There are plenty of Ford vehicles that have garnered fame for their incredible body styles and legendary reliability. But there are also those benchwarmers who haven’t necessarily been sales failures—in fact, many have had better success than the Mustang—but have still been botched by Ford in one way or another. It’s not to say that these aren’t great cars because many of them have been some of the best-sellers in Europe and at home, but they're just not the models that last the test of time.
Ford had great opportunities with almost all of these vehicles and yet they didn’t take things to the next level. Whether it was out of fear of losing on an investment or simply because they wanted to minimize production costs, various decisions caused many of the vehicles from the 80s and 90s to be mutations of one another rather than unique cars with their own strengths and weaknesses. When a manufacturer is attempting to please as many consumers as possible while keeping costs low, the variety can sometimes make them a master of none.
Needless to say, it’s pretty obvious that some of these designs were inspired by something, somewhere—we’re just still trying to figure out what exactly that was. Yes, the vast majority of the body styles that Ford used throughout these decades are just recycled ideas. And, again, some of these are excellent vehicles with absolutely terrible dependability. But Ford has been in the automobile industry for quite some time, and what do we know about the car-building business?
25 80s Thunderbird
When you evaluate the evolution of a classic car like the Thunderbird, it’s almost nauseating to notice it go from being one of the most prominent cars of its time to a wannabe muscle car. There may be a few former owners who love the ninth-gen Thunderbird, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of classic enthusiasts. Transforming the T-bird into a fancy Fairmont was questionable for the iconic nameplate. When the Fox body came into the picture, everything just begins to look cheap for Ford. The sales for the Thunderbird tanked immediately and Ford found out the hard way that consumers prefer their icons with more meat on their bones.
24 80s Escort
Nothing to brag about, the 80s Ford Escort was just another entrant in the early age of compacts. Unless you’re talking about the GT, the Ford Escort looks like something you’d see characters on The Office driving. The car was highly reliable and in fact, some say that theirs still run to this very day with over 200k miles on the car. Needless to say, the Escort was a very simple vehicle that offered extreme reliability, low maintenance, gas-efficiency, and the plainest trim you have ever seen. It’s quite clear that Ford wanted to keep the production costs of this vehicle very low—in order to keep the sales price low and make the car competitive in the compact market so that they could maximize profits. There’s nothing wrong with the Escort, it’s just strange (and unfortunate) that Ford had no inclination to give it even a tinge of personality.
23 80s Fairmont
You didn’t have to be around during the Fairmont’s prime to realize how blandly the car was designed. No matter what model you’re referring to, the Fairmont is always boxy with little-to-no inspiration on the interior. The compact was based on the Fox Platform of rear-wheel-drive cars with a unibody chassis. Unfortunately for the Fairmont, Ford made the decision to phase out this car along with their other Fox vehicles because front-wheel drive was becoming more prevalent in the automobile industry. Thankfully, this ended the Fairmont (and its Mercury look-alike) once and for all. It’s cars like these that Ford had no real commitment to keeping on their lots and that consumers will not miss.
22 80s Bronco
Similar to the Ranger (though less popular), the Bronco is one of those vehicles that Ford fans would love to see make a comeback in the modern age. It was a good-looking competitor to the Chevy Blazer, but the Bronco II had a major fault that kept it at bay—namely that it was insanely top-heavy. This beast, while cool to look at and fun to drive, was also very easy to flip. The problem, though, is not just the fact that it would flip, but that Ford knowingly sold it anyway. During the design phase, it was clear that stability was a serious issue for the Bronco II, according to Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective. It became pricey to insure after several tests and many accidents, which led Ford to eliminate it entirely.
21 80s Cortina
The Cortina was one of the best-selling cars of all time in Britain. Even though it’s a simple sedan, the Cortina offered customers a good amount of options and made driving very comfortable. It was one of Ford’s most celebrated cars ever built. In fact, the last model was a special edition and sold over 30k units, which is a record for Ford. We’re not sure if Ford wanted to let the reputation of the Cortina remain a warm, fuzzy memory for the Ford enthusiasts—which would make it a lot easier to sell if they ever decided to bring it back—or simply because they wanted to answer the new demand for gas-efficient compacts. Regardless, the Cortina was actually a well-received vehicle, it’s just strange how quickly it disappeared from the Ford fleet given that it proved its worth over and over again.
