The Eighties are fondly remembered for break-dancing, mix tapes, big hair, leg-warmers and the threat of Global Thermonuclear War. But some things from the ‘80s are best left buried and forgotten, like this selection of craptastic automobiles. Presenting the 10 Worst Cars of the 1980’s!
#10 DeLorean DMC-12
Photo Credits: (Top) OldCarBrochures.com, (Above) Wikipedia Commons.
It’s a stainless-steel, gull-winged movie star with supercar looks and Lotus handling, but that doesn’t prevent the DeLorean DMC-12 from slipping into 10th spot. Poor John DeLorean: he wanted a 200 horsepower engine for his dream car but had to settle for 150. Then the US government took away 20 more horses from him because of emissions regulations. The result was a car whose looks wrote checks its butt couldn’t cash, with a 0-60 mph time of 10.5 seconds and a meager 109 mph top speed.
Assembled by inexperienced workers with more heart than skill, only 9,200 were built between 1981 and 1982 before John DeLorean went out of business, his reputation ruined by charges of drug smuggling. Not only was build quality poor, the design itself was probably compromised from the start. With its engine near the rear, the DMC-12 had a front/rear weight distribution of 35%/65%, and its stainless-steel body panels were a nightmare to repair.
But don’t worry McFly, if you still want one, a company in Texas bought the rights to the name and is restoring old DMC-12’s with modern components. They also plan to release an electric conversion, too.
#9 Plymouth Reliant/Dodge Aries
“It’s not only the performance,” says Tim, proud Aries owner, “it’s the luxury”. The ultimate econo-box, the Chrysler K-Car series was designed to attain that holy grail of 1980’s US marketers, a compact, fuel-efficient family car. Based on its sales numbers, it succeeded: over 2,000,000 were built. It, and the minivan, allowed Chrysler to survive the 80’s.
So what’s not to like? It was cheap, relatively reliable, reasonably comfortable, and good on gas. But despite all that, and the available Mitsubishi Astron straight-4 HEMI engine (!), the Aries/Reliant was the probably the lamest car of the 80’s. It’s the car you would least want to show up with in high school. A car that told the world, “I don’t like cars or know anything about them. All I care about its getting from A to B.” Its boring, boxy looks were enough to make a car snob’s head explode.
#8 Ferrari Mondial 8
Photo Credit: conceptcarz.com
The Ferrari Mondial 8, produced in two mercifully short years between 1980 and 1982, is 9th in Jalopnik’s Ten Least Super Supercars. But here it’s 8th, because heywhynot? Still popular today as the cheapest way into the Ferrari ownership club, this car is proof that pobody’s nerfect.
It’s still a Ferarri, just - a mid-engine RWD 2+2 coupe with a V8. It’s all downhill from there, unfortunately. Its 214hp output was more Mondeo than Mondial. In the words of Jalop Patrick Frawley, Ferrari took “all the weaknesses of the early injected 308 and put them in a bigger, heavier, instantly dateable shell. The nadir of Ferrari’s production cars.”
#7 Hyundai Pony
Photo Credit: bestsellingcarsblog.com
Today, Hyundai enjoys Subaru-like customer loyalty. Back in the 80’s? Not so much. More My Little Pony than pony car, it nevertheless found some success in the market, being as cheap as an Eastern European car, but not as crappy. The GLS version (“Glorious”) came equipped with such luxuries as a passenger-side mirror and a tachometer.
Some savvy customers may have been lured by its engine, a scrappy Mitsubishi Saturn straight-4, producing a modest but effective 85hp. If so, they were ultimately let down by poor build quality and cheap steel. In northern climes, the Pony quickly disintegrated. Few survived into the next decade. Still, the Pony got Hyundai’s foot in the door of the North American market and paved the way for its success today.
#6 Lada Riva
Photo Credit: Daily Telegraph
Man walks into a service garage. Asks the mechanic, “Can I get a windshield wiper for my Lada?” The mechanic ponders the question for a moment, and replies, “OK, seems like a fair trade to me”.
