When good cars come out, most of us wish to own or drive one. That was the case with the Alfa Romeo Giulia in 2018. The current model looks fabulous, drives even more fabulously, and has a fabulously reasonable price of $38K.
But it’s different for cars that don’t do well. There are variations of how a car flops. Some cars flop right off the bat, meaning sales are low as soon as the car hits the market, and the future doesn't look bright to both the producer and buyers. Other cars are astronomical at the time of launch. Everything is nice, clean, and smooth; some aspects are phenomena never seen before, like the Chrysler PT Cruiser. But then, it starts going bad for some reason. People get fed up with the look and the ride—and not wrongfully. The engine starts breaking down, treads separate from tires, paint starts deteriorating (more frequently in older cars) and, eventually, these incidents surface to the public's attention. And then, you have cars that did well in the market at launch but are hated by the public now. For some reason—shape, performance, and association with bad cars—they just don't do well.
Take GM, for example. While not the best in the game now, it used to be the largest corporation in the world, let alone the car world. But there were a decent number of incidences of poor decisions after that time. So, let's look at some of the blunders of the US.
20 1975 Ford Pinto
The Pinto was a failure. The car looks okay and, to a certain extent, even novel with its egg-shaped sloping roofline and extended rear. Sales started off strong with its launch in 1971, reaching a peak in 1974, when more than half a million units were sold. For some reason, sales dwindled to less than half that the next year. And then, 1977 brought a major insult to the Pinto.
Apparently, the design and the placement of the fuel tank were unsafe to the extent that it was at significant risk of exploding in rear-end collisions.
Worst yet, there’s some evidence to suggest Ford knew about the safety issues but didn’t bother because of some petty money that it was making from the current design. While the fiasco was greatly exaggerated during its time and some subsequent decades, there was some truth to it.
19 1996 Ford Explorer
In production from 1990, this car was one of the best-selling models of Ford. And while it’s widely used now, there was a time when you couldn’t go on a stretch of intrastate too long without seeing one of these big boys rolled over. If you’re not familiar, let me introduce the story. As early as 1996, there were cases of the tire tread separating, causing a higher than expected number of rollover crashes.
Turns out there were problems with the tires, which resulted in several deaths and numerous accidents.
The end result was that Ford lost a lot of money in recalls, broke its near-100-year relationship with the company that produced tires, and fired a lot of executives. Even U-Haul announced, and this was a few years after the tire debacle, that people couldn’t use U-Haul trailers with the Ford Explorer for an unknown reason.
18 1975 AMC Pacer
The unique feature of this car was its four-inches-longer passenger door, which made it easier for passengers to ease into the car, but that design led to stored items in the back to fall in the station wagon version.
The design of the car was supposed to be novel, but all it did was remind you of the beak of a duck or a cross between a vehicle and a spaceship.
There’s nothing wrong with that—that’s exactly how novelty is created. But this one just didn’t fly with the public after a while. The windows were too large, and, I guess, people weren’t into spaceship-like cars, although I need to point out that for some reason, car reviewers were a big fan of it. It was even featured in movies Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2.
17 1970 AMC Gremlin
I think this and the Pacer are cars that were, for some reason, liked by the public at that time but, over time, have become few of the worst cars. The ‘70s was a very volatile decade; opinions and styles fluctuated like the stock market does every day. At that time, this subcompact car looked exceptional, being one of the most popular cars amongst high-schoolers. But over time, this compact car became an eyesore. The jutting rear and the awkward handling due to the loss of suspension in the rear weren't in its favor. The designer of the car, Richard Teague, had designed some critically acclaimed cars by that era’s standard and even today’s, but the Gremlin just wasn’t one of those "cool" cars.
16 1999 Ford Excursion
Based on the F-250 Super Duty pickup truck, the Excursion was the biggest and heaviest SUV on the planet. Initially, it seemed like a cool idea—drive the heaviest passenger SUV on the planet, and feel like a boss. Moms, in particular, loved it. What better way to feel great than drive the Excursion to a soccer game with the kids? They felt more powerful.
While the car was successful in the first few years after the launch, it cried "uncle" when the energy crisis of the 2000s began to surface.
All of a sudden, people thought it wasn't worth the while to continue driving this inefficient and gas-guzzling vehicle. The large size and abysmal fuel economy earned it the name “Ford Valdez,” which, if you’re not familiar, is referring to the oil tanker Exxon Valdez that caused the second largest oil spill in America.
