Published October 06, 2012
Automotive journalism isn’t what it was a generation ago — in large part because of the lack of truly bad cars. Old school auto scribes were often at their best when they had foils like the Chevy Vega and Yugo upon which to exercise their poison pens. But while the truly horrible cars are gone, their legacy of quality and engineering to last a lunchtime remain in the automotive fossil record. Here are some of the all-time worst:
1. 1971-77 Chevrolet Vega: The Vega was intended by General Motors to send the nascent brigade of Japanese sub-compacts back across the Pacific. Instead, its aluminum engine with attendant overheating and oil burning problems, and its horribly rust-prone sheet metal sent a human wave of buyers to Toyota and Dastun dealerships.
2. 1957-91 Trabant: Commies never did the automobile well. Even party bosses were stuck with dinosaurs that always looked like copies of something that Cadillac or Packard had jettisoned years ago. Denizens of the worker’s paradise known the DDR or East Germany were — after years of service to the state — fortunate enough to acquire this wheezing automobile powered by a two-stroke lawn mower-type engine with a body made of recycled (and likely carcinogenic) industrial waste materials.
3. Yugo GV: As if the world needed any more proof that commies couldn’t do cars, in the 1980s the Yugo was foisted on unsuspecting Americans by Malcolm Bricklin (who once built his own car in Canada and was responsible for the next car on the list). Built in the former Yugoslavia from outdated Fiat technology, it was sold in the U.S. from 1985-92 at a starting price of just $3,990 (adjusted for inflation, that’s still less than eight grand). Horribly built, barely able to pass safety or emission regulations, and the slowest car on the market at just 86 mph, a massive recall in 1992 followed by a NATO bombing raid on the factory in 1999 ended the Yugo.
4. Subaru 360: An earlier effort by the abovementioned Malcolm Bricklin saw him importing Subarus into the U.S. The first model was one that clearly was not ready for prime time. With just 25 hp, the car struggled to keep up with even VW Beetles and it was slammed by the automotive press of the time: Road & Track called it “a car of uncommon ugliness” and Consumer Reports concluded that its bumpers would be useless against anything more formidable than a watermelon.
5. Cadillac Cimarron: The Cimarron wasn’t a horrible car in the vein of the above underachievers. The car’s real downfall was in the cynicism and colossal conceit that lay underneath the concept behind it — it was essentially a very cheap Chevrolet Cavalier with a nicer interior, a different grille and tail lights, and Cadillac badges. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of using humble underpinnings for a pricier car — Buick is doing it now with the Verano. The difference here is that the Chevy Cruze platform is infinitely more competent than the Cavalier and the Verano isn’t nearly identical to the Cruze.