9 of the (arguably) worst cars ever made
Making a car is hard. There is a lot of planning, engineering, manufacturing, and hand wringing involved. Even so, many companies throughout history have managed to successfully make great cars with relative consistency. Today, most new cars are at least pretty good. But it’s nice to look back and see where we’ve come from, not only to learn from our mistakes but to point and laugh at them. There have been so many bad cars that it would be impossible to list them all. But the very worst cars ever made have become famous, even celebrated for their deficiencies. So here we are to celebrate them. Bask in the glory of these all-time lemons.
Unless you drive an electric vehicle, there’s a container filled with a purposefully combustible liquid somewhere in your car at all times. It would be nice to know that said combustible liquid will stay safely in its container until called upon to help turn the wheels. In the 1970s, the Ford Pinto became famous for failing at this task. The rear-mounted fuel tank was easily punctured or broken during a collision, giving the Pinto the unfortunate habit of bursting into flames. Not only did the Pinto’s engineering failures lead to scores of accidents, they left a persistent dark stain on the Ford brand after it was discovered that Ford knew about the problems and did not remedy them for years to save money. It was a costly lesson, but one that Ford took to heart and today routinely makes some of the safest cars on the road.
Look at this thing. Just look at it. From any angle, Pontiac’s first official SUV has a bravely adventurous design but ultimately is a visual disaster. Look at the bug-like split headlights, look at the Hunchback of Notre Dame backside, look at the three-spoke wheels. Maybe I’m getting carried away, but I don’t think so. If the Aztek had been the boring, uncoordinated, poorly-assembled econobox that everyone expected, it would get a pass. But no, Pontiac decided to make a car that was exceptional in its ugliness. Maybe throw them a couple points for making it distinctive, but it’s just so weird. Mercifully, it was scuttled in 2005 after just four years of production. The Aztek’s only redeeming quality? Walter White bringing it back to remind us all of its dull, depressing, that-guy-can’t-be-a-meth-kingpin image.
The Yugo is widely considered the worst car ever sold. The worst sold at any time, in any place. It is laughably bad and famous for its many shortcomings. Now, Eastern Europe produced a number of cheap, under-resourced vehicles during the Soviet era, but the Yugo is the one that lives on in infamy. Why? Because someone actually imported it to be sold in US showrooms as the Yugo GV. When it came over from the former Yugoslavia in 1984 (hence, Yugo), the little hatchback was the cheapest car in America. There’s not much to it. The interior is as sparse and cheap as you’d expect. It’s also very slow. The Yugo commands 55 horsepower from its 1.1L engine and struggles with accelerating, braking, and handling. You know — things that a car does.
This one is convoluted. The original Ford Festiva was designed and manufactured by Mazda starting in 1986. It was sold as the Ford Festiva in Japan and the Mazda 121 in Europe and Australia. Then, for the 1988 model year, Ford wanted to sell the compact hatchback stateside. Naturally, they took the design to Kia, who copied Mazda’s original design and manufactured it for the North American market under the Ford Festiva nameplate. Uninspired would be a kind way to describe it. It made 58 horsepower from its 4-cylinder engine. Features like cloth seats and power steering were optional even for the top-level LX trim. Confusingly, Ford decided to bring it back for a second generation in 1993. But they recognized how bad it was so they renamed it the Ford Aspire. That’s not a name that screams confidence. It screams, “I wish I had a different car.” It didn’t sell very well, so the Aspire was dropped for good in 1995, ending Ford and Kia’s relationship.
If we’re giving awards to cars you’d rather unsee, the Fiat Multipla certainly gives the Pontiac Aztek a run for its money. It might even top it. This chunky abomination looks like a fifth-generation Chernobyl cooling pond catfish. It’s almost mesmerizing. It has three separate sets of beady little headlights, one of which is built into that off-putting muffin top bulge below the windshield. Inside, you can fit three people in each row of seats. So it seats six, but good luck finding five friends to join you in the Multipla. Actually, you can’t see the horrendous exterior from the inside, so maybe they’ll hop in after all. It’s the only place where you’re safe from those beady fish eyes.
A little while back, GM had Geo, a budget brand that was actually just Suzuki rebadged for sale in the US. In 1989, the Metro was Geo’s new entry-level hatchback. If you said it would be unfair to expect the entry-level compact from budget GM A.K.A. Suzuki to drive like a Golf R, you’d be right. The Geo Metro sported a 1.0L 3-cylinder, and could be had with an optional 3-speed automatic transmission. So it was quite slow, but its doors and body panels were so thin that the lack of speed was actually a welcome safety feature. And when the tiny engine was combined with those mountain-bike thin tires, it got decent gas mileage. So there.
The Trabant. The Trabant is so poorly thought out and executed, it is actually a triumph in its terribleness. During the Cold War, a huge resource discrepancy between East and West Germany meant that vastly different cars were produced on either side of the wall. West of the wall, the Germans made cars like the Volkswagen Beetle. In East Germany, where they didn’t have enough steel to mass produce vehicle bodies, they made cars out of cotton. Yes, the Trabant’s body panels are made of Soviet cotton waste. Duroplast, to be exact, which is a bit like fiberglass, but also it’s cotton. Watch this awesome commercial from the heyday of East German engineering. Edmunds calls the Trabant “one more reason why communism is evil.” The materials and build quality are last to none. It has four gears, but you can only coast when you’re in fourth. Meaning that if you’re in any other gear, you must be on the accelerator or shift to neutral. There are too many hilariously awful features in this car to list here. Thanks to its spectacular ineptitude, the Trabant has developed a cult following — and rightly so. It should be celebrated as the piece of history that it is.
Poor Daewoo. Daewoo was another budget Korean automaker trying to make it in the American market, competing with Hyundai and Kia. The Lanos was Daewoo’s entry-level car, and it was unequivocally the entry-levelest of any of its peers. The interior materials are pulled right out of a cheap highway motel. Everything of mechanical importance fell apart, always. The Daewoo Lanos, however, did play a starring role in the Seth Rogen movie Pineapple Express, so there’s that. If you’re unlucky enough to see one out on the streets, take a picture, because that Lanos will likely only be running for a few hundred miles longer.
Who at Chevy thought that “Citation” was a name of a car that people would buy? The Citation was the major gaff of the 1980s for Chevy, and not just because of the name. When it debuted in 1980, over 800,000 people bought it. On purpose! It was so popular that production couldn’t keep up with demand, and some people had to wait up to nine months to receive their Citation (hah). But the compact sedan’s sins were immediately apparent even to the people who paid thousands of dollars for a Citation. By its fourth year, sales had dropped 90 percent. It was discontinued in 1985, relegated to the history books and future snarky blog posts. The Citation was one of many missteps by American manufacturers in the ‘80s that helped make the compacts of Toyota and Honda such resounding successes. Silver linings.