30 cars that never should have been built
The automobile industry is a testament to the history of industrial prowess. It’s full of innovation, brilliance, and the occasional gem that still makes its rounds through today’s collector’s auctions. But it’s also full of failure. And this failure acts as a perspicacious source of entertainment for future generations and those of the past to point, stare, and gawk. So sit back, relax, and take a gander at some of the worst cars in automotive history.
1. 1955 Dodge La Femme
This beast of a tragedy was breathed into existence in the 1950s. Its purpose? To give women an alternative to cars that apparently were only constructed for men. This is a manufacturing trend I didn’t realize was in existence. The car came in pink and white, just the right color for your female counterpart.
The car was essentially just the same as the Dodge Royal Lancer (which was equally terrible). It also had sick pink seats, which I would want for my vehicle. Unfortunately, the pink and white womens-mobile didn’t sell too hot. The car only floated on the market for around two years.
2. 1982 Cadillac Cimarron
1982 was a good year for most things. “Thriller” was number one in the charts, “Smurf Rescue” was released on ColecoVision—all good things. One of the notable failures of this year, however, was the 1982 Cadillac Cimarron. This train wreck of a car hit the market with a lackluster flare, and the sales showed it.
Ultimately, this car was just a remodeled Chevrolet Cavalier with a slightly refurbished coating. The folly of this car sunk so deep that it almost put the Cadillac name into insurmountable disrepair. Fortunately for Cadillac, the name did eventually bounce back. It just took—as is the case with most wounds—a long time to recover.
3. 1974 Mustang II
The second iteration of the Mustang was much like the sequel to many famed movies—“Jaws: The Revenge,” “Highlander 2: The Quickening,” “Dumb and Dumber To” … It was only the car equivalent. In essence, the car was a redesigned Pinto. Also, uncharacteristically of Mustang, the car had very little power for a vehicle of its type.
Apparently, this is because it was developed in the thick of an oil embargo. The Mustang II also had a gas tank mysteriously manufactured in the back of the car. This inexplicable design flaw led many of the cars to burst into flames when rear-ended. Considering that there are 1.7 million rear-end collisions a year, this is a problem.
4. 2003 Saturn Ion
This car was bad on every note, from its interior to its exterior. A big fan of plastic, the inside was a “Toy Story” playground. It was also uncomfortable—probably because of the plastic. The exterior also had a thick and unbearable plastic coating. Why? Saturn’s infamous dent-resistant door technology, of course (dent resistance not guaranteed).
Anyway, Saturn learned from this mistake, manufacturing new models that would greatly exceed the Ion in sales. Unfortunately, its redemption was not enough to save the brand from getting axed by its parent company, General Motors, in the wake of the Great Recession. These quirky Saturns still hold some nostalgia factor amongst the commuters that owned them.
5. 1958 Edsel Corsair
The Edsel was a disaster for many reasons. First off, that grill. Secondly, it was hated by essentially everyone who bought it. Ford apparently spent around $300 million building this monstrosity, and boy did it not pay off. I’d feel bad for the company, but hey, they did it to themselves.
One particularly abominable feature of this car was the push-buttons on the steering wheel. While these are in use today, these early iterations of the technology were perilous. Many people, for instance, would accidentally change gears when they meant to change the radio station or honk the horn. Not exactly the safest feature.
6. 1981 DeLorean DMC-12
The DeLorean, despite its “Back to the Future” fame, was a total flop in the market. This can probably be said of most cars that were modeled after spaceships. While its inventor, John Z. DeLorean, was well-known for his building of the Pontiac GTO, this didn’t help him much with the construction of this bad boy.
Perhaps it was the plague of the so-called “yes-men” guiding Mr. DeLorean down insalubrious design paths. Or maybe it was just a brief stint of unfruitful brainstorming. Either way, the car was bad. If there was an electrical issue, you’d be trapped inside the car. It also tended to leak when wet and took about 20 minutes to get to 88 mph.
7. 1957 Trabant P50
The Trabant was one of those cars that should have never been built. It was drawn out and manufactured in East Germany during a time in which most workers were thoroughly impoverished. The body of the vehicle was built with Duroplast, a material that is neither durable nor completely plastic.
The mix comes from a base of wood and copper fiber mixed with resin to make it all plastic-y. Apparently, the car was so poorly manufactured that its side paneling could fall off at freeway speeds. But, thankfully, because the engine had a staggeringly meek 18 horsepower, the car would rarely reach such speeds. What’s even funnier is that the waitlist for this car was around 10 years long.
