Recently I posted an article on social media about the AMC Gremlin, thinking a friend had one when we were teens. She responded, “Close, but it was a Hornet, and it was the worst car I ever owned.” Which got me to thinking about what is the worst Car each of us has ever owned.
While I remember thinking, back in the day, that the Gremlin and the Hornet were indeed terrible cars, to begin with, they still were interesting. Now that I look back, though, probably the beginning of the end of AMC, even though ground-breaking Eagle came later. Eagle was a brand that was ahead of its time, an all-wheel-drive station wagon or sedan. Subaru nailed that a decade or so later.
No Car Was Ever that Bad
While I can not say I have owned a lot of different cars, I do know that of the ones I have; some were better than others. A few outstanding examples, and some were just not that great. All were enjoyed and loved, none the less. And the problems may have been apart of the relationship.
Worst Car – may have been my 1973 Jeep Commando. This, the Car that I got my driver’s license in, had a long history of different problems. Like when I took the top off of it in High School with the help of about six friends – that metal top was heavy as hell. Later that night, it drizzled, getting the steering wheel wet, and the horn button got rusty and then started to blow every time you turned the steering wheel. About three years into ownership the heater core in the passenger compartment sprung a leak, I think that the warranty at the time must have been long expired. This Jeep had a habit of collecting moisture in the fuel tank and rusting out. I replaced two fuel tanks in that vehicle. They rusted at the very same spot each time. Now we know to always keep the tank full, which prevents moisture from condensing inside the fuel tank.
But I still loved that Jeep for the adventures it brought me as a young man. It even made it into my high school yearbook. It had plenty of bumps and bruises when I finally sold it in 1983, but it brought 800 bucks at the local country fair auto auction, and I was thrilled to get the money and to be rid of it.
Second Worst – 1984 SAAB 900 Turbo. A fantastic handling and driving car. Since it was a hatchback, it hauled just about everything I could have wanted. While I was always worrying that the Turbo would go kaput, it never did. Though it did chew a tooth off the flywheel once, had some odd fuel starvation problems, now and again. When I think back, it was no doubt, more vapor lock than anything else. That Saab attracted thieves, I lost any number of radios out of it. Then when I was trying to sell it, some guy stole it during the test drive. And yes, for none other than the radio, which he ripped out—traded that in on a Repoed 1990 Chevrolet Astro Cargo Van in the Fall of 1992.
Third Worst – Chevrolet Astro, both of them. While I bought the first one used, trading that one in on a new one. They both lasted over 100K miles and gave me years of great service as cargo hauling workhorses. Both had their downfalls, the last one, the one I bought new, I drove until the wheels fell off, or I should say, rusted off.
One thing both GM Vans had in common was they each seemed to hit the breaking point at 79K miles. Exterior door handles, driver’s door and rear hatch on both broke off. OK, those would be the most used latches on any work vehicle. The ’02 had power windows, and both window motors said signora around 90K. And the AC gave up at about the same time on both vans, around 110K. I replaced the van with an electric car when I realized I did not need to be sporting about in a big white breadbox when most of my trips were just me, a tool bag, and not a lot of cargo. Though now that it is mulch season, I will indeed miss the utility of a truck.
Fourth Worst – 1972 bright yellow Fiat 850 Spider, I bought for 800 bucks in 1997 as a fuel miser to drive to and from college. Once I got it home and took it to be inspected, it needed about 800 buck’s worth of brake work before it could be licensed for the road. (Note the actual street value was the eight clams. No wheeling and dealing, I was young and in lust with the idea of a droptop that got 42 miles to the gallon.) While it took about eight bucks to fill-up its eight-gallon tank in the late 1970s and buzzed for a week or more. Mechanically, it was never a problem, though it seemed to have a terrible nack of getting a fouled up carburetor. Of course, who knew you could buy better quality fuel when you are a poor college kid. It was fun to drive, especially with the top down, it had no power to climb hills or even much of an incline. Still, it was a cute little run-about. As a side note, I also bought a 200-dollar, matching one from a buddy to use as a parts car. The Spider survived being run over by a Winnebago in a K-Mart Parking lot and then traded it in on a 1979 Mazda RX7. With a hundred bucks in trade-in value, 800 bucks from the RV interaction, and 35 bucks for the parts car when I sold it to a junkyard, I felt I came out on top.
