8 Really Bad Cars We Want To Own Anyway

Updated May 26, 2018

We all have guilty pleasures. Perhaps yours is Rum Raisin Haagen-Daz. To us it’s bad cars we want to make right. Check out these eight & see if there’s hope.

While there are many, many bad cars that have been designed and manufactured over the years, not all of them have the capacity to escape their mediocrity and become something worth driving (like the pathetic Austin Allegro below, voted Britain’s worst car ever).

Read on …



AMC Gremlin

While to the minds of many, the AMC Gremlin was a bad car, in fact it did okay, seeing that it was a chopped down Hornet (an intentional design element to draw attention to the car). It was really no better or worse than any other AMC car of the era. And while most associate the Gremlin with AMC’s inline six-cylinder engine, from 1972 on the 304 CID AMC V8 was available in the Gremlin. Choked by emissions controls and a two-barrel carburetor, the engine produced 150 hp SAE Net (which is close to 210 hp SAE Gross). AMC cylinder heads after 1970 were pretty decent designs, so perhaps little more than a decent carburetor and intake manifold and some headers would raise the power substantially without cracking open the motor. If that’s you’re thing, there are plenty of cam designs available, though the rest of the catalog of available parts is pretty thin compared to a Small Block Chevy.



Ford Edsel

While the Edsel has long been regraded as a flop, from its flawed marketing position, to its unlikable name, to its comedic horse collar grille, there is an Edsel we wouldn’t mind owning. It’s the one-year-only Roundup two-door station wagon, of which only 963 would be produced. The budget-priced model in the Edsel wagon line, the Roundup had a split bench front seat for access to the rear, and large sliding windows replacing roll-up glass in the rear. The engine was the 361 CID (5.9) Ford FE V8, which in larger displacement form would win in NASCAR and Le Mans as the 427, then later the 428 and even form the basis of the SOHC “Cammer” V8. Engine swap anyone?



Pontiac Aztek

It’s interesting in that when the very first owners of the Pontiac Aztek were surveyed, they gave the vehicle extremely high marks across the board – with the exception of exterior styling. Yes, we all know now that the styling was a disaster, and that coupled with Pontiac’s management’s greed to sticker the Aztek for much higher than planned killed off what may be the first true crossover. Here’s what we like: the 3.4 L version of the L82 that produced a decent for the day 185 hp, driven through a stout four-speed automatic. Further with AWD, you received a fully-independent rear suspension. No crossover before or since has offered as much versatility: It could fit a standard 4′ x 8′ feet sheet of plywood and was available with two cargo area options: a pull-out cargo tray that held up to 400 pounds that rolled on built-in wheels when removed from the vehicle, or a  cargo net system that held up to 200 lbs. Options included a center console that doubled as a removable cooler and a tent/inflatable mattress package that, with its built-in air compressor, allowed the Aztek to be used as a camper. Our pick is the Aztec Rally with its 17″ wheels and lowered front suspension.



Yugo GV

The Yugo GV, based on the Fiat 127, was so slight that an unfortunately driver was blown  over the edge of a bridge by winter winds to her death in the icy waters below. It’s a sad story but it points out perhaps the Yugo GVs one advantage: weight. Low weight and even moderate levels of power can create an exciting driving experience. While at 1800 lbs., the Yugo is light enough, unfortunately, it never received anything like moderate power – the highest rating was 65 hp for the 1.3 L engine with EFI. Here’s the cool part. The engine was a 100% Fiat design. A Fiat engine designed by Aurelio Lampredi who designed V12s for Ferrari before moving to Fiat. The engine has an enormous capacity for modification, and one of the first steps many Yugo fanatics make is to swap out the Yugo engines/trans combo for the Fiat X1/9 1500 cc engine and 5-speed transmission. Seems like a step in the right direction to me.

Cropped Yugo


PT Cruiser

To most, the PT Cruiser just screams Grandma and Grandpa coming over for Thanksgiving. It was the only real small cargo hauler before the Kia Soul, Honda  Element, and Nissan Cube (all sold more frequently to those 55+ than 25 and under). But we have a secret PT Cruiser most people don’t know about. The 2006 – 2010 PT Cruiser GT was powered by the same 2.4 L turbocharged I4 engine as the Dodge Neon SRT-4, achieving 230 hp in the PT. The engine is upgraded with a rash of changes over standard with improved cooling, oiling, an aluminum cylinder block with steel sleeves, and forged internals.



Reliant Rialto

For so many reasons I appreciate the fact that our tax structure here in the US is very different than in Great Britain. For one, you have to pay a Value Added Tax of about twice the highest sales tax in the US on just about everything, second, they tax your TV every year and drive around in vans with receivers that can tell if you have a TV in the house or not. Third, and for reasons unknown, cars with three wheels are taxed less than cars with four. It’s not so much of an issue today as it was 20, 30, 40 years ago, but it spawned an industry of small manufacturers building three-wheel cars, the most famous Reliant.

While if you know about Reliant you probably know about the earlier three-wheel Robin, we chose the three-wheel Reliant Rialto because it looks all the world like some Euro-spec ’70s VW that someone’s come along and covered up the wheel wells. The single front wheel drive is mounted on a swing arm, the engine (an 850 cc aluminum four cylinder actually made by Reliant), driving back to a traditional solid axle with differential and two rear wheels. And we figured this is the closest we’d get to driving the Delta Wing race car.



Chevrolet Vega

We all know that Vegas began to rust the moment they were loaded on the carriers for delivery to Chevrolet dealers. And we also know that the Vega featured one of the most backwards engine designs that you have to wonder if the engineers working on the block ever spoke to the engineers working on the head (a quick rundown: a linerless aluminum block [ahead of the technology] capped by a tall, heavy iron cylinder head that expanded at different rates and because of other development mistakes or cost cutting would cause the engine to be permanently damaged. While Chevy did sort it all out, it was too late for the Vega, though we do like the mini-Camaro look for the early, small bumper Vega GT. Our choice, though, would be the ’75-’76 Cosworth Vega, with a DOHC cylinder head developed by the English engine manufacturer most commonly related to Ford. Cosworth raced the engine as the “EA” but found that the extremely light (38 lbs.) block couldn’t dampen the vertical forces of a four cylinder engine and it was shaking itself and the race cars apart.



Postal Jeep

There are several compelling reasons to own a retired United States Postal Service Jeep DJ-5G, circa 1979. One is that you can slide the door open and drive around with plenty of fresh air pouring in from the side. Another is that you get to drive on the left, which is always tons of fun when you offer a new friend a ride and they walk over to what they think is the passenger door. Further, if times get hard, you can branch out on your own as an ice cream vendor. But the best possible reason is that that vintage of postal Jeep carried a Porsche engine. The engine was a 2.0 L Audi design that was further developed by Porsche for the 924 and 924 Turbo. AMC purchased the engines from Audi but couldn’t as much as whisper where they came from. On our bucket list is to install a Porsche 924 Turbo motor in a DJ-5G Jeep and take it out to a track day.






Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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