HomeCar CultureCommentaryGobble gobble: Automakers have made some real turkeys over the years

Gobble gobble: Automakers have made some real turkeys over the years


Automakers have produced millions upon millions of cars over the years, a good amount of which have developed some sort of following, be it a small car club in New England or a nationwide group dedicated to a specific model.

But unsurprisingly, every marque — still in business or not — had a miss or two. While some decent cars merely failed to connect with consumers, others were just downright bad ideas.

In honor of these so-called turkeys (and because it’s Thanksgiving), we thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the most painful models to ever roll off a production line.

So grab a plate of leftovers, pull up a chair and enjoy this list of cars we’re thankful we don’t own.

Dodge Caliber

Oh it looks even worse in yellow... | Flickr photo/@sv1ambo, published under license CC 2.0
Oh it looks even worse in yellow… | Flickr photo/@sv1ambo, published under license CC 2.0

Obviously, there’s a lot of competition in the automotive world, especially in the crowded compact hatchback world. American automakers have had a few good entries over the years, but the Japanese companies tend to dominate this sector.

Dodge thought it had a challenger to the Corollas and Civics of the world with the Caliber and, boy, it got it wrong.

From an incredibly cheap interior to its bad drivetrain and confusing styling that mashed up a Dodge truck, van and SUV, it was one of the lowest caliber (see what we did there?) automobiles to ever roll out of Detroit.

We wanted to make one more joke or comment about it, but you should just keep scrolling. This car isn’t worth it.

Renault Fuego

The Renault Fuego (aka Renault Fire in English) had an all-too-appropriate name. | Wikimedia Commons photo by Rudolf Stricker published under CC 3.0
The Renault Fuego (aka Renault Fire in English) had an all-too-appropriate name. | Wikimedia Commons photo by Rudolf Stricker published under CC 3.0

Do you like your mechanic? Want to spend enough to send his or her whole family to Hawaii for a week while your car catches fire?

Then look no further than the Renault Fuego, which was sold between 1982 and 1984 in the United States.

It took just months for the car to develop a bad reputation. Unreliable electronics could spark a fire at any time and constant overheating led to plenty of head gasket failures. It was not only hard to find parts to fix all the car’s problems, but also a mechanic with the know-how to fix them.

All the problems led to the cars being essentially worthless just a few years after rolling off the lot — especially if the steering wheel came off in a driver’s hands (a recall was actually issued for this problem).

Cadillac Cimarron

Instead of the Cimarron, Cadillac should have named it the Way More Expensive Cavalier. | Flick photo/@ucanvance, published under license CC 2.0
Instead of the Cimarron, Cadillac should have named it the Way More Expensive Cavalier. | Flick photo/@ucanvance, published under license CC 2.0

Picture this: You head to the Cadillac dealership with money in hand and an idea you’re going to buy yourself an American-made luxury car.

The salesman shows you a few models then tells you about a smaller Caddy designed to compete with smaller European luxury cars. You’re excited. Who doesn’t want a more athletic Detroit car that can compete with some of the Euro greats?

But then you get in the car. You start noticing some small quirks. Hey, you figure, it’s just different. It seems cheaper than a normal Cadillac, but you take it home.

It hits you when you pull up at the first stop light and look at the car next to you: You’re driving a Chevrolet Cavalier with upgraded trim. And you paid double the price to do so.

It’s a wonder Cadillac survived the atrocity that was the Cimarron. The car was so bad that General Motors leaders reportedly kept photos of the failure in their offices as a reminder.

Lincoln Versailles

Is it just us, our does that Lincoln look an awful lot like a Mercury?. | Flickr photo/@Greg Gjerdingen, published under license CC 2.0
Is it just us, our does that Lincoln look an awful lot like a Mercury?. | Flickr photo/@Greg Gjerdingen, published under license CC 2.0

There’s a reason we listed this car immediately after the Cimarron. Lincoln also used rebadging to sell a new model, one it called the Versailles, beginning with the 1977 model year.

The car was based on the Mercury Monarch, but few changes were made and it was evident when the cars sat side by side at dealerships. Many of the body panels were shared, most noticeably the roofline. The Versailles also had the same chassis and drivetrain as the less expensive Monarch.

Lincoln made a few tweaks — the front fascia was altered to resemble the 1977 Continental, rectangular headlights were used, the first production clearcoat was added, along with the first from-the-factory halogen lights — but the Versailles failed in its main mission: Outsell Cadillac.

