These classic clunkers may be gone, but the pain lingers on.
There have been lots of horribly designed vehicles, but does that make a car bad?
What if you and your sweetie had your first kiss in the back of a Pinto or got engaged in a Pacer? Then these cars would represent something cherished.
So here’s a list in absolutely no order. It was compiled with the help of Ontario, Canada, auto writer Peter Cheney.
CHEVY CORVAIR (1960-69)
The Corvair is probably most famous for a skewering by safety watchdog Ralph Nader when he wrote a book about the car titled “Unsafe at Any Speed.”
The engine was in the back and was cooled by air instead of water. During its first test run at a race track, the car flipped over. But at the same time, the Corvair was also lauded. Calling it a “Poor Man’s Porsche,” Motor Trend magazine named it their Car of the Year for 1960.
AMC PACER (1975-1981)
Car and Driver dubbed the Pacer “The Flying Fishbowl.” It was heavily advertised but failed miserably. The right door was longer than the left. Also known as the “Rolling Jellybean,” its gas mileage was just over 20 mpg. A sky-blue Pacer with flame decals and a licorice dispenser was used in “Wayne’s World.” Wayne and Garth called it the Mirth Mobile. The car was sold at a recent Las Vegas auction for $37,000.
FORD EDSEL (1957-59)
The Edsel was much ballyhooed by Ford as a revolutionary vehicle. But when introduced, buyers hated the design.
It had push-button gear shifts mounted on the steering wheel. Drivers ended up shifting gears while trying to honk the horn.
AMC GREMLIN (1970-78)
This small rust bucket was also a gas guzzler (21 mpg). The flip-up back window was prone to break off in the driver’s hands, Cheney says. The windshield wipers were vacuum-operated. The design was sketched on an air sickness bag. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush drove Gremlins in 1974.
FORD PINTO (1971-1980)
The Pinto’s claim to infamy was a notorious design error — a fuel filler neck that snapped off in rear-end collisions, turning the Pinto into a flaming deathtrap. Eddie Murphy joked that his family used to rear-end Pintos rather than buying fireworks.
A memo later uncovered concerning the Pinto said that Ford executives were aware of the problem but calculated that the cost of fixing it was greater than the potential payout to victims.
Dan Neil, auto writer for the Wall Street Journal, calls the Yugo the Mona Lisa of bad cars. “It was built in Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia and had the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint,” Neil says. Our favorite Yugo joke: A guy walks into an auto parts store and asks the clerk, “Can I get a set of wiper blades for a Yugo?” The clerk thinks about it for a second and then says, “Well, I suppose that’s a fair trade.” The Yugo sticker price: $3,900.
CHEVY VEGA (1970-77)
When you saw a Vega on the road it was either belching out oily smoke or being towed.
The engine only delivered 80 horsepower. Rust was its biggest problem. Holes often developed the floorboards after only two years on the road. The man in charge of overseeing the Vega’s production: John DeLorean.
PONTIAC AZTEK (2001-05)
Many say the Aztek was single-handedly responsible for destroying Pontiac. In the U.S., annual sales never topped 25,000. GM executive Bob Lutz says the Pontaic Aztek looked like “an angry kitchen appliance.” The car saw a resurgence in popularity when Walter White drove one in “Breaking Bad.”
SUZUKI ESTEEM (1995-2002)
The first commercials featured a giraffe talking to the camera as this peculiar gas-guzzler drove by. “That’s a pretty nice-looking car,” the giraffe says. The next ads featured a young woman driving while talking to a baby antelope.
CHEVROLET CHEVETTE (1975-1987)
The interior was shiny plastic that came in black, beige or bright red. Although the Chevette got great gas mileage it had only a 51-horsepower engine. Disgruntled union workers in Detroit sometimes welded Coke bottles into the sills of cars going down the assembly line, creating mysterious rattles that were impossible to fix.
VW THING (1968-1983)
The car was known as the Kurierwagen in West Germany, the Trekker in the U.K., the Safari in South America and the Pescaccia in Italy. In the U.S. it was known as the Thing because in the 1950s through to the late 1970s Pontiac produced a station wagon called the Safari, so the name was off-limits.
The Thing went on the American market in 1972. Sales were unimpressive. Folks thought The Thing was just too darn ugly.
The Trabant was built in East Germany from 1957 to 1990. It’s the size of a Mini Cooper. The Trabant has a two-cylinder two-stroke engine with a horsepower of 26 — the same as a Sears Craftsman 917 riding lawn mower. The Trabi has no oil pump. You have to mix two cycle oil with the gas by yourself, so the Trabant spews a constant plume of pungent exhaust. But in communist East Germany, the Trabant was a status symbol.