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BangShift Question Of The Day: What’s The Worst American Car Of The Last 50 Years?

BangShift Question Of The Day: What’s The Worst American Car Of The Last 50 Years?

So this one should bring the carving knives out. I was in a conversation with a guy the other day and this question kind of came up. There are a million ways to approach it because there have been some bad cars made over the last half century. Hell, some of the cars that we love would probably be considered “bad cars” by some people. Those people would be wrong but you get the point.

As usual we’re not going to steer you in any specific direction here but we are giving you ONE guideline. This has to be an American car. We’re pulling out the Yugos, the instantly rusty Japanese stuff from the 1970s, the weird French and Italian cars that have come and gone over the years. We want machines that were produced by an American nameplate which sucked. Cars with fatally flawed engines that were doomed before they left the plant. Cars with horrendous and deadly design flaws that forced companies to make emergency fixes. Cars with good intentions and horrible execution. Cars that answered questions that no one had ever (or will ever) ask, and cars that just plain failed their company and failed their owners spectacularly and in droves.

Don’t hold back, don’t be afraid to hurt some feelings just let it fly in the comment section. Oh, for the love of all things good, put a least a little reasoning into your answer. “Anything with an LS engine” is a dumb thing to say so skip that one.

By the way, we picked the image of the Vega not because we think it is the worst car per se but because we know some of you will. Thank God drag racers loved ’em.

Tell us below! What’s The Worst American Car Of The Last 50 Years?

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34 thoughts on “BangShift Question Of The Day: What’s The Worst American Car Of The Last 50 Years?

  1. Gary Smrtic

    It’d be a toss up between the Vega and the Chevette. Pinto’s got a bad rap; hell, GM probably paid somebody to do the PR hit piece on them…
    But Vega’s, with the welded door hinges, and pistons that were running up and down the cylinder walls sideways at about 25,000 miles (if you were lucky they waited that long!), whew! If it wasn’t for Grumpy, they’d be as forgettable as the Chevette.
    Being a Mopar guy, though, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t give the Plymouth Cricket honorable mention….


    Appearance = Kia soul
    Reliability = Chevy celebrity, Chevy cobalt, Pontiac g6, Chrysler k car, any 80s Cadillac or any year jaguar…..

    1. Matt Cramer

      Agreed. Oldsmobile’s efforts to build a Diesel engine while keeping the changes to their existing engine so minimal that they could almost have sold a home retrofit kit to DIYers was a horrible idea. It’s hard to top that.

      As a Mopar fan, my own dishonorable mention goes to the Aspen / Volare for how making a fairly small set of updates to the A-body managed to seriously ruin a good platform.

  3. jerry z

    Plymouth Volare.

    My parents only bought American cars till this one. What a POS! This car was in the shop more often than not. Bought Toyotas after this car.

  4. Arild Guldbrandsen

    I want G body gm cars into this list too..crappy rear axles transmissions engines brakes,and instrumentation panel in at least the Malibus and el Caminos..It seems to me there where just crappy small american cars made in the seventies.

    1. arrowhead

      to the GM faithfl, you can send your thank you cards to Tom Murphy, Roger Smith & Wall Street

  5. Jonathan Freeman

    Any GM product……

    I’ve had lousy results with any one I’ve ever owned. Now sworn off for life!

  6. Roger

    Vega by a landslide. My father had a ’74 Vega GT, and I got my license in the spring of ’79. After only 5 Cleveland winters that Vega was unsafe to drive and had to be junked. The way that car rusted was unbelievable.

  7. Wang

    Mustang 2
    Last historic ride wouldn’t go over
    Ten mph. Quickly switched to a 67 Camaro. Still the baddest car on the planet

  8. DanStokes

    Actually, that’s a tough question for me.

    Vegas certainly had their issues but a decent rustproofing package and an Iron Duke and we’d all have thought it was a decent little car.

    The Pacer lost it’s way when it was no longer the home for a rotary engine and ended up simply weird. And all the AMCs in that period had terrible electrical systems.

    The Mustang II.Pinto weren’t any worse than the rest of the herd in that era – it was the worst of times, automotively.

    The Cricket doesn’t meet Brian’s criteria, being imported. Though they sucked hard.

    My Volare was a really nice mid-sized car – loved that one. It had been undercoated from new and had a 318/904 – tough as nails. Two door with ALL the bells and whistles and they all worked for the years we had it.

    The GM X-bodies were no gems for sure.

    Being old enough to now understand the worst days of the car world and having worked in that car world at that time I guess all I can say is that there was a time when the whole American industry was sort of lost and especially in the small car field they were blindsided by small, tough, efficient cars from Asia. While I think they’re doing pretty well these days my opinion is that the reputation follows them to this day and it may never be fully overcome. You couldn’t ask for a better small car than our HHR which is tough, reliable, and both the exterior and interior have held up well for over 160K miles.