A recent Crack Pipe winner, the Lada Riva is a Russian copy of a 1960’s Fiat that itself had technology from the 1950’s, and has a reputation best summed up by this demonstration video. With the handling of a tractor, the safety protection of a wet cardboard box and the comfort levels of a gulag, the boxy Lada nevertheless sold in their millions all over the world.
#5 Maserati Biturbo
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons
A crazed Englishman once destroyed his Biturbo by dropping a dumpster filled with scrap metal on top of it, claiming it “Got what it deserved”. His anger can be understood as the car promised the world but delivered a service bill instead.
Many epic cars have worn the trident badge, and at first glance this looks to be equally epic, a RWD Italian sport saloon with an F1-bred twin turbo V6 producing up to 225hp. Many were seduced by her charms, but it quickly became apparent that this Italian lady was a Black Widow. Unreliable electrics were the least of her weapons: if the turbocharger wasn’t exploding, the engine was.
You can still find them, lurking in junkyards, hoping to snare one last victim...
#4 Chevrolet Camaro “Iron Duke”
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
GM’s pony killer was redesigned for 1982 with a Hot New Look for the Eighties. Not so hot was the infamous 4-cylinder 85bhp Iron Duke engine mated to a 3-speed slushbox that came with the woefully misnamed Sport Coupe model. As befits a brand-new model in GM’s malaise era, the 1982 model was buggy and not well put together, prone to rust and flaky paint.
For true Camaro fans, GM offered the Z28 with a proper 5.0L V8 - producing between 145 and 165hp. How GM managed to get so little out of so much is a mystery that the next car will leave unsolved.
#3 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Diesel
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons.
Ever notice that very few American cars come in diesel versions? Well, #3 on the list is the reason why. Rising gas prices and new emissions regulations prompted GM to develop a diesel engine, offered as an option on the Delta 88. In what surely must be a record for biggest engine with the weakest output, this 5.7L V8 diesel produced a pathetic 105bhp and an even more embarrassing 165 lb-ft of torque.
Needless to say, this power output was inadequate considering the size and weight of the car. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the engine suffered nightmarish reliability issues and smoked like a character from Mad Men. The result was that Americans, somewhat justifiably, refused to consider domestic diesels for the next 25 years. Even today, automotive journalists have a tough time convincing some people that diesels “don’t suck”, and even then, they often recommend European models.
#2 Yugo 45
Photo Credit: Flickr Pool
“What they did with the Yugo 45”, an Englishman with an afro once observed, “was to take all the best bits of the Fiat 127 and throw them away.” Originally equipped with an anemic 903cc 44hp sewing machine for an engine, a later upgrade to a 1100cc 55hp motor took the car from being a danger to the public on the highways to merely being an annoyance. This and command-economy build quality that made malaise-era US automakers look brilliant in comparison spawned dozens of jokes about the car: “What comes with every Yugo Owner’s Manual?” Answer: “A Bus Schedule”.
But at least the Yugo was an honest car. It was dirt cheap (just under $10k in today’s money), and it never pretended to be something it wasn’t, unlike our next vehicle...
#1 Cadillac Cimarron
Photo Credits: (Above, Below) Wikipedia Commons
Cadillac - a byword for American automotive luxury and style. A byword shamelessly exploited by GM to produce this, the Cadillac Cimarron, the Worst Car of the 1980’s. In essence a J-platform stuffed into a cheap tuxedo, the Cimarron cost almost twice as much as its GM siblings. For that price you got several Cadillac badges inside and out, some plastic trim coated to look like chrome, some (actually rather nice) alloy wheels, optional leather interior, standard A/C, tachometer , chin spoiler with fog lamps, and the ability to tell your more gullible friends that you drive a Cadillac.
Legend has it Cadillac Product Director John Howell has a picture of this car on his office wall, with the caption, “Lest We Forget”. And well he should: the Cimarron is partly responsible for Cadillac’s decline in market share from 3.8% in 1979 to 2.2% in 1997. Traditional buyers of Cadillacs were not interested in a compact car with an 88hp inline 4, and, needless to say, the car was no threat to the likes of the BMW 3-Series or the Audi 100. GM later added a standard V6 in 1987, but it was far too late: it had already cemented its reputation as the Worst Car of the 1980’s.