To hear one reader tell it, owning a Yugo was the mechanized equivalent of a relationship with Lindsay Lohan: breakdown and complication were the order of the day. Politico11 bought his car used for $3400, then waited six weeks for it to arrive by ship. Three days after he took delivery, the clutch went. The starter failed so often that he parked on a hill, so he could do a rolling bump start. Then came the 1995 Bosnian war. When Politico11 learned that the Yugo plant had taken a direct hit from a Tomahawk missile, he laughed so hard that he cried: "Good times," he wrote.
When I published a list of the twelve worst cars ever built on Globedrive.com, hundreds of stories and suggestions poured in from readers. Why had I had left out the Hyundai Pony? Where was the Ford Fairmont? What about the Fairthorpe Atom? And so it went. Choosing just 12 cars had been tough - I'd considered more than 50 candidates, but pared down the list, looking for a mix of bad manufacturing, ugly design, and historical significance (the bad kind.)
Now the readers have spoken. They suggested more than 60 worst car nominees - a veritable galaxy of stylistic error, engineering ineptitude and manufacturing apostasy. Many were models I had considered myself - like the Austin Marina, the early-80s Jaguar XJ6 sedan, and the Triumph TR-8. One of my dad's friends owned an 8, and I had driven it with great anticipation, only to be appalled by its terrible brakes, sled-like handling, and rotten construction quality. So yes, I had thought of the TR-8. But there were plenty of other cars that had slipped my mind - like the Renault Dauphin, the Plymouth Fury and the Opel GT, characterized by one reader as "Germany's revenge."
These vehicles are a mix of bad manufacturing, ugly design, and historical significance (the bad kind)
Others suggested that every Fiat ever built should be included - "Where do you think 'Fix It Again Tony' came from?" one asked. I have owned reliable Fiats, but agree that the brand had been associated with a certain amount of mechanical and electrical flakiness. There were numerous Lada bashers. One reader called me and swore that if he sat quietly in his garage, he could hear his Lada rusting.
Dozens of Detroit models were nominated, including the entire GM X-body series (a front-drive model that appeared with under several GM badges in the 1970s and 1980s.) Lee Iacocca's time at Chrysler back in the 1980's also produced a bumper crop of nominations, including the abysmal K-Car and Cordoba.
Some readers came up with cars I'd forgotten about, like the Singer Gazelle, the Gogomobile, and the DAF, a Dutch micro car with a transmission that made the engine operate at the same (high) speed all the time, giving it the sound of a four-wheeled, passenger-carrying leaf-blower. And despite a lifetime as a mechanical aficionado, there was one car I'd never even heard of - the SsangYong Rodius. Thanks to Google, I soon learned what it was - a hideous, Korean-built SUV that reminded me of a giant, mechanized halibut.
No single nation holds a commanding lead in the race to build the worst car of all time. Some suggested that England should be crowned the all-time Worst Cars champion. Others nominated Italy, France, East Germany, Korea, Japan and the U.S. The worst-car candidates spanned the globe, and not even the most iconic manufacturers were spared. Two Porsches were nominated - the 914 and the Porsche 924. So was a Rolls-Royce - the Camargue. How could I have forgotten that mid-70s mistake?
These cars all have shoddy engineering, questionable taste, or poor manufacturing quality. Or all of the above.
One reader defended the Ford Pinto, and was deeply perturbed at my decision to include it in my original Dirty Dozen. Despite the Pinto's flaws (like exploding into flames if it was rear-ended) he had formed an enduring bond with the car. Now I was spitting on its grave. I felt bad for him. But I had driven a few Pintos, and they did suck.
Many terrible cars had imprinted themselves on their owner's memories in a way that newer, more perfect models never seem to. Mark Chynoweth recalled his Chevy Monza, which had such poor traction that it could do donuts on dry pavement, even with its gutless four-cylinder engine. Mr. Chynoweth spoke fondly of the Monza's badly-designed cabin (it was supposed to hold four people, but two could fit) because it made him feel like he was in a spacecraft: "....you were taking a trip with Yuri Gagarin," he wrote.
The six-cylinder Monza was the automotive equivalent of Brut cologne, a rolling aphrodisiac for club-going young studs. Who knows how many young men bought Monza sixes, their heads filled with visions of open roads and hot women, only to learn that their dream car would rust out long before the payments ended, and that the engine would have to come out for every tune-up?
Mr. Chynoweth reminded me of the Monza's bygone age. And as he also pointed out, the history of bad cars is still being written: "I live in Beijing now," he said, commenting on my choice of 12 worst cars, "...and China could easily displace this entire list."
Good point, and the Chery Cowin and the Geely Beauty Leopard may grace future lists. But now, it's time for Wheels of Misfortune Two - The Reader's Choice. Here are some of their selections.
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