You know what I never liked? I mean, other than Circus Peanuts and when the lobsters in the tank at the grocery store lure you close and then seize your genitals in a cruel pinch, having fooled you with a slit rubber band that wasn’t really restricting their claw, as they lock their weird little black eye nubbins with your eyes and they know they have you beat. Other than that, what I never liked are stupid, hacky lists of “worst cars.” I hate these dumb, lazy lists. They almost always re-hash the same cars, most of which don’t even deserve to be on those lists, anyway. So what I’d like to do today is to take what seem to be the ten cars that most commonly appear on the list, give each of them a little defense, and then let’s vote to see which one deserves to be on those lists the least. The best worst car, if you will. And, oh, you will.
First, I suppose we need our list. I’ve been reading over as many of these dumbass worst car posts as I’ve been able to stomach, and I think the ten most common recurring characters are the following cars: Yugo, Edsel, Pontiac Aztek, Ford Pinto, Chevrolet Corvair, AMC Gremlin, Reliant Robin, Chevrolet Vega, Austin Allegro, and the Trabant. In my loud, messy opinion, I don’t think any of these cars deserve the amount of scorn they tend to get, but for now, we’re just going to pick one. We’re going to pick the one that deserves to be on these dumb lists the least, and from there we’ll contact our crack team of D.C. lobbyists to push through legislation to ensure this sort of injustice never happens again to whatever car comes out the winner. So let’s get to it.
As you may guess, as a Yugo owner myself, I have never felt the Yugo earned all the derision it gets as an almost guaranteed member of these worst car lists. I even made a whole video about it, as you can see right above, when I worked for the Old Site. Here’s the thing about the Yugo: it’s fine. It’s not even a particularly unusual or radical design; it’s a FWD, transverse-engined hatchback that follows the template of so very many other cars of its era. Tons of them have been sold all over Eastern Europe especially, and they’ve proven to be useful workhorses for decades.
Sure, the build quality wasn’t great, but remember, these things were dirt cheap. Under $4,000 for a new one when they came out! They made Hyundai Excels look like the kind of lavish expenditure you’d expect from a sultan. Nobody paid any money to fix or maintain these things because why would they? You could buy distressed designer jeans for more than a new Yugo, even back in the day, so who would put money into them?
The truth is, the cars worked. They were decent transportation and did the job they were designed to do, cheaply. Dirty deeds of transportation, done dirt cheap. I respect that.
For a very long time, the name “Edsel” was synonymous with automotive failure, perhaps even failure in general. And, sure, the Edsel was sort of a flop for Ford, but was the car really all that bad? No. It just wasn’t. The Edsel was a failure of marketing over-hype and misreading of markets more than anything else. It just wasn’t appreciatively worse than anything else being built by the Big Three in the late 1950s.
Sure, some people thought that the horse collar grille resembled a vulva, a bit, but it’s not like 1957 American car styling was any less ridiculous than what the Edsel was.
I mean, come on, look at this Chrysler. It looks like those two lovers are seconds away from making out over the carcass of a beached whale. The Edsel just got a bad rap, and never shook it. That’s it.
You know what the Aztek’s biggest crime was? It was ahead of its time. Okay, it was kinda ugly, too, but it’s not that ugly. Is an Infiniti QX really so much prettier? No, it isn’t. It also looks like some kind of cybernetic warthog, and yet it doesn’t show up on these lists anywhere remotely as close as the Aztek, which is MVP of these bullshit things. That’s because the QX had the good sense to start to exist in an era when we all somehow decided we wanted huge-ass SUV things, and the Aztek, which hit the scene in 2000, was just a bit early.
The Aztek trapped a huge amount of usable room inside that kinda ungainly body, a body that featured a fastback design that’s also now gaining in popularity. And that fastback even had an optional tent attachment, something that would fit well with modern overlanding and car-camping trends.
People used the crap out of these things, just fine. Like these others, it’s just not that bad. If you can’t stomach looking at an Aztek, maybe it’s time to grow up already, and remember how many other important and good things in life can be ugly, too: like a fancy smoked leg of ham or a scrotum or a waste treatment plant.
