5 Really Dumb Cars

SHORT LIFE: A Renault Fuego in better days. (Photo courtesy Renault).

One of my big reliefs in life is that I never bought any of these, though $4,999 for the Yugo was tempting way back then. Even as used cars, these unfortunate entries in the automotive canon have virtually disappeared. These are all 1980s and 1990s models, which doesn’t even begin to touch the lunatic folly that was the mid- to late-1970s autodom.

Renault Fuego

Renault Fuego: The styling was so avant that these actually looked kind of cool for five minutes as long as they were clean and revolving on a show stand. Definitely a trip upscale from the spartan Le Car, but not in a good way. The Fuego shared its drivetrain with the unloved Renault 18 (I almost bought one of those, but that’s another story), and was designed by the same guy who did the ill-selling Citroen SM. French cars are always quirky, but this one (briefly sold in the U.S. between 1982 and 1985 by American Motors dealers) was never going to appeal to stateside buyers. Car and Driver had fun with one, though, describing the body as looking like “a walrus with gas.” No wonder French cars have been off the market since 1992.


Yugo: A brand-new car for less than $5,000 — that was importer Malcolm Bricklin’s mantra. And it worked, at least as first. Until people actually drove them for a while, Yugos sold fairly well in the U.S. But the Yugo was the product of the finest communist-era engineering that gave us the Trabant, and it was truly awful. I once drove a convertible version around the Lime Rock race track, so it’s remarkable that I’m still here to tell about it. I once asked a Yugo rep about all the windshield cracks, and he said it was from the seatback hitting the glass when angled forward. An ’85 GL makes Time’s list of 50 “Worst Cars of All Time.” They called it “the Mona Lisa of bad cars.” The rear-window defroster at least kept your hands warm when you pushed the car. Bricklin later ran into trouble trying to import Chinese cars. He offered to take me out for a drink once. I’m ready, Mal.

Cadillac Allanté

Cadillac Allanté: The Allanté (the accent was an affectation) had the virtue of at least being good-looking, but it was never a good idea. GM engineers have tried to explain the “land bridge” concept by which the Cadillac bodies were flown from builder Pininfarina in Italy (hence the good looks) 3,300 miles to Detroit’s then-decrepit Hamtramck plant where they now build the Volt. They called it “the world’s longest assembly line,” as if that was a virtue, when in fact it resulted in the car costing $54,000 — with GM losing money on all of them. They’re not making money on the electric Volt, either, but that’s at least for a good cause. The Chrysler TC was financially prudent compared to this. The Allanté sold about half of projections, so it was lucky to last from 1987 to 1993. I drove one at the time, and recall a fast and memorable drive down I-95 with the Butterfield Blues Band blaring “East-West” on what was truly a killer stereo. Thanks for the memories, Cadillac.

Chrysler TC by Maserati

Chrysler TC by Maserati: After being given a pep talk by Lee Iacocca in all his glory, I was handed the keys to one of these at the company headquarters in bombed-out Highland Park (soon abandoned for suburban Auburn Hills). This 1989 entry was an insane, doomed effort to add some class to what was one of the worst-ever American car lineups. K Car, anyone? The TC styling was all Chrysler, and hideous in the country club, opera window style of the period. The engine was Chrysler, too, but with a “Maserati” cylinder head. And, with a purchase price of $33,000, they weren’t going to move many. Sales said it all: From a high of 3,764 in 1989, volume fell to 1,636 in the last year of 1991.

Pontiac Aztek

Pontiac Aztek: In his book on GM’s missteps, "Sixty to Zero," Alex Taylor III of Fortune gives pride of place to the Aztek, which he says “seemed to have been dropped to earth from outer space.” Offered by the doomed Pontiac brand from 2001 to 2005, the angular, mismatched Aztek so overused decorative “body cladding” (as a substitute for actual styling) it sent design guru Bob Lutz on an anti-cladding campaign. The Aztek was a mid-sized crossover designed by committee, and nobody at GM seems to have actually looked at it before it rolled down the assembly line. The British Telegraph named the Aztek to its “100 Ugliest Cars” list. And why couldn’t they spell “Aztec” right?

Say a silent prayer that you don't have any of these in the garage. They'd be as hard to sell as a Hummer when gas cost $5 a gallon.