General Motors is probably one of the most recognizable brand names in the world and that doesn't just apply to the automotive industry. GM, as they are more commonly referred to, is the owner of many car brands including Chevrolet, Buick, and Pontiac. These are just some of the brands within the GM banner that have helped to make the company what it is today, one of the most recognizable car manufacturers in the world and one of the most famous.
The problem with being such a big brand that includes a large number of sub-companies means that the scope for failure is a bit greater than if it was simply a small company making one or two car models a year. Not everything you produce is going to be great and through the years, there have been some truly awful cars that have come from the General Motors factories.
Perhaps the biggest contributing brands to these failures—and some of these are cars that simply boggle the mind—are Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Buick. Perhaps that is not surprising, as they are the biggest brands within the GM banner, and Chevrolet is one of the biggest in the world.
This list comprises cars from the 1980s and 1990s from GM that simply don't make sense, and thus were not the best of machines to come from the company's works.
22 '90s: Chevrolet Malibu
Now rather the recipient of several jokes from the infamous "real people not actors" commercials, the Malibu is one of Chevrolet’s most successful sedans. Indeed, in modern times, it’s a good car and so was the original. But from 1998-2003, it really wasn’t. It was awful. The styling was basic, if sleek, and was aimed at making the thing look fast, which it wasn’t. But it was also badly built from various plastics and had one of the most unresponsive four-speed gearboxes you could find. Luckily, the Malibu isn’t such a lame duck these days.
21 '90s: Chevrolet Lumina APV
This is one of the most bizarre-looking cars I have ever laid eyes upon. The Lumina APV was almost like a "super station wagon" but unfortunately, Chevy gave it one of the worst aesthetic jobs to ever grace an automobile. Not only that, but critics have gone as far as saying this car is one of the worst to ever be built—by anyone, let alone just Chevrolet. The engine was also underpowered, and it had a gaping dashboard that you could probably fit a bus onto. Nicknamed "dust-buster minivans," the moniker is hardly surprising given that it is one of Chevy’s worst products.
20 '90s: General Motors EV1
Usually, I like to look for some positives in these bad cars. But with the GM EV1, it really is an impossible task. For starters, you only need to look at the thing. What on earth is going on at the back of this car? I really have no idea. It was actually a solidly built car, with good range, but its issue was that it was terrible for driving it in traffic and trying to juggle that with the efficiency problems to get the battery to last properly, and you would end up going from a 75-mile range to just a 40-mile range.
19 '90s: 1995 Saturn S
If you ever want to own a Saturn, it is best to avoid any form of Saturn from 1995 and particularly, the Saturn S. These were some of GM’s biggest mistakes and it is perhaps not surprising that no one tries to buy them second hand in 2019. A steel frame with plastic bolted on top, the S was simply no match for its rivals from companies such as Honda or Toyota. Underpowered and with a lack of any form of build quality, they are not something to look out for if you fancy something a bit retro and from the 1990s. You would get a lot more use out of a Ford Model T.
18 '90s: 1993 Pontiac Grand Am
The Pontiac Grand Am was, on the face of things, quite an ugly machine. But it wasn’t all bad; indeed, there have been some positive views and reviews about this model, the fourth gen of the Grand Am. But it shared a chassis with older models from Buick and Oldsmobile, which is clearly not the way to make a revolutionary new car. Engine noise, though, was horrifically loud whilst on the move, and road noise was also on the loud side. But its rearward sitting cabin was perhaps the biggest flaw of this car, and why it suffered so badly.
17 '90s: Oldsmobile Achieva
The Oldsmobile Achieva had quite a short selling life and was only offered to consumers from 1992 to 1997 as a replacement for the Cutlass Calais. But, almost instantly, there were problems, mainly relating to the fact it shared everything essential with the Buick Skylark and the Pontiac Grand Am. Plus, its interior was very lackluster and so was the features list. It was outgunned by literally everything else that was in its same class on the market, even though it was quite a lot cheaper than cars of a similar kind from Japan's car manufacturers at the time. There was nothing, though, that could be done to save the Achieva.
