How Well Do You Know American Automaker Flops and Failures?

Maria Trimarchi

About This Quiz

Can you identify each of these vehicle flops? Prove it!

Hey, remember the Ford Pinto? Let us refresh your memory. Originally an exciting subcompact car that was manufactured with the economy car buyer in mind, the Ford Pinto turned out to be one of Ford's biggest mistakes. Introduced in 1971, by 1977 the Pinto was found to present a danger of... well... exploding. The car was manufactured with the gas tank placed so far back on the car that even a small rear-end collision could result in a fire. When the ugliness of the fiasco was completely uncovered, it was discovered that Ford knew that the gas tank placement was dangerous, but because the design would be too expensive to fix, they went ahead with the car as is. Ultimately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration forced a recall of all affected vehicles, and Ford implemented modifications and paid out significant damages in response to more than 100 lawsuits.

Another memorable, if less impactful, flop on the part of Ford was the Edsel, a sedan named after Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford, the company's founder. Long story short, the vehicle was considered unattractive to buyers and the company lost a whopping quarter of a million dollars on development.

Think you know all of Ford's and other American automakers' flops and failures? Prove it!

It's probably best known as Doc Brown's time machine in the 1985 movie, "Back to the Future," but this vehicle's gullwing doors made it iconic. What's the car?

American automobile executive John DeLorean gave us the Firebird, the Grand Prix and the GTO. And in 1981, he also gave us the car with the gullwing doors, the car that would go back in time: the DeLorean DMC-12. American consumers, though, were disappointed in the car's sluggish performance. DeLorean production ended in 1982.

In response to the 1973 oil crisis and new EPA regulations, Ford reintroduced the Mustang as what?

In the wake of the oil crisis and new emissions standards required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ford introduced the Mustang II. When it debuted in '74, it was first well-received. But instead of the beloved muscle car it once was, the II was a poor performer. It was later described by Car and Driver as, "a poseur with wheezing four- and six-cylinder engines under the hood." In the end, it did get better gas mileage than its predecessor, but on the same platform as the Ford ... Pinto.

What model Ford is known for its exploding fuel tank?

When Ford introduced its budget-friendly Pinto, which sold for $2,000 when it debuted in September 1970, it cut a few corners. And that included deciding to place the car's fuel tank behind its rear axle. That placement caused the fuel-filler pipe to burst during a rear-end collision, which is a serious fire risk. Ford, it was found during investigation, chose to pay out-of-court settlements rather than recall and correct the fatal problem (they were forced to do a recall in addition to paying damages to those injured in rear-impact collisions in 1977). The Pinto was in production until 1980, but the fuel tank issue only impacted those manufactured through 1976.

More than 30 million vehicles were affected between 2000 and 2008 when Japanese automotive supplier Takata built and sold faulty what?

The Takata airbag recall impacted more than 30 million cars and 10 of the world's biggest auto companies, including American automakers Ford, GM, Chrysler, Tesla, Chevy, and Jeep, among others. The defective airbags could rupture, and deploy with excessive force, sending metal shrapnel and chemicals into the cabin interior. It was also alleged the supplier knew about the problem in 2004, but it was not reported to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) at that time.

Which car, probably best known for its appearance in the 1992 movie, "Wayne's World," was once described as a "glassine bolus of dorkiness"?

In 1975 when it was introduced, the AMC Pacer was radical -- it's the first car to use a cab-forward design. But it was universally considered to be oddly styled, and just too ugly. It was, in 2004, included in Forbes' list of Worst Cars of All Time, Time Magazine's list of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time and CNN's list of the 10 Most Questionable Cars of All Time."

Which was Cadillac's first -- and failed -- smaller, fuel-efficient car?

The Cimarron was Cadillac's first try at designing and engineering a small, more fuel-friendly car. And it was discontinued only six years after it was introduced, in 1982. Not only did it not appeal to any particular market -- Cadillac drivers had certain luxury-car expectations -- its design was something only its mother could love, as the saying goes.

Henry Ford's company only made what clunky, overpriced car for two years before it stopped production?

