Here at Streetside, we enjoy talking cars–even unenjoyable cars. But when we tried listing the ten dumbest cars ever made, we decided that your opinions were just as valuable as ours. So we put it to a vote, and tabulated your nominations. And if they display a lopsided aversion to GM or anything built after 1970, well, rock the vote next time. Here are your picks for the bottom ten:
10. Chevy HHR First released for the 2006 model year, this throwback wagon was polarizing, to say the least. Retro styling can be a good thing, as with the Big Three’s newest wave of muscle cars. But styling isn’t all we love about old cars. Rear-wheel-drive, space, and pure driving experience count for much, and Chevy forgot this with the HHR. Worst of all, they hired the designer of the Chrysler PT Cruiser to pen the thing, and that’s pretty clear when you look at it. A half-way old schooler that’s actually a rip off of another half-way old-schooler? No, thanks.
9. Lincoln Blackwood The year was 1999. A few were freaking out about Y2K, The Matrix was defining a generation, and gas was a buck a gallon. So every soccer mom on the upper crust bought a Lincoln Navigator for getting groceries and picking up the collie from the groomer’s. Spurred on by their success with the giant SUV, Lincoln decided to offer it as a pickup truck, and the Blackwood was born. It debuted well at the shows, but when it finally hit showrooms in 2001, it had lost all its charm and tried to cover it up with jewelry. The bed was covered with a power-tonneau, but lined with carpet. Not ideal for hauling mulch. And it was rear-wheel-drive only, leaving customers to wonder why they were paying more to get less than they’d get with a plain-old Ford F-150. The Blackwood only sold in 2002, and was then abandoned.
8. Chevy Volt Way back in 1996, GM released their EV1 electric car. It was too expensive for a full production run, so they made around 1,100 units for lease only. The EV1 was something of an experiment for the world’s largest automaker, and did fairly well. Fourteen years later, electric cars are still in the experiment phase, but GM is pushing it into a full-fledge production nonetheless. Originally touted as a 230 mpg sedan that would use its gas engine exclusively to charge the battery, it debuted as a larger, heavier (but more attractive) Prius. Though the Volt seems to work just as well as Chevy said it would, it starts at 40 grand, and no matter how you run the numbers, the difference won’t pay for itself in gas before the car needs replacing. Low sales have resulted, and Chevrolet is unlikely to meet their goals before the end of the year.
7. AMC Le Car The Le Car spent most of its existence as a Renault 5, and proved extremely successful in Europe. It was small, lightweight, efficient, and best of all, rear-wheel-drive. Europe got a turbo version and a breathtaking, legendary Group B rally car. But Americans weren’t as impressed with the low power (55 horses) and tame styling. The name couldn’t have helped, either. Le Car is French for The Car. Perhaps it was the cutesy condescension, or the general American mistrust for all inedible French things, but Le Car did not do well against other compacts like the Honda Civic and the VW Rabbit.
6. Yugo Speaking of ‘80s era compacts, the Zastava Yugo came to our shores as a brilliant venture in small, cheap car engineering. It was sold as “The Same Old Idea,” of a simple, efficient car for the everyman. But the everyman doesn’t have large sums of money to sink into repairs, which the Yugo constantly required. Some models needed a new timing belt every 40,000 miles. Car Talk called the Yugo the worst car of the millennium. And then NATO bombed Zastava factory in Yugoslavia, and the rest was history.
5. Chevy Citation It was Chevrolet’s first foray into the realm of FWD, and its success probably ruined future Malibus and Impalas for the rest of us. But perhaps reader JStone, who has had more than enough experience with his family’s Citation, describes it best: “What a complete pile of garbage. My dad bought my mom that car used and it was the UGLIEST, most UNRELIABLE car ever! What were the designers and engineers thinking when they created that? Obviously nothing.”
4. Chevy Vega Let’s face it. The mid-70s were a bad time for muscle cars. Federal standards meant low horsepower across the board. For further reading, see Mustang II. While the Vega wasn’t designed as a muscle car, its sporty look provided that initial illusion. So it sold very well at first, despite two-digit horsepower numbers. But Vega owners didn’t have to put up with this for long, since it broke down for a hobby. Engine problems abounded, poor build quality shone through, and rust, that great orange devourer of worlds, went through the metal like John Cleese’s Lancelot through wedding guests.
3. AMC Pacer For a car with so much glass, the Pacer might have had safety issues. But it carried everything the G-Men wanted, even laminated glass in the windshield. Instead, it was those safety features, and that glass, that hurt the Pacer. All the extra weight, paired with nothing but a straight-six or a V8, lowered the small car’s efficiency to just 16 MPG. Plus, AMC, as small as they were, had to outsource many of the Pacer’s components, which may have led to its vast reliability issues.
2. Pontiac Aztek Yes, actually, looks can kill. They certainly killed our enthusiasm for the Pontiac Aztek. Perhaps it was a forerunner to the crossovers of today. Or perhaps everyone in the design approval chain had a party one night and one of them spiked the punch. All we know is that the Aztek is forever cemented in our memories as one of the ugliest cars ever made. It looked like a gambrel-roofed barn on roller skates. And even though it had a neato heads-up display and an optional hatch tent, the looks were just too much to stomach.
1. Plymouth Prowler What if we made a modern hot rod? A real, two-door, ragtop roadster straight out of some ‘50s era comic book called Bonneville 2000? On paper, the Plymouth Prowler looked like a brilliant idea. And once produced, it was arguably one of the best looking American cars of the late ‘90s, proof that curvy, ergonomic styling didn’t mean everything had to look like a midair loogie. Then what did the risk-takers at Plymouth do? They outfitted it like a Plymouth Voyager, with a weak-sauce V6 and an automatic transmission. Their final depravation was a 40 grand price tag, which made us all question why it had been produced at all.
No one among our commenting constituency nominated the Prowler, but we chose it as our submission, because we think it’s the biggest waste of metal the Big Three have ever produced. Like all of these cars, it could have been so much more, but will now be remembered as a bit of a joke.