Now to the Best
1979 Mazda RX7 – A car that I loved dearly. And a car that defined my young adult life. While it did have issues, none of them was anything that was out of the ordinary for that time frame. It left me stranded only once when the carburetor iced up in a terrible snowstorm. The RX7 was the first Car that I put over 120K on. Passed it on to a buddy who was just out of the Navy, who then sold it to another young guy. Both guys ended up with my sloppy seconds, in regards to both the RX7 and a girl I had dated. I replaced that Mazda with the SAAB. The RX7 was also my Gay coming out, that girl married and divorced another guy, blaming me for all of it, but that is a whole other story!
1989 Mazda MX6 – Probably the best car we ever owned, though I loved the RX7 more. After my Partner David and I were together for four years, it was time to replace his 1980 Ford Mustang, one of the few cars I ever got a speeding ticket while driving. The Mazda was the cousin of the Ford Probe that had been planned as Ford’s next-generation replacement for the Stang’s. This MX6 took us through good weather and bad weather, on many trips and was a great looking and driving car. Well balanced and a tremendous front-wheel-drive vehicle. One time while driving home from the holidays in a significant snowstorm, we became mired behind a bunch of semi-trucks. When one of the truck drivers asked if I was stuck in the snow, I said no, I can’t go anywhere will all you guys clogging up the roads. With that, I gunned it and drove up the shoulder, around the rigs, and headed off down the snow-covered highway. It took about 6 hours to get home that night, thinking that each new highway would be plowed, and none of them were. We got back home in one piece around dawn. After that, the MX6 had earned a lot of respect from both of us. While this Car was stolen more than a few times, being one of the first that was carjacked before there was a term for it. Each time it came back in reasonably good shape, the bad guys loved this Car as much as we did. At about 125K, we thought we needed a newer car that maybe had four doors, and we bought a Mercedes-Benz but kept the MX6 because it was a great snow car. Later we purchased a 4WD Mercedes-Benz but still kept the Mazda until it was clear that we were no longer using it.
1997 Mercedes-Benz C280 – “We can’t afford a Mercedes-Benz” was what David said once he figured out that we were test driving the C280. I knew he would not see that it was a Mercedes-Benz unless someone pointed it out. Not being a car person, he asked the salesman what kind of Car it was about halfway into our test drive. The salesman was a bit taken aback by that question.
This Mercedes took us on over 200K miles of great road trips and daily driving. It also was the Car I learned to both autocross and drive on a racetrack in. Both of those feats post 100K miles. We enjoyed this for over ten years. While it did have its issues, the first 50K miles were taken care of by the original M-B factory warranty, the next 30K by an aftermarket extended warranty. After that, never really any problems. Honestly, by the end, we had driven it into the ground, replacing it with a 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport.
1998 Mercedes-Benz ML320 – Originally bought as a replacement snow car as the MX6 got older and older, this Mercedes became another over 200K driver that we put 150K of those miles on the odometer. The greatest road trip car we have had as it held just about everything from Segways to building supplies. While it was hardly trouble-free, most of its issues were covered under the factory warranty or an extended warranty. This four by four early luxury SUV took us for a week offroad on the fire roads of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Won awards at national Mercedes-Benz Club events. Displayed at the MBUSI Factory in Alabama, where it was made, in the first reunion of the American Built Mercedes-Benz events. Where it was the oldest of those on display from that factory, and one of the line workers was quite impressed, it was still on the road. Saying, “We never thought these would make it this long. Have you had any problems with….?” The ML was retired without a replacement. Donated to a mechanical trades high school for students to train on. While it was one of the first luxury SUVs on the market, this early rendition never really had the finishes that today’s models have. As one M-B Dealership Shop Foreman said, we never built a worse car than this one. I replied, well, this one is one of the few that was well-built.
2019 Hyundai Ioniq Electric – Welcome to the 21st century – all the new tech, this little all-electric Car has won my heart. Becoming my favorite for around-town trips, putting a smile on my face every time I drive it. While I am still waiting for the chance to take it on a more extended road trip where I will be able to use Leve 3 Fast Charing. Buying the Ioniq to replace the van, as it has the cargo space I need, plus the luxury and tech that I wanted. All at a price, I was willing to pay. The Ioniq is the first vehicle that I have ever leased. Leased because the deal on a lease was far better than one that was available on a purchase. And the dollars per month and at the end of the contract made sense.