8. 2001 Pontiac Aztec
The Pontiac Aztec, despite its purpose for all-terrain fun, was anything but rugged. It’s been suggested, for instance, that its only claim to fame is that it killed the Pontiac brand. But the Aztec had a hilarious introduction to the market as a prize for the winning contestant on the first ever season of “Survivor.” As a performance vehicle, it was the perfect storm of poor reliability and impracticality.
If Pontiac was trying to hurt their brand identity with this car, it at least achieved that—and with surprising acumen. If this crossover had one redeeming feature, it was that it was the iconic daily driver in “Breaking Bad,” the popular TV show about a meth-peddling drug dealer. Most wouldn’t necessarily say that this feature was a positive thing.
9. 1971 Chevrolet Vega
In addition to the failure of Saturn and Pontiac, General Motors can be blamed for much, much more. Another famous blunder of Chevrolet was the 1971 Chevy Vega. Apparently, the engine of this car was so defunct that it couldn’t even hold oil. This meant that after around 100 miles, the car would lose all ability to lubricate its tumblers and pistons. As any car buff knows, this is bad news.
The bumper on this car, for instance, was somehow so tragic that it wouldn’t last more than one icy winter. The moisture led the bumper to accrue rust at a faster rate than Barry Gibb walks out of interviews. The engine would also heat to such a temperature that it would break down the head gasket. This is bad news.
10. 1987 Yugo GV
“Everybody needs a Yugo sometime” was the slogan. And that slogan was a bitter lie. Nobody needed a Yugo. Ever. The car was so terrible, the name should have been changed to YuGone, am I right? Anyway, it wasn’t long before the car ceased to be manufactured in the face of abysmal sales.
Among the litany of errors that plagued this car was the fact that it was assembled on the cheap and rarely worked. It was also small. But hey, some people like small things. The famous ad features an array of people cheering behind the car who are presumably proud because they just pushed the broken car from one district to another.
11. 1971 Ford Pinto
The Ford Pinto, other than having a terrible name, had a terrible reputation. It did, however, deserve this horrible reputation. Like its Ford counterpart, the Mustang II, this model had its gas tank manufactured on the back of the car. And oh man did that not pan out well for the people caught in accidents with this car.
After many rear-end collisions, then, it would burst into flames. And a blazing hunk of metal with you inside is not exactly what we’d call a winning automobile. And if it is, you probably need to reevaluate your understanding of the word “radical.”
12. 2002 PT Cruiser Convertible
The PT Cruiser—sometimes more commonly known as the PT Loser—was an abomination if I’ve ever seen one. While sporting mediocre performance ratings, the problem wasn’t necessarily with the car’s anemic stats. Instead, it was the plight it imposed on all of our eyes.
If there was ever any vehicle to induce early onset glaucoma, this was it. Chrysler was shooting for hot rod design language, but I myself have felt the strong impulse to drive myself off a cliff rather than look into the other lane at the eyesore driving by. The impulse was strong, and I was lucky to have suppressed it. Others surely haven’t been so fortunate.
13. 1973 Reliant Robin
This horrible car—the Reliant Robin—was so terrible that it only had three tires. While it might have saved you a few bucks when changing said tires, it didn’t save you in nearly every other aspect of the driving world. One thing that having three tires (one in the front, two in the back) will do to your vehicle—other than make it unbearable to look at—is make it extremely unstable.
When making a turn at a speed over 15 miles per hour, for instance, you will likely flip the car over and roll to your untimely demise. This is an undesirable outcome for all but drivers who want to go everywhere at golf cart speeds. The Reliant Robin, then, was anything but reliable.
14. 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV
Another gem of terrible 1970s engineering decisions comes in the form of the 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. This blunder of a machine struggled down the street whilst channeling later-years Elvis. Lincoln had curb appeal, for sure. This gaudy land yacht would have people’s jaws dropping, but not necessarily out of desire and appreciation.
Okay, maybe they weren’t that embarrassing. But these showy American icons were deficient in pretty much every other aspect. For the most part, it is the worst iteration of the Lincoln Continental pedigree. It was boring, ugly, heavy, slow, and—ultimately—unpurchasable. Lincoln would have been better off never making this car with the ’70s gas crunch looming.
15. 1978 FSO Polonez
While many people hate the look of this car, we over at Science 101™ disagree. But what we do agree with is the near-ubiquitous hatred of its questionable dependability. The car, for the most part, would break about 20 feet from every dealer they were ever purchased from.
One reviewer is reported to have said the following: “Built by communists out of steel so thin you could use it as a neck curtain, it is as reliable and long-lasting as a pensioner’s erection.” If this is a review on any product, that product should be shelved swiftly and succinctly. And that is what happened with the FSO Polonez.
