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Worst cars in the world: Top 10 lemons ever made

Badly built cars will literally fall apart around you as you drive.

Owning a car comes with a sense of pride, largely because it is usually the second most expensive purchase you’ll make in life (after a house). So nobody wants the burden of owning bad cars.

Unreliable cars can rack up tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of expensive repair costs, while the social stigma from having an ugly car can leave you feeling ostracised. Cars that don’t perform well can be dangerous on the open road and painful to drive around town, while badly built cars will literally fall apart around you as you drive.

So what is the worst car in the world? These terrible machines have rolled together the worst aspects of design, performance, styling, and reliability. Astute readers will note that many of these cars stem from the 1970s and early ‘80s; a dark period renowned for manufacturers delivering underdone, poorly designed, shoddily built uninspiring and unreliable heaps of dookie.

Thankfully it is fairly difficult to buy a bad car today, as design, engineering and manufacturing have all improved out of sight. Still, read on as we detail 10 crap cars that all have a shot at the title of worst car in the world.

 

10. 1958 Ford Edsel: a face only a mother could love

Potential buyers recoiled with violent horror at the vertical grille. (image credit: Audrain Auto Museum) Potential buyers recoiled with violent horror at the vertical grille. (image credit: Audrain Auto Museum)

Named after Henry Ford’s son, the Edsel was meant to be a new brand under the Ford umbrella. With $400 million invested the car’s lukewarm response cost the manufacturer up to $350 million, bankrupting Ford dealers left, right, and centre. Part of the reason it bombed harder than a French-owned atoll in the South Pacific is the upright “horsecollar” nose. Potential buyers recoiled with violent horror at the vertical grille in an otherwise horizontal front-end: “awkward” just doesn’t cut it for the Edsel’s front-end. The shame of it is the Edsel actually had some ground-breaking features… it just became a byword for corporate failure.

 

9. 1963 Lightburn Zeta: microcar, major problems

1964 Lightburn Zeta Would you willingly drive a tiny car that has a visible fuel line running through the dashboard?

This tiny blackhead of a car was made by a South Aussie washing machine manufacturer trying to cash in on the microcar craze of the early 1960s. With a 324cc two-stroke engine the Zeta couldn’t go up hills and was reportedly less stable at speed than a hippo on rollerskates. But what lands it among the worst cars ever made was the gravity-fed fuel tank mounted under the dashboard. There was no fuel gauge, just a glass tube exposed in the dash for drivers to see how much fuel they had, but only on flat ground. Would you willingly drive a tiny car that has a visible fuel line running through the dashboard?

 

8. 1971 Ford Pinto: greed isn’t good

Bad design and near-criminal corporate negligence makes this one of the worst cars ever made. (image credit: Classic Cars) Bad design and near-criminal corporate negligence makes this one of the worst cars ever made. (image credit: Classic Cars)

Ford released their cheap and cheerful Pinto compact four-cylinder sedan in the early 1970s just as the American gas crisis hit, and buyers started moving away from big V8s. The Blue Oval had a smash hit on their hands, but the big problem with the Pinto really shone through when it was in a smash hit. Ford had discovered that in rear impacts the Pinto was prone to exploding in flames… but they didn’t fix it. They famously circulated an internal memo that rationalised it was cheaper to let their customers burn than spend the $1 per-car to fix the fuel tanks. Bad design and near-criminal corporate negligence makes this one of the worst cars ever made.

 

7. 1971 Morris Marina: rue Britannia

This turgid clunker failed to live up to expectations from the outset (image credit: Cars Addiction) This turgid clunker failed to live up to expectations from the outset (image credit: Cars Addiction)

The 1970s was a bad time for the British car industry. They were being smashed by new cars from Japan that showed clean designs, sweet handling, zippy performance, and reliability that UK-built lemons could only dream of. The Poms’ problems were exacerbated by rolling strikes in auto factories, forced mergers and budget cuts. During this heady time Morris released the Marina mid-sized sedan to great fanfare. Except this turgid clunker failed to live up to expectations from the outset, providing soggy handling, lacklustre performance, stodgy design, terrible build quality, and a complete lack of reliability. While it was tough nominating the Marina over other badly-assembled, slow, ugly and unreliable efforts from the UK at this time, including the Austin Allegro and Vauxhall Viva, the Marina plumbed new depths of awfulness in an era filled with horrible jalopies.

 

6. 1973 Reliant Robin: unstable, unsafe, un-lovable

It's almost impossible to drive a Robin around a corner without rolling over. It's almost impossible to drive a Robin around a corner without rolling over.

