How Well Do You Know American Automaker Flops and Failures?

Maria Trimarchi

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Do you remember the Ford Pinto? Originally an exciting subcompact car that was manufactured with the economy buyer in mind, the Pinto turned out to be one of all-time Ford's biggest mistakes. Introduced in 1971, by 1977 the Pinto was found to present an explosive danger — literally. It 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 full ugliness of the fiasco was completely uncovered, it was discovered that some at Ford knew the gas tank placement was dangerous, but because the design would be too expensive to fix, they went ahead with production. Ultimately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) forced a recall of all affected vehicles. Ford implemented modifications and paid out significant damages in response to more than a hundred lawsuits.

Another memorable but thankfully less dramatic 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 so unattractive to buyers that the company lost a whopping quarter of a million dollars on developmen - a whole lot of money back then. 

And that's all from  just one manufacturer. How much do you know about automotive history and the other major automaker mistakes that have affected American drivers? Let's find out after you take this quiz! 

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. 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 — although there are rumored plans in the works for updated replicas to be built for $100,000 a pop.

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. At first when it debuted in '74, it was well received. But compared to its beloved namesake muscle car, the II was discovered to be 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, the II 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.

Henry Ford's company only made what clunky, overpriced car for a short time before it stopped production?

Henry Ford II named the "Edsel" after his father, and the car was only manufactured for three years. 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.

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 — the very first car to use a cab-forward design. But it was universally considered to be oddly styled and just too ugly. In 2004 it was included in Forbes' list of the 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 so it was still kind of an overachiever, in a sense.

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 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 a parent company could love.

The Chevy Citation was named 1980s 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 even when something looks good on paper, it doesn't necessarily feel good on the road. The Citation was plagued with problems, specifically build quality and reports of faulty rear brakes, perhaps making it one of the more aptly named vehicular flops of all time. In 1984 the Citation was rebranded as the Citation II, but Chevy finally ended production in 1985.

Which Chevy (that also shares a name with the character of Vincent in the movie "Pulp Fiction") is considered by some to be the worst car the company ever produced — or close to it?

The Chevy Vega long predated the fictional hitman Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," as it was designed and engineered to compete with the Ford Pinto. It was even awarded Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1971. But that was before anyone knew the car's underlying problems with safety, reliability, engine durability and susceptibility to rust. 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." We can only hope that what happened with the Vega stays with the Vega.

Which tire brand, commonly used on the popular Ford Explorer, issued a major recall in 2000 because of reported blowouts and fatal rollovers?

Almost 20 percent of American drivers drove SUVs in 1999, and the Ford Explorer was one of the most popular. When the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Ford and Firestone to look into why there was such a high rate of tire blowouts leading to vehicle rollovers, the companies both blamed each other. Firestone was first to take responsibility, recalling 6.5 million tires, but also attributed the accidents to a combination of heat, low tire pressure, and the weight and handling of the Explorer. Just a few months later, Ford recalled an additional 13 million tires on its Explorers, Mercury Mountaineers and Mazda Navajos.

How did Ralph Nader describe the Chevy Corvair in 1965 when he testified before Congress about automotive dangers?

Nader appeared before Congress to address car consumer advocacy and safety issues, and he caught the attention of many Chevy Corvair owners 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.

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.

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 was Pontiac's first SUV, and it came with a tent and inflatable mattress package included, presumably for those who couldn't stand to be inside the vehicle for one second longer than they had to. Once the consumer market looked beyond the unattractive design, they found it drove more like a minivan than a truck. Plus, recalls on the Aztek's fuel delivery system made potential owners nervous. Sales were low, and the Aztek was removed from the product line.

Which 1930s vehicle was among the first full-size American cars to incorporate streamlining into its design, reducing air resistance — but was still considered a commercial failure?

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 apparently didn't interest consumers, who weren't impressed with its full-steel unibody chassis (when competitors were still using wood) or its wind-tunnel body shape, and didn't buy it. The Airflow — branded as Chrysler as well as DeSoto — was only made between 1934 and 1937.

In a 1974 decision that took consumers by surprise, Pontiac decided to end production on which very popular muscle car?

When Pontiac stopped making the GTO, there wasn't too much noise about it — it just kind of went away. But in 2004, thanks to the devotion of its fans over the years, Pontiac brought a GTO-ish car back to the U.S. market. However, the new generation was based on the Holden Monaro and manufactured in Australia.

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

When Chevy debuted the Super Sport Roadster (SSR) in 2003, consumers were seemingly confused. It was a pickup truck with a retractable hardtop convertible roof? Yes, yes it was. It also had a V8 engine under the hood. At $42,000, the SSR also felt too pricey for something so impractical; it was discontinued in 2006.