About 50,000 Versailles were sold in the four years the model existed. Cadillac sold more Sevilles than that in 1978 alone.

AMC Pacer

AMC was ahead of the curve with the Pacer, but it bombed with consumers. | Flickr photo/@<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/greggjerdingen/42882540064/in/photolist-28koea3-29saby4-vnSype-nNUkhm-ah8oLu-fK4nVN-ah8pmJ-XDG3Fz-Wqcgjx-XrxALc-sXj5KS-pjbvFd-XakxLe-28wpvY5-26gPgPH-XnqzRt-W7kV9H-W8HHSW-XkLHuX-XkLLBt-24VwHJ-p4B2mB-28kodGu-KvDmcE-5kc4ty-285gX5k-7naUtw-ad4W1w-QspSUh-VKDmWN-JwJBVn-so97De-ah5C8H-Fpmh9B-GjBYLc-WYi2Vs-VKDpUw-WYi8qL-VzDAAx-cbkZco-dQscAU-RQDvhN-6pQprA-MDUSym-MGBsSP-T4z5hb-2cAfnzv-29qNyug-T4z5vN-MLJRKQ" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Greg Gjerdingen</a>, published under license <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CC 2.0</a>
AMC was ahead of the curve with the Pacer, but it bombed with consumers. | Flickr photo/@Greg Gjerdingen, published under license CC 2.0

You know the saying, “There are no bad ideas?” That’s not exactly true.

Produced by AMC between 1975 and 1980, the two-door compact car was intended to be a radical idea from the word “go.” Unlike larger cars rolling out of Detroit, the Pacer employed a cab-forward design and was built from the inside out.

Designers wanted to give four occupants plenty of room and, after doing so, designed the rest of the car as compact as possible around the cabin. This resulted in a short, wide car whose exterior was 37 percent glass. Some called it the “Flying Fishbowl.”

When considering the Pacer’s forward-thinking features — such as the aerodynamic design, larger rear doors for easier entry, a cabin isolated from engine and suspension noise, the elimination of rain gutters, a dash designed for easy service and a healthy list of safety features — it seems like the Pacer should have been a smash hit.

However, the odd design paired with a lack of cargo room and underpowered engine for a heavy car caused it to bomb with most consumers.

But the Pacer still has fans out there. It was used in the films Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World 2 and Cars 2, and plenty of clubs are dedicated to the jellybean-esque AMC.

Pontiac Aztek

This is the best looking Aztek we could find. And it's still hideous. | Flickr photo/@Yahya S., published under license CC 2.0
This is the best looking Aztek we could find. And it’s still hideous. | Flickr photo/@Yahya S., published under license CC 2.0

The Aztek rolled onto showroom floors for the 2001 model year just in time to catch a hurl of negative reviews thrown its way, most of which focused on its styling.

While it was initially well-received when it debuted in 1999, the four-door mid-sized crossover quickly became one of Pontiac’s most maligned vehicles.

It was marketed as a “sport recreational vehicle,” but looked like it was designed by Dr. Frankenstein. It admittedly had some cool features — a bi-parting tailgate had seat indentations and cup holders, the rear center console doubled as a cooler and an optional package turned the entire back into a tent — but they were the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. Like, a really, really ugly pig.

Numerous publications have listed the Aztek as one of the worst cars ever made, but Edmunds said it best: “Drive one and you quickly realize that the Aztek’s exterior design is its best feature. It’s the very worst car of all time because it’s the only car on the list to kill an 84-year-old car company. It’s undeniable that the Aztek’s utter hideousness drove the biggest and last nails into Pontiac’s heavily side-clad, plastic coffin.”


Edsel may have failed in the late 1950s, but they're commanding healthy prices today. | ClassicCars.com photo
Edsel may have failed in the late 1950s, but they’re commanding healthy prices today. | ClassicCars.com photo

It’s not every day that one of America’s most storied automotive companies launches a new brand that loses the company millions of dollars.

The Edsel name has become synonymous with failure, despite some modern-day clubs dedicated to the short-lived marque. Ford launched the brand in 1958 and invested $400 million — about $3.5 billion in 2018 dollars — to get it off the ground.

