Whenever I’m at a car event (too often), I hear the other automotive writers talking excitedly about cars. They want to restore cars, they want to own cars, and they even, inexplicably, want to drive cars. I feel envious of their passion. I have a semi-career as an automotive writer, despite not loving them all that much. When will my love bloom? When will cars become something more to me than a grim, dangerous necessity?
So when my editor emailed me with the assignment of writing about the “Ten Worst Cars Of All Time,” my brain immediately scrambled. Why me? But he insisted. So my first thought was how could I possibly choose? The answer, to me, was all of them are bad.
But then I remembered the faint thrills I felt when I attended the global debut of the BMW i3, or drove the Porsche 918 Spyder electric around a Formula One racetrack, or how much I enjoyed that little Lexus hybrid sports car they dropped off at my house one week. Not all cars are evil. Some cars could actually be called good.
An oft-repeated cliché around automotive journalism circles goes: “No one makes bad cars anymore.” Untrue. That’s like saying: “There are no bad TV shows anymore.” Just because something is better than it used to be doesn’t mean that turds still don’t float to the surface.
Still, I’ll admit that cars, overall, are way better than they once were. So this highly subjective list comes from a mix of personal experience, some research, and recommendations of people who know better. A couple vehicles appeared relatively recently, but most are artifacts.
So now The Drive presents a list, from a car journalist who doesn’t really like cars, of the 10 worst cars of all time.
10. 1978 AMC Concord
Other AMC models like the Pacer and the Gremlin typically make lists like this, and with good reason: They were nightmarish shitboxes that literally popped bolts on the Interstate. However, I don’t have any experience with those cars. My first car, which my parents bought for me for $600 in 1986, was the AMC Concord, a car that AMC used to replaced the semi-liked Hornet, which had seen the end of its run.
AMC actually designed the Concord be an affordable luxury-style option. It possessed some of the signature components of that era’s luxury vehicles: A red vinyl roof, reclinable “velveteen” seats, and, amazingly, air-conditioning. While I have some fond memories of this car, which I called “The Nealmobile,” I don’t have a lot of illusions about its luxuriousness. It seemed to have no shock absorbers. My friends, when they got into the backseat, would immediately start to bounce up and down in anticipation of what was coming. And the roof liner was so haphazardly glued it sagged down into my eyes in vast burgundy waves. Finally, I had jam it into the ceiling with a staple gun.
In retrospect, this car is now remembered as a “nice little collectible.” But I don’t regret dumping it when I went off to college. There’s a reason no one talks about the Concord anymore. It was bad.
9. 2013 Dodge Dart
A few interchangeable GMC monsters aside, this compact, an early offering from the merged Fiat-Chrysler group, was the worst new car I’ve driven in my dumb life as an automotive journalist. From the cheap canvas seats to the anemic 6-speed transmission to the antediluvian design, the Dart hearkened back to an era when tiny cars tormented large men with their tight bucket seats. Coming out of a huge automotive recession, this thing appeared just when cars were starting to get good and big again. No one wanted a throwback as the CUV began to rise. Dodge discontinued the Dart after the 2016 model sputtered away. Ciao.
8. Any Chrysler Sebring Convertible
Pick a year, any year, with the Sebring convertible, the closest modern American car manufacturing got to an Eastern European-level disaster. Opening up the roof didn’t make the gear shift any less wonky or the design worth anything more than a back-of-the-lot airport rental in Toledo. Jeremy Clarkson once called the Sebring “the worst car in the world.” My late mother, who knew a lot less about cars than Clarkson and liked them even less than I do, switched to driving a Volkswagen Passat after Chrysler discontinued her beloved LeBaron convertible and replaced it with the Sebring. She called it a “stupid car.”
7. Vauxhall Viva
American cars can be considered positively utopian compared with some of the legendary rubbish that the British have been forced to drive over the years. The recently-rebooted Viva, which I haven’t driven, but by all reports is at least average, doesn’t qualify here. But the 1970s model, which nearly destroyed or murdered many a fine middle-class U.K. family, belongs near the top of any list of lousy motoring experiences. My friend Nigel, who actually likes cars and taught me how to drive a stick, reports, “Vauxhall Viva was my first car. It had 53hp. I could just about get it up to 55 mph. I had to replace the head gasket twice in 18,000 miles.” The defense rests.
