Cars That Broke Bad (Or just Broke)

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Automotive good ideas gone bad range far and wide – whether it’s a classic  fail like the exploding Pintos of the early ’70s – or a late-model train wreck like the Pontiac Aztek.

Here are ten automotive atrocities that will be remembered for as long as the warranty claims (and class-action lawsuits) linger:matador

* The entire American Motors Corp. (AMC) lineup –

From dreadful dreadnoughts like the malformed Matador to demented detritus like the Gremlin and Pacer, no other automaker ever managed to build such a seemingly endless conga line of bizarre, poorly conceived (and often, poorly built) cars within such a short span of time (from the late 1960s to the early-mid 1970s).

Only bankruptcy eventually succeeded in stopping the madness.

  • Exceptions deserving of a kind word include the Javelin and AMX, which were decent efforts hobbled by AMC’s perpetual lack of adequate development funds.

* Chrysler’s “lean burn” engines –lean-burn

While Honda was developing highly efficient combustion chambers to lower engine emissions via engineering advances such as the CVCC cylinder head (which allowed the cars to meet federal exhaust emissions standards without catalytic converters) Chrysler was duct-taping its V8s with leaned-out carburetors that mainly made them even harder to start than they were before – and prone to stalling in the middle of busy intersections.

In addition, you also got gelded performance and terrible gas mileage.

Now you know why “rich, Corinthian leather” never made a comeback.

* General Motors’ diesel V8 –olds-diesel-ad

Imagine a luxury car that was both slow and inefficient as well as prone to early and catastrophic engine failures and you have a taste of the bitter flavor that was the diesel-powered Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

These “diesel” engines were actually converted gas engines, which (contrary to the myth) wasn’t the problem. Poor quality control was.

The resultant debacle not only soured an entire country on the otherwise perfectly sound concept it helped hustle Oldsmobile to the boneyard of automotive has-beens and nearly killed off Cadillac, too.

* The Sterling –sterling

Japanese automakers rarely screw the pooch, but this was an exception.

Back in the late 1980s, in collusion with British car-maker Land Rover, Acura Legends were re-sold as “British” Sterling 825s and 827s. The alliance was as enduring as the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact – and just as awkward. Parts for these cars – especially interior pieces – are all but impossible to find. Dealer support is nonexistent. Resale values are lower than current highs for well-worn Yugos.

If Truman had had another bomb left to drop, the childhood home of the dude who would grow up to create Sterling would have been a worthy target.

* Pontiac Fiero –fiero-ad

A great idea ruined by upper management skinflints and con men – who thought it would be slick take Chevette underthings (front suspension, engine) and put them in a car that looked sporty and then charge the suckers top dollar.

First-year sales were great – until the word got out. They then nose-dived into the ground like the Air France Concorde, forcing the car’s cancellation just four years after it came out. Just in time to hand over the entire market for a car of this type to Mazda, which brought out the Miata a year after the Fiero was sent to the crusher.

* “Cab forward” design –ooglah

When Chrysler Corp. hawked this layout in the ’90s, it was supposed to be an automotive Great Leap Forward. But after a succession of belly-flops ranging from the luckless LHS to the Dodge not-so-Intrepid, the whole works was discreetly packed up and shipped off to the land of unwanted toys.

Chrysler reverted back to front-engine/rear-drive (cab normal) vehicles like the current 300 series and Charger – which, not surprisingly, actually sell well.

* Geo –junked-geo

Circa Ronald Reagan’s first term, GM was desperate to rehab its image – especially as purveyor of small economy cars, most of which (so far) sucked.

Management figured the only way to get people to consider buying a GM small car was by selling them under a different name. Hence the Geo nameplate. Sold alongside Chevrolets, some Geos were ok. The Prizm was a re-badged Toyota Corolla – and the Corolla was (and still is) a solid little car. Others, though, were far from fabulous – notably the depressing three-cylinder Metro and the sad-sack Storm (more like a light breeze).

Geos may sometimes still be glimpsed languishing on seedy used car lots in rural backwaters to this very day.