To say the marque flopped would be an understatement of epic proportion. Ford raised consumer expectations with pie-in-the-sky advertising, but basically offered them a Mercury with an exterior design that was mocked. From “a Mercury pushing a toilet seat” to “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon,” the Edsel’s front end became the butt of jokes.

Mechanically, however, Edsels were just as reliable as their Ford and Mercury counterparts. What really sank the marque was the aforementioned marketing by Ford and a shift in consumer demographics toward smaller economy cars.


  1. Those turkeys are still much better than the garbage that is produced today. Sick of electronics. Sick of plastic cars, little engines run by computers with 50 sensors that go wrong, I like the old cars much better. Vacuum hoses instead of transistors and resistors. Mechanical connections instead of a wire with a 6 volt signal that can get shorted out in a heartbeat. Cars that can be stopped with a electronic signal from the police when you really need to get away.

      • In my opinion, one thing that hurt the Edsel’s sales was that other companies were
        concentrating on produceing ,smaller better gas mileage cars. I can remember service stations
        limiting the amount of gasoline the could sell each day.

    • OK- Lets go back to the days of overheating, a flat tire every week, air conditioning that ruined the ozone, oil changes every 3,000 mile, 15 mpg, 21 grease fittings, mufflers and tailpipes that didn’t last one year, rust that started the day the car was new. I can drive my 2016 Malibu 24 hours straight and 2500 miles without shutting it off, and it has never let me down. That is not to say that I never had a warrant claim.

      • Back further… oil change every 1000 w/ filter every other. But it was about $6. Plugs every 10,000 but they were about $4 for a 6cyl and $6 for a V8. I think it’s all relative. Nothing will beat the sound of the 50s & 60s car w/ dual exhausts and glasspacked mufflers. My new (in 63) SS Chevy 409 w/425HP was $3000 and nothing was faster then. To get that performance today will run you $40K – 50K and more.

  2. That’s it? I expected to see a more complete list of cars that were not successful. You mean that there were not any German, Japanese, and other imports that bombed? Yeah right!

  3. I remember pointing out an Aztec to my mom outside of a Whole Foods. When she finally stopped laughing, she said that it was even uglier than an Edsel and who thought it was a good idea.

  4. Yes, interesting to note that mostly American cars occupied this article. Most here are "if" cars. Anyone who drove a V8 Pacer would refute most of the critique here compared to its peers of the day. The Aztek was just a little bit ahead of the "adventure vehicle" craze we are still enjoying, but it was better equipped as anyone trying to exist in a Vanagon will tell you. The Aztek has A/C, too, VW people. Knocking the Lincoln Versailles neglects to mention that the Cadillac "Seville", which was a dolled up Chevy Nova, was a good seller, so the concept was proven.

    • But the first Seville at least looked different enough from a Nova, and didn’t sell side-by-side at the same dealer. So that if a Seville owner sat next to a Nova owner at a red light, he didn’t feel he was looking in a mirror (unlike the Cavalier-based Cimarron). I’m a Ford guy, but Lincoln couldn’t even be bothered to do much with the styling of the Versailles to differentiate it from the Mercury counterpart, which sold for much less money. However at least the Versialles had a real name, and not MK-…

  5. And finally, when these automotive writers need a "filler" article they jot something down bashing all American car companies, especially GM. This article is a good example of a poorly written piece. With all the great history involved in the automobile world, you could do better.

  6. I’m old enough to remember (and work) every one of these vehicles. As was stated in the article, there was nothing wrong with the Edsel, it just didn’t catch on with the public. And the AMC Pacer? yeah, an odd looking car but it had a 6 year run, hardly a failure. The Aztek was just ugly. The only real true Turkey on THIS list is the Fuego, a really bad all around dangerous car. I understand your anti-American bias but speaking as an ex mechanic, I wondered why you failed to mention the Yugo, (a total POS) And all the Fiats and worse yet, the Audi’s. I remember having to do complete rebuilds on (all model) Fiats that had only 15-30 thousand miles on them. Audi’s (that are revered now) that had every issue you could think of, and you couldn’t get parts for them! And the parts you could order from the factory and wait for 3 months to get were at least 4 TIMES the price of American parts. (still are!) I could come up with a bunch more that were WAY WORSE than the cars on this list, but , I’m done !

  7. I was a proud owner of a Fuego and beyond one head gasket problem because I downshifted incorrectly at 80 MPH (dealer fixed), it was a great car!


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