1. Ford Pinto
Here we are, the ne plus ultra of bad cars. The Legendary Ford Pinto– folks who have never seen one and weren’t even born when they were in production know that these are bad cars. Some of them even know why, but we’ll offer a refresher course anyway.
The Pinto was a compact car that on paper looked pretty good: decent performance, good fuel economy, and a fairly comfortable interior. There was just one problem: rear-end collisions tended to result in the whole thing exploding. Coupled with the scandal around Ford refusing to spend the money to fix the problem in favor of just paying off its victims, there’s a reason that the federal review of the Pinto described it as “unsafe at any speed”–a phrase burned into our collective memory forever. Pun intended.
2. 2004 Chevy SSR
This is why we have “truth in advertising” law: The SSR in Chevy SSR stands for “Super Sport Roadster”–and this car does none of those things. Not at all, not even a little.
Yet one more attempt to capture an audience with an admittedly cool looking retro body design, the SSR fails the way all other similar attempts do: by emphasizing appearance rather than performance and severely disappointing drivers who were having hot-rod fantasies. With a heavy body, underpowered engine, and sluggish if not lazy performance, Chevy’s SSR quickly lost all street cred.
3. 2001 Pontiac Aztek
There’s one thing we can say about the Pontiac Aztek, and that is that it did not come with any controversy, debate, discussion, or back-and-forth. This car was hated from the moment it appeared in public and remains hated to this day. The design is ludicrous, especially the front end. The plastic body only served to make it look cheaply built, and the over engineered features and engine didn’t wow with impressive performance. Add on a price tag that was a bit more than most folks wanted to spend, it’s no small wonder that this, this thing is as reviled as it is.
4. Ford Mustang II
The Mustang is an American classic – a coupe with a roadster feel and performance tendencies. We all know them, most of us love them, and they are pure America.
5. Lincoln Blackwood
The Lincoln Blackwood is the result of a combination of ideas that have no business together at all: Ford’s Lincoln division and the iconic American pickup truck. It seems that someone back in the year 2002 thought that the post-9/11 world really needed a luxury pickup as a means of . . . capitalizing on the fading fad for all things redneck? Upgrading a utility vehicle with posh features? We may never know.
We do know about the results however. The luxury trimmed interior, fine upholstery, and burled wood accents made it the visual rival of many luxury vehicles. However, these and other features (rear wheel drive in a pickup?) made it of dubious practicality and the whole project vanished in less than a year making it the shortest time of any Ford production run to date.
6. Original Smart Fortwo
Smart Cars is a subdivision of Daimler, so one could assume that they know what they’re doing and while they may not get it right every time, they’ll at least deliver a passable product with good engineering and solid construction. You’d think that, until you ran into the Smart Fortwo.
7. Renault Dauphine
Somewhere in the Great Hall of French Engineering Failures, there’s a pedestal underneath a dome. At the top of that column sits the original Renault Dauphine, a testament to what can go wrong in the hands of a really creative people having an off moment.
Originally named the Corvette — go ahead, laugh — the undersized Dauphine had a rickety body, a weak and feeble engine, and reputation for safety issues before seat belts were standard equipment. You know, back before anyone cared about safety. We’re told that there are still a few on the road. That’s why we don’t drive in France.
8. Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: An American car company attempts to recapture its past glories by reintroducing retro body designs with the hopes of triggering a wave of nostalgia and thus sales. But the relatively poor performance when compared to the expectations of the motoring public nearly sink the project and cost the company billions.
9. 1998 Fiat Multipla
Fiat has long used the Multipla name for its vans and mini-buses, dating back to the 1950s. The 1998 addition to the family was supposed to be the heir to a storied legacy, but instead became the punchline in more jokes than any American minivan design.
10. 1975 AMC Pacer
American Motor Company’s troubled history was not helped by the Pacer, a two-door compact car released just as the compact car craze was coming into full vogue.
Initially hailed as the future of driving due to its fuel economy, compact size, and relative economy in a market still dominated by Detroit-made land yachts, there were high hopes for the Pacer. However, poor performance during hard stops and turns — apparently one needed professional racercar driver skills to keep the thing on the road — lead to serious criticism from reviewers. With the introduction of other, better compact designs, the Pacer soon disappeared from sales lots, as did AMC.
11. 1947 Davis D-2 Divan
We were wrong earlier about the Reliant Robin. Not about its many flaws or anything like that, but about the role of three-wheelers in American motoring. As it turns out the Davis Motor company of Van Nuys, California built a three-wheeler back in the 40s in the form of the D-2 Divan.
12. 1958 Zundapp Janus
We have to admit a perverse love for these absurd little cars. Really, just look at them. They’ve got an odd neurotic beauty that you can’t help but “d’aww” over.
13. 1982 Cadillac Cimarron
Whereas the Edsel was just over-blown, the Cadillac Cimarron was a full-scale disaster. The kind that automotive engineers relay to their children on dark moonless nights when the forces of evil are exalted amongst the shadows. An attempt by GM to move the Cadillac brand into the small-car market, the awfully-designed and poorly-performing Cimarron made use of the already unpopular J-platform sedan as its base, leading to the perfect storm of a weak form and horrible function.