* The “new” GTO –

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The Holden (GM’s Australian subsidiary) Monaro was a perfectly good car – but it was neither a Pontiac nor a GTO.

Tacking on the badges didn’t make it so.

It didn’t help that the resurrected “GTO” was blandly styled (it looked a lot like a hot-rodded Cavalier) and close to Corvette expensive – making it all but impossible for even the handful of rednecks who might have wanted one to afford one.

Pontiac itself gave up the ghost not long after.

* Firestone’s Wilderness A/T tires –explorer

Mix marginally competent drivers, top-heavy SUVs, high-speed driving and under-inflated, poor-quality tires – and let the barrel-rolling (and endless litigation) begin!

This late 1990s debacle all-but-ruined the reputation of what had been the country’s best-selling SUV – the Explorer – even though the root cause of the problem had more to do with improper use and sketchy tires than with the “Exploder” itself.

* Chevy SSR –ssr-lemon

What’s heavy, ugly, top-heavy and clunky?

No, it’s not your mother-in-law.

It’s the SSR, or Super Sport Retractable hardtop. Blechh! GM built this Frankenstinian atrocity for a few years in the early-mid 2000s. It looked like a bloated ’40s pick-up and had some interesting features – including a “torque-o-meter” gauge to let you know how much power the Corvette sourced V8 was putting out. But like the even more execrable Plymouth Prowler, it was a fake hot rod – a factory-built, store-bought Guidomobile for guys who wanted to be seen as gearhead car-crafter types but who probably couldn’t find the dipstick on a dare.

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75 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t be too hard on the 2004-2006 GTO’s.

    I agree they never should have been named such, but, other then that they’re really great cars, both in performance, and handling.

    As far as pricing. Yes, the MSRP of $34K was a complete joke, and I feel bad for those who paid that since GM literally started giving them away months later. At the very beginning of 2005, the 04 GTO was going ‘out the door’ brand new for under $20K. The 2005’s with the 50 extra HP did not go on such a discount, but, nonetheless by mid June 2005 they were going for about $26K. I got the 2005 during that sale and I’m still enjoying the car 12 years later.

  2. Back in the day in Michigan, you could get a Prizm for $2K less than the equivalent Toyota, built in the same NUMMI factory, because people didn’t know they were the same. California’s insane enviro laws destroyed all car plants, including the NUMMI — which now is Tesla’s heavily subsidized, PC operation.

    • “you could get a Prizm for $2K less than the equivalent Toyota”
      well mine was only $1000 less, but they were advertising them on TV for such by then.

  3. “Chrysler was duct-taping its V8s with leaned-out carburetors that mainly made them even harder to start than they were before – and prone to stalling in the middle of busy intersections.” They also put these on their Dodge trucks. They sent them to us when I was in the U.S. Army in West Germany, 1979-82. The junkers always broke down, especially in the field in the kraut winter. I still can hear how we kept cranking and cranking them in the near-frozen mud until we gave up and called a tow truck. Good thing a war didn’t start then. A couple years ago I read that, when Chrysler went bankrupt, the govt. forced the U.S. Army to buy these Dodge clunkers as part of the bailout. Fortunately, there was no war and Germany sure ain’t Afghanistan.

  4. I always liked to buy cars from my late aunt. She and her husband always bought Ramblers, and hers were always creampuffs, and most of his were lemons. I bought a 1965 Classic 660 from her, and put in a Motorola CDI ignition system and alternator. It had a 3 speed overdrive transmission, and a straight 6 engine. It was a wonderful car, but met its end when an illegal alien, driving drunk, with no license or insurance slammed into the cars parked behind mine, smashing them all up. Nobody in town could fix it.

    I also had a 1986 1/2 Pontiac Fiero GT. It was a fright to drive in the winters, but was the best car I ever had. It got me through my doctoral studies with style and grace. I’m 6’6″ tall, and I could have sold tickets to people to watch me get in an out of it, but it was very comfortable once inside. I drove it back straight through from Auburn, Alabama to DeKalb, Illinois after attending the Mises Institute’s Summer School. I finally had to sell it when it became obvious that I was going to have to drive both of my parents around, and that wasn’t going to happen in a 2 seater sports car. So, I bought a 2004 Vibe. The mechanic I sold it to put in a 350 cubic inch V8. I wish I could have driven it after he did that. It flew with just the V6! I guess other people were not so fortunate in Fiero ownership. If GM were smart enough to make them again, I would buy one in a heartbeat. Sadly, they are sliding off into oblivion.