6. The Yugo
Often disparaged but, mercifully, never fully imitated, the Yugo will have a place on “worst car” lists until the end of time. While it seems like something that only appears in retro Communist bloc movies as a punchline, the Yugo actually existed in America during my adult memory. It sold here from 1985 to 1992 at around $4,000 but was worth about a tenth of that price. Its 1.1-liter engine generated 55 horsepower and the interior was filled with so much plastic you could have mistaken it for a suppository. It also had carpeting. No car should have carpeting except for a Rolls-Royce. Smells accumulate, and they really accumulated in the Yugo.
5. The Pontiac Aztek
This serviceable villain, offensively misspelled and named after a culture that was exterminated in a genocide, but not before committing human sacrifice for eons, gained a modicum of hipness after Walter White drove it around during Breaking Bad. But that’s not really the sort of status detail you want associated with your car. In retrospect, the Aztek’s hideous, elongated styling could be considered an evolutionary misstep, ten years ahead of its time, on the way to the CUV. But that didn’t make it any more charming to behold.
4. The PT Cruiser
The Consumer Affairs page for the PT Cruiser, another disastrous early-aughts proto-CUV, is an endless fount of hilarity: “This car tries to kill me, literally! It shuts off for no reason at any time even 75mi/hr down interstate. Alarm goes off for no reason all hours. Horn honks for no reason while driving.”
Sounds like someone’s got a case of PTSD, amirite?
At the time it appeared, the PT Cruiser’s retro styling made it seem kind of cute and unique, a rebooted version of the kind of wagon you’d have seen at the beach if you’d ever bothered to go surfing. But gradually, like an adopted shelter pet who reveals more and more health problems and neuroses as the years go on, we got tired of looking at it, and began to realize it had issues. 30 Rock put the car away forever with Liz Lemon’s line: “My parents spent the money they saved up for my wedding on a PT Cruiser.” We realized immediately that the joke was on us.
3. The Ford Pinto
The Pinto has its own page in The American Museum Of Tort Law because of a 1981 lawsuit, one of dozens filed against Ford for this death-lemon. When the Pinto got rear-ended, it tended to burst into flames. Apparently, in testing the Pinto, Ford crashed it more than 40 times at speeds of more than 25 miles per hour. The fuel tank ruptured every time. Ford put it on the market anyway, and ended up recalling more than a million of these bombs on wheels. Nothing like that would ever happen in a contemporary car, unless you count airbags that spew shrapnel and diesel engines that spew poison. Still, a chronically exploding gas tank is more than enough to consign the horrible Pinto to a special place in automotive hell.
2. The Austin Allegro
Let’s re-cross the pond to examine another British disaster. The Allegro, apart from a mechanical problem where the front axle would collapse, had all sorts of dimensional issues. Whereas most designers of the day preferred rectangular edges, this thing resembled a series of metal bubbles pasted together with a soldering iron. As Nigel puts it, “The body would flex when jacked up. Jacking up would be done frequently. People blamed the car flex on people jacking from the wrong spot, rather than the fact that the body flexed.” Also hilarious was the “quartic” steering wheel, rectangular with rounded sides. Other manufacturers had tried to reinvent the wheel this way, but never so dodgily. The Allegro was a legendary disaster.
1. The 1978 Cadillac Sedan DeVille
Like the first car on this list, I put the Sedan DeVille on here for personal reasons. It was certainly a hideous and overlong tin-bucket, and it got six miles to the gallon, which simply didn’t fly in Jimmy Carter’s gas-crisis America. Resale values fell through the floor for this dinosaur, which is why my grandfather was able to buy a lime-green one for $100 only a few years after it had been released.
My grandpa called his car “The Jolly Green Giant,” or the JGG. I recall its white vinyl seats, pock-marked with more than a few cigarette burns, long enough to fit an unbuckled family of 12. It drove like an ostentatious nightmare. Grandpa told me and my sisters that he sometimes lent the JGG’s engine to NASA to help them power the Space Shuttle. He even had a cartoonist do a caricature of the Columbia with the JGG pasted to its back. I spent a lot of miserable summer afternoons driving around Southern California in my grandpa’s mythical hooptie. But at least it wasn’t a Pinto.