15 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Diesel
Here's the first blunder of GM. Look, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was selling well in the market, and so was the Cutlass Supreme—a mid-size, luxury for the top customers of this lineup—until GM decided to go diesel. Not sure why they introduced diesel in 1978, but things took a turn for the worst just a few years shortly afterward. Don't get me wrong—the first two years were great since all Oldsmobile running on diesel engines comprised 60% of all US passenger diesel vehicles in 1981. But that was it. There was a decline in gas prices, which made one wonder about the practicality of the cost of running a diesel. Atop, there was this whole drama of diesel fuel being contaminated with water. Ultimately, Oldsmobile was responsible for impugning the American passenger diesel market for as long as the next 30 years.
14 1976 Chevy Chevette
GM hoped that the name "Chevette" would evoke to mind the widely successful Corvette, and I think they partly achieved that goal—a little more than partly, actually, as Chevette did well in the US market and even the overseas market.
GM wanted a simple, front-engine, RWD car for the masses, and that’s what the Chevette was.
It was only over time that people started disliking their past. We started disliking how the Chevette looked—and any car that had a rear shape like that—after a while, and that, combined with the cheap interior, made the car even more worthless. The shiny plastic interior lost its taste, especially when Corolla entered the market. And the engine—boy—you’re bound to blow more air through your nose when you read it produced 60 HP (23 HP was the lowest in some!).
13 2004 Dodge Durango
As my philosophy goes, either a bad car changes, or it continues to suffer. Luckily for the Dodge, it was the former. Look at any recent Durango, and it looks how any other SUV is supposed to look. Sure, it doesn’t stick out as being extremely tantalizing from the outside, like the Lamborghini Urus, let’s say (the Urus is exceptional from the inside also), but by no means would it be considered a bad car. But that wasn't the case in 2004. Model year 2003 was fine, although you could see where the Durango would go if Dodge or Chrysler continued to push in that direction. Unfortunately, the second-generation Durango was completely pushed in that direction—the front was truncated and thus seemed fatter. The entire car was hard to digest.
12 1965 Chevrolet Corvair
Here’s the predecessor of the Camaro, believe it or not. Produced from 1960-1969, the car looked decent from the outside and seemed to get by good in the first few years. Its uniqueness arose from being the only American-designed car that had a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine. The car wasn't in the best interest of the owners. For starters, the one being tested on a racetrack flipped over. The uniqueness of the car is what caused some of the troubles. The engine in the back placed 60 percent of the weight over the back wheels, which, without good traction, caused people to easily lose control. The heating system apparently leaked noxious fumes in the cabin in some, and the safety was a major concern for all. All these were highlighted in a Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed.
11 1958 Edsel Corsair
Ford spent a year publicizing and advertising this car. At launch, there were as many as 18 different versions of the Corsair, which is a lot when you consider that other car manufacturers provide three to four versions at maximum. Ford collected data to get consumer preference, but it looks like it disregarded much of the data—unless, of course, people in the ‘50s wanted to have a car grille that resembled the female genitalia. While one could argue that it was supposed to be a nose, cultural critics speculated that the obscene front is what thwarted the public from owning this car. It was supposed to be a car that America could count on, but all it did was ask for a hefty price without any performance. The combination of a poor economy and an average car sealed the deal for failure for Ford.
10 2004 Chevy SSR
We all know what Chevy can do. Just look at the recent Camaro SS. The sizzling sports car has the power needed to do what your heart desires for a price that your wallet can probably support. But that doesn’t mean Chevy didn’t make mistakes—you already have seen a couple of its other mistakes up top. I guess Chevy thought it could create a better hot rod than Chrysler, which had produced a similar failure just a few years prior to the SSR. I’m not sure what Chevy was thinking.
The car was a convertible but had the engine of a mid-size SUV. So, not surprisingly, it had unforgivable handling and drive.
And let’s face it—the car doesn’t exactly look aesthetically pleasing. On top, you continue to wonder since when cars produced in factories became eligible to be labeled as hotrods.
9 2007 Chrysler Sebring
While the Sebring has been in production since 1995, it was 2007—the time when the third generation was revealed—that brought about the worst in the Sebring. I personally don’t think the exterior of the Sebring looks bad—or at least not as bad as that of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo from the same time—but there have been critics who've brutally criticized the exterior. More importantly, it’s the bland interior that gets heavily punished.
The interior is extremely cheap, with one critic saying it's “constructed from the parts of five different cars to look like the lobby of the Chrysler Building."
In 2008, Top Gear co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson went as far to call it “the worst car in the world” at that time because of the unanimated engine.
8 2003 Saturn Ion
When the recall by GM happened in 2014, many models were listed, including the Saturn. Unfortunately, a couple of Saturn lineups were recalled, including all the Ions ever manufactured. Though GM recalled these a few years later, they had problems as soon as they came out. The safety ratings were terrible, with “acceptable” being the best remark it ever got; under side impact, it was destined to do poorly. Look, you don’t want a car that has an acceptable safety ranking. What are you “accepting” to in case of an accident? A crooked left foot and a missing thumb? Is that acceptable? The interior of the car was cheap and uncomfortable, too, with all the plastic-like material. Sales weren’t favorable, and the Ion ultimately led to Saturn’s demise.
