Lemon Series: What Are the Worst Cars Ever Made by the Big Three?
For decades and nearly a century, the Detroit Big Three have ruled the American automotive world, but they still made some of the worst cars we’ve ever seen.
Some cars are flops right from the start. Whether they lack development, get swallowed up between concept and production, or aren’t popular with the public, these cars are lemons in some way, shape, or form. Let’s put our focus on the vehicles that came out of Ford, GM, and Chrysler (now Stellantis) and see some of the biggest automotive flops ever made.
The oil crisis of 1973 caused many automakers to panic and started looking at how the Japanese brands were making smaller cars that sold well. This brought about the Chevrolet Chevette. This little car was one of the ugliest vehicles to ever hit the market. The Chevette was offered with three small engines, a 1.4-liter, 1,6-liter, and 1.8-liter, all of which were four-cylinder models lacking any turbocharging to assist them. The power ranged from 53 to 70 horsepower, making this an underpowered and boring car.
Right from the start, we could see the Cimarron was one of the worst cars ever made. Cadillac put this car out so cheaply that they only changed the badges from the Chevrolet Cavalier to this supposed Caddy. The steep price tag wasn’t warranted considering the lack of exclusivity and premium appeal that we expect from the Cadillac name. The Cimarron was another attempt to create some buzz in the 1980s but ended up being just another lemon of a car that was ugly and overpriced.
Early versions of the Chevy Vega were impressive and useful. In fact, this car won the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award in 1971, its debut year. Soon after, the Vega was plagued with an overabundance of electrical, mechanical, and engineering problems that made it a car that many had to shy away from. In addition to the working issues, this car was vulnerable to rusting. By 1976, only five years after entering the market, the Vega was gone, and it nearly took GM with it. The Chevy Vega was known to catch fire, even in small fender benders, which made it a dangerous car to own.
The early versions of the Chrysler Imperial were amazing, but those models came to the market from 1926 to 1954. Chrysler relaunched this car in 1990, and it turned out to be a slow and plodding car. At the time, the 3.3-liter V6 engine that made 147 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque sounded great. That is until you saw the 3,519-pound weight of the car. This lack of real power and the early 1990s style causes this to be one of the worst cars in the market.
You would think that a car that was designed by Pininfarina for Cadillac would be a huge success, but that wasn’t the case at all. This Italian touch brought attention to the Allante, but it had an underpowered engine that drank gas. To be specific, the Allante was powered by a 4.1-liter V8 engine that only produced 170 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. This was too little to make this car one anyone would want to buy. Cadillac tried to write the wrong, but the damage was done.
The Pontiac Aztek shows up on every list of lemons and is often considered one of the worst cars ever made. Strangely, the concept models of this small SUV were pretty enticing, but once the bean counters got hold of it, the Aztek was doomed. This SUV had a strange shape to it and seriously lacked any continuity of style. Some items were made for the outdoor enthusiast, but mostly, this SUV was just awful. The only saving grace for the Aztek was its use in the television series Breaking Bad.
Another Caddy that never lived up to the brand name is the Catera. This car lacked style, it was unappealing, and it had very little power. This was a four-door sedan that was better off being sold under the Chevrolet name than Cadillac. The Catera used a 3.0-liter V6 engine that only made 200 horsepower. That wasn’t enough to move the 3,897-pound sedan with any speed. The Catera survived for five years with only 90,000 models sold and became a sales flop for the brand.
One of the oldest lemons on this list and certainly one of the worst cars made is the Ford Edsel. Built at a time with white wall tires, massive chrome grills, and lots of sheet metal was part of the mix, the Edsel was an attractive car. That said, this car was up against some of the most incredibly attractive cars of the late 1950s, and that put it at a disadvantage. The Edsel was considered unappealing, overhyped, and overpriced for the time.
The last version of the Plymouth Prowler belongs in the same conversation as the Pontiac Aztek, but for different reasons. The Prowler is one of the worst cars ever made because it lacked the power necessary to make it fun. The build was incredible, with a retro roadster style that catches your attention right away. Unfortunately, you’ll spend a lot of time looking at it because it’s extremely slow. This car looks like a hot rod, but that rod is ice cold.
Most of the Ford Focus models weren’t lemons. This was one of the most popular names in the market, but one version of the Focus is worthy of being on this list. The two-door coupe-cabriolet model of the Focus was ridiculous. The Focus was known for being a fun, small, and useful car, but the convertible version took away the usefulness that many shoppers desired. This convertible Focus wasn’t a bad car, but it certainly couldn’t hold a candle to the sales experienced by other models bearing the same name.
What are your favorite worst cars from the Detroit Big Three? Do you know of some lemons out there that should be part of this list?
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