  5. AMC made some poor decisions as far as what to make and when, but the AMC drivetrains were very dependable. The Gremlin and Pacer actually sold very well. I would encourage you to read the book___ American motors the last independent___ by Pat foster. AMC had a rich and long American history and made some really cool cars along the way.

  6. I remember seeing the Chevy SSR in the dealership. I thought at the time “what the hell is this POS looking thing?” And then the Pontiac Aztek…wow…what an ugly pile of junk. No wonder Pontiac went belly up. One vehicle I would add to the list is the Ford Windstar minivan. My folks had one, and it was a total piece of crap. The engine put out more torque than the transmission could handle. The result was that the transmission gears literally ground into fine metal shavings. So yeah, they had to replace the transmission in it, the computer failed and had to be replaced, then water pump died when they were on a road trip, and when the engine blew, my parents sold off the pile of crap to a mechanic who wanted to fix it up. I think they might have also had brake and suspension issues with the thing to. It is interesting to note how Ford doesn’t even sell minivans anymore. They rebadged the Windstar to “Freestar” or something like that, and then not long after pulled it from the market because sales were abysmal due to how unreliable they were.

    • The Aztek may be ugly but they seem to have held up well. The horrible thing is that all these years later design elements of the Aztek seem to working their way into just about everything.

      • Brent, I’ve been tempted to say the same. At least the Aztek isn’t your choice of ugly catfish front end no matter what the brand. Depending, you can get sad catfish, mad catfish, bored catfish, ugly catfish, happy catfish and pollywog on current cars.

  7. “notably the depressing three-cylinder Metro”

    I actually put 90k miles on one of these cars. Mine was excellent, always getting 62mpg until the end when it dropped down to a disappointing 55mpg. It got this mileage by virtue of light weight (something that is usually praised around here); I had three accidents in it – not the fault of the car – and though it was just made of tin, I wasn’t hurt. It was boringly reliable. It was somewhat uncomfortable for long trips, but hey, it was still better than a motorcycle in that respect. And it was cheap to buy. Country folks liked them for their frugality.

    I think this should be removed from your list. It was an economy car, and it did that job to perfection.

  8. When I was a lot kid, the dealership I worked for took in a Gremlin on trade. Beyond the terrible motor, suspension and transmission, this rolling abortion was their ill-advised Levi Strauss edition. Here.It was among the most hideous vehicles I’ve ever had the misfortune to drive.

    I’d take a Pinto 100 times out of 100 over that thing.

  9. I have a soft spot in my heart for AMC. My mom had a 71 Hornet which I did tune ups and oil changes on. The drive train was bullet proof. She kept it for 140k miles (a lot back then) before getting rid of it. The rest of the car was crap, but the 232 inline six/automatic wouldn’t quit. It later morphed into the venerable Jeep 4.0 inline six which soldiered on for many years (through 2006).

    I would love to get a hold of an old Javelin or AMX someday. I especially like the styling on the 71 – 74 Javelin (Donohue Trans Am).

    • Yep. my Mom had a ’71 (or so) Hornet wagon. Great car. I remember also a Hurst S/C Rambler a guy had. Pretty fast car as I recall, but it was also fugly.

