tank. This caused the car to develop a nasty habit of exploding when struck from the rear; an issue that eventually cost Ford millions of dollars in lawsuits and recalls.
It isn’t easy for a single car to make a laughing stock out of two major automakers at the same time, but the 1989 Chrysler TC by Maserati succeeded in doing just that. Thrown together from bits and pieces of left-over K-car parts the TC was essentially an overpriced, two-seat LeBaron assembled by a pissed off labor force who was hoping to see it fail. Sadly, for many Chrysler fans, they got their wish, and these cars spent more time up on blocks than on the road.
This car is proof positive that the Brits have a sense of humor that has to be experienced to be understood. Not satisfied with building a plastic car, they installed an engine better suited to a motorcycle, and just for kicks decided to leave off one of the front wheels. The result was a car that was so unstable that it was more likely to roll over on to its top than to roll down the road.
Built by the now defunct American Motor Company (AMC) the Renault Alliance was an Americanized version of the companies long standing 60-hp Renault 9 subcompact. Unfortunately, for the company, the European inspired monochrome paint and white walls didn’t translate well to the American market. This was actually a good thing for consumers though as the U.S. version of the car was so poorly built that it earned the nickname ‘droopy’ because of the way the doors sagged when opened.
The 1917 Chevrolet Series D was the companies first attempt at producing a V-8 powered car. It was capable of producing a mind-boggling 36 bhp at a time when a Chey 4 cylinder was putting out 42 horses and had such reliability issues that it came factory equipped with provisions to hook real horses to its front end. The entire experiment was dropped after one year and left such a sour taste in the company’s mouth that it was 37 years before they reentered the V-8 market.
As gas prices soared in the late 70s and early 80s a lot of car companies experimented with putting diesel engines into their midsized cars and family sedans. The hands-down least successful of these efforts was the 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The 4.3-liter diesel that GM chose for this car had an explosive 90 hp, and we literally mean explosive, the engines were known for exploding and slinging shrapnel across the countryside.
If the Reliant Robin was proof of the British sense of humor, then the Trabant is confirmation that there was nothing funny in East Germany during the cold war. Literally made from glue and old clothes, the Trabant had a two-stroke, three-cylinder engine and many models left the factory with no turn signal indicators or headlights, no tachometer, no rear seat belts, no fuel gauge, no external fuel door, and drivers had to pour a mix of gasoline and oil directly under the hood. With such high-quality standards, it is hard to imagine why the company didn’t survive in a unified Germany.
The 1982 Cadillac Cimarron was marketed in part as the economical car that would take you anywhere in Cadillac style, and this was true as long as you planned on going by the garage on the way home. Nothing more than an overpriced Chevy Cavalier, the Cimarron suffered from having the same dismal engine and faulty electrical system as its cheaper brother. If there was ever a case of people paying solely for a name, then this car was it.
There aren’t many, if any, jokes that you can make about the Edsel that haven’t been done a million times over. Fords legendary flop was a car intended for a market that didn’t exist, was uglier than homemade sin and about as reliable as a politician's promises. The best that could be said for it is that if grandma has one in a barn somewhere, it is worth a penny or two since there weren’t many that survived.
Not so much a car as a Snaptite model without the high production standards the Saturn Ion was the GM car that never should have existed. The body was comprised of plastic panels that sort of fit together sometimes, the engine was anemic at best, and its brake system had a nasty habit of blowing wheel cylinders at inopportune moments. Driving one was kind of like joining the Navy, not just a job. An adventure.
The Chevy Vega might have been the car that single-handedly started the Japanese car craze in America. They came factory direct with engines that refused to hold oil, fuel cells that would dance out of their strapping and just looking at one you could feel GM’s total contempt for their customers emanating from every loose nut and stripped bolt. The best that could be said for them is they were easily converted into dragsters since they automatically fell apart upon leaving the dealership.
The Best statement that was ever uttered about the Yugo is that it is an excellent car for people wanting to learn how to work on cars. They don’t like to start in wet weather, bits and pieces fall off at random times, the timing belt was prone to jump teeth, and its fit and finish were what you would expect from a car produced in a former Soviet satellite country. Then again with a price tag lower than a set of rims for most American cars what did people think they were going to get.
Looking like nothing more than a large egg mounted over a backward child’s tricycle the BMW Isetta is either one of the coolest or craziest car designs ever to hit the market. The entire front of the car acts as its only door, so you can’t exit the car if you park facing a wall and it came standard with a single cylinder 12 hp engine that would have you blazing down the road at 52 mph. The best thing about this Bimmer was that a tank of gas would last forever since they spent more time getting fixed than rolling down the highway.
A Pinto by any other name is still a piece of crap, and that is all the Mustang II ever was a Pinto with a trunk and that nasty fire issue kind of straightened out. What could have ever possessed Ford to saddle the Mustang name with this monstrosity is beyond Tang lovers comprehension. They were slow, ugly and so prone to breaking down that Ford stopped offering extended warranties on them because they were losing too much money on repairs.
The only car on this list to successfully kill an 84-year-old car company, the Aztek, was the final nail in Pontiac’s coffin. Neither a car nor a van nor an SUV, the Aztek was a goofy looking vehicle that suffered from an identity disorder beyond anything Sigmund Freud ever dreamed of in his feverish brain. Sadly, as ugly as these things were, their looks were the best part of a package that included electrical problems, transmission issues and engine electronics that were totally unreliable.