Attention, everybody, attention! This is important. I’m using my rarely-exercised Automotive Journailibloggerist power of issuing a Big-Ass Mandatory Edict, the car writer’s equivalent of a Papal Bull or a fatwa or whatever. In this edict, I will be forbidding certain cars from ever appearing on “worst car” lists ever again. I DECREE IT!
Violators of this edict will be punished to the fullest extent of Autojournalism law, which usually means a ban from buffets and a brutal, protracted spanking, followed by a period of incarceration in my basement, but the offenders have to provide their own, blindfolded, transportation here. I’m not made of money.
We’ve all seen the sort of “worst cars of all time” lists I’m referring to. Pretty much every little shitty car or news site has had one of these at some point, and they’re always the same hack crap designed to pry some clicks from your sweaty, sweaty mouse.
I’m not begrudging the click-grubbing—I got a kid to feed too—but what bothers me is that almost every one of these lists includes the same basic set of cars, and a good number of the most common ones that appear on all these lists have no business being there. Sure, they may not be stellar cars, objectively, but judging some of these cars without the proper context is just wrong, and unfair to the car, the human race, and, most importantly, you.
Now some cars that show up on every list deserve to be there. The Ford Pinto, for example. Ford did the math on making a safe gas tank or just paying out wrongful-death settlements to the families of dead people, and came up with a ghoulish answer that resulted in the Pinto. That deserves to be on the list. Same goes for the Iron Duke Camaros: a Camaro that can get whupped by a Toyota Echo at a stoplight has failed at its One Job. Maybe the Cadillac Cimmaron, too, and the Pontiac Aztek, or almost anything British Leyland made in the 1970s.
But the following cars, which show up on almost all these lists, are now officially declared off-limits for worst car ever lists.
Please note them accordingly.
1. Yugo (Zastava Koral)
The Yugo is on pretty much all these lists because it’s an incredibly easy target. A tiny Yugoslavian shitbox that somehow got sold in the U.S., and became the butt of jokes across a nation.
Sure, it’s not a great car, by any stretch, but you just can’t judge this car without the all-important context of its price: this thing sold for $3995 back in 1985. The average cost of a car in America in 1985 was $9000 – the Yugo was significantly less than half the cost of a new car.
Even other bottom-end cars were way more expensive than a Yugo – a Chevy Chevette in 1985 started at $5690. The Yugo was dirt cheap.
So, yeah, it was kind of a shitty car. But was it that much more of a shitty car than a Chevette? Hell no. The Yugo was a bottom-of-the-barrel option, but it was priced fairly and, for the most part, did the job it was supposed to do.
I’m not sure what this comparison is worth, but it would actually be more expensive to buy a Yugo-weight amount of peat moss than to buy an actual Yugo. That seems important, though.
That’s not a worst car, by any stretch.
2. Chevrolet Corvair
Sure, Ralph Nader said it was “unsafe at any speed,” but so are all kinds of amazing things, like large, mahogany desks or bottles of expensive gin. The original, swing-axle Corvair could be tricky to handle, sure, but the same could be said of any number of tail-heavy cars of the era. Besides, it’s not like so many of the conventional front engine/rear drive cars Detroit was pumping out were such great handling cars. People were just more used to the shitty way an old Bel Air handled than the shitty way a Corvair handled.
The Corvair was also one of the most innovative and daring cars GM ever built. The first volume turbocharged car you could just order from a dealer? The Corvair Monza, an American Porsche that stabled 150 forced-induction horses out back.
Plus, the original Corvair’s styling was hugely influential all across the globe. Everyone from BMW to NSU to Hillman to Fiat and more were making cars that were clearly influenced by the handsome, clean-lined Corvair.
Ralph Nader and all these hack list writers can bite my rear-engined ass.
3. and 4. The AMC punching bags, the Gremlin and the Pacer
I’m including these two together because they’re AMC siblings that appear in almost all of these lists, separately or together, and they have no business being there.
Again, these were not stellar cars, but they weren’t bad, and in the context of what AMC was as a company and their situation, I think you could argue that these cars were honest successes.
The Gremlin, for example, is an amazing study in making the best out of what you have. AMC desperately needed a small car to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle and the new crop of Japanese imports, but lacked the resources to develop something new. So, brilliant designer Dick Teague chopped the ass off the AMC Hornet and came up with the Gremlin.
It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t that bad, either, and it got AMC into the segment it needed to enter on the cheap.
The Pacer is more of a study in a radical idea, dialed back. The pacer started life as a rotary, mid-engined car of the future, but AMC had to dial back their dreams and cram in their bulletproof straight-six. The result was an unusual car with some flaws, but a lot of character. And, it inspired the Porsche 928!
Leave AMC alone.
The Trabant is also a car you simply cannot judge without looking at the Big Picture the car existed in. Nobody is saying that the Trabant is anything but a miserable, smoky, two-stroke lump made out of pig iron and old Soviet underpants. But, at the same time, it brought mobility to a whole country, and pulled it all off with a staggering lack of support.
The designers of the Trabant had essentially none of the things you need to build a successful car industry: financial support, political backing, raw materials, anything. They dragged the Trabi into existence by figuring out how to do something with nothing – that’s why the body is made from recycled cotton and dye-industry waste, and why the two-stroke motor has so few parts: that’s the only way they could pull it off.
Almost everyone in East Germany had or wanted a Trabant. This is a car that overcame absurd obstacles just to exist, and managed to thrive, somehow.
Next to a VW Golf of the same era, is it terrible? Oh hell yes. Is it still a wild success? Absolutely. Get the Trabi off the worst list.
There’s others that show up a little less frequently that I’d also consider banning as well: the BMW Isetta, which just seems to make lists because it’s weird, but, come on, it saved BMW. Also, the Suzuki X90 seems to show up on these pretty often as well, and I can only assume it’s because it’s a bit weird, too. That’s no reason.
For now, I’ll limit my ban to just these five. But, I’m watching you, writers of worst-cars-ever lists. Don’t push me.