Good Names… Bad Cars

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The good thing about a bad car name is you’ve got no expectations. Not much to live up to – and so, little to disappoint you.

Achieva, for instance.

But wasting a good name on a bad car is almost a moral crime.

Like Dancing With The Stars.

Here are ten good car names gone bad – made infamous by the rust-prone fenders to which they were affixed:

* Chevy Cavalier –cavalier-1

This name summons images of gallant horsemen protecting their monarch but the Cavalier was the cheese whiz of cheap cars – mass produced and mediocre. It was infamous for prematurely and repeatedly failing head gaskets, a bouncy clown car ride, the lowest grade plastics this side of a $5 Wal Mart Mattel action figure – and depreciation rates that made Enron stock seem like a sound investment.

You didn’t drive a Cavalier because you chose to; you drove one because you had to.

And as soon as you had the cash to drive something else, you did.

Hopefully before the head gasket blew.

Again.

* Dodge Mirada –mirada

Kind of has a nice ring to it – and might have worked out had it not been affixed to one of the final death rattles of Chrysler Corp. before it went bankrupt (the first time) in the early 1980s – and from there to K-Car rehab.

The shovel-nosed, fastback 1980-’83 Mirada offered leaky T-tops and rear-wheel-drive when both were going out of fashion – and one of the weakest V8s ever constructed, a 318 cubic-inch embarrassment belting out a dismal 130 hp. If only they’d put a 360 (or better yet, a 440 big block) into this one, it would have been pretty cool. But as it was, it sucked epically.

(See also Chrysler Imperial and St. Regis.)

* Pontiac T1000 –t1000

It sounds tough, like the relentless robotic assassin made famous by Arnold in the Terminator movies. But this little stinker was only a threat to your wallet (in the form of repair bills) and, of course, your self respect.

And it wasn’t even a Pontiac.

It was a rouged-up (and marked-up) Chevy Chevette sold under the Pontiac nameplate.

GM’s idea was that buyers would actually pay extra for a Chevette with a more masculine name.

The tragedy is, many did.

PT Barnum wasn’t wrong.

* Porsche 914 –914-and-ghia

Normally, the Porsche name commands respect and admiration. With this one exception.

Though it looked good and touted a sports car-ideal mid-engined layout, it was extremely loose-toothed under the hood (so to speak). It was powered -if that’s the right word – by a VW-sourced  1.7 liter (later 1.8 liter) 80 hp air-cooled four not much different from what you’d have found in a same year Super Beetle. In fact, the 914 was supposed to have been a Beetle.

Well, a Karman Ghia. Which was a Beetle – with a different body.

The 914 mocked as the Poorsche. It was routinely humiliated in acceleration contests.

Later 914/6 variants were an improvement – but the damage was done.

To this day, it is the “Porsche” that Porsche prefers not to talk about.

* Pontiac Turbo Trans Am –turbo-ta

It was a sad end to a great run.

Built for just two years (1980 and ’81) the final iteration of Pontiac’s second-generation (1970-’81) Trans-Am was a muscle car without any muscle. The body had been designed for 400 and 455 cubic inch V8s, but Pontiac had ceased production of its traditional V8s after the 1979 model run.

In their place, the little 301 – which was barely a V8.

To wring something out of this desperate mill, a turbo was affixed. But it had about the same effect as funnel-feeding an 85-year-old Parkinson’s patient  a few cans of Red Bull.

Despite the wild graphics, air dams and “turbo” decals plastered all over the thing, the Turbo Trans Am was the ultimate Disco Machine: a completely toothless faux muscle car that could barely heave itself through the quarter-mile in under 17 seconds.

Like Brando, there was all kinds of potential; it coulda been a contender – but turned out a sloppy punch drunk palooka that embarrassed itself wherever it showed up.

* Acura Legend –legend

Truly a cruel irony that this otherwise unobjectionable car name was given to perhaps the most blandly styled, forgettably insipid sedan Acura ever made.

Solid? Well-built? Great value? Absolutely. B

But it’s as much a travesty of language to describe this car as “legendary” as it would be to call Ellen Degeneres sexy.

It was, arguably, the best Taurus a Japanese car company ever built.

* Mercedes-Benz 190E –benz-190

The Focke-Wulf Fw190 was a superb WWII fighter and that association alone might have been sufficient to give any car to bear the same name a decent head start.

Too bad Benz decided to go K-mart with it by christening its first downmarket model with the same once-proud designation. They were slow, they looked sad and weren’t even particularly well-made. The 190 quickly earned a reputation as the Mercedes for people who couldn’t afford one.

Though later examples got better, the stain on the carpet left by the initial batch of 190s can never be scrubbed away.

* Dodge Daytona Turbo Z –turbo-z

Just saying it out loud sounds pretty cool – especially if you’re James Earl Jones (aka, the voice of Darth Vader) who did the voice-overs for the commercials.

Too bad the car itself – a front wheel drive K-car in drag – was so lacking in the powers of The Force.

Even worse was the way this car expropriated and sullied the legacy of the original Daytonas of the late ’60s.

See also: Chrysler Laser.

* Lincoln Versailles –versailles

Poor ol’ Louis XVI would surely prefer another trip to the chopping block than having to endure the association of his fabulous palace with a pretentious Ford Granada.

An example of Detroit badge-engineered, bait-and-switching at its most contemptuous – the Versailles showed the world that some people will pay Lincoln money for a Ford with a fake vinyl roof and knock-off wire wheel covers.