  9. Weasel1

    Performance wise, 1982 iron duke camaro. Maybe 20 seconds in a quarter Looks wise, the terrible Pontiac Aztec. Most time in the dealership for repair? Tie between the GM 350 diesel powered or anything with the original 4-6-8 motor

  10. Hiwatt Scott

    I keep coming back to the Cadillac Cimmaron, just because of what it represented. Here was a car division who’s motto was “The American Standard For the World” reduced to a feeble attempt at a badge engineered economy car. Slam other Cadillacs all you want, but at least they delivered some sort of luxury, even if it was just that era’s idea of luxury. And your Vegas and Chevettes were honest; You knew you were getting a cheap car. The Cimmaron promised you steak and gave you a baloney sandwich.

  11. Brett

    Never had one personally, but GM’s J cars were so bad Brock Yates wrote a book about it. Can any other crap can make that claim?
    Personal experience would have to be my last gen B2500, nothing worked and the entire steel box felt like a huffy.

    1. Matt Cramer

      The J cars had their share of problems – they never should have used the platform for a Cadillac, they made the mistake of using the 1st generation Honda Accord for their benchmark when Honda was about to release a 2nd generation, and they kept the same basic design in production way too long. But they were a par-for-the-course economy car when they first came out, and held up decently. They were more uninspired and mediocre than outright horrible like the Olds Diesel or the Vega. Sure, it wouldn’t have taken much to fix the Vega, but GM didn’t give it the fixes it needed until you get to the Monza.

      With the Aspen / Volare, that one was mostly a case of the worst “minor update” to a platform. For something that was supposed to be a freshening up of the A-body line, it managed to have a lot of teething problems, and the suspension geometry wasn’t nearly as good either.

  12. Brendan M

    Lots of Chrysler products fit the list. Can’t tell you how many Neon head gaskets I’ve done, or Caravan transmissions. With only about 50k miles, even the new Chargers come into the shop with bad control arm bushings. I think it was part of the sales plan to send every Sebring out of the factory with loose tranny cooler lines.

  13. Bob Boudreau

    I had a ’74 Vega, got it rustproofed when new. A few years later rust started showing, went to Zeibart and all they would do is refund my original cost. Friends who operated a speed shop rebuilt the motor with steel cylinder liners, worked fine after that. Replaced it with an ’80 Pontiac Phoenix, which turned out to be a real piece of crap. Had to replace the cam three times in a few years, GM generously did not charge for the parts, but the labor wasn’t cheap. The steering would lock after the car sat overnight, needing a major effort to turn left the first time. Nothing was done by GM, found out later it was a chronic problem. Sold it for less than the cost of the last cam. POS.

  14. v12guy

    50 Years????
    Seriously? lets do a \”By decade\” to actually have a discussion.
    Lets face it, the worst cars ever were built from about 1974- 1990.
    let that sink in, and \”yeah\”, pretty much everything was under powered, rusty junk.
    (Do I get bonus points for adding IH \’Scouts\’?)

  15. ColinV

    As a Mopar fan it pains me to say it but definitely have to go with 2006 Dodge Ram 2500. The 5.9 Cummins and 6spd manual are bulletproof and amazing, everything else however… Chrysler must have known then Fit was going to buy them out because the frond end is made of Murano blown glass, electronics suck, rusting away to nothing. I have 7 recalls on it at home right now and yet if I go to get it done amazingly my truck doesn’t qualify for the recall that I received a notice from Dodge about, but by god if the part that is being recalled sure needs badly to be changed at a cost of course.

    1. Threedoor

      My 93 W350 is about the same. All the moving parts, and some stationary ones made by dodge have failed. Light gauge wiring. Best thing about it is the Cummins and Dana Spicer stuff.

  16. ratpatrol66

    “Oh, for the love of all things good, put a least a little reasoning into your answer. “Anything with an LS engine” is a dumb thing to say so skip that one.”

    Brian, I think you offended ChevyhatinmadGordie cause he didn’t even comment? Anyway I’m a Pontiac guy, mostly the 60s and 70s. But that Aztek was a huge failure!

  17. Kenny

    I will agree with alot of previous posters.
    Chevy vega /ford pinto for bad design/cost cutting to get them to market.
    Pontiac Aztec for Horrendous looks.
    The Cadillac Cimmaron .
    But I think most are forgetting one.
    The DMC-12 DeLorean.
    Why? Price.vs power.
    They typically cost more than a Corvette but has less power.

