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The Worst American Cars - POLL
Forbes ^ | 10.21.02 | Michael Frank

Posted on 10/21/2002 10:34:06 AM PDT by wallcrawlr

In the Vehicles section we have had the privilege to glory in many amazing new and vintage automobiles.

But what about the duds?

What about the cars that never should have been made? The ones that, no matter how prescient their creators thought they were when they conceived these cars, were clearly either aesthetically ghastly, deeply mechanically flawed, or both?

That list could be quite long. Don't forget, there were thousands of car companies in the first half of the last century, many of which died because they cranked out substandard machines; the rest croaked either from the dire economic times in the Depression or shortly after the war, when the likes of General Motors made it impossible to compete.

But we prefer to focus on the duds we know and love to hate. That'd be the classic bombs of the post-war years, cars that had no business rolling down the highway--ever--and yet some of which became big sellers despite having hideous designs, awful engineering, wretched build quality, and sometimes all three.

By the way, we are aware that some of the cars on this list weren't the last of their kind, but they are here to remind us of just how bad it got, how wrong car design and production could be.

And we also know that this list is far from complete. So you should vote in the adjacent pole to add your two cents to our dud car list.

Finally, we are well aware that some readers will be terribly put off because they drove their high school sweetheart to prom in one of these dread creations (or they've got the same car up on blocks in the garage right now, just waiting for another paycheck to afford more fiberglass bodywork and another set of chrome wheels). But where's the fun if we don't offend? Remember, one man's trash is another man's treasure (hence the wonder of capitalism).


The Edsel was the ultimate DOA car, but contrary to common opinion, this was more a function of market segmenting and changing tastes than of purely bad styling. And of course it doesn't help that it was ugly. The vertical front grille of the Edsel looked like a big nose that divided the otherwise relatively conventional front of the car, and the front and back styling made even the 350hp V-8 version look slow. By the time Ford decided to restyle the Edsel in 1959, the car's sales had slid off a cliff and that was the end of Edsel.


There were a whopping 52 service bulletins (many requiring recalls) for this bastard-child car born of an unfortunate need by Maserati for ready cash and Chrysler's willingness to turn a LeBaron into a Maserati. Not only was a 3.0-liter V-6 a criminal concept for a supposed Italian exotic (putting out a pathetic 141 horsepower), but so was the American sheetmetal. Then there were the many mechanical nightmares from blown clutches and engines to leaking roofs. This car cost double the sticker on the LeBaron and broke twice as often. After all, it was Italian, right?


Sure, the nifty-looking Corvair had some good points. Like a Porsche 911, its engine was air-cooled, and resided in the back, to provide extra rear-wheel traction. Too bad its flat-six engine biased the weight of the early cars so far aftward that the steering became very light at highway speeds; and it sure didn't help that the gas tank was mounted up front, so if you did wreck--Ka Boom! If only the design had been better executed. Bummer. (Watch out, here come the nasty letters from all those Corvair fans!)


There were four-door Mavericks and two-doors. There was a Mercury version called the Comet. There were vinyl-topped models, too. What they had in common was that they were built on platform designs heavily prone to rust (this was the early days of unit-body cars) and weak-kneed in-line six engines. But the cars were cheap and therefore, popular, especially in the gas-crisis years. Not that we think the Maverick is necessarily as bad as what came afterward--the abysmal Fox-platform Futura/Fairmont, and the Grenada, which was still based on the Maverick platform, and so carried forward all the bad-handling traits and massive rustability to boot.


With a 2.8-liter V-6 and front-wheel drive, this was GM's attempt to take on the likes of Honda and Toyota. GM also shared this so-called X-body setup (of the Citation) with Olds (Omega) Buick (Skylark) and Pontiac (Phoenix). The differences were basically in body style, not fundamental mechanics. Naturally, because the cars looked futuristic and because they got decent mileage, the Citation and its brethren were a huge hit (800,000 Citations sold in 1980). But to meet demand GM let quality slip, so problems like faulty brakes and steering plagued Citations and led to a steep drop in quality--and sales.


