If you grew up during the 60’s or 70’s you probably remember these cars. In fact, there is a fair chance that you or your parents owned one of them. These are the cars that put Toyota and Honda on the map and AMC out of business.
#1 — The AMC Pacer. With a little bit of luck the Pacer wouldn’t be on this list. AMC had the right intentions; the Pacer was designed to be a small, safe, reliable and fuel-efficient car. Of course the road to hell … There were two areas where AMC went wrong, design and reliability. American car buyers just weren’t ready for the Pacer’s “fish-bowl” glass windows — I remember my mother saying she didn’t like how she felt everyone could see her when she was driving a Pacer. If that wasn’t bad enough the extra weight of all that glass hurt fuel efficiency.
But rust and reliability were the real killers. The Pacer started rusting almost the moment it left the showroom. The very wide, heavy doors were too heavy for the hinges, the 6-cylinder engine was unreliable and underpowered for the relatively heavy Pacer (originally the Pacer was supposed to have a rotary engine designed and built by GM, but GM backed out of the deal due to engine reliability concerns).
#2 — The AMC Gremlin. It’s hard to compile any list of awful autos without including one made by the American Motors Corporation. Although moderately successful in the ’50s and ‘60s everything began — quite literally — to fall apart for AMC in the 70’s. If you don’t remember cars such as the AMC Javelin, Concord, Cavilier, or Eagle there’s a reason. They were truly awful. Ugly, unreliable, underwhelming only just begin to describe AMC products durning the 70s. AMC cars could rust in a desert.
The Gremlin is one of the few cars you will find with vacuum powered windshield wipers. It was heavy and slow with poor handling thanks to the lack of suspension travel in the back. Supposedly the initial drawings of the Gremlin were made on an airline barf bag. Why is that so easy to believe?
#3 — The Ford Pinto. Even before the word was out regarding the Pinto’s less-than-robust gas tank it was pretty clear the Pinto was an awful small car. Cramped on the inside and ugly on the outside the Pinto’s only redeeming quality was, bad as it was, it was more reliable than the Vega. Also like the Vega, the Pinto went from drawing board to production very quickly (22 months) and it showed.
#1 — The Chevy Vega. The worst of the worst was the Chevy Vega. Back in the early 70’s GM was in a panic trying to counter the sudden Japanese onslaught of inexpensive, fuel-efficient small cars. Some manufacturers, like Chrysler, didn’t even try to win this war. Take Chrysler, they simply made a deal with Mitsubishi and rebadged the cars as Dodge Colts. But GM wanted to manufacture its own car and do it at record pace.
The Vega went from the drawing room to the show room in 24-months, an unbelievably short period of time — and, as it did with the Pinto, the rush from drawing board to manufacture showed. Almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong with the Vega. It burned oil, it rusted, the aluminum block warped, the list goes on. Ralph Nader wrote the Vega was “sloppily crafted, unreliable and unsafe automobile” that “hardly set a good example in small car production for American industry.” That pretty much tells the story.