Henry Ford named the "Edsel" after his son, and the car was manufactured from 1958 till 1960. It's also considered an expensive failure for Ford Motor Company. While the Edsel wasn't an engineering failure, it was a failure in the marketplace -- likely due to its high sticker price.

The Chevy Citation was named 1980's Motor Trend Car of the Year, but was discontinued by 1985. What was wrong with it?

More than 800,000 Americans bought Citations when they were introduced to U.S. car buyers in 1980 -- which made it the best-selling car in America that year. But when something looks good on paper, it doesn't mean it feels good on the road. The Citation was plagued with problems, specifically build quality and reports of faulty rear brakes. In 1984, the Citation was rebranded as the Citation II, but Chevy finally ended production of the Citation in 1985.

Which Chevy, which shares a name with Vincent in "Pulp Fiction," is typically considered the worst car, or close to it, since cars have been produced?

The Vega, not named after fictional hitman Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," was designed and engineered to compete against the Ford Pinto. It was even awarded Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1971. But that was before we knew the car's problems with safety, reliability, quickness to rust and with engine durability. The Center for Auto Safety criticized the Vega, calling it a "sloppily crafted, unreliable and unsafe automobile" that "hardly set a good example in small car production for American industry."

In 2002, Lincoln introduced a pickup truck with a carpeted truck bed. What was the name of this flop?

Only about 3,300 people bought the Lincoln Blackwood, a $52,000 pickup truck with a 5.4 L V8 engine, a 8,700-pound towing capacity and thick carpet covering the truck bed.

What car, considered a commercial failure, was one of the first full-size American cars to incorporate streamlining into its design, which reduced the car's air resistance?

For those in the know at the time, the Chrysler Airflow's aerodynamic design and innovative engineering was considered revolutionary when it was introduced in the 1930s. But it wasn't that way among consumers, who weren't impressed with its full-steel unibody chassis (when competitors were still using wood) or its wind tunnel-designed body, and didn't buy it. The Airflow -- branded as Chrysler as well as DeSoto -- was only made between 1934 and 1937.

Which tire, commonly used on the popular Ford Explorer, was recalled in 2000 for blowouts and fatal rollovers?

Almost 20 percent of American drivers drove SUVs in 1999, and the Ford Explorer was one of the most popular. And when the NHTSA asked Ford and Firestone to look into why there was such a high rate of tire blowouts leading to vehicle rollovers, the companies blamed each other. Firestone was first to take responsibility, recalling 6.5 million tires. It explained the accidents away on heat, low tire pressure and the weight and handling of the Explorer. Ford recalled an additional 13 million tires on Ford Explorers, Mercury Mountaineers and Mazda Navajos, just a few months later.

What short-lived Chevy pickup truck was also a convertible?

When Chevy debuted it in 2003, consumers were confused with its Super Sport Roadster, the SSR. It was a pickup truck ... with a retractable hardtop convertible roof? Yes, it was. And it had a V8 engine under its hood. At $42,000, it was too pricey for being too impractical, and the SSR was discontinued in 2006.

In 1974, Pontiac, in a surprising decision in consumers' eyes, decided to end production on what very popular muscle car?

When Pontiac stopped making the GTO there was noise about it -- it just kind of went away. But because of its devoted fans, in 2004 Pontiac brought a GTO-ish car back to the U.S. market, although this new generation was based on the Holden Monaro and manufactured in Australia.

Which car, derided for being so ugly, looked like an oddly-shortened AMC Hornet?

Time Magazine named it one of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time. And it ranked fourth on a Car Talk poll, Worst Car of the Millennium. When it came to looks, the 1970 AMC Gremlin was an awkwardly shortened version of the AMC Hornet. And operationally, it wasn't impressive; it didn't have disc brakes or radial tires, and it used vacuum-operated windshield wipers last seen on cars in the 1930s. And you know that means they slowed down when you drove your Gremlin up a hill.

Which unpopular SUV came with an optional camping package that included a tent and inflatable mattress?

Pontiac sold 108,500 Azteks between 2001 and 2005 -- and for most consumers, that was probably 108,500 too many. The Aztek, Pontiac's first SUV, came with an included tent and inflatable mattress package, for campers who are actually more "glamping" than camping. Once the consumer market looked beyond the unattractive design, they found it to drive like a minivan -- and, recalls on the Aztek's fuel delivery system made drivers nervous. Without much positive left to convince potential buyers, sales were low, and the Aztek was removed from the product line.