20 80s Granada
It may be hard to believe, but Ford actually downsized the Granada in the second generation for 1981 and 82 (though it’s hard to imagine that the previous body style could have been any larger). The GL may be a two-door, but it’s probably larger than most modern-day sedans. If you’re not a Fairmont fan, then you’re probably not big on Granadas either because they share many of the same unappealing features. For instance, the doors were the same as the ones used on the Fairmont. To create the illusion of variation, Ford changed up the style of the roofline and imitated the fascias of larger Ford vehicles. In other words, the Granada is really just a smorgasbord of cars that already existed within the Ford stable. It was a generic car produced at a low cost that they thought would bring in a lot of sales.
19 80s Propane-Powered (LPG) LTD
No one would have ever guessed that a big-name manufacturer like Ford would fall for something new and ‘innovative’ like liquefied petroleum gas. This version of the LTD was propane-powered and had a modest four-cylinder engine. We’re not sure if Ford actually bought into the propane hoax or if it was just a way for the manufacturer to line their pockets with the cash of gullible consumers. Either way, the LTD didn’t last very long since there was a total lack of infrastructure for propane fueling. The tech was too rare and instantly endangered this model of the LTD, leaving naïve owners with a cruddy investment.
18 80s EXP
The EXP shared the same front-wheel drive and four-wheel independent suspension that the Escort was equipped with, but the similarities stopped there. It was loaded with all the bells and whistles, including power brakes, full carpeting, map lighting, a rear window defroster, a security shade, and even a digital clock. Of course, all of these goodies came at a higher price, but these were accessories that prior models never saw on a standard model (or even on the highest trim, for some). With all of these amenities you would expect that the car’s exterior would have a better look to it. Actually, taking in the entire appearance of an EXP, you don’t even really expect that it would be much different from any other compact hatch. Show of hands, who wants to buy a refined Pinto for double the cost?
17 80s LTD Country Squire Station
As you can see from several of Ford’s 1980s-era sedans, the manufacturer wasn’t the most innovative, with the exception of a few misled anomalies like the LPG LTD. The 1980s Country Squire Station trailed behind its competitors' family vehicles. After years of wood-grain, that wagon finally lost its luster for most buyers. By the end of the decade, it became the lowest seller of all of Ford’s vehicles. The wood-grain wagon was made old news with the release of Chrysler minivans. They were far more convenient and comfortable for a busy family, leaving wagons (in general) behind in the dust. We’re not sure why it took so long for Ford to end the overdue Country Squire, but it was a financial lesson the manufacturer (hopefully) learned from.
16 80s Telstar
It may not be the most memorable Ford that was ever made, but the Telstar is a distinctive compact with some unforgettable features. If you exclude the TX5 Turbo—which is beloved by enthusiasts and previous owners alike—then the Telstar is simply a lightweight hatchback with little comfort (especially on long distance rides) that’s also severely underpowered. The TX5 made this model worth driving, otherwise, the constant rust removal and small quirks will make you wish you’d bought a different car. While there are a few minor difficulties that the Telstar has been known to experience, overall it’s a reliable vehicle that will never let you down. The eccentric exterior could have been upgraded, at least for the TX5, to boost its popularity, but Ford lagged behind in the creative department with this one.
15 80s Crown Victoria
Once a trim level of the Ford LTD, the Crown Victoria became a standalone model in 1983. To the modern eye, it’s unexpected that the Crown Victoria would gain more acclaim than the Telstar. Even though this car is just as reliable and offers more space, the Telstar beat it on gas mileage and the TX5 model also offered a turbo, which would seem like a pretty convincing selling point. Nonetheless, you can still find plenty of 80s-era Crown Vics riding around town, unlike the Telstar. The Crown Vic is more widespread even though it's packed with a big, 5.0-liter V8 and handles more like a boat than a sedan.
14 80s RS200
Since the primary purpose of the RS200 was rally racing, there were very few street-legal models made (a little over 200) to meet homologation standards. According to Guinness, the RS200 held a world record for being the fastest accelerating car for over 12 years. It’s true that sports cars are typically the most challenging to sell, but it’s an absolute tragedy that Ford of Britain didn’t produce more of these for street use. The RS200 was an excellent four-wheel-drive rally car that would have probably sold very well. Instead, Ford simply made just enough road legal models in order to race the RS200 in the World Rally Championship. It was extremely popular in the 80s and would have been the perfect opportunity for Ford to showcase their accomplishment.
