"It was a stick in the eye to every Mustang enthusiast," says Matt Taber, a car buff who has owned numerous Mustangs. "It was a Pinto with different sheet metal."
The Mustang II's sins were numerous. The car was a rust bucket, its styling embodied the worst of the early 1970s, and its mechanical underpinnings were distinctly third rate - soggy suspension, rental-car steering, and a four-cylinder engine that gasped for breath through crude smog control plumbing. Although many of the design decisions made sense to the bean counters, the end result defiled the legendary Mustang brand, and helped contribute to Ford's later decline.
A number of Globe readers nominated it for the Hall of Shame. "Worst car ever," one said. Many would agree.
Rolls Royce's decision to go after more youthful buyers led to a rare misstep - the 1975 Camargue, widely regarded as the least-desirable Rolls-Royce ever produced. As the traditional ride of the British Royal family, Rolls-Royce enjoyed a distinct pedigree based on meticulous hand craftsmanship, premium materials, and deeply conservative design. But the Camargue's trendy coupe styling was a deep affront to the company's loyalists, as if Buckingham Palace converted into a casino. The Camargue was equipped with Rolls-Royce's traditionally excellent mechanical underpinnings and first-rate materials (hide leather seats, solid wood dash, hand-cut Wilton carpeting), but had problems that included rusting sills and a strangely placed fuel-filler. The Camargue was removed from the market in 1985, and is available on the collector-car market at a deep discount compared to other Rolls-Royce models.
As the best-selling car of all time, you might expect that the Beetle would be safe from inclusion from an Automotive Hall of Shame. But several readers nominated it, citing flaws that included an underpowered engine, inadequate brakes and a heating system that pumped exhaust fumes into the cabin. As a former Volkswagen mechanic, I knew exactly what they were talking about. I owned about half a dozen Beetles, and repaired hundreds, which gave me an abiding respect for the Beetle's construction quality (at least until the factory was moved to Mexico) and first-hand knowledge of its unforgivable faults - the windshield washers depended on air from the spare tire, the cylinder heads constantly worked loose, and the windshield defogging system often left you blinded at critical moments.
The Beetle had incredible charm - what other car could have carried Disney's Love Bug movie franchise? (Would anyone watch the Love Yaris?) I used the Beetle's teddy bear charm shamelessly - my royal blue 1967 helped me win my wife, who despised men who drove muscle cars. But the Beetle's cuddly persona masked some intimidating vehicle dynamics. The drum brakes were inadequate, and the Beetle's swing-axle rear suspension (along with the rearward weight bias produced by the tail-mounted engine) yielded some vicious handling characteristics. If you go into a corner too fast, your natural reaction is to take your foot off the gas - but in the Beetle, this was like pulling the pin on a hand-grenade: the resulting weight transfer and axle tuck set you up for a spin. If you were lucky, you would spin out of control. If you weren't, you would roll over. Even though I tried to tame my Beetles with disciplined technique and modified rear suspension, I still managed to spin out twice.
By the time I resigned from the garage where I once worked, I could take the engine out of a Beetle in about 20 minutes, and carry out almost any repair at roadside with little more than a socket set, a few wrenches and a screwdriver. It was a clever little car. But I have to admit that it had some awful qualities. Although I believe that its enduring design should preclude it from Worst Car status, the readers have spoken.
The Pony hit the Canadian market in 1984 with one appealing feature - a low, low price made possible by its cheap Korean manufacturing. You could buy a Pony for $5,795, about the same as a decent snowmobile. You got what you paid for - the Pony looked like a Honda Civic built in a back alley by an inebriated blacksmith. The body panels were wavy, the paint looked like it had been swabbed on with a mop, and a plastic choke knob protruded from the dash. The tires were skinny, and the suspension was knock-kneed and awkwardly high, giving the Pony the gait of a knee-capped horse. But the low price sold it - the Pony was the automotive equivalent of the Scud missile, a cheap, ugly weapon that missed often missed its mark, but occasionally got the job done. Against my strong advice, one of my friends bought one in the late 1980s, lured by the super-low price - about a year later, it burst into flames on Highway 401 and burned down to its tires. Numerous Globe readers told me I was a fool for not including it in my original Dirty Dozen list. I had definitely given it consideration, but decided on other vehicles, partly because the Pony was such an easy target. But the readers were right.