In a desperate attempt to reach a younger demographic, Cadillac revamped its classic Eldorado to look less like a classic Caddy road yacht and more like a two-door version of the ill-conceived four-door Cadillac Cimarron. Demand for the new Caddy fell (big surprise), and only a year after introduction production sank to just under 18,000 units. Did it matter that you could get a V-8 in the Caddy and not in the other GM look-alikes? Nope. It took another 16 years of awful versions (2002 will be the last year of the Eldo) but the decline all started back in 1986.


In the early 1980s American Motors Corporation (before it was absorbed by Chrysler) and French-maker Renault teamed up to make some really awful cars but none as bad as the Fuego. Thankfully, the relationship died out--and today AMC no longer exists and Renault hasn't set foot on American shores since. The Fuego's screamed "car of the future" but it was more like a bad omen. It came in a sporty turbo edition and even handled decently. But its odd appearance and legendarily short-prone electrical system (and no-go engine) soon had customers saying "au revoir."


Hands down probably one of the ugliest, if not the ugliest, car car ever made. When the car went into production it was discovered that the rotary motor had serious quality issues, so at the last second AMC had to switch to an in-line six, which also required widening the car and scrapping the front-wheel drive setup. The width helped: Handling was fairly impressive and huge doors made the car practical. The car sold well, but after the first year it became apparent that the car was too heavy, too goofy, and far too unreliable. Did we mention its looks?


Were the designers at AMC blind? How could they consistently turn out so many hideous cars? While the Gremlin enjoyed the distinction of being the first U.S.-made subcompact, its V-8, which was introduced right when the oil-crunch hit, hurt it. People wanted little four-cylinder models, not cars that were funny looking, small and oddly powerful. It also didn't help that initially it came only as a coupe. Later, AMC would later add a four-door but the problem was really with the looks. It didn't matter that the Gremlin was more reliable and sportier (in many guises) than the equally lame Ford Pinto--it was just uglier.


We're not knocking all GTOs by any means. The GTOs from the 1960s were great but by the time pollution and fuel-consumption standards had been put in effect in the early 1970s GM didn't have an answer. Its huge but inefficient V-8s were no match for all the smog-limiting hosiery that had to be attached; power and performance both dropped, but mileage didn't go up. Then in 1972 the GTO became an option--not even a model--of the Pontiac LeMans. By 1974 it was just a badge-job Chevy Nova, a disguise nobody bought (literally or figuratively) and the GTO finally bit the dust that year.


The best thing you could say about this car is that at least they got the scale right. It was meant as an answer to Honda and Toyota's fuel-sippers, and it was a small four-seater. But besides getting good mpg the Chevette was a really badly made, poorly assembled car. Rust, major mechanical failures, leaks--it had it all. It was also no fun to drive (unlike those Japanese cars like the early Accords) and gutless. Some people thought Chevettes were cute, though. Who could resist one with glued-on faux wood panels like this one?


If only. If only the Eagle Wagon weren't such a dog. If only Chrysler had changed the body styling in the late 1980s and made it a Jeep, not an Eagle. See, the Eagle was the original Outback off-road wagon, but came out a decade and a half before Subaru thought of the notion. Sadly, the Eagle had an old, inefficient six-cylinder motor (only capable of 110hp), a body borrowed from old AMC Hornets, and a clunky, three-speed automatic licensed from Chrysler. Talk about missed opportunities.


The Chevrolet Caprice got a new, fuel-efficient 250-cubic-inch engine and earned an EPA rating of 22 mpg on the highway. That was pretty impressive, but the beasts wallowed in corners and required great attention to go straight at speed. Later Caprices got V-8 engines and were restyled to become Caprice Classics in the later '80s. But even these faster cars understeered in the extreme and sent every road dent and pothole reverberating from the suspension straight to your clenched-in-anticipation jaw. The fact that they were also one of the most boring-looking cars ever designed didn't help either.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Free Republic; Miscellaneous
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Go and vote. At the time of posting:


The ultimate dud car was . . .
Edsel    
83 votes (9%)
Chrysler TC Maserati    
38 votes (4%)
Chevy Corvair    
55 votes (6%)
Ford Maverick    
51 votes (6%)
Chevy Citation    
71 votes (8%)
Cadillac Eldorado    
18 votes (2%)
Renault Fuego    
97 votes (11%)
AMC Pacer  
182 votes (20%)
AMC Gremlin    
158 votes (17%)
Pontiac GTO    
13 votes (1%)
Chevy Chevette    
98 votes (11%)
AMC Eagle    
31 votes (3%)
Chevy Caprice    
16 votes (2%)
 

