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Bad List

Sunday, December 14, 2008
Time just released a special on the "50 Worst Cars of All Time". It's really just a chronological list (from 1899 to 2004) of cars that the author wanted to complain about. I'm going to say that I take exception to a few of the vehicles placed on this list, for several reasons. Between consistency of complaint to historical context, the list contains more than a few entries that it shouldn't.

The Ford Model T doesn't belong on this list.

For instance, the second vehicle (chronologically) is the 1909 Fort Model T. The author claims that the Model T:
"conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up .... with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.
Right off the bat, the author implies that cars are a Bad Thing™ and that lowering the barrier to entry was a crime against humanity. I dispute this claim. I'm also willing to look and say, "gosh, this was the first mass-produced car and sold in record numbers to people who otherwise couldn't have one. There were quality issues?" There are quality issues in almost every early product brought to market. Early computers (even in the 80s, twenty years after their invention) were hard to use and could crash at the slightest bump of a desk.

another car that shouldn't be on the list, the DMC-12

Another vehicle inappropriately on this list is the 1981 De Llorean DMC-12. The author's biggest complaint is that the car was "heavy and underpowered", adjectives that pretty much describe every car built from 1975 to 1990. The DMC-12 was cool, it was novel, and it was a neat idea. The author talking about John Z. De Lorean's arrest on drug trafficking charges (of which he was acquitted) is irrelevant.

Consistency is completely lacking in this list. The author criticizes the 1995 Ford Explorer:
[P]eople came to prefer the outdoorsy, go-anywhere image of SUVs. In other words, people became addicted to the pose. And, as vehicles got bigger and heavier, buyers sought out even bigger vehicles to make themselves feel safe. Helloooo Hummer. All of that we can lay at the overachieving feet of the Explorer.
Yet, on the very next page, the author says of the 1997 GM EV1:
The car itself was a tiny, super-light two-seater, not exactly what American consumers were looking for.
The way the author can justify calling the Ford Explorer bad for being at the head of the SUV craze while - almost in the same breath - lambasting the EV1 for not being what the consumer wants is, well, idiotic.

Finally, my biggest complaint is that the cars are are entirely European or American. No mention of stinkers from Japan (like the 1988 Suzuki Samurai, which may or may not have been prone to rollover issues.) Cars from Korea are excluded, as are cars from India, China, or any other market. That bothers me, and, while the list was written in an entertaining fashion, it has - in my mind - zero credibility.

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