When it comes to ranking lemon cars you cannot miss the Reliant Robin. This three-wheeled city car had sub-litre engines so it was perfect for pootling around the suburbs… except it would roll over if drivers even considered going around a corner. These bizarre runabouts became infamous for their predilection for turning turtle through appearances in Top Gear and Mr Bean, though their 748cc (and later 848cc) were flat out getting within a sniff of the speed limit so at least that helped Robin owners survive a little longer. Ugly, ungainly and thoroughly outclassed by better small city cars like the Mini, the Robin is a comical footnote in automotive history.

 

5. 2001 Pontiac Aztek: uglier than a monkey's armpit

Honestly, who gave this the go ahead? (image credit: Automoblog) Honestly, who gave this the go ahead? (image credit: Automoblog)

Pontiac was General Motors’ high-performance brand, full of racy designs, go-fast colours, and wild graphics. But, by 2001, they were in trouble. Falling sales, horrible designs, and being locked into releasing soggy Chevrolets as their own models for a couple of decades meant they needed to gamble big to turn the company around. So they released a car so ugly and reviled it pretty much sunk them and eight years later the storied brand was no more. To give the Aztek its due, it basically invented the crossover SUV market in the USA as the first effort from a domestic manufacturer. But nothing could save the fact the Aztek was uglier than a dropped shepherd’s pie covered in burned dog poo.

 

4. 1981 Delorean DMC-12: broken dreams and promises

Under the skin, the Delorean ran a double-Y-format chassis similar to a Lotus Esprit. (image credit: DeLorean) Under the skin, the Delorean ran a double-Y-format chassis similar to a Lotus Esprit. (image credit: DeLorean)

America’s most celebrated auto executive, John Z. Delorean gave us some of the greatest cars of the 1960s, but the car carrying his name was a complete failure. Development issues meant it was delayed from a mid-1970s release to the early ‘80s. The French-sourced V6 engine was incredibly slow, yet the car was horrendously expensive, and the Northern Ireland workforce had no experience building cars so the build quality was abhorrent. And that’s before we even got to the non-existent reliability, chronic rust issues, the stainless steel body staining at the first hint of exposure to the weather, and the fact occupants couldn’t get out of their DMC-12’s gull-wing doors if they crashed it. Then Mr John Z got busted in an FBI cocaine sting...

 

3. Peugeot 505 STI: French for terrible

It was horrifically slow thanks to an asthmatic and thoroughly under-powered four-cylinder engine. It was horrifically slow thanks to an asthmatic and thoroughly under-powered four-cylinder engine.

Peugeot’s 505 was their large sedan for the 1980s and offered cosseting ride, edgy 1970s styling and generous interior equipment levels. However, it was also horrifically slow thanks to an asthmatic and thoroughly under-powered four-cylinder engine, made worse by automatic transmission options that couldn’t decide what gear to choose or when to kick down. My parents bought one of these Gallic slugs and it would spend most of its time at the mechanic thanks to the French engineers using an overly complex mix of mechanical and electronic fuel-injection, which worked as well as a heater on a motorcycle. They even used metric-sized wheels (which only two companies would make tyres for), which were made of an alloy softer than the French infantry and so needed to be rolled straight every few months.

 

2. Holden Camira: a Down Under blunder

And to think they replaced the Torana with this bucket of mediocrity. And to think they replaced the Torana with this bucket of mediocrity.

In 1982 Holden foisted the front-wheel drive Camira on Australia, built on the J-body platform and ready to disappoint buyers everywhere. Though it won Wheels magazine’s 1982 Car of the Year award the Camira was soon shown to have poor design, shocking lack of build quality, and constant reliability problems. There were issues with engines smoking like Aunt Doreen at Christmas after her 12th glass of Chateau D’Cardboard, while the paint failed in the Aussie sun and then the air conditioning led to engine overheating, and the doors rusted out thanks to the lack of drain holes. The Camira was also found to be sub-par for crash safety by Monash University compared to other medium-sized cars of the era. And to think they replaced the Torana with this bucket of mediocrity.

 

1. 1970 VAZ-2101: from Russia with hatred

When it comes to terrible cars, the VAZ stands head and shoulders above all others. When it comes to terrible cars, the VAZ stands head and shoulders above all others.

The VAZ-2101 should look semi-familiar to anyone who likes 1960s Italian cars, as the Russian nugget was based off the lovely Fiat 124. Except it was missing everything that made the Fiat a fun, charisma-filled and technologically advanced design. When it comes to terrible cars, the VAZ stands head and shoulders above all others. The sweet overhead-cam Fiat four-cylinder was binned in favour of a tiny, agricultural boat-anchor that was probably stolen from worn out cement mixers. These boxy sleds don’t stop well, or go around corners, or even hold out against rust thanks to the terrible quality Soviet steel used in their construction. Known as the Lada overseas the terrible reliability and driving performance actually poisoned the worldwide market against Russian cars.  

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