Okay, this one is a little trickier, because the car did have a pretty significant Achilles’ heel, one that’s a big deal if you’re into Tort law. We can’t ignore that. But, at the same time, the Pinto’s engine, also called the Lima engine or the Pinto OHC engine in Europe, went on to be a really reliable and potent little engine, ending up in Escorts and Transit vans and Capris and Merkurs and even in the TVR Tasmin!
Having a great engine at its core has to be worth something, and I think what it is worth is for the Pinto to not be thrown onto these stupid worst car lists.
Yes, I know about the damn book. I know that most Americans didn’t know how to deal with an oversteering car. I know all that. I also know that the Corvair was one of the most innovative and bold cars GM ever made, and I know they’re a blast to drive, too. Plus, the Corvair may have been one of the most influential American cars ever, design-wise. Look at this, which I’ve showed you before:
So, no. No way is the Corvair the worst of anything.
The Gremlin is one of those cars that you just can’t judge without the proper context. Because the context is the entire point of the car, and in context, it not only isn’t the worst, it’s brilliant. Here’s the context: perpetually-broke AMC needed a subcompact to fight the VW Beetle and all the new Japanese imports, desperately. They had no money to develop something new, from scratch.
What they did have was designer Dick Teague, an absolute master of making something out of almost nothing. Teague chopped the back off the AMC Hornet and replaced it with a little Kammback and glass hatch, and, boom, the Gremlin was born. All of a sudden and with pretty minimal development costs, AMC had the smallest, cheapest American car, and something that could actually compete with the imports.
Sure, it wasn’t as efficient with either gas or space as its competition, but it had a distinctive look and a lot of charm. Given the context, this thing is a triumph.
Yes, it’s the butt of so many jokes, and yes, it was hilarious when Jeremy Clarkson tumbled one around like it was possessed by Mary Lou Retton’s dybbuk, but the truth is that these little three-wheelers gave weatherproof, useful mobility to Imperial tons of British people who would otherwise be stuck on motorbikes. Plus, it’s worth noting that the little Reliant kept on going after all of those rolling-overs.
These things understood the assignment.
Okay, maybe this one is the trickiest one on this list, because these things really did have their share of quality problems when they came out, but even with that in mind, it’s hard to call a car that sold over two million examples and looked as pretty as this one a complete failure. Because it just wasn’t.
Chevy sold as many of these as they could build during the fuel crisis era, and they were actually pretty fun to drive. There was even the Cosworth Vega hot version, which is still desirable to enthusiasts today.
Okay, this one shows up on plenty of lists, but, not being from the UK, I don’t have much experience with the car. So, I found someone who did, our own cranky Brit, Adrian Clarke:
The Austin Allegro. A car that epitomized everything shit about the British motoring industry in the late sixties and early seventies. Lovingly smashed together by strike happy workers in between labor disputes, the Allegros failure was more of BL management decision making than the car itself. Badly built and under developed, the car itself was pretty sound and really gets an unfair rap. It was probably a bit too far ahead of its time for the market, with interconnected Hydragas suspension similar to a Citroen and on the bigger engine versions an OHC set up in 1969. The shape wasn’t quite what was promised in Harris Mann’s original sketches, but it was a very modern looking thing for the era.
I guess that’s not really glowing praise, but it’s also not a total indictment, either. I’ll take it.
The Trabant is another car that absolutely needs to be judged in context. Because, in context, the Trabant is an absolute miracle. The East German government wanted a peoples’ car, but they seemed almost perversely unwilling to give their engineers and factories the resources needed to really pull off such a monumental task. And yet, somehow, VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau managed to find a path, using limited resources and clever engineering, to get almost four million Trabants out there, getting people on wheels and moving.
No steel for bodies, or even fiberglass? That’s fine, because the Trabant engineers figured out how to turn old Soviet underpants into body panels. Can’t afford a fuel pump? Let gravity do the work! Government won’t approve an update to the car? Then do so much work in secret that when they get shown what you’ve done, they have to approve it. The Trabant was a car built in spite of everything, with minimal support and even outright obstacles and hostility thrown in its path, all the time. And yet, somehow, it existed, it worked, it thrived.
The Trabant doesn’t deserve to be on these lists, but you know what? I bet it doesn’t care, either, because it’s seen so much worse.
Okay! I’ve made my cases! Time to vote! Which of these unfairly treated automotive icons is most deserving of a break?
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