911 people have voted so far

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1 posted on 10/21/2002 10:34:06 AM PDT by wallcrawlr
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To: wallcrawlr
I owned a 1964 Chev. Corvair 500 and loved it.
Drove like a dream on the highway - 75 Miles per hour.
2 posted on 10/21/2002 10:37:49 AM PDT by Hans
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To: wallcrawlr
I think the Edsel gets votes merely on reputation. In other words, people grew up hearing the Edsel was the biggest flop, and it gets ingrained and repeated back.
3 posted on 10/21/2002 10:38:35 AM PDT by lds23
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To: wallcrawlr
What about the 70's Ford Pinto?
4 posted on 10/21/2002 10:38:51 AM PDT by princess leah
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To: wallcrawlr
What about the 70's Ford Pinto?
5 posted on 10/21/2002 10:41:53 AM PDT by princess leah
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To: princess leah
**What about the 70's Ford Pinto? **

gasp!

I had a '72 squire wagon...great car for me. Never had a problem with it.

6 posted on 10/21/2002 10:41:53 AM PDT by homeschool mama
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To: wallcrawlr
1977-90 Chevy Chevette

The best thing you could say about this car is that at least they got the scale right

No, the best thing you could say about this car is that it was capable of turning multiple 360s on light ice. A short wheelbase and rear-wheel drive transmission meant that you could spin to your heart's content. Until you flipped. :-)


Tony

7 posted on 10/21/2002 10:41:59 AM PDT by TonyInOhio
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To: wallcrawlr
Heck, I owned at least half of those vehicles in my life, bought used, of course.
8 posted on 10/21/2002 10:42:04 AM PDT by dakine
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To: wallcrawlr
The absolute worst idea that ever made it to production, without doubt is the Pontiac Aztec.

Hey honey, lets go camping in the back of the car!

9 posted on 10/21/2002 10:42:34 AM PDT by Phantom Lord
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To: wallcrawlr
And from what I have seen of the new GTO that Pontiac is going to produce, it looks like a fancy Grand Prix. Will be a BOMB.
10 posted on 10/21/2002 10:44:10 AM PDT by Phantom Lord
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To: wallcrawlr
What's unfortunate, if not downright embarrassing, is that this list could be doubled or tripled AND the fact they people actually had the lack of knowldege (and still do) about cars to actually buy these.

Some European cars were so good I still wish they made them today. The BMW 2002 comes to mind. With a few minor improvements they could make this today and it would still be one of the best cars on the road.

11 posted on 10/21/2002 10:44:46 AM PDT by 1Old Pro
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To: wallcrawlr

Pontiac Aztec 2002
A car only a lesbian could love.
12 posted on 10/21/2002 10:45:07 AM PDT by Petronski
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To: wallcrawlr
I didn't see the Hyundai's.
13 posted on 10/21/2002 10:46:34 AM PDT by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: Phantom Lord
Ya beat me to it.

The Pontiac Aztec is THE biggest flop.

An even bigger disaster is the Aztec being renamed and styled by Buick to salvage the development costs.
14 posted on 10/21/2002 10:47:38 AM PDT by Weimdog
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To: <1/1,000,000th%
Nor the Yugo! Which by the way, is going to be produced and sold again in America. But it will be called a ZMW.
15 posted on 10/21/2002 10:47:39 AM PDT by Phantom Lord
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To: Petronski
lol
16 posted on 10/21/2002 10:48:27 AM PDT by Registered
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To: 1Old Pro

BMW 2002

17 posted on 10/21/2002 10:48:45 AM PDT by 1Old Pro
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To: wallcrawlr
There was a Cadillac in the eighties that looked like it had been rear-ended into a wall and someone tried to fix it but turned it, by mistake, into a hatchback. I always thought it was bigtime fugly.
18 posted on 10/21/2002 10:50:14 AM PDT by Slyfox
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To: wallcrawlr
Before I even opened this thread, I thought "Pacer or Gremlin."

