The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

26 January 2004

Worst. Wheels. Ever. (2.)

New poll at Forbes.com: The Worst Cars of All Time.

The nominees seem plausible enough — at least there's a Trabant — though I have some problems with the Edsel listing, inasmuch as (1) it's not a Ford (it was based on a Ford, except for the top two trim lines in Edsel's first year, which were built off a larger Mercury platform) and (2) the model years in question were not 1957-59, but 1958-60.

In Vent #260, I held up the Chevrolet Vega as an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences:

David E. Davis, Jr., last seen as the Editor Emeritus of Automobile magazine, worked on the ill-fated Chevrolet Vega project alongside the late GM stalwart Frank Winchell, and after the car was sent to the junkyard of history, Winchell told Davis: "That was the best bunch of guys I ever worked with, some of the brightest people I knew, and that still turned out to be the worst car we ever built. Not once do I remember any one of those individuals coming into the room yelling, 'Hey, you guys! I got it! Here's what we're gonna do! We're gonna build a really shitty little car!'"

The best-laid plans, and all that.

Posted at 7:21 PM to Driver's Seat


I remember my grandparents driving a Plymouth Volare sometime in the mid-seventies, although I doubt they'd admit it now. Even worse, they later traded the Plymouth for an AMC Concord...

Posted by: ronbailey at 7:57 PM on 26 January 2004

My first car was a 1973 Vega. It was very touchy about being put into reverse gear. It also drank oil like there was no tomorrow. I traded it in on a 1975 Pinto hatchback. I guess I scored pretty high (or low, depending on how you look at it) on the Worst Cars Ever list. I kept that Pinto for ten years, though. It was so rusted I had to require that any one riding in it have their tetanus shots up to date. :)

Thanks for posting that link. I really enjoyed the slide show.

Posted by: tea at 8:05 PM on 26 January 2004

I had two Pintos and loved both of them. I had a friend that owned a Vega and he had to build a fire under it to get it to start if the temp went below freezing.

If you're talking ugly cars, how about the AMC Pacer?

Posted by: Ralph Gizzip at 6:59 AM on 27 January 2004

The Pinto, I think, got its bad press from that exploding-fuel-tank business; otherwise it was a competent if ungainly little boat.

The Pacer was the Chrysler Airflow of its day; every single line on it could be justified, and no one wanted to hear any of the justifications.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:19 AM on 27 January 2004

I was an engineer at American Motors when the Pacer was built. The car was designed to use a Wankel engine being developed by GM. When GM dropped the Wankel project American Motors substituted a straight six which was a horrible fit.

The car did have some neat features though. The passenger door was longer to make entry/exit easier. The ridge across the middle of the roof is part of a roll bar structure.

I owned a Pontiac Astra which was a Vega with Pontiac's badge. I didn't understand how the desire for a light aluminum block justified a cast iron head that weighed as much as the block and had all the grace of a railroad bridge. What about those iron plated pistons?

Posted by: Fred Boness at 5:24 PM on 27 January 2004

If the Pacer had been introduced, not back in the Bronze Age, but at this year's Detroit Auto Show — perhaps with the badge of a Known Purveyor of Weirdness, such as Saab — not one eyebrow (except maybe Robert Cumberford's) would be raised.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:38 PM on 27 January 2004

The Pacer was still an ugly freakin' car!

Posted by: Ralph Gizzip at 7:44 PM on 27 January 2004

My first car was a 1974 Chevrolet Vega. It didn't have an airconditioner or a radio, and it had parts made out of, apparently, aluminum foil, but it lasted about six months. Then I bought the 1984 Ford Escort. It came with pre-installed rust holes and an engine block that was recalled due to spontaneous cracking. After that car (bought new) expired at exactly 98000 miles, I bought an '88 Plymouth Sundance. It leaked oil and power steering fluid like rain through a sieve, and finally threw a rod on the Miami Airport Expressway two months after Hurricane Andrew.

I don't have much luck with cars.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 9:30 PM on 27 January 2004

Try riding in a '74 Vega Hatchback with a 350 LT1 stuffed under the hood.

Damn, but that thing would move.

Posted by: Steve at 1:48 AM on 28 January 2004

Move? How'd you ever get it to stop? Or did it come with an anchor?

Posted by: McGehee at 4:15 AM on 28 January 2004

This thing had been refitted with much larger brakes on the front. The rear end was a 12-bolt that had been narrowed and drilled to fit the Vega wheels but used the larger brakes that came with the bigger third member. The LT1 had a Muncie 4-speed behind it.

Posted by: Steve at 1:40 AM on 1 February 2004