  10. The entire K car platform was a loser from the start. I bought a used Reliant ( was this a cruel joke) for my now ex to use for rural postal delivery and the POS broke down with Ex Lax regularity. Replaced it with a brand new gas guzzling Dodge Dakota 4X4 Club Cab at a price that couldn’t be beat if the salesman was comatose.
    Also bought a Dodge Shadow …I know I have a streak of masochism in me, in which the MAP sensor would fail at the most inopportune times. I worked at a shop where we serviced Chrysler electronics Ie: radios, body computers, overheads and instrument clusters and eventually a tech bulletin crossed my bench, I was chief tech, and lo and behold there was a bulletin describing the very problem and fix.
    It seems the MAP sensor was being damaged by exhaust gases which creates acids in turn eating away at the rubber diaphragm inside the senor. I always kept one in the glove box….bought a couple from a salvage yard.
    Chrysler does have the best idea as far as platform teams , consisting of various component engineers and vendors involved in car design.
    I bought a 1967 Chevy window van) with 283, positrac which ran like snake for a van. Bought a couple wide ovals for the rear and put on a Thrush muffler and shot the exhaust out ahead of the left rear wheel. Loved that little van. I also replaced the coil in it with some sort of super coil that was popular during the seventies.
    Oh, and replaced the water pump in only a couple hours which was a lot easier than replacing the heater/AC blower in my 2006 Chrysler T&C.
    If you ever have to do that, take it to a shop….let them suffer.

  11. Eric – you’ve got to be kidding about the Intrepid. I bought a 2000 w/ $25K miles for $10K & had it for years up to 275K miles. It was very nice to look at too – one of the best cars ever.

    • It must have been a 3.5 motor. The 3.5 was a total gem of a motor while the 2.7 was a horrendous failure. I’ve seen so many 2.7s fail before 100k, either headgaskets, sludge, or both.

  12. Back in England, I owned a Rover 213s. It was a very nice little car, had the Honda power plant and was told had a Volkswagon tansmission. Never any problems apart from having to
    rac”it through the gears to get up to speed. Did here the 216 was a piece of poo as it had the British Leyland engine and was for ever breaking down

  13. YET ANOTHER ARTICLE FROM A VERY OPINIONATED AND WRONGFULLY MINDED AMERICAN AUTO WRITER WHO HAS LOVE AFFAIRS WITH FOREIGN CAR MAKERS HE MAKES SO MANY WILDLY ERRATIC STATEMENTS SUCH AS THE CHRYSLER RUN LEAN ENGINES .FOR HIS UNEDUCATED AND WRONGLY OPINIONATED MIND .GM WAS NO BETTER STARTING IN 72 EVEN BEFORE CAT CONVERTERS I KNOW I OWNED THEM ALL A 70 CADILLAC DE VILLE A 72 CHEVY IMPALA WITH THE 350 ENGINE WOULD HAVE TO SIT FOR AT LEAST 5 MIN BEFORE YOU COULD MOVE IT .I HAD CARS ALL THROUGH THE 70 /80 FROM GM THAT WERE TERRIBLE AND HE PICKED SOME RIDICULOUS EXAMPLES .WHAT HE DOESN T TELL YOU ARE THE IMPORTANT ONE SUCH AS THE CADILLAC 4.1. CAST IRON BLOCK ALUMINUM HEAD V8S WITCH BLEW UP AND DDI NOT RUN BECAUSE THE SOFTWARE WAS JUNK.ALMOST SUNK CAD. AND ALSO OLDS IN THE 90 I HAD A 90; 91 AND 2 92 BECAUSE THE FIRST BLEW UP WITH THAT PIECE OF SHIT 3.4 DUAL CAM SET .AND ON THE FIRST DAY I HAD IT .HE GLOSSED OVER THE REAL PROBLEMS AND PICKS A FIGHT WITH A NON EXCISTENT CO.SUCH AS AMERICAN MOTORS WHO DID FANTASTIC THINGS SUCH AS UNIBODIED CARS STARTING IN 1949.THIS GUY IS FULL OF SHIT AND WRITES SHIT.Clover

      • eric, too late. ’72 Chevy had to run 5 minutes before it would move. Didja park it in a mud puddle every night or do you(RA)think a transmission filter and new fluid might have made a tad of difference. Of course, when you do that long enough other pieces and parts tend to suffer early failure. RA, you one of those guys who think it’s bad luck to change tranny fluid? That ain’t what She said.

    • MY older brother bought one when they came out after 24 grand it began burning oil like a hash pipe and soon after that parts of the body looked like cancer cells eating away at the rest of the car. Oil went through that car like prune juice through yer gut.
      As it ended, GM replaced the engine and all the prematurely rusted out body panels.