What was the fatal failure in the Chevy Cobalt, causing 13 deaths and numerous injuries?

Some consider the Chevy Cobalt just as dangerous as the Ford Pinto. In 2007, roughly 100,000 Cobalts were recalled for not meeting federal safety standards. And three years later another million vehicles were recalled for faulty power steering systems. But the fatal failure of the Cobalt was its faulty ignition switch. The defective switch caused the cars to turn off while driving, at the same time deactivating the car's safety systems (airbags, anti-lock brakes, etc.). The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) fined GM in 2014 for failing to recall cars with the defective ignition switches despite knowing there was a problem.

What beloved and successful muscle car did Chevy discontinue in the late '70s, disappointing fans around the country?

Between 1964 and when it was discontinued in 1977, the Chevy Chevelle was a beloved and one of the best-made muscle cars on the market. The third generation, which was produced between 1973 and 1977, was used -- extensively -- in NASCAR competition. It was called "nimble," "quick" and "responsive," and when it disappeared it was a surprise to all who loved it.

What in-dash communication and entertainment system did Ford introduce in its vehicles in 2010, only to see it flop after users found it riddled with problems?

In 2010, Ford introduced its new infotainment system, the MyFord Touch, which used touch screen technology for the first time. But consumers weren't impressed. Ford's all-in-one, in-dash communication and entertainment system was difficult to use -- and unnecessarily so. It was also reported to be unresponsive and prone to freezing. In fact, a federal class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Central California on behalf of MyFord Touch system owners.

Which was a problem with the Cadillac V8-6-4 engine when it debuted in 1981?

When it was released in the early '80s, Cadillac promised its new V8-6-4 engine had better performance and better fuel efficiency than its earlier options. How? By "turning off" any of the cylinders when they weren't being used -- called a variable displacement engine. It may sound good in theory, but in reality it created drivability issues such as stalling, chugging and bucking. One fix a lot of owners opted for was to have the cylinder-deactivation system disabled, which meant the car ran as a V8 100 percent of the time.

Where did Chrysler install most of the components of its fuel injection system, exposing it to high heat and intense vibration?

When Chrysler introduced the world's first Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) system in 1957, the company ended up recalling every single engine. And things didn't go much better when it tried again in the 1980s. Chrysler installed nearly all the components of its EFI system on the intake manifold and air cleaner -- exactly where it would have to endure high temperatures and intense vibrations.

The 1984 Pontiac Fiero was the first mid-engine sports car by an American automaker, but was a fire risk due to chronically low what?

The Pontiac Fiero was (and is the only) mass-produced mid-engine sports car built by an American automaker. But the two-seater had a bad reputation -- and we don't mean good-bad. It was plagued with performance problems, reliability concerns and safety issues. The Fiero was a fire risk because its engine was prone to chronically low oil levels. It caused 200 reported fires.

Oldsmobile introduced a diesel-engine car in 1978. What was it called?

When the Oldsmobile Diesel was introduced in the late '70s, it was called an oil-burning powerplant. In fact, the corrosion, gasket failures and general lack of reliability of these diesel engines gave all diesel engines a black eye.

Which of the "Big Three" automakers built and installed faulty automatic transmissions, causing cars to slip out of park?

In 1980, after a three-year investigation, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that Ford automatic transmissions that were built between 1966 and 1980 were unsafe. The problem? The faulty transmissions could slip gears from park into reverse, causing the affected cars to roll unexpectedly. By 1984, the defect had caused 77 deaths.

The Tucker 48 is well-known for its attention-getting center headlight that turned with its front wheels. Why did the company shut down after only 51 cars were built?

Even with safety features like the center-mounted headlight, a shatterproof windshield and padded dashboard, the "Tucker Torpedo," as it was called, was doomed. Only 51 were made before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicted Preston Tucker and the board of directors for fraud, after which the company closed down.

The Plymouth Prowler was marketed with a hot rod imagine. What didn't add up?

