Good Car Names Gone Bad

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Here are ten good car names gone bad – ruined forever, through no fault of their own:

* Chevy Cavalier –

This name summons images of gallant horsemen protecting their monarch – though it’s not likely many owners of the odious – and obsolescent – GM economy car that bore this name ever felt like a king. The Cavalier was the Cheese Whiz of cheap cars – mass produced and tasteless. You didn’t drive one because you wanted to. You drove one because you had to. Someone (Mom & Dad) either gave it to you – or it was all you could afford. And in your turn, you got rid of it as soon as you could.

* Dodge Mirada –

This name kind of has a nice ring to it – and might have worked out had it not been affixed to one of the final death rattles of Chrysler Corp. before it went bankrupt (Mark I) and from there into to K-Car rehab. The shovel-nosed, fastback 1980-’83 Mirada offered poorly fitted, leaky T-tops and rear-wheel-drive when both were going out of fashion – and under its hood lurked one of the weakest V-8s ever constructed, a 318 cubic-inch embarrassment belting out a dismal 130 hp. (See also: Chrysler Imperial and St. Regis.)

* Pontiac T1000 –

It sounds tough, like the relentless robotic assassin in the Terminator movies – but this sad-sack on wheels was just a rouged-up Chevy Chevette sold under the Pontiac nameplate. GM’s idea was that buyers would actually pay extra for a Chevette with a more masculine name. The tragedy is, many did. It was cars like this that dug Pontiac into a hole so deep that not even great cars like the G8 – one of the very last new Pontiacs ever built before GM pulled the plug – had a prayer of turning things around.

* Porsche 914/4 –

Normally, the Porsche name commands respect and admiration. With this one exception. Packing a 76 hp VW-sourced flat-four only slightly hotter than what you’d have found squatting behind the rear decklid of a slow-pokey Super Beetle, this car almost singlehandedly ruined Porsche’s reputation. It was conceived as part of a joint Porsche-VW project in the late 1960s that was intended to to accomplish two goals. One was to give Porsche a new model; the other was to give VW a replacement for the Karmann Ghia. The Porsche variant originally came with a suitably Porsche flat-six, not the 1.7 liter (and Beetle-based) flat-four used with the VW version. But early ’70s cost-cutting led to cancellation of the six in the 914, which beginning with the ’73 models lost the six and came instead with a much less powerful flat-four sourced from VW. This most un-Porsche engine was also used in the wretched 912 series.

* Pontiac Turbo Trans Am –

Built for just two short years (1980-’81) the final iteration of Pontiac’s second-generation (1970-’81) F-car was the apotheosis of the Disco Machine – a gimpy ersatz muscle car that could barely heave itself through the quarter-mile traps in under 17 seconds despite the wild graphics, air dams and “turbo” decals plastered all over the thing. Like Brando, there was all kinds of potential; it coulda been a contender – but turned out a sloppy palooka that embarrassed itself wherever it showed up.


* Mercedes-Benz 190E –

The Focke-Wulf Fw190 was a superb WWII fighter and that association alone might have been sufficient to give any car to bear the same name a decent head start. Too bad Benz decided to go K-mart with it by christening its first downmarket model with the same once-proud designation. Though later examples got better, the stain on the carpet left by the initial batch of 190s can never be scrubbed away.

* Dodge Daytona Turbo Z –

Just saying it sounds pretty cool (especially if it’s James Earl Jones saying it). Too bad the car itself – a K-car based, front-drive pretender – was so lacking in the powers of The Force. Even worse was the way this car expropriated and sullied the legacy of the old V-8 Daytonas of the late ’60s. See also: Chrysler Laser.

* Lincoln Versailles –

Louis XVI would surely prefer another trip to the chopping block than having to endure the association of his fabulous palace with a pretentious, double-priced Ford Granada. An example of Detroit badge-engineered, bait-and-switching at its most consumer contemptuous – the Versailles showed the world that some people will pay Lincoln money for a Ford with a fake vinyl roof and knock-off wire wheel covers.