  14. In 1980 I was in Midland MI for a few months, and bought a used Gremlin. Nose-heavy in the extreme, with rear-wheel drive, the slight drag of brakes made the car impossible to get moving on the packed-ice roadways there without opening the driver door and sticking my foot out to give a push while feathering the throttle. Wheee! Meanwhile, my girlfriend had a Dodge van with one of those horrible V8’s. It would start but wouldn’t stay running. One scary moment came as she was making a left turn when the engine died and the loss of power steering made it nearly impossible for her to keep the beast from straightening out, hitting various other cars. What a piece of crap!

    • Hi JDL,

      College buddy of mine had a Pacer… bright yellow; with the V8!

      He and I used to purposely bash into each other as we drove down the road…

  15. My brothers years ago owned Geo Metros with the one-liter engines and loved them. Their experiences convinced me to buy a Metro. That was the best car I’ve ever owned or ever expect to own. Fifty mpg, stone reliable, slow as sin but cheap to fix on those rare occasions that it needed fixing. I got 220,000 miles on the first engine before the middle exhaust valve burned, and had 110,000 on the second engine (same transmission) when my kid flipped the car and put finis to it.

    The tin was light and cheap, but such a car. Had I known what I was getting at the time, I’d have bought a second one and stored it.

  16. OK, my initial rant seems to have vanished due to whatever server crash took place some days ago, so I’ll try again…

    Eric, you should know better! AMC did not go bankrupt. (Whether they ultimately would have is an open question.) They were of course bought out by Chrysler in 1987, and in fact were making a profit at the time. Of course AMC was controlled by Renault at the end. One of the factors that motivated Renault to sell was the assassination of Renault CEO Georges Besse. He was shot outside his home in November of 1986 by a radical group in large part as retribution for his funneling of resources into AMC while cutting back on employment in France. Pretty strong motivation to sell! (For that matter neither did Studebaker go bankrupt, contrary to what many believe. The company diversified with the profits from the Lark then left the car business behind in 1966. But that’s another story.)

    Most AMC cars were ordinary mom-and-pop grocery getters, but there were some of interest. (You do acknowledge the AMX and Javelin. Too bad the AMX/3 was stillborn!) But they offered other interesting vehicles over the years, some were even pretty good-looking like the Hornet Sportabout wagon and the Hornet hatchback. Some were batshit-crazy like the Rebel Machine and the SC/Rambler, but you sure wouldn’t mistake them for anything else.

    The Gremlin suffered from being a small car made from big-car parts but did not have self-destructing engines like the Vega (or its truly amazing rust), nor did it tend to explode when hit from behind like the Pinto. Even the much-maligned Pacer was not without its good points.

    The Matador sedans and wagons were not exciting or great-looking cars but they were very practical family vehicles. Equipped with the 401 V8 they were pretty decent performers as well. (In a 1971 Popular Science test against the Big 3 full-size wagons, the Ambassador – which is essentially identical to the Matador aside from wheelbase and trim – was judged superior in performance, handling, braking, and economy than the offerings from Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth.) The problem is that the company blew its limited resources on the Matador Coupe and the Pacer rather than updating its core lineup so a few years down the road everything was outdated.

    So while they definitely pushed out some stinkers, condemning the entire AMC lineup throughout the company’s existence is just a cheap shot.

    • The only decent thing AMC made after the demise of the Rambler, was the Eagle (4×4 cars and wagons), but it was too little, way too late.

      Shame about the Matador: They were decent cars, but they had to be the fugliest cars ever made.

      • My buddy had an Eagle. We took that thing into some really nasty places and it always got us out. It was a fantastic duck hunting machine.

  17. Ironically, the SSR began as a one off, auto show design exercise. But chevvy people were so enthralled with it, they clamored and carried on until GM was almost compelled to build the thing.

    Only then, was it unwanted.

    So the first lesson is…chevvy people didn’t know ugly until they were faced with the reality of spending their own money.

    Second lesson….don’t build a so called “hot rod” unless you can give it enough motor to haul it’s lard ass fast.