The Plymouth Prowler, manufactured in 1997 and 1999-2002 (and also sold in 2001-2002 as the Chrysler Prowler), was well-known for its retro styling. But it wasn't known for its power. It had a V6, not a V8 engine, and it was only available with an automatic tramsmission. In the end, the Prowler may be best known for its role in a time capsule, buried in a mausoleum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1998.

What did Ralph Nader call the Chevy Corvair when he testified before Congress about automobile dangers in 1965?

Nader appeared before Congress to address consumer advocacy and safety issues, and he changed the minds of Chevy Corvair consumers across the country. After Nader referred to it as "the leading candidate for the unsafest-car title," sales dropped, and the last Corvair was made in 1969.

When Oldsmobile built the Jetfire in 1962, it required a mixture made of what for its sport water injection system?

In 1962, Oldsmobile debuted the first production turbocharged car: the Jetfire. In the same vehicle, it also introduced sport water injection, a mixture called, "Turbo-Rocket Fuel." The problem? It wasn't very reliable, but perhaps the biggest problem was relying on owners to top off the "Turbo-Rocket Fuel" (a mixture of water and alcohol) regularly. Without the Rocket Fuel, the turbocharger boost was supposed to be throttled back. But in reality, engines died without the mixture.

What automaker built the Series-C car in 1923, a car prone to engine failure and fire, in an attempt to compete with the Model T?

In 1923, Chevy attempted to build a competitor to the Ford Model T: the Series-C car. The Series-C was built with an overhead-valve air-cooled inline-four engine with copper, instead of aluminum, cooling fins. The plan was to roll 50,000 off the production line by the end of the first year. But plans change, and so did Chevy's, once it realized the Series-C was prone to overheating at low speeds, catastrophic engine failure and engine fires. Chevy recalled and destroyed all but two of the 759 cars produced.

What was the Dodge Highway Hi-Fi system?

In the 1950s and 1960s, Dodge tried to let you bring your music with you -- except Highway Hi-Fi required you to use their proprietary records, rather than those in your own collection. And you better hope all the roads you drive on are smooth!

Which U.S. automaker didn't technically need a federal bailout, but asked for it anyway?

When they focused on gas-guzzlers instead of fuel-efficient cars, GM (including Chevy) and Chrysler all hit bottom in the late '00s, and took government bailouts to survive. While Ford also received bailout money, the company didn't actually need it -- they just didn't want Chrysler and GM to have an advantage. All told, U.S. automakers Chrysler, Ford and GM received $80 billion.

GM's first mass-produced, battery-powered car was odd-looking, unreliable and expensive. GM destroyed them, but those who owned them loved them. What was it called?

The EV1 was the first electric car manufactured and leased by GM, between 1996 and 1999. It was also the first and only car that was branded with the General Motors (GM) name instead of, conventionally, one of GM's divisions, such as Chevy. Although owners were devoted to the EV1, GM recalled all 1,100 cars that'd been produced and destroyed them.

Not even Celine Dion singing in its commercials could save what Chrysler?

While not many people remember much about the car, you may remember it was Celine Dion who sang "I Drove All Night" in Crossfire advertisements. The Crossfire was built on the Mercedes SLK-roadster platform, which at the time was already long in the tooth. The steering was slow to respond, the handling was bad, and the interior was just as bad as the car's performance. Just about 52,000 Chrysler Crossfire's sold between the year it debuted, 2003, and 2009 when it was discontinued -- with the remaining vehicles sold on eBay and

The 1917 Chevy Series D was the first Chevy to have what?

In 1917 Chevy put out its first V8, in the Series D. But it wasn't meant to be. Despite the expectations of a V8, the Series D had only 36 horsepower -- why buy it when consumers could buy a four-cylinder engine with more power? By the end of 1918, the Series D was discontinued, and it took 37 years before Chevrolet would introduce another V8.

Is it true that Latin American counties shunned the Chevy Nova because "no va" means "it doesn't go" in Spanish?

As often as you may have heard the story in the '80s, this urban legend is not true. The Chevy Nova sold very well in both Mexico and Venezuela, where Spanish is spoken. The problem is that although "no va" literally translates to "no go," "nova" itself isn't actually a word.

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