3 Terrible Cars We Love Anyway

DETROIT MainStreet) -- The world is so big and so full of so many different types of people that even the Chevrolet Vega has its fans.

We know this because we received lots of emails and comments after writing a story last month listing the 10 Worst Cars of All Time, using the top ten from a list of the 100 worst cars compiled by Edmunds.com

GM's Vega, along with the Aztek and Ford's Edsel, are on lists of the 10 worst cars, but they have their loyalists.

Our choice for the worst, based on personal experience, was the Vega rustmobile. To quote from one reader's comment, the Vega was a car that "rusted in the showroom." But we were surprised to learn that some people have fond memories of it, memories that go beyond the experience of sitting in the driver's seat and having your foot go through the rusted floor.

Some readers wondered: What's wrong with a little rust if you are in love with your car? One reader commented that he once "borrowed a Mercedes that had the floor rust through. I didn't judge a car by that metric alone." Besides, the Mercedes cost a lot more than the Vega, which sold for under $3,000.

Besides the pleasant memories of bad cars, we also had a lot of questions about why certain cars weren't in the top 10. In particular, people asked why the Pinto didn't make it. After all, during the 1970s, the Pinto and Vega seemed to be joined at the hip as symbols that Ford ( F) and GM ( GM) had lost the ability to respond to, or even perceive, their customers' desires.

We asked Scott Oldham, editor of Edmunds, how the Pinto didn't qualify for the top 10 -- it was No. 16 -- and he said: "The crappiness of the Pinto, although extreme, didn't have as long-lasting or as great an impact on the American automotive culture as the cars we listed in the top 10. It was close, however."

Among our dozens of emails and comments, we got one that provided a little slapstick about the Yugo, which was ranked No. 4.

A reader wrote: "I was at the parts counter the other day and a guy asked the clerk, 'Do you have a set of wiper blades for a Yugo?' The guy thought about it for a minute and said, 'Well, I guess that's a fair trade.'"

As the texting classes put it, LOL. Anyway, here is our list of the top three worst cars people remember fondly anyway:

Pontiac Aztek
Let's begin with the Aztek, which Edmunds ranked as the worst car of all time, saying that not only was it ugly but also that it destroyed an 84-year-old brand. The Aztec was defended by two veterans of the automotive industry.

Ed Ohlin, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, resident who is former head of U.S. product development for Toyota ( TM), said he sometimes sees an Aztek at the grocery store, and it doesn't look that bad to him.

In fact, "as long as it is not in certain two-tones, it is not the worst-looking vehicle of all time and in fact many not in the car biz would not give it a second notice," Ohlin writes. "It looks like many other more modern crossovers, although the rear-window graphics do show a great lack of taste."

As far as reliability, Ohlin writes, "my guess is that it was just average or slightly below Pontiac average warranty costs after its first year." And Aztek did not kill Pontiac, he says. Rather, the brand "was killed because it was another victim of better Japanese and German alternatives and because of serious badge engineering mistakes by GM."

Pittsburgh resident Dominic Dascola, a longtime employee of GM and GM dealerships and a classic-car enthusiast, writes: "The Aztek was certainly ugly, but I wholeheartedly disagree that it destroyed the Pontiac brand. Pontiac failed because of bad overall management of GM, not because of the Aztek."

Dascola concedes that the 2001 debut car was bad, but "the vehicle was immediately refreshed the following year, dropping the goofy-looking gray cladding and going with a monotone paint scheme, amongst other needed changes to the appearance." The vehicle itself, he says "was not a problem child and did not have numerous recalls. It drove and handled very nicely."

In retrospect, Dascola thinks the Aztek deserves to be honored for being the first crossover vehicle. "It launched a hugely successful new market segment that still captures a good piece of the market," he says. "That in itself makes it one of the most successful vehicles in history."

And by the way, Dascola asks: "Where's the Pinto on this list? The Pinto triggered an immensely more negative impact to the overall market than Aztek could ever dream of."

Ford Edsel
Edsel is always controversial because, despite having earned a reputation as one of the worst mistakes ever, it had a lot of positives.

Michael LaMoy, a retired real estate appraiser who lives in Menifee, Calif., has a soft spot for the car, perhaps because in 1962 he and his wife drove one from Vermont to California.

"I've noticed over the years that the Edsel has been included in an increasing number of 'bad' lists," LaMoy writes. "It didn't used to be, back when the cars were in production, or for a few decades later, but there seems to be a 'repeat this story' thing now that very few people actually had experiences with an Edsel."

"Bad design? There could be a case for that, due to the unusual body design. Bad marketing? Absolutely! But the car came in four models, spread over two series; the smaller two, Ranger and Pacer, were built on a Ford chassis and the larger two, Corsair and Citation, were built on a Mercury chassis, which was a few inches longer."

"So, whatever the quality concerns, they were no worse and no better than those of Ford and Mercury, which were not afflicted with any more problems than any GM or Chrysler products of that era," he says.

Chevrolet Vega
Now it is time to discuss the Chevrolet Vega.

Herb Goldman, a financial adviser from Hollywood, Fla., remembers his 1974 Vega fondly.

"It had a four-speed transmission and a big, sporty stripe running the full length from hood to trunk," he writes. "I managed to drive it cross-country from New York to San Francisco -- I hit 95 on the Bonneville Salt Flats -- and I won't blame the car for me burning out the clutch on the hills."

"It was a lot of fun to drive," he writes, "until the three-year warranty ran out and it started falling apart around me."

Bill Hennelly, an editor at TheStreet, thinks the Vega was "true to its make ... The Vega actually had a nice design," he says. "You could tell it was a Chevy."

Allan Kautz, a physicist and engineer in Naperville, Ill., once owned a 1971 Vega, and writes that "when I tried to repair rust spots by removing the rusted areas, new rusted areas appeared. My conclusion was that the steel from which the car was made was rusted to begin with." Additionally, the engine's soft aluminum cylinders were not lined with metal and had problems -- another reader also mentioned this -- but Kautz's were fixed under warranty.

On the positive side, Kautz said, the Vega was well-designed from a do-it-yourself point of view. "It was very simple to work on, and I learned basic maintenance from this car," Kautz writes.

"It was pretty much a rust bucket when I traded it in on a BMW in 2002," he says. "The dealer gave me credit for a stereo radio." That's as funny as our joke about the Yugo -- worth as much as a set of wiper blades.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. P/>>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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