Identifying the worst automobile ever made can be a staggering task — after all, there are so many cars to choose from, and one driver’s lemon on wheels is another’s dream ride. But when MSNBC.com asked its readers to name their least-loved car, one name stood head and shoulders above the rest — the Chevy Vega.
What was it about the Vega that struck a chord with so many of our readers? Was it the car’s unsightly appearance, or its collection of highly-publicized design defects, which famously led to carburetor fires, an overheating engine and premature body rust?
Below is a selection of the e-mails we’ve received on this topic. Many reader comments were from car owners detailing their troubles with specific car models, while others reflected on what they see as the decline of the U.S. automotive industry. Some reader comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Detroit’s early attempts at small economy cars in the wake of the first gas spike in the early 70s were spectacular busts: The Chevy Vega, the Ford Pinto, the AMC Pacer, the Dodge Horizon and the AMC Gremlin. Either of the AMC cars were probably the worst overall quality of the lot. There were jokes about parts falling off and windows leaking all the time. But everyone my age remembers the exploding Pintos and the aluminum block Vegas who usually didn’t last past 60,000 miles.
—David Genther, Grand Rapids, Mich.
For me, the worst car ever made was the Chevrolet Vega. It had a great design for the time, but GM made a huge mistake with the engine. Instead of going with a V-4 aluminum block with steel sleeves in the cylinders, they started with half of a V-8 block to cut costs, but this proved very inefficient compared to imports. When GM finally went to the aluminum block, they used the wrong pistons that ate up the cylinders. By the time GM figured out how to do it right, the reputations of the Vega and GM were seriously damaged.
—Pamela Simone, Frederick, Md.
The Chevy Vega is the worst car ever made, followed closely by the Ford Pinto. The Vega was a great idea, with an engine that was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the manufacture of the engine was years behind the design. So the car was a miserable failure. The Pinto was just a rotten design, dictated by Iacocca's short-sighted management and the even more myopic bean counters who squeezed out every extra cent, and left the car a rolling firetrap.
—Thom Moon, Cincinnati, Ohio
The 1972 Chevrolet Vega was by far the worst car ever made. Unfortunately, it was my first car, and I was so proud of it ... for about 6 months.
After 20,000 miles of gentle driving, it needed a valve job, and possibly a new engine, a new clutch, a new transmission sync gear and new tires. The Vega was incredibly slow, loud, and stuffy (the air circulation was awful). The gear spacing was all wrong. And the handling was horrendous — even dangerous, especially on wet roads. What was good about the car? My hatchback looked great. That’s it. I still think Chevrolet should refund the $2,499.95 I paid for that car. What an injustice to a good kid who just wanted to show off his car!
—Bob Eicholz, Hollywood, Calif.
The first car I ever owned was a brand new, beautiful Ford Mustang -- it was also the worst car I ever owned. In Pennsylvania, you have to get your car inspected every year. My new Ford Mustang did not pass inspection. When I returned the car for repairs I felt ignored and would get it back with the same problems. It broke down constantly. Before it reached 100,000 miles the engine froze and I had to have it rebuilt. I just bought a new 2005 Honda Accord and I love it! It has an onboard computer with GPS and voice commands. My husband has an old Toyota that is 16 years old and has over 300,000 miles on it!
—Pamela Butler, Los Angeles, Calif.
My family once owned a 1961 Mercury with the worst quality control you could ever imagine. I now own a 2005 Nissan Sentra with a high-quality build and exceptional performance. My guess is that East Asia will ultimately dominate the automobile market in the years to come and purchase the assets of Ford and GM to establish a permanent U.S. presence. I would like to end my commentary with the song “Bye, bye American Pie.” We have forgotten how to make quality automobiles in America and continue to produce lackluster, gas-guzzling cars.
—Vince Mazzeo, Phoenix, Ariz.
The worst American car ever made was the Mercury Comet of the early 1960s, which was a new body on a surplus Ford Falcon engine, I believe. I owned one which cost me more in repairs and problems than I paid for it over the couple of years I was stuck with it — very unreliable and dangerous. Thankfully, the model’s run was short-lived.
—Joe Meledin, Mechanicsburg, Pa.
In the 1980s, Ford pick-ups were terrible because of their inefficient 3-speed automatics and variable-ratio 2-barrel carburetors. Poor gas mileage, poor performance and frequent overheating. A Toyota 3.2L pulled as much as a 5.7L Ford.
—Lynn Briley, Oceanside, Calif.
The greatest automobile failure I ever experienced was a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee manufactured by Chrysler. Three major problems occurred within six months of purchase. These problems ranged from the entire electrical system failing to pistons failing, all of which were major safety concerns. The major problem I had with this was the customer service department’s manner in dealing with these problems. They didn’t seem to care. They even admitted that the vehicle was a lemon but Chrysler was not willing to do anything about it. I sent a formal complaint to Chrysler detailing this situation, and I received a letter some six months later indicating that I can keep my business. They don’t seem to get it. I went to Toyota and I’ve never had a problem.
—Jason Davey, Kalamazoo, Mich.
I think the worst American car ever was the AMC Pacer. It was just the silliest looking car. No reason for anyone to like it. It was a big bubble, like a moon buggy. I always looked at it and shook my head.
—Harold Whinery, Jacksonville, Fla.
A 1976 Dodge Ram Charger or any of the Chrysler full time 4 wheel drive trucks is my choice. I bought this good looking low mileage piece of junk in 1978 and in the 2 1/2 or 3 years I owned it only drove it for 6 months total. I had to replace all of the drive shaft bearings 2 times each and the big $1,000 front wheel bearings on each side. It still looked good when I traded it in for almost $2,500 less than I owed on it. Lots of other parts also broke. One engine blew up.
—Greg Jarvis, Dresden, Ohio
The AMC Pacer. If it wasn’t for Bill and Ted, no one would know about this car. My mother liked the view from the inside, but thankfully she bought a Camaro instead.
—John Ciboci, Marysville, Wash.
The 1972 Chevrolet Monza is my choice. It had a rough running, 4-cylinder motor and I never got more than 16 miles per gallon. It had a very rough shifting transmission that would continually shift while I was driving in traffic. I sold it in less than a year. My next small car was Japanese and I have never gone back to GM.
—Jimmy Thompson, Lenoir City, Tenn.
The worst American car ever made in my opinion is the SUV. These cars are the most inefficient waste of our already fragile natural resource supply, not to mention a safety hazard. You may feel safer in an SUV in the event of a collision, but what about the other driver if they are in a standard size sedan?
—Gregory R, Salisbury, Md.
The Hummer is absolutely my choice. In a time when fuel efficiency is necessary to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, decrease indirect funding to terrorist cells through corrupt governments like Saudi Arabia and decrease global warming before the hurricanes destroy the whole planet, buying a monster like a Hummer is quite possibly the most un-American thing you can do.
—Travis Ludwick, Mullica Hill, N.J.
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