What in-dash communication and entertainment system did Ford introduce to 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 touchscreen 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 up. In fact, a federal class-action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Central California on behalf of MyFord Touch system owners.

When Oldsmobile built the Jetfire in 1962, it required a mixture 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 something called "sport water injection," which used a mixture of water and alcohol the company named "Turbo-Rocket Fuel." The problem? It wasn't very reliable. But perhaps even more problematic, it relied on owners to top off their Turbo-Rocket Fuel tank regularly. Otherwise, the turbocharger boost was supposed to be throttled back. But in reality, engines died without enough of the mixture.

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 beloved as 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 widely considered to be nimble, quick and responsive — and its disappearance was an unpleasant surprise to many who loved it.

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

Time Magazine ranked it among the 50 Worst Cars of All Time. It also held the dubious honor of coming in fourth on the "Worst Car of the Millennium" Car Talk poll. When it came to looks, the 1970 AMC Gremlin was an awkwardly shortened version of the AMC Hornet. Operationally, it was equally unimpressive. It didn't have disc brakes or radial tires, and it used vacuum-operated windshield wipers, which were last seen on cars in the 1930s. That meant, of course, that the wipers slowed down when you drove your Gremlin up a hill.

What 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 fuel efficiency than earlier options. How? By turning off the cylinders that weren't being used — called a "variable displacement" engine. It may sound good in theory, but in reality it created issues such as stalling, chugging and bucking. One fix owners adopted: disabling the cylinder-deactivation system, which meant the car ran as a V8 all the time.

What was the fatal flaw in the Chevy Cobalt which cause a reported 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 flaw 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.

The 1984 Pontiac Fiero was the first mid-engine sports car by an American automaker. But it was also found to be a fire risk due to chronically low levels of what?

The Pontiac Fiero was (and still 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 that in the punk-rock way. It was renowned for performance problems, reliability concerns and safety issues. Even worse for something named the Fiero, it was an actual fire risk: The engine was prone to chronically low oil levels, causing 200 reported fires.

Where did Chrysler repeatedly install most of the components of its fuel injection system, exposing them 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 they would have to endure higher temperatures and too much vibration.

The Plymouth Prowler was marketed as a hot rod. Why didn't the image quite add up?

The Plymouth Prowler, manufactured in 1997, 1999-2002, and also sold as the Chrysler Prowler in 2001-2002, was well-known for its retro styling. But it was never really known for its power. It had a V6, not a V8, and was only available with an automatic transmission. In the end, the Prowler may be best known for its place in a time capsule — in 1988 one was buried in a mausoleum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

GMs first mass-produced, battery-powered car turned out to be odd-looking, unreliable and expensive. GM destroyed virtually all of them, even though many owners reported loving 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.

Which U.S. automaker did NOT technically need a federal bailout in the 2000s, but asked for one anyway?

After they'd spent the last few years 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 the advantage all to themselves. All told, U.S. automakers Chrysler, Ford and GM received a total of $80 billion.

The Tucker 48 is well-known for the 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 car known as the "Tucker Torpedo" was doomed. Only 51 were made before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicted Preston Tucker and his board of directors for fraud, after which the company closed down.

What was the Dodge Highway Hi-Fi system?

In the 1950s and 1960s, Dodge tried to let you bring music beyond AM/FM with you — except its Highway Hi-Fi system required you to use their proprietary records, rather than those in your own collection and you had to hope all the roads you drove on were smooth!

What automaker built the Series-C 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. The car had 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.

Not even Celine Dion singing in its commercials could save which model of 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 ads. The Crossfire was built on the Mercedes SLK-roadster platform, which at the time was already a bit long in the tooth. The steering was slow to respond, the handling was bad, and the interior roughly matched the car's overall performance (not great). Roughly 52,000 Chrysler Crossfires sold between 2003, when the line debuted, and 2009, when it was discontinued. Some of the remaining vehicles sold on eBay and overstock.com.

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

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

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 V8 expectations, the Series D had only 36 horsepower — so why would consumers have bought one instead of 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 gamble on another V8.

Which one 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 built between 1966 and 1980 were unsafe. Why? The faulty transmissions could slip gears from park into reverse, causing cars to roll back unexpectedly. By 1984, the defect had caused 77 deaths.

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

As often as you may have heard the story in the '80s, this urban legend is not exactly true. The Chevy Nova sold very well in plenty of Spanish-speaking countries, including Mexico and Venezuela. Although "no" translates to "no" and "va" translates to "go" in Spanish, the word "nova" doesn't exist.

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