I'd have to go with Pacer by a nose.

AMC never did better than the Javelin, which was also a piece of crap.

19 posted on 10/21/2002 10:50:23 AM PDT by dead
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To: wallcrawlr
Re: the Gremlin... "Were the designers at AMC blind? How could they consistently turn out so many hideous cars?

LOL. Phew, that is funny.

20 posted on 10/21/2002 10:50:56 AM PDT by Petronski
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To: wallcrawlr
How did the Chevy Vega avoid the list? I swear that car body was made out of compacted rust.
21 posted on 10/21/2002 10:51:11 AM PDT by Non-Sequitur
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To: wallcrawlr
62 Rambler American Classic. Worst car ever to hit the road.
'64 corvair=car of the future.
22 posted on 10/21/2002 10:52:16 AM PDT by the gillman@blacklagoon.com
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To: Phantom Lord
If they can get it down under $2000 I'll take a look at it. ;)
23 posted on 10/21/2002 10:52:24 AM PDT by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: wallcrawlr
An uncle of mine bought an AMC Eagle Wagon abck when they first came out. The thing was in and out of the shop constantly. He was always bumming rides or driving loaners. After a while it became a running joke in our family, and we kidded him mercilessly about what a lemon he had blown his money on. To this day you can still elicit a groan and a pained look by just mentioning the AMC Eagle to my uncle.
24 posted on 10/21/2002 10:52:27 AM PDT by Media Insurgent
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To: Petronski
I saw one of those Aztecs on the road the other day, and I immediately thought it looked like something the white Power Ranger would drive.
25 posted on 10/21/2002 10:52:33 AM PDT by dead
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To: *Auto Shop
http://www.freerepublic.com/perl/bump-list
26 posted on 10/21/2002 10:52:51 AM PDT by Free the USA
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To: Hans
I had a 1963 Corvair Spyder. 1 barrel carb with a turbo sitting on top. Had it up to 120 mph on the highway once, and still had accelerator left. The frontend starting floating on me so that was the last time I pushed 'er that hard. I really loved that car.
27 posted on 10/21/2002 10:54:40 AM PDT by ladtx
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To: wallcrawlr
In April 2002 I bought a new 2002 Honda Accord, loaded.
Big mistake, I could easily list my car as #11.
28 posted on 10/21/2002 10:54:53 AM PDT by fabriclady
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To: wallcrawlr
Oh well, at least you didn't have this on the list:


The Austin Allegro

Taste somehow died during the 1970's.

Regards, Ivan

29 posted on 10/21/2002 10:55:11 AM PDT by MadIvan
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To: dead
Before I even opened this thread, I thought "Pacer or Gremlin."

What about the "Hornet"? Everybody that bought one got STUNG!

30 posted on 10/21/2002 10:57:13 AM PDT by bankwalker
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To: Slyfox
I think you're describing the Caddy Seville
31 posted on 10/21/2002 10:57:30 AM PDT by E.Allen
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To: Phantom Lord
Yes! These thing are UGLY! That's pronounced YOU-GLY.
32 posted on 10/21/2002 10:57:30 AM PDT by dljordan
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To: Phantom Lord
Hey honey, lets go camping in the back of the car!

LOL!!

I have never been able to figure out why anyone would buy this vehicle over something else. What possibly could possess someone to buy this horrible looking thing when there are plenty of other good vehicles out there that would serve the same purpose?

33 posted on 10/21/2002 11:00:09 AM PDT by FreeTally
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To: wallcrawlr
They forgot about the Chevy Vega and the melting aluminum engine block....
34 posted on 10/21/2002 11:00:33 AM PDT by Go Gordon
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To: princess leah
Exactly, I drove a 77 pinto in high school. If I floored it I got to about 62 miles per hour - and it shook pretty badly.
35 posted on 10/21/2002 11:00:59 AM PDT by keyesguy
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To: All
This will likely be one of those hit-and-run (read no one else's posts) threads but, just in case...

Not that we think the Maverick is necessarily as bad as what came afterward--the abysmal Fox-platform Futura/Fairmont

Funny; they didn't bother to mention the fact that today's Mustang is still built on that same, abysmal Fox platform. (Which is one reason why the seating position remains so abysmal.)