14. 1958 Edsel Corsair
Up next is an American contribution, this time from Ford, and one so bad that it remains synonymous with “lemon” to this day. The 1958 Edsel was a machine designed to . . . well, we’re not sure. It had all the outer hallmarks of 50s greatness: fins on the body, a boxy design, an elaborate front end including a suggestively shaped vertical grill. And while mechanically sound, the Edsel was the victim of media over-hype: the marketing campaign presented it as the car-to-end-all-cars, but rather than defining the decade in automotive engineering, the Edsel was just another run-of-the-mill sedan. There’s a lesson there: under promise and over deliver, not the other way around.
15. 1981 Delorean DMC-12
You know this one—it’s the car from Back to the Future. The one with the aluminum body and the gull-wing doors. Pretty cool, right? Admit it—you wanted one when you were a kid just so you could make believe you were with Doc and Marty on an adventure through time.
16. 1957 Trabant P50
You’ve likely never seen a Trabant P50 on the road. That’s due to its point of origin. Like the Yugo, it was a product of the Soviet Bloc, in this case East Germany. And unlike the Yugo, it failed to find an importer to the US—and frankly we’re all better off for it.
17. 1971 Chevy Vega
Back to the US. Back to the 70s. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The Chevrolet Vega has perhaps the most dramatic story arch of any car on this list. With its lightweight aluminum alloy engine block and unique inline four-cylinder design, it initially received great praise—even getting Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award during its introduction in 1971. However, those glory days didn’t last. The Vega had nearly every problem a car could, short of just exploding on ignition: reliability issues abounded, engineering flaws led to part failure, rust was a constant battle, and the safety standards were well below what even the 1970s expected. Unlike the star for which it is named, the Vega faded quickly and for good reason.
18. Reliant Robin
For most Americans, the Reliant Robin is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed. For whatever reason, three-wheeled cars never caught on in the States—the country that tried out eight wheels, as you’ll recall. So the Robin’s tricycle design tends to give North American drivers pause.
19. Citroen Pluriel
The French have a lot to proud of. World War II collaboration aside, they’ve lead the way in the arts, in liberty, in literature, and their proud creative tradition continues to this day. And none of it, not one inch, is captured in the Citroen Pluriel, also marketed as the Citroen C3.
20. Yugo GV
Where to begin? Where to even begin? Do we start with the foolishness of the importers, who assumed that there was an American market for this two-door hatchback built in Communist Yugoslavia during the apex of the Cold War? Do we look instead to the original manufacturers, who believed that a car so poorly received in its freedom-lacking homeland could possibly succeed elsewhere?
21. Saturn Ion
Saturn was a company born of optimism—the idea that a new American automotive manufacturer could break into the market with made-in-the-USA vehicles seemed like a pipe dream. But they did it, broke through, and for a while succeeded. With no thanks due to the Ion.
The Saturn Ion was under-performing, with a smaller-than-average engine pushing what at the time was one of the longest four door sedans on the market. There was also the small issue of side impact—specifically the frame did very little to protect passengers from a good t-bone wreck. For these reasons and more, the Ion vanished in 2007.
22. Suzuki Samurai
Like so many cars on this list, the Suzuki Samurai sums up its decade—in this case, the 1980s. Colorful, sporty, overblown, and with a penchant for being a bit too rambunctious, the Samurai fully embraced the twin mix of optimism and fatalism that defined the end of the Cold War. A chic little 4×4, the Samurai was just beginning to find its place in the market when drivers noticed that it had a tendency to—flip over and roll while taking perfectly normal corners at average speeds. Clearly not a win for Suzuki, and another rolling metaphor for Japan’s decline from dominance of the automobile industry.
23. Aston Martin Lagonda
You may not be old enough to remember, but the 70s were a happenin’ time. Disco was in full swing, funk was fresh, and hip-hop was on the horizon. Everything was fueled by cocaine, which may explain the razor like design of the Aston Martin Lagonda. It may also explain the gap between ambition and performance—the electronics were computer-run, the displays all CRT based rather than gauges, and the whole thing was intended to push the limits of what a car could achieve with the technology of the day. Unfortunately, none of the “advanced” gadgets worked, and Aston Martin scored a major case of “equipment failure.”
24. Plymouth ProwlerA quick time hop to the other end of the 20th century shows us that the 1990s weren’t short of silly designs for automobiles—but they were more willing to look back in time to find them. Inspired by the hot-rodding roadsters of yesteryear. However, this is less “American Graffitti” and more “An American Tail”. It seems that the geniuses at Plymouth forgot to make the Prowler a hot-rod, instead installing a pitifully underpowered 3.5 liter V6 pushing a mediocre 250 horsepower. Visually intriguing but lacking in performance, the Prowler was a rolling metaphor for the decade from which it spawned.
25. Overland Octoauto
The brainchild of Milton Reeves, the Overland Octoauto challenges some of our core assumptions about automobiles—namely, that two axles and four wheels is the name of the game. In keeping with the grand American theory that bigger is better, Reeves concluded that adding a few extra wheels could provide a smoother ride for the discerning automotorist of the year 1911. And thus the Overland Octoauto was born. 20 feet long with the steering and handling one normally associates with a pregnant hippo, the Octoauto is a great place to start our list of the most poorly designed cars of all time.