16 '90s: Pontiac Sunfire
A name like Sunfire doesn’t really inspire that much confidence and in fact, the looks of the thing don’t inspire anything either. And thus, the Sunfire was a bit of a failure. A replacement for the similarly named Sunbird, it saw no updates despite a decade-plus presence on the market. Uncomfortable seats, a poor shifter and gearbox, and a terrible lack of quality from the building materials used meant the Sunfire really did suffer quite badly. It could have been something quite special but Pontiac really put in a minimal amount of effort with this creation. It's a shame to see all that promise going unfulfilled.
15 '90s: Chevrolet Lumina
We have already looked at the rather awful Lumina APV but there was a sedan version of this car, too. This car was supposed to have perfect reliability and safety and thus become the perfect family car. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It had a poor engine that produced pitiful amounts of power and instantly let the car down in the reliability stakes. Safety wasn’t bad but it wasn’t quite to the standards that families across the United States had hoped to receive from the car. Thus, it became unpopular quite quickly and it was certainly a car that no one had fond memories of.
14 '90s: GEO Metro
The GEO Metro is certainly one of the most bizarre-looking (and sounding) cars on this list—and you’d be correct in thinking that. It was, effectively, a rebadged Suzuki Cultus and was sold as the Chevy Metro from 1998 to 2001. And as you might expect from its looks, it was a total flop and incredibly lackluster. Super thin plastic trims really didn’t do it any favors and a pitiful rating of 55 horsepower was ridiculous if you actually wanted to get anywhere. It was, literally, miserable to drive and just a massive embarrassment for the whole GM brand. Why they thought it was a good idea in the first place, well, who knows?
13 '90s: Chevrolet Matiz
We've come to, quite possibly, the worst car on this list and have to question the sanity behind the company when they created this awful car. Also branded as the Daewoo, the Matiz was a pitiful little car with a tiny engine that produced almost as little power as the Metro’s engine and with looks that didn’t exactly scream, "I am very safe to drive!" Problems with its build and power persisted throughout the rest of its production run and not many people were sad when it vanished. More modern versions of the Matiz haven’t exactly set the world on fire, either.
12 '80s: Chevrolet Citation
The Chevrolet Citation was one of those cars conceived with the very best of intentions and indeed, Chevrolet hoped it would become an affordable, four-door car for the masses. However, as with many GM cars at the time, the Citation suffered from numerous issues. The worst of those call came from the engine, which failed rapidly and contributed to the car having a very short life cycle. Safety was also a big problem and an even bigger problem given that that Citation was marketed by Chevrolet as a family car. Thus, it suffered from a poor reputation that it still holds today.
11 '80s: Buick Skylark
The Skylark is a car that has suffered from a classic case of over-hype. It was hyped up to be a fantastic vehicle but has ended up being one of the most disappointing cars of the late 20th century. Its cool looks didn’t save it either. Reliability was poor and the biggest issue was build quality, as it suffered badly from corrosion and paint chopping. The intentions for a good car were clearly there, and the Skylark certainly offered a huge amount of promise. But for whatever reason, Buick just couldn’t deliver and the Skylark became a great big white elephant.
10 '80s: Pontiac Phoenix
The Phoenix is another example of a family vehicle that fell short of the expectations placed on it. Expectations were quite high, as they were with that of the Skylark, but it suffered from bad design and poor build quality—so poor, in fact, that it was considered a dangerous trap to anybody that was to set foot in one! The Phoenix has remained one of the most unloved GM products to this day, and a car that the company would like to forget in a bit of a hurry. It’s a sad tale for another car that promised a lot but delivered on so little of that promise.
9 '80s: Chevrolet Chevette
The Chevette is a car I have covered more than once, and on each occasion, unfortunately, it gets worse for the Chevette. The fact that it has made several car lists of this type is purely down to just how bad a car the Chevette actually was. It was put into full production way too soon, with not enough development time devoted to a car that ultimately had a myriad of problems and shortcomings. Engine and transmission problems plagued each and every model, and it was disliked by almost all of those that drove one or even rode in one. It is actually quite hard to find one of these that is still in great condition.
