Good Names… Bad Cars

The good thing about a bad car name is you’ve got no expectations. Not much to live up to — and so, little to disappoint you.

Achieva, for instance.

But wasting a good name on a bad car is almost a moral crime.

Like Dancing With the Stars.

Here are ten good car names gone bad — made infamous by the rust-prone fenders to which they were affixed:

* Chevy Cavalier –

This name summons images of gallant horsemen protecting their monarch but the Cavalier was the cheese whiz of cheap cars — mass produced and mediocre. It was infamous for prematurely and repeatedly failing head gaskets, a bouncy clown car ride, the lowest grade plastics this side of a $5 Wal-Mart Mattel action figure — and depreciation rates that made Enron stock seem like a sound investment.

You didn’t drive a Cavalier because you chose to; you drove one because you had to.

And as soon as you had the cash to drive something else, you did.

Hopefully before the head gasket blew.


* Dodge Mirada –

Kind of has a nice ring to it — and might have worked out had it not been affixed to one of the final death rattles of Chrysler Corp. before it went bankrupt (the first time) in the early 1980s — and from there to K-Car rehab.

The shovel-nosed, fastback 1980-’83 Mirada offered leaky T-tops and rear-wheel-drive when both were going out of fashion — and one of the weakest V8s ever constructed, a 318 cubic-inch embarrassment belting out a dismal 130 hp. If only they’d put a 360 (or better yet, a 440 big block) into this one, it would have been pretty cool. But as it was, it sucked epically.

(See also Chrysler Imperial and St. Regis.)

* Pontiac T1000 –

It sounds tough, like the relentless robotic assassin made famous by Arnold in the Terminator movies. But this little stinker was only a threat to your wallet (in the form of repair bills) and, of course, your self-respect.

And it wasn’t even a Pontiac.

It was a rouged-up (and marked-up) Chevy Chevette sold under the Pontiac nameplate.

GM’s idea was that buyers would actually pay extra for a Chevette with a more masculine name.

The tragedy is, many did.

PT Barnum wasn’t wrong.

* Porsche 914 –

Normally, the Porsche name commands respect and admiration. With this one exception.

Though it looked good and touted a sports car-ideal mid-engined layout, it was extremely loose-toothed under the hood (so to speak). It was powered–if that’s the right word–by a VW-sourced 1.7 liter (later 1.8 liter) 80 hp air-cooled four not much different from what you’d have found in a same year Super Beetle. In fact, the 914 was supposed to have been a Beetle.

Well, a Karman Ghia. Which was a Beetle — with a different body.

The 914 mocked as the Poorsche. It was routinely humiliated in acceleration contests.

Later 914/6 variants were an improvement — but the damage was done.

To this day, it is the “Porsche” that Porsche prefers not to talk about.

* Pontiac Turbo Trans Am –

It was a sad end to a great run.

Built for just two years (1980 and ’81) the final iteration of Pontiac’s second-generation (1970-’81) Trans-Am was a muscle car without any muscle. The body had been designed for 400 and 455 cubic inch V8s, but Pontiac had ceased production of its traditional V8s after the 1979 model year ended.

In their place, the little 301 — which was barely a V8.

To wring something out of this desperate mill, a turbo was affixed. But it had about the same effect as funnel-feeding an 85-year-old Parkinson’s patient a few cans of Red Bull.

Despite the wild graphics, air dams and “turbo” decals plastered all over the thing, the Turbo Trans Am was the ultimate Disco Machine: a completely toothless faux muscle car that could barely heave itself through the quarter-mile in under 17 seconds.

Like Brando, there was all kinds of potential; it coulda been a contender — but turned out a sloppy punch drunk palooka that embarrassed itself wherever it showed up.

* Acura Legend –

Truly a cruel irony that this otherwise unobjectionable car name was given to perhaps the most blandly styled, forgettable insipid sedan Acura ever made.

Solid? Well-built? Great value? Absolutely.

But it’s as much a travesty of language to describe this car as “legendary” as it would be to call Ellen Degeneres sexy.

It was, arguably, the best Taurus a Japanese car company ever built.

* Mercedes-Benz 190E –

The Focke-Wulf Fw190 was a superb WWII fighter and that association alone might have been sufficient to give any car to bear the same name a decent head start.

Too bad Benz decided to go K-mart with it by christening its first down-market model with the same once-proud designation. They were slow, they looked sad and weren’t even particularly well-made. The 190 quickly earned a reputation as the Mercedes for people who couldn’t afford one.

Though later examples got better, the stain on the carpet left by the initial batch of 190s can never be scrubbed away.

* Dodge Daytona Turbo Z –

Just saying it out loud sounds pretty cool — especially if you’re James Earl Jones (aka, the voice of Darth Vader) who did the voice-overs for the commercials.

Too bad the car itself — a front wheel drive K-car in drag — was so lacking in the powers of The Force.

Even worse was the way this car expropriated and sullied the legacy of the original Daytonas of the late ’60s.

See also: Chrysler Laser.

* Lincoln Versailles –

Poor ol’ Louis XVI would surely prefer another trip to the chopping block than having to endure the association of his fabulous palace with a pretentious Ford Granada.

An example of Detroit badge-engineered, bait-and-switching at its most contemptuous–the Versailles showed the world that some people will pay Lincoln money for a Ford with a fake vinyl roof and knock-off wire wheel covers.

* Aston Martin Lagonda –

Another not-bad name forever tainted by the freakish, over-digitized automotive atrocity that bore it.

Aston Martin has produced some gorgeous and memorable machinery but the Lagonda–with its bizarro angular body and cheesy, early Atari-style all-digital interior–isn’t one of them.

The electronics were more than just cheesy, too. They proved to be so unreliable that early cars were often literally undrivable and had to be sent back to the factory to be retrofitted with conventional controls and instrumentation.

On the upside, the ugly futuristic shape of the car eventually made it useful as a background prop in just-as-cheesy ’80s-era sci-fi flicks like Robo-Cop and Judge Dredd.


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