16. 2002 Citroen Pluriel
While this car may look like it provides you with the fun, breezy, convertible experience, it—for the most part—does not. To get the roof down and the breeze in your long, gorgeous locks, you had to disassemble it and manually roll it back. Ugh. While later iterations of similar cars became fully automized in how the convertible roof functioned, this car didn’t get there in time.
What’s worse is that you then had to put it back together in order to avoid those other tedious things like rain and snow. Although, if you’re driving one of these bad boys, you’re probably not living in an environment that is subject to either of these types of weather. Regardless, this little French companion is too much hassle to bear.
17. 2007 BMW X6
While this car was later remodeled into something bearable, the earliest iterations breathed into existence something that couldn’t perform any of its professed functions. It was supposed to be an SUV mixed with a luxury vehicle. It was, in other words, supposed to afford you the ability to travel both on and off the road with comfort and style.
Unfortunately, the SAV (“sports activity vehicle”) gained acclaim for neither. And, as a result, sales were not as expected. Neither were reviews. And so, it took several iterations more and a public image revamp for this car to become something that people actually wanted to purchase. BMW’s other utility vehicle iterations have been commendable, but the first-gen X6 was so not.
18. 2002 Lexus SC 430
While most Lexus vehicles are designed well enough to avoid this list with their heritage of reliable products, this SC model makes our cut. In fact, it is so bad that writing about it is making me livid. In reality, its designs, interior, and drivability weren’t all that bad—especially when compared to the other cars on the list.
However, when you purchase a Lexus, you purchase a certain name. And that name was most definitely not lived up to, given how excellent the previous-generation SC was. This is especially discouraging considering the $61,055 price tag and backtracking in performance. In 2002, you’d have been better off dumping that money into a trust fund than spending it on such a lackluster coupe.
19. 1989 Eagle Premier
The Eagle Premier has it all. Pretty much from any angle you approach it, you will be disappointed. Its exterior? Boxy as it gets. Interior? Yes, it’s uncomfortable. And what about its drivability, one of the most important factors for any car? Also bad. You could barely drive it 10 feet without having trouble turning or accelerating.
It’s almost as if this car was manufactured to be the most exquisite manifestation of unease in a vehicle possible. And with that in mind, it achieved its goal. Now, who did like this car? People who caught the small-Japanese-car bug of the ’80s but didn’t spring for an Accord or Camry. Because that’s essentially what the car is—a lackluster incarnation of blandness without the quality.
20. 1974 Bricklin SV-1
For whatever reason, designers of the ’70s thought it would be cool to have their doors open vertically. And they weren’t wrong. However, as with most technical leaps, the first iterations are never well done. And that was most definitely the case with this gull wing wannabe. While it may have looked cool, it was anything but.
The car was touted as a safe vehicle (in fact, the SV stands for “safe vehicle”). But, if you’re touting safety, why go with the plastic, tin-can body that this car clearly has? The answer is lacking, but the car still exists. Despite the car’s plastic exterior, it still weighed a ton. This subtracted pretty much every possibility of the car fitting any niche. And so, it has earned a spot on this list of cars that should have never been.
21. 1976 Chevy Chevette
While the Chevette might look like a cute little car to drive, it was anything but. Okay, yes, it was cute. But it wasn’t drivable. It had 51 horsepower, which gave it the drive of a New York City lawnmower. It was also unusually loud. I think the engineers were probably trying to get back at Chevy for unreasonable working hours or too little vacation.
The mystery confounds. Regardless, the car was bad, and this showed in the longevity of the model. Having lasted only around a year after production, the car quickly sank into the recesses of everyone’s nightmares—that is, unless you owned one. For those unlucky few, the car will forever blemish their past. And for that, I offer my generous condolences.
22. 1997 Plymouth Prowler
It’s uncertain why the engineers thought there was a market for this abysmal creation. The Plymouth Prowler seems to have been constructed such that it would cater to the “American Graffiti” enthusiast that exists within each of us. The problem is, this car did the movie and its fans a great disservice.
Exposed front wheels and drop-top hot rod styling were not enough to mitigate the car’s laughable performance. A great handler this car was not, but most puzzling was the lack of reasonable power under the hood. The Prowler was truly all bark and no bite. If you’re going to pay tribute to the street beasts of yesteryear, at least give the thing some punch in the horsepower department.
23. 1957 King Midget Model III
Made in an era when tact and kindness were apparently in short supply, this car was beyond abominable. The idea behind this car was that it would be a savvy alternative to the fancy (and expensive) cars that were then making the rounds among the narrow streets of foggy London.
