What Was The Worst Year For Cars?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

2015 has been a good year for cars (unless you’re the boss of Volkswagen or any of the other automakers caught cheating on their emissions testing). This has me wonder—what was the worst year for the car industry?

There are a couple of ways to qualify that question. You could grade it by how poorly the industry performed, in which case I imagine you’d have to look to some immediate postwar years like 1946, or immediate post big financial disaster years, like in the late ‘20s/early ‘30s.

But I think you’d have a much better time analyzing which year, exactly, produced the worst cars.


And for that, you’d probably want to look at the 1970s.


If you look at the American market, at least, the Malaise Era years were really the only time we’ve had a major, prolonged step backwards in performance. And we suffered in design as well, with hopelessly retro styling coming out to serve a nation reeling from financial and idealogical collapse following the Oil Crisis and shit like Watergate.

Looking at something like, say, a 1979 Ford LTD was like watching The Deer Hunter in automotive form, particularly as the car sagged and bowed so early in its life. The way the headliner sagged in jut about every American car of the era, as my coworker Jason Torchinsky put it, was “one of the saddest reminders of our colective shittiness of that time.”


Imported cars were notoriously rust-prone, crumple-prone, and while they were reliable for their time, they were far from the shining commuter modules of later years.

But that’s only the thoughts of a guy who never lived through the period.

What year do you think was worst for cars?


Photo Credit: Ford via OldCarBrochures

Contact the author at raphael@jalopnik.com.