Anyone can brag about getting to take a Bugatti Veyron for a spin or test driving one of the few Cadillacs that Elvis didn’t throw up in, but a real gearhead has a whimsical story about the time they almost survived trying to double clutch a car that Satan himself built (the evil Satan, not the bad ass one who was Whitesnake’s agent in the 80s). They can recollect with great certainty the road trip where they thought they might not make it back to their home alive because the crappy used car they were in didn’t have enough torque to climb up a hill and almost made you roll back into the path of a gasoline tanker driven by those kids from the orphanage.
Great cars can make great stories but ultra crappy cars can make stories that will stretch across the mouths of the universe and into the ether of time itself. That’s why everybody should drive at least one, if not all, of these god-awful mistakes in automotive history before you become the sand in Death’s hourglass.
This car may have become synonymous for achieving cult status as the main vehicle (pun intended) for a hit comedy movie series, but that’s really the only reason anyone should own one of these automotive eyesores of the late 20th century.
The whole thing was basically a really substandard car underneath trying to look like something flashy and cool on the outside, the automotive equivalent of a drag queen who hasn’t learned how to tuck yet. The gull wing doors and stainless steel design was basically just a novelty that wore off very quickly and drove North Ireland’s one and only chance at becoming a major transportation player into the lush green grounds. And as bad as it looked, the biggest problems with its design came from the interior. Parts of it would break off and become almost impossible to replace. A single gas strut was all that held the mighty vertical doors (that were made heavy by all the gadgets and heavy duty material put into them) from putting the driver or passenger into a coma as they tried to exit it. And somehow, a puny V-6 engine was supposed to pull this Orson Welles-on-an-ox-cart of a car.
Why You Should Drive It: Thanks to its pop culture popularity, the looks you’ll get will create a dozen stories for years to come. It will also help you understand and shake your fist less at the 80’s.
The Old VW Beetle
These mass produced “it’s ugly but it’s cheap” cars lived up to their reputation as vehicles for people that didn’t care about style, substance, looks, automotive power, flash, usage, prestige, dignity or defects. And that’s just coming from Heinz Nordhoff, the man who helped bring the car into the mainstream and once called the Beetle “an ugly thing with more defects than a cat has fleas.”
Of course, the automotive world on both sides of the financial and flash spectrum wouldn’t have much of a product without this mainstay of underpaid hippies and recent divorcees. The car could have gotten you from Point A to Point B most of the time, but you just hoped that no one would see you in it for fear of forever being stamped with the automotive stigmata of shame. And what it lacked in flash and design, it lacked even more in comfort and sustainability. The interior felt like you were driving a coffin most of the time and if you were actually going cross country in the thing, you’d be more comfortable just mailing yourself in a Fedex package.
Why You Should Drive It: For all of its flaws, it was a key part of the automotive story. Sitting behind the wheel of one can not only help you appreciate what you have more, but it will also help you appreciate the sacrifices our forefathers made while they make us wonder how they ever scored a hottie like Grandma with one of these buckets on wheel.
The AMC Pacer
These long forgotten relics of automotive barrel scraping came at a dark time in gearhead history, right smack in the middle of the great American oil crisis of the 1970s. People needed a car but didn’t want to wait in endless lines for a cup of gas that could only get them as far as the next gas station line. So they had to settle for this “football on wheels.”
American Motor Company’s infamous egg-shaped car with a duck’s beak for a hood didn’t just make the interstates uglier at a time when people were actually whining about having to pay more than 40 cents for a gallon of gas. They actually considered killing off the God-fearing American muscle car for this, the cro-magnum cousin of the Prius. The aerodynamic design of the windshield and the body was supposed to make it less resistant to air and wind and cut down on needless gas consumption, but it still managed to fail on both style and substance points, getting a measly 24 mpg on the highway. It’s the hippie’s equivalent of a Hummer, only not nearly as ugly.
Why You Should Drive It: Once again, the Pacer was an important part of our history as a car-loving people and the attempt to make a car economical, reliable and good looking is a constant struggle that may never be fully solved. Also, most hilarious car stories start with “So I was driving this Pacer…”
The 1976 Aston Martin Lagonda
Placing an Aston Martin in any list of the worst of anything sounds like total sacrilege. Aston Martin is one of the biggest reasons cars are cool today and women subconsciously want to sleep with the people who drive them, no matter how “Yeti-ish” they actually look.
However, even the best of us have to fall sometimes and even the car that made James Bond cool had its downside, like this disaster of the 1970s (which is almost redundant). It was supposed to be a cutting-edge, futuristic and technologically top of the line piece of machinery but it just ended up being a piece of something else. It’s pig ugly from its unimaginative and almost drab and boxy design. It literally looked like someone had made a great car and just stepped right on top of it, without bothering to check its shoes for “that smell.”
Why You Should Drive It: Even the greats have their down moments and you can’t get much more of a fall from grace than this Aston Martin footnote that helped make classics like the DB4 all the more great. It’s nice to know that even though some companies couldn’t produce something worth sending out for scrap, even the greatest minds and producers on the planet can fall flat on their face like the rest of us.
The 2003 Hummer H2
American car companies often get criticized for not thinking their designs through and just focusing on giving the people what they want, which isn’t that big of an accomplishment considering that most people wish that gyms would let them bring a beer in with them while they run on the treadmill and Adam Sandler has his own movie production company.
The Hummer, particularly the H2, represented all of these feelings about excess and wanton self-centeredness and not just by foreign countries. Even people who had to sit next to these tanks with cup holders in traffic wished that the people who drove them would come to their senses and drive something a little more conspicuous like an F-14 or Bigfoot the Monster Truck. Not only did it help almost kill General Motors at a time when the world was starting to fall apart, but it eventually went from being a symbol of domestic badassity to a foreign import. It will be nice to know that we were able to stick China with something before they repossess the country.
Why You Should Drive It: The looks that people give you when you drive this thing are priceless and not for the usual, hippie, Al “Anything Fun is Bad for the Environment” Gore reasons that you might think. It’s just big, bulky and unnecessary, even for a big family who need a car that can hold more than two. It’s like going to the carnival freak show, except you’re the fat lady and you don’t realize it.