Thu | Aug 17, 2017

The best worst cars ever - Part 1

Published:Sunday | June 11, 2017 | 6:01 AMBill Alkofer

SANTA ANA, California:

Which are the worst cars ever produced? There have been many horribly designed vehicles, but does that make a car bad? The terrible Trabant usually makes the "worst car" list. But Southern Californian Josef Czikmantory and his family escaped communism by driving a Trabant across the Hungarian border. To him, it's a beautiful car. What if you and your sweetie had your first kiss in the back of a Pinto, got engaged in a Pacer, or conceived your first child in a Yugo? (Somehow.) Then these cars would represent something cherished.

"Cars sometimes become members of the family," said Leslie Kendall, chief curator at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. "We give them names and assign human attributes to them."

So here's a list in absolutely no order. It was compiled with the help of a real car guy. Peter Cheney is Ontario, Canada's premiere auto writer as opposed to the auto of Ontario's premier (a Chevy Suburban.)

 

CHEVY CORVAIR (1960-69)

 

The Corvair is probably most famous for a skewering by safety watchdog Ralph Nader when he wrote a book about the car titled Unsafe at Any Speed.

The engine was in the back and was cooled by air instead of water. During its first test run at a race track, the car flipped over. The rear-mounted engine placed more than 60 per cent of the car's weight on the back wheels, making it difficult to control. The complex heating system filled the cabin with noxious fumes. There was a one-piece steering column. In an accident, the driver became a shish kabob.

But at the same time, the Corvair was also lauded. Calling it a "Poor Man's Porsche," Motor Trend magazine named it their Car of the Year for 1960.

 

FORD EDSEL (1957-59)

 

This car is so bad that it became a synonym for failure. The Edsel was much ballyhooed by Ford as a revolutionary vehicle. But when introduced, buyers hated the design.

Ford spent $300 million developing the Edsel. Not money well-spent. It had automatic transmission with push-button controls that were mounted on the steering wheel. Drivers ended up shifting gears while trying to honk the horn. It was named after Henry Ford's son, but in retrospect, they should have gone with one of the other names that were considered: "Utopian Turtletop" or "Mongoose Civique."

 

AMC GREMLIN (1970-78)

The Gremlin was introduced on April Fools Day in 1970. This small rust bucket was also a gas guzzler (21 mpg). The flip-up back window was prone to break off in the driver's hands, Cheney said. The worst feature was its styling. The windshield wipers were vacuum-operated. The original design was sketched on an air sickness bag. Both former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush drove Gremlins in 1974.

AMC PACER (1975-81)

Car and Driver dubbed the Pacer "The Flying Fishbowl." It was heavily advertised but failed miserably. The right door was longer than the left. The car was eventually converted to a station wagon but your groceries stored in the back would fall out the right door when you opened it, Cheney said. Also known as the "Rolling Jellybean," its gas mileage was just over 20 mpg. The 1977 model offered a Levi's jean interior.

A sky blue Pacer with flame decals and a licorice dispenser was used in Wayne's World. Wayne and Garth called it the Mirth Mobile. The car was sold at a recent Las Vegas auction for $37,000. Schwing!

FORD PINTO (1971-80)

The Pinto's claim to infamy was a notorious design error a fuel filler neck that snapped off in rear-end collisions, turning the Pinto into a flaming deathtrap. Eddie Murphy joked that his family used to rear-end Pintos rather than buying fireworks.

A memo later uncovered concerning the Pinto said that Ford executives were aware of the problem but calculated that the cost of reinforcing the rear ends ($121 million) was greater than the potential payout to victims ($50 million).

VW THING (1968-83)

When you think about Volkswagen, you think about the Beetle, not a stripped-down off-roader that looks like the illegitimate offspring of a dumpster and a bread box. The car was known as the Kurierwagen in West Germany, the Trekker in the U.K., the Safari in South America and the Pescaccia in Italy. In the U.S. it was known as the Thing because in the 50s through to the late 70s Pontiac produced a station-wagon called the Safari, so the name was off-limits.

The Thing went on the American market in 1972. Sales were unimpressive. Folks thought The Thing was just too darn ugly. U.S. distribution ceased in 1975 because the car failed to meet new safety standards.

The Thing bears a striking resemblance to the Volkswagen Type 82 Kubelwagen, a light military vehicle used by the Nazis in World War II. The Kubelwagen was designed by Ferdinand Porsche.