36 posted on 10/21/2002 11:02:12 AM PDT by newgeezer
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To: dead
A friend of my wife had a Pacer which inherited one of my sets of aluminum slots and 50-series radials. It looked wider than it was long, and the dumb thing actually did corner pretty good. It couldn't get out of its own way, but it always worked... and wasn't really too offensive as a "chick's" car.
37 posted on 10/21/2002 11:04:14 AM PDT by niteowl77
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To: wallcrawlr
You've got to add the late 90's Ford Ranger with the 1970's vintage 2.3 liter 4 cyl.

I had one of those pieces. They updated the ignition and injection with recent stuff, but the idiots that wrote the software for the controller did a lousy job of it. It would run OK cold, but after a minute, it would suddenly loose 20hp.

Then at 20k miles, it started pinging like it was running on white gas. After the girl dummy maintenance clerk tried to tell me it was "normal". They finally took it in the shop to "fix" it. Turns out, she was right, it was normal. You "fix" it by pulling a jumper out of the wiring harness that reprograms the engine controller with even less spark advance, giving even less HP, and less gas mileage. I guess the 70's vintage engine can't take modern gas after a little carbon builds up.

When the "check engine" light came on at about 25k miles, and I took it to an independent garage, they basically cut the wires to the idiot light, because there wasn't anything wrong. Another owner of a Ranger had the same experience. I guess Ford programs the light to come on so they can make money in their service depts. and maybe sell you a new car while you're browsing through the showroom waiting on a bogus fix.

I will NEVER buy a Ford again for the rest of my life. Own a Toyota Tacoma with not a single problem at 85k miles, and love it.

38 posted on 10/21/2002 11:04:50 AM PDT by narby
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To: wallcrawlr
There are a few important omissions:

o the Chevrolet VEGA made the Chevette Mercedes-reliable in comparison o any Chrysler Aspen/Volare: cheap metalwork would rust immediately

Also, i would dispute the Corvair and the Gremlin - these cars had their problems but were fairly solid, particularly the later Corvairs. The Gremlin was basically a chopped Hornet, which was *really* solid (at least mine was)...

39 posted on 10/21/2002 11:05:53 AM PDT by chilepepper
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To: wallcrawlr
I voted Pacer, but what a great line this was:
"Were the designers at AMC blind? How could they consistently turn out so many hideous cars?"
I often wondered that myself - what the hell were they thinking? Anyone know of a good book on the AMC debacles?
40 posted on 10/21/2002 11:07:51 AM PDT by Psalm 73
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To: wallcrawlr
What, no Mercury Comet?
41 posted on 10/21/2002 11:08:05 AM PDT by Phantom Lord
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To: wallcrawlr
The Pacer had a rotary engine? Naaah.

And anyone who thinks it's the ugliest car ever made never saw the original Nissan 280SX. I could stare at that car for hours, marveling at its breathtaking ugliness, at all the hincty little details, at the sheer audacity and fussiness of its nightmarish design. It was a rolling train-wreck, the likes of which we'll never ever see again.

The big Mazda with the power opera window was butt-ugly, too, but that original 'SX wins the prize.
42 posted on 10/21/2002 11:09:07 AM PDT by RightOnTheLeftCoast
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To: Hans
DAMN STRAIGHT!!!

Why wouldnt everyone in America want to own the car that was "Unsafe at ANY Speed"? The Corvair is a great car.

43 posted on 10/21/2002 11:09:09 AM PDT by Delta 21
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To: TonyInOhio
Some chevettes were made with 1.8L Isuzu diesels, you talk about something unable to get out of its own way...
44 posted on 10/21/2002 11:09:18 AM PDT by Axenolith
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To: newgeezer
I take exception to the Caprice. I've owned several, as well as the permutations of it. Pontiac Bonneville, Buick Electra and Park Avenue, Olds 88 and 98, and lets not forget Cadillacs, using the same platform into the mid/late 90's with Chevrolet. And that's not counting the wagons or the cabs. It does exactly what it was designed to do, and continued to sell well for two decades with minor variations. How many different engine/transmission combinations could you get? How many different price points and trim levels? Two doors, four doors, wagons...Parts are cheap for the most part, and they just don't die with routine maintenance. Its not unusual to get a couple hundred thousand miles out of one.

