We see a lot of articles about exciting, beautiful cars. Whether it’s a new model or an icon like a classic Mustang, everyone loves to read about and see pictures of the sexiest, highest-performance models. But what about the opposite of that? There’s nothing like looking back on those other cars to help us appreciate what we have—no matter what it is. Here are some of those cars.
Pontiac inflicted the Aztek (yes, with a ‘k’) on the unsuspecting masses in 2001, and it was basically a minivan minus the versatility of a sliding door… and plus a bizarre and universally unappealing design. It managed to make a Dodge Caravan look sexy in comparison.
The Aztek was doomed from its very beginning, when it debuted at the Detroit Auto Show with people in a faux mosh pit holding signs to promote its attributes. (The head marketing guy actually crowd surfed. For real.)
In recent years, the Aztek has achieved unlikely pop culture notoriety thanks to its starring role as high-school-teacher-turned-meth-manufacturer Walter White’s ride.
In 1975, American Motors Corporation (AMC)—which, dear reader, you might notice is no longer in business—launched the Pacer.
Its most notable claim to fame was that it had a lot of glass. A lot more than any other car at the time, in fact. And AMC touted it as ‘the first wide small car’. (Apparently, American-made small cars prior to that had been narrower than regular-sized cars.)
It was spacious, and it had pretty amazing visibility thanks to all that glass. It was also heavy for a car of its diminutive size, weighing in at 3,200 pounds. That heft (along with its width, we assume) gave it a more solid road feel than the typical small car, but also made it less fuel-efficient than most of its peers. One of its most bizarre features was that its passenger-side door was four inches longer than the driver’s door, for easier backseat access. (Why wouldn’t you just make both doors that length, you ask? We don’t know, either.)
The Pacer sold relatively (surprisingly, even) well for a couple of years, but by 1980 its appeal had worn thin, and AMC sold only 1,746 of these strange little beasts. In 1992, the Pacer had a star turn in Wayne’s World, where a whole new generation met this quirky spot in automotive history.
Slightly before the Pacer came the Gremlin. The two actually overlapped for most of their production, and the family resemblance is unmistakable—the Gremlin looks a lot like the Pacer, only with a lot less glass.
Somehow AMC’s designer Dick Teague (the man responsible for both the Gremlin and the Pacer) conceptualized the Gremlin as a ‘mini wagon’. Which is especially audacious when you consider that the Pacer had no tailgate. It was only the rear window that was hinged and could open (which might explain why the term ‘hatchback’ wasn’t coined until later cars incorporated a more complete liftgate feature). And you only got the lift-up back window if you sprung for the higher-end four-seater model; if you bought the more stripped-down two-seater you didn’t even get that. So you’d be passing your luggage to the back through the front doors.
If you really wanted to get fancy, you could opt for the Gremlin X package. With vinyl stripes, nicer wheels, and flashier interior, the X upgrade was merely a style statement—there were no performance enhancements to back up the more aggressive flair. But then, in 1973, they really outdid themselves with the Levi’s edition. That’s right—the seats were denim, just like your favorite pair of bell-bottoms. Complete with copper rivets and the red ‘Levi’s’ tab. And this was very popular. Because it was the 70s.
If there’s one car that you’re sure to find on every ‘worst of’ automotive list, it’s the Yugo. As we noted in our article Late, great (or not so much) car brands, the pacer took a whole 14 seconds to get to 60 miles per hour.
Imagine what an eternity 14 seconds would seem like, if you were trying to get up to 60 without getting creamed by all the normal cars traveling at highway speeds. Combine that with the top speed of 86 miles per hour, abysmal crash test ratings, and horrific reliability, and you have what many automotive writers and the general public alike would call ‘the worst car ever made’.
So when you get into your car today, feel fortunate when you turn the key—because whatever its shortcomings may be, at least it’s not a Yugo!