7 1971-1973 Ford Mustang
Let’s start from the beginning. When the Mustang came out in the middle of 1964, it was an instant hit—and instant profit for Ford. It had everything you could ask for in a sports car. Looks to power to price—it had it all. Over the next couple of years—near the end of the first generation—Ford started to make the car fatter and slower to resemble the luxury afforded by other vehicles. That’s when sales dwindled as fast as they had picked up the pace upon introduction. It had gained 800 pounds at one point. So, there went the sporty image and all the associated American car dream. The interior became shoddy, and people avoided it like the plague. And then, there was the second-generation Mustang, which was a whole other can of worms.
6 1979 Corvette L48
This entry might just be filled with stuff that some might call “crazy.” First, it’s a Corvette—the dream of the nation. That dream was strong back then, and I think it's still strong to this day. Corvette is no joke nowadays. With the ability to outdo many supercars for half or even a third of the price, the Corvette is an economically feasible supercar, thus liked by many.
It’s been in production since forever, but there were some years the Corvette didn’t live up to the expectation. Take the 1979 L48, for example.
Equipped with a 5.7-liter V8, the car produced only 195 HP. That wasn't within the average range of sports cars even back then. Surprisingly enough, the car sold well.
5 1990 Chevrolet Lumina APV
Here’s another one from Chevrolet. I think Minivans are tough to design. They can’t be slick, like compact and low-slung SUVs. They just need to be a minivan. Not much can change externally in terms of dimension, so you're just left with possible changes to the design. Look at the Honda Odyssey, for instance; the current model looks superb, although even the previous versions were good at worst. But then, you look at something like the Lumina APV, the car that looks like a vacuum cleaner. It was supposed to be a “stylish” alternative to the Dodge Caravan, which I don’t think happened. The long, sloping windshield didn’t suit the car at all, and once you got to the interior, you found yourself in an awkward driving position.
4 1982 Cadillac Cimarron
If you looked at the current Cadillac CTS-V, you wouldn't be able to say that it's made by Cadillac, the same Cadillac that produced a car like the 1982 Cimarron. And that’s because that wasn’t the case. There was a whole new team and a whole new mindset behind the current Cadillacs; the old versions of Cadillac, including the Cimarron, weren’t going to make it, and neither did they.
This rebadged Cimarron was supposed to be the luxury brand of Cadillac, but the car looked lazy, and the interior only supported that; you can’t rebadge an economy car as a luxury and hope sales don’t plummet.
Cadillac nearly died when its share declined from 3.8% to 2.2% because of this gigantic mess. From the public to motor authorities, everyone was disappointed.
3 1971 Chevy Vega
If you were to look at the car without any biases, you wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the reason for it being on the list—the look of the car wasn’t the problem. In fact, nothing seemed to be the problem when the car came out. It seemed exceptional, even receiving the 1971 Motor Trend Car of the Year award. Just a few months after, however, the problems emerged. The engineering seemed to suffer from a lack of trust from the public, the reliability became a distant term for Vega, the safety standard raised questions, the exterior couldn’t keep its color, and people got tired of it. My suspicion is that the car didn’t age well. A motor authority drove a preserved, original ’73 Vega GT and thought it was a top-notch car. But it seemed people started complaining after a few years.
2 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Reliant Robin Mk1 or not, but that’s what the Chrysler PT Cruiser reminds me of. And if you go back to the ‘30s, you’ll find the Tempo Hanseat, the vehicle which the Reliant Robin probably derives from. All these cars look hideous.
The PT Cruiser, standing for "Plymouth Truck" internally, was launched in 2001 and was eventually terminated in 2010.
Part of the reason for the extension of the life of the PT Cruiser was the decision of Motor Trend to award it the "Car of the Year" award when it came out. Apparently, people wanted novelty wrapped in a good engine and an affordable price tag. Lo and behold, PT Cruiser yelled innovation at that time. It doesn’t anymore—a lot of people don’t like its retro-styled design.
1 2000 Pontiac Aztek
Coming at number one is, of course, none other than our Pontiac Aztek. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who likes the Aztek. I guess humans like things that retain some characteristic of a human. The car, from the very front, looks like it has a car equivalent of a double-chin—take a look at the placement of the headlamp and then the tow small vents. If those were the only things wrong with it, maybe it could've done better. But there’s a reason why production stopped in 2005. It looks terrible from all angles. You could place the car in front of the most scenic background, but its reality wouldn’t change. Just look at the rear, the sides, and the front. All seem to be an amalgam of three different design fiascos.