        • eric, I don’t get it with the people who view El Camino owners as people with a screw loose……but I’d bet they’ve never driven one.

          So, give the the lowdown on the Elco you found.

      • They’re horrendous to drive too. Maybe it was the one I drove, but it managed to feel really stiff yet really vague at the same time. It was and is the only vehicle I can recall driving where the wheel took considerable grunt to turn, yet still provided no feedback to what the “truck” was doing.

        Oh well, at least it was ugly.

    • When the SSR began it was purported to be the new El Camino but then the styling dipshits hit and the bean counters began counting too much money since trucks are where the profit is. Pickups, esp. those GMC and Ford Platinum things are well into 5 digit profits and virtually hold the company afloat.

      They went from El Camino to badass almost ‘Vette type vehicles so they did what too many vehicles become, none of what was originally envisioned. Some wanted it to be a niche vehicle with lots of whistles and bells and uber HP. It would seem they won out…..only without the uber HP and little of the basic utilitarian El Camino. Instead it became one of those committee designed things. As it morphed along and neared production it was easy to see it was going to be Chevy’s version of the Edsel…….and it was. Had it been just an El Camino it would probably have carved its small niche and been raved by some and ignored by others.

      There’s that crowd that seems to think El Camino owners have a screw loose. El Camino owners think everybody mistakenly thinks the El Camino has no utilitarian value and no sport value leaving it to be just some weird thing.

      My ’77 Elco with the trailer town package would haul as much and nearly as much as the Heavy Half pickups but rode well, handled well and would go places a half ton pickup wouldn’t. The front to rear weight made them great in what normally would be 4WD territory for a pickup. They ate dirt roads year after year without complaint and ran like a scalded dog. You only needed to drive in a 70 model SS with a 454 that shifted at 6800 rpm to understand what they could do……and drag a fifth wheel trailer to boot. They were lead sleds and pulling your boat at 100mph you were glad of it. I’ll never sell mine.

  18. The Ford Explorer’s problems were not necessarily due to inferior tires, but were due to reactions to complaints about the “harsh ride” that many drivers complained about. Ford dealers “solved” the problem by reducing the tire pressure BELOW the safe minimum. Of course, the ride harshness disappeared along with the longevity of the tires…and the subsequent handling problems…

    • people also like to drive the ball joints and wheel bearings off of them while riding on maypop tires. they don’t have the most durable front suspension in the first place.
      half of the explorers and rangers i see on the road have the front camber so far off you can see it from 500′ away….

    • Since I’m an old-timer, I recall several Firestone tires that were horrible. The 721 comes to mind, a tire that might come apart when brand new. There was the SS debacle too which ended up with a brand on the side-walls and sold supposedly for things that wouldn’t be on the highways as the brand said “Not for on highway use”.

      Henry and Harry were BIL’s and Ford sold cars for more decades than I’ve been alive with bad Firestone tires.

      My BIL worked for a company that used only Firestone tires on their cars, pickups and big trucks. They got them for free to be Ford’s test fleet. The car tires were by far the worst of the lot and would blow at any time. When the company complained they were ruining tires left and right on their cars, Firestone asked if the cars were driven over 55mph since the tires weren’t made to exceed that speed, Firestone’s defense of them. If you decided to have your truck tires recapped and brought in a Firestone tire, recappers would tell you NO. Then they’d say what brands they recommended and 40 years ago it was mostly Michelin(by far the best truck tire)and Goodyear.

  19. No better vehicle could have been chosen for Walter White than an Aztek: Loser car for a nerdy, geeky teacher.

    And when he opened the door on that thing, you could always hear the un-lubricated hinges squeak and creak.

    Little things like that made that show the success it was.

    • I have a friend who loves hers and shes a total geek. Funny how the Buick Rendezvous which I though was equally as gawky looking was never mentioned and did quite well for GM.

  20. Olds diesel wagon was the “company vehicle” for a printing company I worked for in the mid-80’s. The thing had to go to the dealer at least once a week for repairs. One day I was taking it back to the dealer with our production manager riding shotgun. We got in the car, I started it up and said, “Seek, Shanna, seek!” The production manager looked at me, I said, “it probably knows the way”…I thought he was gonna swallow his Marlboro.