13 80s Durango
Before Dodge’s oval-shaped Durango came bustling into the market, Ford had its own short venture with a vehicle of the same name. As a quick team-up between Ford and National Coach Works, the Durango was a bit of an experimental endeavor to compete with the downsized El Camino. It’s claimed that the Durango was never meant to replace the Ranchero, even though it shares obvious physical traits and was released shortly after the former model was discontinued. In any case, less than 500 of these were ever made and, while the reasoning is unclear, magazines have speculated it was an issue of timing. The Durango was planned earlier (in 1981) but only about 100 were assembled before the model year went out of production. It seems pointless to make an investment in a project that Ford only half-heartedly executed, but we suspect there’s probably more to the story than what the public realizes.
12 90s Transit
The Transit is one of those vehicles that we will probably never escape. In spite of its continual mechanical shortcomings—even in modern-day models—the Transit continues to hold its place in the Ford fleet. The third-generation Transit is one of those vehicles that looks like you’d only drive if you really needed a van for utility purposes. But it wasn’t a beauty and it definitely wasn’t a reliable piece of machinery. Ford made it for the sheer fact that there happened to be a demand for work vans, as there still is today. That alone is the only reason why the Transit has survived for so long. Otherwise, this van is probably at the bottom of Ford’s priority list since it seems to be ages behind with technology and has some of the worst construction of any of their vehicles. The 90s were the age of simplification of the Transit, while 80s models had a variety of options and accessories.
11 90s Galaxy
Not to be confused with Ford’s Galaxie—a full-sized car they built from the 50s to the 70s—the Galaxy is an awful seven-seat ‘multi-purpose vehicle’ otherwise known as a minivan. When it first came out in 1995, the Galaxy was a humble mom car that looked like an old handheld vacuum. Many of the parts were actually from Volkswagen since it was a joint project between VW and Ford, although you can still see Ford’s influence in its rounded figure, almost similar to the 90s Mondeo. The mashup wasn’t well-received by the end of the decade because sales weren’t doing so hot and several critiques noted the Galaxy’s shortcomings. To top it all off, in 1999, Top Gear named the Galaxy the least satisfying car in the UK.
10 90s Ka
The Ford Ka seems to be one of the most forgotten, but also one of the ugliest, cars that has ever been driven. Who would think that something so remarkably bad could escape the minds of millions? In truth, it likely has a lot to do with sales. Even though the Ka has fared pretty well, the older body styles have managed to fade in the background of Ford’s history (this may be to their advantage). These cars were said to have proven reliability, even if they are hard to look at. Instead of creating an attractive vehicle with high-quality parts, Ford chose to keep the looks cheap and maintain the reliability (at least, in the 90s). On one hand, this kept the price low for consumers. Then again, there had to be an inexpensive way to beautify the Ka, if even just a little bit. The 90s Camry didn’t look half as bad, though, and also sold well based on this same premise.
9 90s Festiva/Aspire
By far the most hated vehicle in the Ford fleet, the Festiva (otherwise known as the Aspire) was not only an ugly duckling but also an unreliable danger on the road. If we’re being fair, not all of the blame can be stuck with Ford for this compact car, which was the result of a terrible joint venture between Ford, Kia, and Mazda. Hardly equipped with even the most basic safety features, you didn’t buy the Festiva or Aspire if you were concerned about surviving an accident. It only had 63 horsepower and its bland interior didn’t make up for any of the above losses. The Festiva was a junk car right off of the assembly line.
8 90s Taurus (3rd Gen)
If you lived to see the evolution of the Taurus, then you’ll probably find what Ford did to its body style incredibly heart-breaking. Not that the Taurus was ever a looker, but its 1996 redesign seemed like the worst move that Ford could make. The manufacturer decided that those simple lines and a car that screams, “Practical!” wasn’t what they wanted with the third-generation Taurus. Nope, they wanted to start over and build a car that says, “Round!” While the design goals were certainly met, we’re not sure that the sales goals came so close. The second generation Taurus was the best-selling car in the US, with over 1.4 million sold in all. Although Taurus managed to maintain its reign for the debut year of the round body style (1996), the mixed feelings of consumers soon led purchasers elsewhere and the Toyota Camry claimed the crown in 1997.
7 90s Tempo (2nd Gen)
The 90s were the beginning of the end for the Ford Tempo. It’s 1988 restyle wasn’t well-received to begin with but buyers were drawn to its increased safety features, including a driver’s side airbag and all-wheel drive. However, the AWD was eliminated in 1991, along with the chrome grill and the black and chrome side trim (which were both replaced with body color alternatives). Ford attempted to make it up to potential buyers by offering the V6 Vulcan engine in the GLS trim in 1992. When that didn’t work, they eliminated the trim altogether in 1993, leaving potential buyers with only two trim levels and the blandest body style ever. By 1994, Ford abandoned the car altogether, finding it easier to introduce the Contour rather than redesign the Tempo to meet the safety standards of 1994.