8 '80s: Pontiac Le Mans
Cool name right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to own a car named after one the most famous race circuits in the world! Well, little could hide you from the fact that not only was this an awful car, but it was simply a horrible, old Opel that was built in South Korea, which was then made in the US and rebadged as a Pontiac. Seriously the tooling for this car must have been an absolute mess. It also borrows too much styling from other cars and was so boring to look that it's sending me to sleep right now.
7 '80s: Oldsmobile Cutlass
Oldsmobile had developed something of a reputation for making reliable, well-made vehicles that did the company justice. So when the namebadge of the Cutlass came out, it was a shock to all when it turned out to have one of the weakest powerplants in the automobile world and was not exactly what you might call the safest car in the world. The engine had a habit of simply stopping without warning, despite the fact it was difficult to coax the Cutlass to anything near 70 miles per hour. Clearly, then, Oldsmobile got this one badly wrong and nothing they could do would fix its problems.
6 '80s: Chevrolet Celebrity
Sometimes, an illustrious name can mean a good car. But most of the time, cars with grand names often flop and fall at the first hurdle, and that is true of the Chevrolet Celebrity. In fact, it is regarded as one of Chevrolet’s biggest flops of the 1990s. The problem was that the car didn’t live up to the hype, in both station wagon and sedan editions. The transmission was poor and it would often fail multiple times with no clear explanation. As such, its life cycle was incredibly short and Chevrolet never really managed to make the Celebrity achieve the fame of say, a celebrity like Michael Jordan.
5 '80s: Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo, or more specifically, its fourth generation, wasn’t exactly what you would call a success. And yet, the fact that there were four generations of this car suggests something might have been right about it. Truth is, the Monte Carlo didn’t live up to its grand name, much like the Celebrity. More to the point, it was never really quite clear what the car was meant to be. Was it sensible? Was it fast? Well, it wasn’t fast, and I guess it was sensible, at times. But what we do know is it was not a great design, although the fifth generation was, somehow, much, much worse.
4 '80s: Cadillac Cimarron
My problem with this car is I keep wanting to call it the Cadillac Cinnamon. But it is, of course, the Cadillac Cimarron. But the biggest problem with this car was that it was simply a rebadged Chevrolet Cavalier and that really was not going to fool anyone. All that really seemed to change was the grille. Small wonder that people looking for a luxury car turned down the chance to own just a rebadged Cavalier. And who can blame them? It also used the same awful engine and transmission from its sister. Poor sales killed it within six years, thankfully.
3 '80s: Pontiac Bonneville
The Bonneville was another car that was in a confusing category, much like that of the Monte Carlo. Various generations came and went and to be fair, the 1980s variant wasn’t all bad. The name Bonneville evokes images of the salt flats and record-breaking speed runs. But the Bonneville would only break records for disappointment, not speed. Later models in the 1990s were far, far worse than the 1980s models and forever tarnished the car's already dubious reputation. But it was hardly the worst car that Pontiac ever built, just not one of the best and certainly not one of the fastest.
2 '80s: Pontiac Grand Prix 5th Gen
This is another case of a car with a cool name that just doesn’t do much. The original Grand Prix was a good car, so GM went back and tried to make it cooler—but they didn’t. They made it seriously uncool. It didn’t have the style or substance that the original model had, and even a radical redesign for the sixth generation couldn’t save it. It was also horrendously sluggish and horrible at low speeds; a tug boat could probably handle better. It’s a good job that it didn’t last long. The styling on the fifth generation wasn’t bad but it wasn’t the best looking car out there.
1 '80s: Cadillac Fleetwood V-8-6-4
The Fleetwood seemed like a good idea at the time but the minute you got into it you knew you’d made a mistake. The car featured cylinder deactivation, which is essentially when a car shuts down its engine either fully or partially at a stop sign or red light in order to save fuel. Unfortunately, in 1981 this system didn’t perform very well, so the V-8-6-4 just jerked and bulked and snorted around, doing untold damage and even making rather rude sounds. A lot of owners took the time to disconnect the system entirely. You should never have to do something like that.
Sources: AutoScout24, Wikipedia, Barn Finds, Hemmings, Autoweek, and Bring a Trailer