In automotive terms, a lemon is a car that breaks down frequently and is in constant need of expensive repairs. There have been plenty of lemons manufactured over the years. In fact, automotive companies are as likely to roll a dud off the assembly line as a solid, reliable vehicle. The history of the automobile is littered with some real stinkers. Many of them are now infamous and forever burned in the collective memories of the public. Here are 11 of the worst lemons ever manufactured.
11. Chrysler K-Car
The Chrysler Corporation made a real doozy with the K-Car – specifically the Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries. These cars became synonymous with the term “cheap” and helped cement Chrysler’s reputation in the 1980s for making junky cars.
Conceived of by then-Chrysler head honcho Lee Iacocca as a way to mass market a cheap car that would appeal to John Q. Public and help revive the fortunes of the then floundering Chrysler Corp., the K-cars did succeed in this goal – selling more than one million units of each model in the first year of production. Motor Trend magazine even named the K-car its “Car of the Year” in 1981.
Still, the K-Car was nicknamed the “Poor Man’s Car” and gained a reputation for having a raft of problems – from knobs that literally fell off to faulty transmissions and quickly rusted out bodies. A cheap car made cheaply, the K-car has since become part of 1980s nostalgia and automotive folklore – for all the wrong reasons.
10. AMC Gremlin
Released in 1970, the Gremlin was the car teenagers everywhere wished their parents didn’t own. A blatant attempt by American Motors Company to beat Ford and General Motors to the subcompact car market, the Gremlin has to go down in history as one of the ugliest designed cars ever.
Featuring a long, low front end and a short hatchback in the rear, the Gremlin looks disproportionate from any angle. Cheap and poorly made, the Gremlin also featured vacuum-operated windshield wipers, a heavy six-cylinder motor, and erratic handling due to the loss of suspension travel in the back.
The Gremlin did have the distinction of being quicker than other subcompact cars, but that was little consolation to the people who drove this car and had to endure constant repair bills and being the butt of jokes.
9. P.T. Cruiser
The P.T. Cruiser was never the hit that the Chrysler Corporation hoped. After all, the car’s nickname was the “P.T. Loser.” This was owing, in large part, to the fact that the car looked too big and boxy. It just wasn’t cool. It also contained a lot of plastic parts that were prone to breaking. Some interior knobs and handles were reported to just come off in people’s hands. Repair bills there were aplenty for people who made the mistake of buying this wreck.
Yet, the only thing haters of this vehicle loathe more than the original model of the P.T. Cruiser is the convertible version of the car. In a last-ditch effort to give this car some sex appeal before discontinuing it in 2010, Chrysler brought out a convertible model in 2005. Critics and the public both hated it. It basically looks like a P.T. Cruiser with the roof blindly cut off of it. Not cool, Chrysler.
8. Lincoln Continental Mark IV
When people talk about cars from the 1970s being boats, they are typically speaking of the Lincoln Continental Mark IV. You still see these cars featured in movies set in the 70s. Long, slow and completely impractical, this gas guzzler was actually considered a luxury car back in the 70s, complete with a shag upholstered interior.
However, the Continental Mark IVs were also known for having frequent mechanical problems and costing a fortune to fill with gas. Over time, the car earned the nickname “hunk of junk” from the public and press. And just imagine trying to parallel park one of these behemoths.
7. Reliant Robin
To be fair, we suppose that, at some point, a company somewhere was going to design a car with only three wheels. It just happened to be the Reliant Motor Company in England, which unveiled its three wheeled Robin in 1973. While it never caught on as hoped, Reliant did continue manufacturing variations on the three wheeled Robin for 30 years – until 2003.
This is because the car enjoyed a cult following of sorts among certain British motorists who were willing to look past the car’s instability. Having only one wheel in the front made it literally tip over when taking a turn at more than 25 miles an hour or on an angle of 45 degrees. Many drivers could literally be seen on the side of English roads pushing this car right side up again. The Reliant Robin was innovative in other ways too. It was the first car ever made with a completely fiberglass body.
6. Chevy Citation
The Chevy Citation had the distinction of being the most problematic of the GM “X-Cars” that were released in the early 1980s. In fact, one Citation model was recalled an astonishing nine times for everything from defective fuel lines to steering gear and front suspension coil springs that slipped out of position.
The Chevy Citation was a massive disappointment because when it first entered the market, it was supposed to be a top-notch vehicle. However, it is now seen as one of the worst lemons to ever come out of Detroit. The biggest issue with this vehicle was that it had an engine that would constantly break down. This would naturally lead to it needing an abundance of repairs and made it a danger to operate.
5. Plymouth Volare
Over the years, the Plymouth Volare has come to symbolize everything that was wrong with the Chrysler Corporation before it nearly went bankrupt in 1979. Though this car was designed to be simple, it managed to rack up an astounding eight recalls for everything from faulty seatbelt retractors and a propensity for rusting parts, to substandard fuel and emission control systems.
The engine was also prone to dying and gear shift had a reputation for sticking. The Plymouth Volare (and its Dodge Aspen counterpart) were replaced by the aforementioned K-cars in 1981, which proved to be only a slightly better vehicle than this notorious lemon. No wonder Chrysler struggled for so long.
4. Dodge Nitro
The 2012 Dodge Nitro was supposed to be a solid family SUV, but it never lived up to expectations. In fact, this vehicle would end up being one of the worst Dodge vehicles ever made. According to legend, this vehicle had an immense amount of issues with its transmission and engine and this would lead to unexpected crashes – notably on major highways.
Critics ranted that the Dodge Nitro was a vehicle more akin to the garbage that U.S. manufacturers churned out in the mid-1970s. Mercifully, the Nitro was discontinued in 2012. No one misses it.
3. Cadillac Seville
The Cadillac Seville really does look like something out of a mob movie. Yet it was highly anticipated when it first rolled off the assembly line in 1980. Prior to launching the Seville, Cadillac had been at the top of the automobile world, with many American consumers refusing to drive any other type of vehicle other than an American-made Cadillac.
Sadly, the Seville turned out to be a massive lemon. This was because it was extremely difficult to drive, as the vehicle had an immense amount of steering and braking issues. Today, the Cadillac Seville is remembered as both a massive boat and a massive lemon. RIP Seville, we barely knew ye.
2. The Yugo
We’ve mentioned the Yugo before, but as one of the worst cars ever made, it deserves mention on this list too. This catastrophe on wheels was imported into the United States from Soviet-controlled Yugoslavia in the mid-1980s as a choice for cost conscious Americans.
This car was so cheap and shabbily put together that “carpet” was listed as a standard feature in the marketing brochure. In fact, this car was so prone to breaking down that there was a warmer on the back window of the Yugo designed to keep people’s hands warm while they pushed it. Seriously.
The engines were known to explode, the electrical system routinely short circuited, and parts would just fall off for no apparent reason. Many insurance companies refused to insure this wreck of a car. No wonder the Yugo had a short lifespan in the United States.
1. Ford Pinto
Still the butt of jokes, the Ford Pinto is a classic terrible car. First manufactured in 1971, the Pinto had the distinction of bursting into flames during low-speed rear-end collisions – making it both a safety concern and the punchline of late night comedians everywhere.
However, what really sealed the notorious reputation of the Pinto was a now infamous memo circulated within the Ford Motor Company that discussed a cost-benefit analysis that concluded it was more affordable to pay victim settlements related to the Pinto ($50 million) than to recall the cars and reinforce their rear ends ($120 million). The “Pinto Memo” as it came to be known became synonymous with callous corporate management decisions and bottom line accounting. A huge debacle anyway a person looks at it.