* Aston Martin Lagonda –lagonda-1

Another not-bad name forever tainted by the freakish, over-digitized automotive atrocity that bore it.

Aston Martin has produced some gorgeous and memorable machinery but the Lagonda – with its bizarro angular body and cheesy, early Atari-style all-digital interior – isn’t one of them.lagonda-2

The electronics were more than just cheesy, too. They proved to be so unreliable that early cars were often literally undrivable and had to be sent back to the factory to be retrofitted with conventional controls and instrumentation.

On the upside, the ugly futuristic shape of the car eventually made it useful as a background prop in just-as-cheesy ’80s-era sci-fi flicks like Robo-Cop and Judge Dredd.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Swap out the Acura Legend for the Chevy Corsica. Ugh. The ~1991-1995 Legend still looks good today, in the same vein as the similar-era Toyota Supra. Classic lines that I’d love to see updated 20 years later.

  2. Have to disagree an the baby Benz 190. My 84 190d has gotten me 53 mpg on a hot day, and was comfortable for an 8 hour highway trip. 0-60, however is best checked with an hourglass. And the 190e Cosworth twin cam still finds favor in certain SCCA classes. The standard 190e, though, you may have a point. Not really good at anything

  3. Lincoln Versailles…. a gussied up Granada. The Granada was a stretched Maverick. Essentially it was a Falcon turned into a Lincoln. However the Lincoln Versailles has parts that everyone from Falcons to Mustangs to Mavericks and beyond want to for their cars. These parts, the rear axle and rear brakes primarily could often sell for more than the whole car. Hence I doubt many Versailles are still around.

  4. Ha! I had one on this list (Daytona) and one that should have made the list, a 1983 Shelby Charger. A hopped up Dodge Omni that lasted less than 2,000 miles before I lost it in a corner and totalled it out.

    I did get a lot of miles out of the Daytona, but had to change the head gasket around 30,000 miles or so. Took a full weekend for that one.

  5. This was definitely a trip down memory lane, much like that stuff a friend assured was some righteous govt. LSD only to find out it was animal tranquilizer and the dose you got was meant for a rhino.

    It looks like a visual history of my wife’s family’s cars. I drove my SIL’s Cavalier one day since there were 3 cars blocking my pickup in. I only needed to go a mile or more to get some beer. It was iffy and I kept stomping on the gas pedal thinking there was a dried up Big Mac double double under there. I finally got some light on it and no, the optical illusion there was nothing but air made me feel even weirder. I shoulda taken a cab. A friend came in cold and wet in his pickup like mine, an 82 Chevy 4 WD 454 and found his driveway blocked off. He pushed a line of cars down the street to get access. I promised I’d do that next time rather than be subject to that very cavalier Cavalier if you take the meaning of cavalier as “don’t give a shit”.

    That Mirada had a stable mate just as ugly and unreliable, the Le Baron. My FIL bought one for my MIL for Xmas……not a good Xmas for her since she despised Chrysler products and that car had nothing to endear it to somebody who had only driven Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs and was currently driving an Impala.

    The piece de resistance was a toss-up between his recently purchased Elite and the Le Baron. You might not call the Elite necessarily “bad” but that would depend on your definition of “good”. To a person like me who knows the car maker just by the lines of a car it would instantly give you doubts as to its reliability but no doubt whatsoever of its bloodlines which was closer to being bloodbait. Hang it out there, if you get a nibble, set the hook before they realize what’s happened. One way to create a new and not-exciting model is to throw all your big car designs into a blender, take what’s left over, scale it down “just a hair” and then take everything in your current parts lists for various models and make a “new” model on the cheap, real cheap.

    The next car on the FIL’s list was one of those little Japanese made Dodge’s with the turbo 4. It was pure ugly but ran like stink, a lot like its looks. It was short-lived too.

    Seems like their last vehicle was an Isuzu SUV that was pretty decent.

  6. Thanks, I had 2 cars off this list, the Daytona Z with 2.2 Turbo and a 5 speed manual – which I will defend thusly – it was a dim speck of light in a terribly dark time of American cars. Unfortunately, everything you said about it was true. It was a terrible car and it ate transmissions and ultimately, main bearings. Also, the Acura Legend – again spot on. That car was sooooooooo boring. Only car I have ever owned that was a NA V6. I despised that Legend as it was such an appliance and had nothing to offer other than just being transportation, and yes, it was beige in color. It was a sleeping pill on wheels. Never had a turbo Trans Am, but man those things looked sweet, the look of that car is what got me into TAs in the first place till I learned they were only looks, not muscle. Had to go a few years back in the catalog to get something good.

    • The 3rd gen TIII Daytona IROC Zs were really sweet little rides despite the timing belt issue, and many others. I really wouldn’t mind having one, even now, especially since I had a TI Chrysler Laser (2.5 turbo). Had 100k on the transmission before I sold it. Held up pretty well to be honest.

      The 2nd gen Legend looks pretty good if you can find one in decent shape, even today. Pig on fuel and an unremarkable engine, but it was at least decent looking.

      • Yeah, the gen III actually moved. I looked at 2 different TIII Spirit RTs when I lived in Houston – both had bad head/head gaskets. I loved the idea of those cars though.

  7. Is the next article “Bad Names, Good cars?” 🙂

    The only one I can think to add is the Pontiac Le Mans, the little hatchback.

  8. I really wanted an Acura Legend coupe. Have never touched one or seen one in person, only when I travel around NY city do I occasionally catch a glimpse of a survivor.

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