You could even buy the car as a build-it-yourself kit. And, I think it’s safe to say, many of us wouldn’t feel comfortable driving a car we assembled like a LEGO spaceship. And for those of us who would, clearly there weren’t enough to keep the car in long-lasting production. I, for one, am glad—and so was the government. The car, as it turns out, was banned from the highways in the 1960s.
24. 1958 Zundapp Janus
While the Germans have crafted themselves many a wonderful vehicle, the Zundapp Janus was not one. Having entryways at both its rear and front sides, this car not only looks too quirky for most consumers, but it was also uncomfortable. Though, it’s fair to say that we need blunders like this to enjoy the car market in the way we do today.
The top speed of this car was drastically unexceptional—a mere 50 miles per hour. Despite this ugly affinity for the strange, the car was heavily marketed by its own German engineers. They must have thought that with enough advertising they could guide the market in their direction. But oh, how wrong they were. They essentially just doubled down on their wasted money. Good job, Zundapp.
25. 1961 Chevy Corvair
While many cars have become niche hits because of their rear-wheel drive, the Turbo-Air 6 spec 1961 Corvair is not one of them. The reason? It made them spin out far more frequently than you’d want with something meant to get you from one location to another.
Despite the fact that this is the exact element many people who seek rear-wheel drive cars look for, it was found here with too much exuberance—and also without the style. While BMWs and the like could pull this (what some might call a “design flaw”) off, this 1960s hunk of metal could not. And so, it rests quietly in the grave of sullen and discarded cars.
26. 1971 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron
Some cars are a long way from a hit. Some cars are just long. The 1971 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron happened to be both. With a length that would make an aircraft carrier feel threatened, and a physique that said, “I wish I were a boat,” this car goes down in history as one of the most lamentable creations of the Malaise Era in the U.S. market.
It also had the longest fender in automobile history. That isn’t something necessarily to be proud of. What’s shocking, however, is that in all this superfluous and unwanted length, the interior room was not as spacious as you would expect. This is simply astonishing. But it is the whip you’d like pull up to a show in Memphis with.
27. 1949 Crosley Hotshot
On the other end of the length continuum, we have the 1949 Crosley Hotshot. This short vehicle (measuring in at a petite 145 inches), was one of the earliest models made immediately post-war. And for whatever reason, designers thought the best thing to do with post-war cars was make them small and heavy. Weird decision.
Despite its slow speed, the car maintained a dangerous demeanor. It was, in fact, such an unsafe drive that it was regularly featured in the short film “Mechanized Death”—a featurette that is played to all novice drivers in an attempt to scare them into safe driving. Hopefully one of the first proclamations of the film was to not buy the Crosley Hotshot.
28. 1911 Overland OctoAuto
The Overland OctoAuto was one of those cars that should have never existed. However, it was one of those cars that sharpened our idea of what should and should not be. In this case, we learned what shouldn’t be is the car with three axles and six wheels. And it’s a good thing we learned this sooner rather than later.
The car was a hysterical 20 feet long. What’s more is that it received literally zero requests for purchase. The car, in other words, was a complete and utter flop. It may have also been the worst car in history ever invented (debatable). The car was so bad I feel a little bad for its creator, Milton Reeves. Well, at least this all happened a century ago.
29. 1997 EV-1
One of the earliest models of the electric car, this two-door, zero-emissions attempt was hoping to bust and break the market. Unfortunately for investors, it did neither. The car was essentially a flop on every possible count. It hoped to be a fun drive. It wasn’t. It hoped to be bought. It wasn’t.
The EV-1 was available as a lease-only option in select cities. Initially, it was a hit with environmentally conscious consumers. But General Motors just couldn’t justify the investment of an electric car, assuming that long-term sales wouldn’t be profitable. Big mistake. Toyota, Honda, and other automakers picked up the baton that GM dropped and ran with it to incredible success. Chevy joined the party unfashionably late, introducing the Volt and Bolt EV cars years after the Prius became a household name.
30. 1961 Amphicar
This one-of-a-kind vehicle tried to cross over from land to sea. The result wasn’t pretty. While the car could float for something that might qualify it as a boat, it wasn’t really either a boat or car. Well, maybe technically it was. But it wasn’t good at being either. Both boat and car enthusiasts, for instance, loathed the thing.
One aspect this car-boat hybrid was especially critiqued for was its slow speed in the water. Topping out at a max speed of seven miles per hour, many people joked that they could swim faster than the vehicle—and with more style. James Bond was the only one who could make an amphibious car look cool in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” but his ride was actually a Lotus Esprit, not this monstrosity.
This article was originally published on Science 101: 30 cars that never should have been built