Like all other industries, automotive history has its instances where makers released products that left many completely unsure as to how they made it to production. However, because of the auto industry’s inherent exposure to the public, and the weight that rides on companies’ ability to create quality products, automotive flops tend to be more spectacular than most — and potentially more damaging to the brand responsible.
Here we’ve compiled a collection of 10 frequent offenders. Although these cars may have seemed right at the time, they probably should have been put under more stringent review — and at least a focus group or two, as nothing embodies “hindsight is 20/20″ quite like automotive miscalls.
1. AMC Pacer
More denounced for its unusual styling than its actual performance as a car, the AMC Pacer is a classic automotive flop. Hagerty Insurance issued a poll asking for the enthusiasts to name the worst car design of all time, and the Pacer was bestowed with the unfortunate honor. In addition to its bulbous appearance, cheap materials and subpar build quality didn’t help the Pacer in the court of Public Opinion.
2. 1981 Cadillac Fleetwood V8-6-4
The Cadillac (NYSE:GM) Fleetwood V8-6-4 had the potential to be a good car, had the engineers at Caddy stuck with a traditional engine. Instead, they got a little ahead of themselves, and opted to add a primitive form of cylinder deactivation to keep up with the CAFE standards. The result was a jerky ride in a car that stalled consistently — and made unusual noises that cars probably shouldn’t have been making. It turns out the car was ahead of its time, as cylinder deactivation systems are found throughout industry today.
3. 1971 Ford Pinto
The Ford (NYSE:F) Pinto is one of the most infamous examples of automotive flaws, for the unfortunate placement of the fuel tank behind the rear bumper. It also had a penchant for rupturing in accidents over 25 miles per hour. Conservative burn death estimates associated with the faulty tank design hover around 500 during the eight years before Ford redesigned the fatal flaw.
*Updated with a new photograph
4. 1996 Suzuki X90
The X90 wasn’t really a sports car or an off-roader like the earlier Samurai, but sort of a odd and impractical combination of both. It had all the drawbacks of a small SUV, coupled with the worst parts of a sports car, like the conspicuous lack of seating for more than two people. Needless to say, it sold terribly, but found limited success as the choice car for Red Bull — that is, until Red Bull moved on and adopted the Mini.
5. 1991 Chrysler TC By Maserati
Though intentions were pure (as they most often are), the Chrysler TC by Maserati was a Frankenstein of vehicle, with adopted parts and badges thrown together to create what would ultimately become a bit of an embarrassment to the two companies it was trying to promote. Over three years, the car only sold 7,000 examples, and successfully butchered the friendship between Chrysler and the Italian automaker.
6. Cadillac Cimarron
In what has become known as the most shameless example of horrific badge engineering to date, the ‘Cadillac’ Cimarron was little more than a Chevrolet Cavalier in a fancy suit — but not a nice suit. More like an ill-fitting one bought off the rack during the 70 percent off-everything-must-go sale. In the words of Pulitzer-prize winning automotive journalist Dan Neil, “Everything that was wrong, venal, lazy, and mendacious about GM in the 1980s was crystallized in this flagrant insult to the good name and fine customers of Cadillac.”
7. 1997 Plymouth Prowler
Around the mid-nineties, Plymouth set out to create a factory-rendition of the iconic hotrod. It’s open wheel design, wedge-shaped fuselage, and sloping arches hit all the right hotrod notes, until one opened the hood to see Chrysler’s 3.5-liter V6 and all of its 250 horsepower — the car was more of a rod, but not really a hot one. While 250 horsepower could be written off as respectable when it was released, the lack of a manual transmission humbled the car’s performance significantly.
8. 1958 Ford Edsel
The Ford Edsel is one of, if not the most, famous — or infamous — of automotive blunders. Despite being kind of homely, fuel thirsty, and quite pricey, the Edsel was actually a pretty decent car. The big shortcoming here was Ford’s overhyping of the vehicle, promising it to be much more than the Mercury ultimately was.
9. 1985 Yugo
The Yugo. The pinnacle of automotive imperfection. The gold standard of inferior craftsmanship that gave off the impression “of something assembled at gunpoint.” It’s the car that all crappy, poorly made subcompacts strive to be when they grow up. The engine had a tendency of not working, bits of the car would fall off, and the electrical system seemed to be more for show than anything else. “Yugo” was probably an ambitious statement in this case.
10. 2001 Pontiac Aztek
No terrible car list is complete without the dearly despised Pontiac Aztek. In efforts to appeal to a younger crowd, Pontiac cosmetically botched its result so badly that even though the underlying vehicle was relatively decent, its outward appearance scared off buyers before they could get close enough to unlock the damn thing. ”It’s undeniable that the Aztek’s utter hideousness drove the biggest and last nails into Pontiac’s heavily side-clad, plastic coffin,” says Edmunds.com Editor-in-Chief Scott Oldham.
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