* Aston Martin Lagonda –

Another cool-sounding car name forever tainted by the freakish, over-digitized atrocity that bore it, circa 1976-1990. Aston Martin has produced some gorgeous and memorable machinery; but the Lagonda – with its oddly choppy body and cheesy, early Atari-style interior – isn’t one of them. The electronics were so unreliable that the cars were often undriveable until the ECU and other components were gutted and replaced with something more viable. On the other hand, the bizarrely futuristic shape of the car eventually made it useful as a background prop in low-budget sci-fi flicks.

* Bricklin SVI –

Before he helped midwife the Yugo in the ’80s, Malcolm Bricklin had a brain fart of his own back in the mid ’70s. The SV1 “safety car” was supposed to be ahead of its time, a “car of the future.” And in some ways – such as its energy-absorbing, body-colored bumpers and tubular steel chassis – it was. But due to lack of money, the SV1 was more of a cobbled-together kit car than a future car – built with leftovers from Ford and AMC. It had the look and feel of a teenager’s hot rod project put together in the backyard with a Sawzall and some RTV. If a Nuremburg-style tribunal is ever held for designers of automotive atrocities, Malcolm Bricklin will surely find himself in the docks to answer for his crimes.


  1. Gee, have you seen the record of repairs on these vehicles as put out by Consumer Reports. These results are not a review. They are the survey given the customers of the magazine.

    As such it is an excellent report card on cars.

    It is not perfect or completely accurate. But it is a good indicator on bad engineering.

    There are two General companies in the USA. General Electric and General Motors. Both are better known for planned destruction of products after a limited use of time. Their engineers design to fail. Chrysler joined the pack when that ford manager took over. Iococa or some such name.

    I recently bought GE flourescent bulbs. They consistantly failed after 6 months of use. Sylvania bulbs consistantly lasted for two or more years of use. I have nick named the Generals as “Garbage” Electric and “Garbage” Motors. Chrysler was taken over by Ford. Ford runs another one of those designed to fail companies. I remember the Ford Escort. It was one of the worse cars I have ever owned.

    I am still using an old 1985 Toyota Truck I bought with 30,000 miles on it in 1988. I don’t use it every day. It has 169,000 miles on it and the Manifold gasket is shot. I am going to repair it and keep it running forever.

    And that is what is wrong with America. What is wrong is crooked people taking advantage of average people in business. Then they have a problem when someone puts out a product that throws them out of the business. That is what has happened to the American car industry. For years they had no competition. So they bought into the idea of planned obsolescence of the entire Auto industry. And for a number of years it worked. Now they have no idea how to get back into the competitive work force. For that they will lose the entire marketplace. It serves them right.

    I only mention this because the cars you listed have all fallen somewhat into that category. Even the foreign cars sometimes have fallen for planned obsolete engineering.  It is a bad thing.

    Dave Webb

    • I have two Nissan Frontiers (the older, compact-sized version). One’s a ’98, the other’s a 2002. Both identical except one is 4WD and one is 2WD. I’ve been amazed not just by the durability and ruggedness of these trucks (the ’98 still has its original clutch at 130,000 miles and has been as reliable and problem-free as a Swiss Army knife) but also by the obvious thought that went into making them easy to service. Accessibility of routine service items is excellent. And even not-so-routine service such as a water pump job can be done in 30 minutes, easily, with a few basic hand tools. By far, these are the best trucks I have ever owned.

    • My old fords would disagree with you…. Anyway having been product development engineering for the last 15 years or so I can safely say that there is no designing for something to break. What exists are internal tests that mimic a certain desired product life, usually in some pretty harsh usage. Sometimes a testing department is good sometimes not. It is the establishment of these internal standards and matching them to customer requirements and use that make for a good product or a poor one.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here