If you took all the vehicles that GM produced on that single RWD platform from '76 until something like '96, I'll bet it was the best selling car of all time. There are still plenty running around.
45 posted on 10/21/2002 11:11:12 AM PDT by babyface00
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To: wallcrawlr
The Oldsmobile DYNAMIC 88.

I win. Still have nightmares about exhaust routed through bumper...which of course rusted out from the top, from condensation. Sometimes had to start it by setting fire to paper on top of carb. It worked. This car is no doubt used as a taxi in hell.
46 posted on 10/21/2002 11:11:31 AM PDT by PoorMuttly
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To: Petronski
Another Rosie slam. I love it!!!!

I had a Fuego, and what a pig (speaking of Rosie)!!!!!

It came with Michelin X tires (14.2 inch rims, not 14 inch, not 15 inch but 14.2 inch). The only tires that would fit was the X tire. At $100 a tire. These x tires were sticky, man you could go around a corner at 55 and never slide. HOWEVER, they had the consistancy of an art gum eraser. The first set balded in 10,000 miles (in fairness tho, I had a lot of mountain driving, switchbacks and all at speed). 2nd set was worn out in 15k miles. Decided to put 13" wheels on the pig and cheap tires. That worked however (see below) it probably was because performance had fallen.

The turbo went out at 15K, estimated to cost $1500, but the car still ran, so I blew that off. The performance went to nothing. This car , when the turbo was running, would go from 55 to 85 in flat nothing in 5th gear. Great performance out of an 85HP engine.

At 25k miles, smoke came out of the instrument cluster. I disassembled it and found a burned printed circuit board. Handy soldering iron fixed that, but about every 5k miles, another part of the board would burn out. Pretty soon I had wires running all over the circuit board. Remember, this was in 80's when boards wern't small.

75k, and the brakes wore out, and the metallic/asbestos pads were on the epa hit list. Another $400 for environmental abatement.

88k miles, the rubber hoses (vacuum)(and man did the sucker ever have vacuum hoses all over) seemed to self distruct. The engine just quit, never to run again.

The first 10k miles were fun to drive.

Oh, I forgot, it had a oil level measuring dip stick. Only one I have ever seen. 5 mins after the engine was turned off, the dip stick would measure the oil level, and send the results to a guage on the instrument panel.

47 posted on 10/21/2002 11:12:40 AM PDT by Lokibob
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To: ladtx
I voted Corvair, and that's after owning about five of the little junkers back in the early seventies.

WAY too many mechanical problems, not to mention learning to drive white-knuckled in any bad weather, waiting for that first inkling of oversteer. Volkswagens and Porsches were easy to drive after that Corvair "training" period.

WORST problem was the heated air for the interior of the car passed over the engine first. If the engine was leaking ANY oil, and they usually did, with defrost on, this half-burnt smog was directed up onto the inside of the windshield, then into your lungs!
48 posted on 10/21/2002 11:13:27 AM PDT by spoiler2
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To: fabriclady
I bought a new 2002 Honda Accord, loaded. Big mistake,

My wife drives a 2001. What's the problem? We've liked ours, though I do wish that the steering wheel tilt went up higher. We also had them replace shocks, and for some reason, it seems to be a magnet for door dings, but I think that's partly my wife parking too close to other cars.

49 posted on 10/21/2002 11:16:26 AM PDT by 1L
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To: Petronski
Re: the Gremlin... "Were the designers at AMC blind? How could they consistently turn out so many hideous cars?

LOL. Phew, that is funny.

What is funny, in retrospect, was James Bond driving an AMC Matador in "Live and Let Die"!

But, in fairness, I have to confess, I have owned two cars on the list. My 82 Pontiac Phoenix was so bad, that I will NEVER purchase a GM product for the rest of my life. At least my Gremlin (which I traded in for the Phoenix) gave me two years of good service, if you ignore that all four stock tires wore out at 17K miles!

Now, I buy Japanese cars, they're the last people on the planet who give a damn about what they build.

50 posted on 10/21/2002 11:16:51 AM PDT by hunter112
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