Ralph Kinney Bennet reviews the book Crap Cars by Richard Porter.
But bad cars generally speak for themselves in a sorry, head-shaking kind of way that is hard to deny. A Yugo is a Yugo is a Yugo. And if Porter’s brief commentary on his crap picks sometimes comes off a bit too snarky and sophomoric, the book still teaches an enduring lesson: Crap cars are testaments to what can happen when supposedly smart people somehow get adrift from the market and its realities.
Crappy Renault Fuegos and barely creeping General Motors EV1s are fascinating affronts to our own common sense. How, we ask ourselves, could so many engineers, designers and decision makers spend so many hours, so much money and so much mental capital and still make such horrendous mistakes?
... Porter’s book hits most of the predictable examples of craptacity -- the dreadful, “what-were-they-thinking” Pontiac Aztek, the American Motors Gremlin, the truly pathetic and embarrassing Ford Mustang II of 1974, the scandalously chintzy Cadillac Cimarron, and that stainless steel sick joke, the DeLorean, to mention a few.
Well, trying to discover what customers want is a trial and error process, and sometimes even smart people make big errors.
My first car was a 1976 Toyota Celica (bought in 1987). It had bad ball joints that made the steering wheel shimmy like a belly dancer, its fuel filter kept getting plugged when I ran low on gas (which happened a bit more often than normal since the gas gauge didn't work), and it had a 2" rust hole in the front passenger quarter panel just behind the wheel. It used to be red, but by the time I got it the red had morphed in the hot midwestern sun to orange. But, dadgummit, it was my first car and it rocked!
The car my family had when I was a child was a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle (made the same year I was born).
But some of his picks may surprise or offend some brand loyalists. To Porter, the iconic Volkswagen Beetle is “a dismal Nazi staff car with its engine in the wrong place.” He finds that “it’s noisy, it’s uncomfortable, and it has such a pathetic heater that on cold days you’d be better off setting fire to your hair.”
It was noisy, but, as a child, I thought it was cool to have been the only kid around with a dad with a rear-engine car. And I still have all of my hair.
A high school chum (and my best man) Kurt had a loud Chevy Vega. I don't recall if it didn't have a muffler, but that's besides the point. That sucker roared and the roar was loud enough to wake flattened roadkill. I could hear him coming several blocks away so, sometimes, I'd meet him two blocks from my home, just to further embarass him.
The Powerwife and I had a, I believe 1986, Ford Escort that was our first car after we got hitched. It was hers before it was ours. I ended up frying the engine when I put the pedal to the metal when trying to get around another car. I think it had all of 50,000 miles on it. Another high school chum, a fellow we fondly referred to as "Fudd," also had a Ford Escort of about the same "vintage" that he sold virtually his entire baseball card collection to fund. When it hit about 50,000 miles, its engine fried too.