  21. AMC definitely deserves the top spot that you gave it, and your comments about it are probably the best and yet most succinct I have ever read. (Funny, too, as I had just mentioned AMC as a “bottom feeder” in my comment on the review of the FIAT 500x; and then I come to this article….)

    But Renault definitely belongs on this list. Anything ever made by Renault, but especially the Le Car! (How they actually managed to sell even ONE of them, is beyond me!)

    Anything ever made by FIAT!

    The VW “Thing”.

    The 89-93 Pontiac “LeMans” (Ya KNEW Pontiac was on borrowed time after that one!)

    Any Crapillac with the HT4100 (all aluminum) engine.

    The Crapillac 4-6-8 engine….

    The Crapillac Cavalier, errr, I mean “Cimmaron”- ROTFL!

    The list goes on and on.

    • VW Things are actually pretty cool. Sure, they’re weird and ugly as shit, but also pretty reliable and durable. A shade tree mechanic can fix just about anything on it with chewing gum and chicken wire, and they’ll go almost anywhere. I’d love to get my hands on one of those.

    • some more for the list:
      ford contour & svt version
      any northstar caddy that’s been overheated
      late model bmws and audis that are out of warranty
      saab 900s
      practically anything ever made by mitsubishi

    • Actually, Renault makes great small and/ or cheap cars. Here in Europe, where space is greatly limited in a lot of areas, and governments tax us to death, especially related to cars, those things matter, and Renault does really well.
      I had a Renault Twingo that survived to the age of 20 and racked up nearly 250,000 km in that time. It only had to go because it was totally rusted out, which is forgiveable here in the Alps where they plaster all the roads with massive amounts of salt during 4 months of the year. But the engine was still running flawlessly.
      Then there is the cheap Renault brand, Dacia, which sells extremely well in Europe, simply because noone else is selling cheap cars anymore! At least 20,000 € for compact new cars, at least 30,000 for standard sized ones? Who can afford that?
      I traded my Twingo for a Dacia Duster, sold outside Europe as Renault Duster (don`t know about the US). It`s a compact SUV that can be had from 12,500 € onwards as a 4×4. It sells like crazy because noone is making anything like it. You get no fancy interior or gadgets, and the cheapness somewhat shows all-around, but all the basics, the mechanics and the styling, are spot-on.

      • Rider, yes, Renault these days in Europe seems to be a competent brand. Those modern Renaults are not sold in the US though. The Renaults we’re familiar with are from the 1980’s, and were sold through Chrysler, here. They were really a joke. You probably know the Le Car as the Renault 5. (If you’re old enough to remember, you’re probably rolling on the floor laughing!)

        • I know a guy who used to find Reliances setting on people’s back lawns and fix them then turn around and make some cash. It seems there was something that always went bad and the owners never bothered to have them repaired. I don’t remember what the main problem was but it seemed to be easily enough to repair.

        • My wife had an 86 Alliance when we got married (only a year old). It was a pretty nice car – drove well etc. but totally unreliable. My 78 Corolla was much more reliable even though it was eight years older. The timing belt went with 58k miles on it even though it wasn’t due until 60k. We sold it a few months later and got next to nothing for it. At least I wasn’t upside down on it.

        • HAhahaha! Eric, I had forgotten all about the Fuego! As if the Le Car, Alliance and Encore weren’t bad enough…. They did briefly make a Medallion, too, which I’m sure was also a POS, but it seemed a lot nicer than their other POS’s. (Damn Frogs should stick to making Bic pens and Michelin tires! :D)

      • I had a Renault 20 in 1980 in France, really an excellent car. Also had an Alliance shortly after back here and mine was excellent for a small car and reliable. Finally the valve seals (?) gave out and it would smoke heavily on startup for a minute, then it was clean. Can’t remember the mileage for that but it was fairly high. Anyway I don’t remember it as a bad car.