  18. Bruce

    Vegas had their issues, 50/50 split with the owners creating them. Was the first stage for GM into the economy market with cost cutting methods in construction, and now the norm in current new car production, welded hinges, plastic dash, aluminum engines. Now the trend in todays cars is that the new ones a throw-a-way after an accident. The issue with the motor was more of the valve guides leaking (bad seal design) which made selling a new engine easier by blaming the block instead of a valve job. Took special equip to service the cyl bores and special pistons to match. without those, it was easier to sleeve and use conventional pistons and rings. If you block did wear out it was mostly improper maintenence (regular oil changes) and not using anti-freeze (electrolist) because water was free out of the faucet. The only real major issue was that the radiator they came with was too small but that could easly be changed to the one offered with the A/C models. All GM cars from that era had rust issues around the windows

  19. Tanglefoot

    From the mid 70’s to the late 90’s the big three never made any cars really worth bragging about . Some were horribly unsafe like the Pinto or CJ5 Jeeps and some were mechanical turds like the all aluminum engines in Vegas or the Olds diesels , but I personally think American engineering hit its lowest level with the GM J series , they were horrible , unreliable and basically as disposable as a Bic lighter . There is good a reason why the big three almost all went bankrupt but luckily they pulled though and for the most part are now building cars and trucks that can hold their own against any import .

  20. Mike

    The J bodies were such crappie cars. but I loved my z24 so much. That thing would haul ass

  21. C.M. Bendig

    The whole 1975 to 1985 Car market with bleak for the American makers. Jap crap was getting all the love because our stuff was choked out by the EPA, and our factory workers didn’t give a flying fig. I know stories and first hand witnesses that will cause all color to drain from your face.

    Worst of the Worst: Dodge FWD’s 1978-1983. Took them a few years to get the engines right. the original 1.7L had problems. The later 2.2’s ran better and lived on to become a 2.5L. Early cars have smog & carb issues. Even the Early 2.2L Dakota’s are plagued by carb issues. Then the whole Chrysler ‘logic modules’ (no logic in the fail-o-matic wannabe ecm’s).

    82 and early 83 was a bad year for the GM FWD J chassis. the Chevy 1.8L had issues, the late 83 up 2.0L Chevy had the issues worked out.
    1982-1983 S-10’s with the 1.9L Isuzu engine. They just blew up for no reason.
    A 2.5L Camaro is a pig, yet a 2.5L S-10 (same engine) can run with a 2.8LV6 S10.
    The 2.8L V6 in the S-10 & Camaro/Firebird was bad. in the FWD cars the 2.8 was great and the later 3.1, 3.4 & 3.5L V6’s. They are all related.

    Before anyone goes on about the Citation/Omega/Phoenix/Skylark FWD platform, that basic sub frame went on with minor changes until 2009 under GM vehicles,

    As for Chevettes: they are NOT Fast, yet damn hard and good cars. like many other’s late 70’s and 80’s cars economy cars rarely got serviced unless DOA at a shop. I have walked out in a junk yard with carb cleaner, a battery and a few tools and revived Chevettes. A buddy that delivered pizza from 1994-2000 would use them. When he was done with one we go to the yard with 100 chevettes and find another candidate. putting 20-60,000 on something out of a junk yard and spending less then $500 on the car and less then $400 in parts over it use was predy cheep.

    As for the Pinto it’s like a Chevette. No Fast from Ford, yet it had a 2.0L then a 2.3L. both went on in to the Mustang and the Ranger. 2.0L 4 speed rangers are not fast. yet they make parts to hop up a ford I-4. Pintos make great race cars too.

    Early Escort/Lynx/EXP’s had issues too. They also suffered the no maintenance until the timing belt snapped 10,000 miles past it’s service life. No oil changes until they locked up solid, and other owner abuse. The cars got a bad rep from that, yet they were decent cars.

    The real problem with GM diesels: people did not understand how to fix light duty glow plug diesels. A problem in this area still. The Chevette came in a diesel, the S-10 also did for a year or two. I have had the Baby Detriot/Dayton Diesels the 6.2 & the 6.5. A 6.2 with a cranked up injection pump in a 4WD Suburban will drag a dummins owner backwards around a bar parking lot or a 55 foot mobile home threw ankle deep mud.

    The 350 and 4.3 diesels have people that like and understand them. I know a guy who is gathering parts for a 4.3 Diesel FWD Turbo project. He has a few gas GM FWD A body turbo cars.

  22. NOT A-OK

    The worst American cars in the last 50 years would be the Chrysler K-Cars.
    Cheap crap and skullduggery that kept Chrysler in the game.

    They knew they were putting out inferior products, and the UAW squinted and smiled to Chrysler\’s \”wink-wink\” about the whole me$$.

    For shame.
    My father was one of those duped $ucker$ who purchased an Aries K-Wagon.
    What a total POS!

    The local Dodge/Chrysler dealer had over $1,100 (1985 price) in \”parts and labor\” in its one-barrel carb!
    Not to mention the total crap transaxle that wouldn\’t go into gear or go out of reverse!

    Chyrsler deserves to be out of business on that one.

    Next came the odometer-rolling-back sceme.
    Why weren\’t they prosecuted?

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