1987 Mazda B-2000 Pickup Truck – For me, life changed in 1988 when my Big-Time Corporate day job allowed me to trade in my suit and tie for a tool belt. Leaving IBM to start a skilled trades business meant that driving an eighties yuppie car would not be right, pulling into the lumber yard to load up on supplies. So I found a couple-year-old silver Mazda long-bed little pickup after looking at a new Dodge Dakota and being turned off by the close to $20K price tag. I picked up a nice used 5-speed base pickup with no A/C and no FM radio. It was not long that I was able to swap out the radio, and put in a sliding rear window, that little pickup was a blast to drive and very handy to have. Never any problems with it until one day when it was parked, a piece of road construction equipment fell off while being loaded onto a trailer and hit it dead center in the firewall, totaling the first pickup I had ever owned. It had no retention, it was what it was, and trouble-free, I loved that little pickup. About a week before it met its demise, I had put new tires on it, the guy sold me off-road tires, which I really hated, and what was worse, the bill for them came about a week after the truck was totaled, and I wanted to return them but could not.
1987 Mercedes-Benz 190 2.3-16 – While this was not my personal car, it was one I purchased with three other guys – known as the Black Dog. We bought as a group project car for a grand with the intention to use as a training ground, where we rebuilt the suspension and other parts of the car to get it ready for a track event. Make the car safe and fun to drive, each of us took it for a week a month, then during the winter put it into storage.
There were so many things wrong with this car to start with, our main goal was if it was running when we got it, we had to have it running again when we passed it on to the next partner. That worked well until everyone got too busy to do anything with it, so it sat fallow for a while. Since then, two of us handed it back to the other two guys, and it is now a weekend track dog.
History Cars And Me
It has been said that the first words out of my mouth were Car-Car. I remember my first car, a yellow metal pedal car that I adored, my Dad made me sell it to the boys down the street. Not a memory that is enjoyable as it involved a lot of crying on my part. As a kid, I loved looking at and finding out about all the cars I saw on the road. Especially the European ones, I remember thinking that the BMW Isetta was insane and beautiful and seeing 2nd generation Subarus on display at the mall in 1970. Riding in a brand new 1964 1/2 Mustang was so cool because I had the model, needless to say, the childless owner had no desire to have a kid in his new Ford.
Friends had a 1967 Datsun sedan, and station wagon, and a guy where I took riding lessons showed up in his new 1969 Datsun 2000 Sports Car. I was especially enthralled with that Japanese roadster, later a teacher had a 240Z, again just as cool as they came in my book. Then there were others like Saabs and Renaults that I thought was pretty amazing. I lusted for first-generation Toyota Celica, a Peugeot 505 diesel, and an Opel GT while in high school. Assuming, of course, those would be the sensible Car for me as a high school student.
I learned to drive when I was about ten years old on a 1966 Jeep Wagoneer, after driving the riding tractor around for a few years. That Jeep was plain Jane with a three on the tree, and I needed a wooden soda crate for my back so that I could fully depress the clutch pedal. Note: that Jeep had no power steering, no power brakes, and that clutch pedal was no easy chore either. It did have an AM Radio and four-wheel drive, without the exterior locking hubs. While I never drove the Wagoneer legally on the road, it does not mean I did not take it out for a joy ride on occasion. My Mom got a 1970 Toyota
Corona, when the Jeep stopped working, though we did not trade the Jeep in. Turns out, my Mom never changed the motor oil in cars, and they were lucky to last 70K miles. That little red four-door Toyota was my High School car until I realized it was more fuel-efficient for Mom to drive it to work, and I take the then acquired Jeep Commando, that the Wagoneer was traded in on, the 6-miles to school. This was when fuel was reaching 90 cents a gallon for regular. Later, we replaced the Toyota with a 1984 Mazda RX3 Wagon, which was a blast to drive, even if it got only 20 miles to the gallon on a good day.
If I had the option, I would want all the Mazda’s and the Jeep Wagoneer today. Not only do they bring back memories, but they were also iconic cars of their time and very different from what other people were driving then or now.
Words by William West Hopper, Images where ever I could find them.
Mr. Hopper has been a long time automotive communicator who celebrates the four-wheel life. Ask him what his favorite car is, his line just maybe: “Whatever car I have the keys to in my hand at the moment!” Follow him on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and here on the Queer4Cars blog and the Queer4Cars YouTube Channel that he started to share his view of the world of automotive lifestyle.