    • I bought a Renault Fuego and after 1.5 weeks driving the main pulley separated from the drive shaft and that was all she wrote, After 4 weeks in the shop…they tore the engine down completely and rebuilt it the car ran fine…prone to blowing water hoses.

  22. On the GM Diesels, they were actually extremely efficient. The car I learned to drive in was a top of the line Olds 98 Regency with all the bells/whistles and a diesel engine. It was comfortable, everything worked correctly (including the clock and the excellent stereo), and was a very quiet and smooth ride with very comfortable, plush seats. It got a constant 32 mpg, floated down the highway, had tons of room, and with a 28 gallon tank, had nearly 900 miles of cruising range. We owned it for over 10 years and had only 1 major breakdown in that time (the fuel injector pump died on it when it was about 6 years old with over 130,000 miles on it). Its ONLY drawback was that it was slow. It had trouble maintaining 50 up hills with a 4% or greater grade and had a very solid top speed of 80. Of course, it was designed for a federal speed limit of 55 and would cruise in the flat at 65 quite comfortably.

    The first car I personally owned was a Geo Metro. Except for great gas mileage, an ability to stop quickly, and an ability to turn on a dime, it was a dog. It’s biggest failing was an engine that would reliably die at about 120,000 miles (mine spun a crankshaft bearing and seal while going down the highway, but did it in a way that wasn’t noticeable until most of the oil had leaked out and the engine self-destructed). It was basically a 3 cylinder version of the Suzuki Swift.

    My younger brother owned a Sterling for a brief time. It’s alarm would go off if you ever unlocked the trunk before unlocking the passenger compartment. It would sometimes lock you in and you had to deactivate the alarm and short the door locks to get out. We finally sold it for parts to a guy that was buying up cheap Sterlings to keep his own going.

    My older sister owned an AMC Matador. It was dead reliable and had decent power for its time; however the body was loose and felt like it was falling apart. She ended up selling it and buying a ’72 Mustang.

  23. You forgot to add the Chevy Vega. My wife bought one of those after trading my ’73 Ford F-100 p/u. Unfortunately, I had no say in the deal because I was overseas at the time.

    What a piece of crap! Aluminum engine? No acceleration whatsoever

    Glad to have gotten rid of it. Again, unfortunately, is traded for a Plymouth K-Car station wagon, another piece of crap. Finally got rid of that and bought a Datsun 510. Like a VW they keep on going with proper maintenance.

    R.I.P Vega. R.I.P K-Car.

    • …you beat me to it…my sister’s orange four-speed Vega was cool looking…but it didn’t run very well…and like my Ford Maverick…tended to bounce around corners with the plastic dashboard jiggling and rattling the entire way…
      RJ O’Guillory

  24. Dad’s ’76 Charger Daytona had one of those lean burn engines. I still remember it stalling at the intersection to the main road out of the subdivision all the time. The ’73 Cornet (with the same 318 block) we inherited from grandad ran just fine. I always though the Charger was just a lemon. It turns out it was just bleeding edge technology.

    The upside is that the Charger was such a piece of trash that it still sits in the garage with less than 7000 miles on the odometer. Might actually be worth what he paid for it by now…

  25. I’ll hit back on the Geo Storm, in GSi form. I loved that little car (and hated it), but it was a reliable sucker and a shit ton of fun to drive, all on 27 mpg. The twin cam version coupled to a 5 speed was surprisingly quick (7 second ish 0-60 time), 7800 rpm redline (looks cool, sounds terrible), corners on three wheels all day (reminiscent of GTi Golfs and Lotuses), and weird retarded features like push button headlights and wipers.

    Truthfully, it was like the MINI I currently drive except 20 times more reliable and ZERO badge appeal.

    • my wife used to have a geo storm (not the gsi) with the 5 sp. manual. didn’t keep it long enough to know how reliable it was but I was surprised at how much legroom the front seat had and it didn’t drive bad for an econobox.
      seen more than a few of the gsi versions at the dragstrip, mid to high 16s…
      pretty run of the mill, even for the early ’90s. they could hang with some of the V6 sedans and (newer) 4wd pickups, also vw sciroccos and gti of the era.

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