Before the big hitters of the car world — think Ford, Renault, Volkswagen and Audi — started building cars that were actually any good, they all had minor teething problems. Automotive history is blotted with cars that proved disastrous from the chassis up, and many of them came from the manufacturers mentioned above.
But amid all of the world’s worst cars, there are a rare few which won our hearts, despite their shortcomings — and we’ve listed these below for your reading pleasure.
The Reliant Robin, or Plastic Rat as it’s become affectionately known, is a three-wheeled car manufactured by the now defunct Reliant Motor Company. Despite claims of reliability in the company name, the Robin was far from dependable, with owners experiencing breakdowns around every bend. Couple this with the car’s complete imbalance and tendency to roll on the slightest bend, and you’d think the Robin an abject failure. But no — the Robin was actually one of the most popular cars of the 1970s, and has since gained a cult following thanks to its appearance in the classic sitcom Only Fools and Horses.
Following in the footsteps of its much-cherished predecessor, the E-Type, the Jaguar XJ-S was always going to come up against harsh criticism. Upon its release in 1976, the XJ-S was canned on account of its ugly plastic bumpers and poor reliability record, and was always more of a touring saloon than an outlandish sports car. Despite these shortcomings we sort of like its handsome shape, and it seems you did too, with over 100,000 models produced during its 21-year production life.
Top Gear and other motoring programmes may have ceaselessly sung the praises of the Caterham Seven, but in the real world, this rich man’s plaything errs on the side of useless. Not only is it incredibly uncomfortable to drive even over the shortest of distances, it has no interior features of any kind save the steering wheel, pedals and gear stick. Plus, the roof is almost impossible to put up — a detrimental design flaw on a rainy British B road. Oh, and unless you pay a few thousand pounds extra, you have to build it yourself. Put all these failings aside however, and the Caterham Seven reveals itself as a fun, no-nonsense driving machine, and one we wouldn’t mind on our driveway.
Before its release, Audi promised that their new TT sports coupe would be buckets of fun to drive, and it certainly looked the part. Sadly, the TT didn’t quite offer what Audi had so ardently promised, leaving some reviewers to label the TT v1 ‘terrible’.
While we wouldn’t go that far, the TT was certainly hampered by its lacklustre front-wheel drive system, which was lifted straight from the uninspiring Skoda Octavia. And yet, the TT has since cemented a permanent place on Britain’s roads after Audi smoothed out these design faults — just steer clear of the first instalment.
The marmite of the motoring world; Austin’s Allegro has been voted the worst car ever sold, whilst at the same time charming its way into classic car history. The car suffered from design oversight, and its initial sleek look had to be completely overhauled to make the finished car even remotely practical. The result was frankly horrific, with the Allegro’s front end ruined by the inclusion of a deep heating unit. But even in the face of such design faults, the Allegro has come to epitomise the British motoring industry in the 1970s, and it’s for this reason that people still love the Allegro to this day.
Alfa Romeo 33
Italian charmers Alfa Romeo have long bewitched Britain’s car buying public with their effortlessly cool continental imports — despite most of their cars being tragically unreliable. The AR 33 was no exception. With its sleek lines and sporty stance, this racy saloon left many Brits handing over cold hard cash before they could check the reliability scores, which as you’d expect, made for poor reading. Still, the Alfa Romeo 33 was, and still is, cooler than a VW Golf, just don’t expect German efficiency.
Originally developed as a cheap everyman’s car in Nazi Germany, the Volkswagen Beetle has since become something of a motoring icon — with millions of versions of the Beetle sold across the world since it was first introduced in 1938. Why the Beetle proved so successful has everyone guessing. It offered paltry performance, was rather impractical, and to our eyes, also fairly ugly. But despite its odd shape, we can’t help but love the charm and playfulness of this iconic VW.
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