6 90s Sierra
Built by Ford Europe, the Sierra was meant to be a replacement of the Cortina. The 80s model Sierra (particularly, the RS Cosworth) quickly became an icon in Britain, so much so that its short 90s lifespan was exactly that. The 1990s model years were rough and uninspiring. For one thing, most buyers preferred the sharper edges of the 80s, which is how the 90s models earned their nickname: the jelly mold. Those curved lines of the last few models were later regarded as being ahead of their time, but they weren't well received on the showroom floor. In spite of the Sierra being replaced by the Mondeo, it remained popular in the secondhand market. Sadly, less than 1% of the total built remain on the roads today, including Sierra models from the 80s. We’re not sure why Ford decided to ruin everything good about the Sierra and then scrap the idea entirely, but it’s safe to say that many enthusiasts would likely be interested in a return.
5 Late-90s Ranger
We know what you’re thinking: how does the Ranger find itself on this list? But if you’ve ever experienced anything with the late-90s editions of this famed truck, then you’ll likely understand where we’re going with this one. The Ranger is an awesome truck and has been proven to be reliable for many years—with the exception of the 1997-1999 models, the last of those years being the absolute worst. Ford had a perfect truck, even if it was a bit impractical compared to the F-Series models, and they destroyed its reputation with inferior working parts. Some of the worst problems that owners experienced included the engine misfiring if the truck was moving at highway speeds, the rear brakes grabbing and popping, and a lot of stalling. These issues didn’t necessarily disappear in the early-2000s, but this is the era that started it all.
4 90s Laser
There are some things that really seem like they should not have lasted as long as they did, and others that you expect more from. The Ford Laser is a little of both. Looking at its bland body style—if you can even call it that—it’s amazing that anyone would even volunteer to buy one of these things. Then again, it had some features worth checking out, and they drew in just enough attention to keep this old girl alive. The turbo model with 4WD was the most popular in Japan, but even after this anomaly had its thrills, it was easily tossed aside. Ford dragged out the life of this model until 2002. The manufacturer finally decided to end the ugly car when even practical consumers were disinterested by its boring appearance and sub-par technology and mechanics.
3 90s Mondeo
Filling the void that the Sierra left for many consumers in Europe, the Mondeo did more than that. It became so widespread throughout Europe that the term ‘Mondeo Man’ was even coined to describe a stereotype of men in that era. (The phrase is a bit derogatory since it means that the person described is boring and lives a pretty predictable life.) That spirit bleeds over to the car as well. And what can we say? The sedan is boring as all get-out and doesn’t have nearly as much reliability as all of Ford’s sedans before it had. It’s not bad a car entirely, but Ford really could have used its reputation to garner more sales by offering improved trim levels and a variety of options for the car that would attract more than your average Mondeo Man.
2 90s Aerostar
We realize that the Aerostar was meant to be used as either a passenger or cargo van, but it seems like it served dual-purposes for all of the wrong reasons—or at least that’s the reputation it held. The Aerostar earned a lot of acclaim for its reliability, as it would last well over 200k miles and was pretty durable for those that don’t exactly baby their vehicles. On the flip side, this also made it great for long-distance hauls, which is why this model (along with the old Dodge Caravan) became pretty well-known. Needless to say, this is an excellent vehicle that you won’t have to worry about breaking down anytime soon, but we wouldn’t blame you for being leery if you were approached by one in a dark secluded area.
1 90s Windstar
Practical vehicles always have been, and will be, the best-selling vehicles for most manufacturers and the Windstar is no exception to this. However, unlike your humble Toyota Camry, the Windstar was not very dependable. The head gasket was very likely to fail, as was the internal transaxle on this pitiful machine. Strangely, Ford thought it would be a brilliant idea to shove the same engine in a Windstar that you’d find in the 90s Taurus. Obviously, the 700-pound weight difference didn’t help the already questionable engine's capabilities. Nor could the transmission tolerate the additional torque and weight that the Windstar piled onto the undersized setup. The 95 model year probably received the brunt of the problems, but none of the late-90s were exactly great years for the Windstar.
Sources: Consumer Guide Automotive, Wikipedia, and IIHS.