The Three Worst Cars I’ve Ever Owned

Last week I published a list of every car I’ve ever owned.

This week, I give some time to which were the best, and which would have been better off as boat anchors 🙂

Let’s start with the boat anchors first, shall we? I’ll get to the three best later in the week.

The 3 Worst Cars I’ve Ever Owned

I’m a little torn as I put this list together. I’ve had great times in every car I’ve owned, even if some of them were a little….. junky.

And then there are the questions about process….

What if there’s a car that I love, that I know is a really good car, but one that I had a particularly bad example of? i.e. what if I just got a bad apple? Does it make the list? What if my poor ownership habits earlier in life contributed to a car being a debacle? Do I penalise the car, or do I penalise myself?

I’ll take these on a case-by-case basis and disclose in the writeup.

Here we go……

Holden LJ Torana

The Torana is a less-than-wonderful tribute to Australian engineering in the 1970’s. The Torana was a car whose legend is based on a small amount of success in some big motor races. It was ill-equipped, poorly built and in most cases, under-powered. Most survivors look like the red car, below. They’re well cared for, with hot 6’s or big V8 engine swaps and fancy paint jobs paid for by cashed-up custodians. The vast bulk of Toranas sold by dealers were nothing like these survivors, however, and made their inglorious trip to automotive Valhalla a long, long time ago.


My Torana had the added burden of being owned by me. That would usually be enough, but this was me as an 18 year old nutter with absolutely no idea about how I should maintain a car. For me, it was simply a means to abuse the road – and oh, how I did.


I had fun with it, but I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the noise, the water leaks, or the screwdriver I kept down the side of my seat to re-align the gear linkages. I don’t miss the smells or the hot vinyl seats.

I don’t miss it at all.

Alfa Romeo 33 16V (my second one)

This is one of those conundrum cars.

The Alfa Romeo 33 16V is a great, great car. I’ve owned two of them. One of them was a mind-blowing pocket rocket that puts a smile on my face just thinking about it.

And then there was this…..

My second Alfa 33 16V (not so good)

I bought my second Alfa 33 after I returned from Sweden in 2011. I bought it because the first one was so good. This second one, however, had been in an accident at some point in its past and I didn’t pick up the suspension and steering problems on my test drive. I only have myself to blame.

For example – the steering was so out of whack that it took 3/4 more of a turn to go to lock on one side than the other.

The engine was OK but the suspension was stuffed, the car had rust spots (the repair of which led me to paint the bonnet in matt black) and the gearbox was even more problematic than is normal for an Alfa.

It was a really poor example of an otherwise great little car.

Toyota Celica Liftback

I bear no grudge towards the 4-cylinder Celica I owned in my early 20’s.

This car is part of this ‘worst’ list simply because it is the least memorable car I ever owned – and that’s a damnable attribute if ever I’ve heard one.


Dishonorable Mention

I have to give a dishonourable mention to one of my current cars, the Porsche 928 S. Sad, but true.

I can’t count it amongst the three worst because that would be over-egging the disappointment I feel, but the 928 has to be talked about here.


My one fear when I bought this car has been realised – it’s too much of a grand tourer, delivering too little of that sporty Porsche feeling. The accelerator has to be well-and-truly abused for a driver to properly feel its power. Call it a lack of fierceness, or an onerous commitment to solidity. Unless you want to drive with extreme prejudice all the time, the 928 makes you feel like you’re ambling along using a LOT of fuel for very little reward.

On the plus side, it’s great when you do provoke it. It’s very comfortable, it has a great driving position and it handles much better than a car of its size and weight has a right to. And it still looks like an absolute killer even some 38 years after the 928 shape was first released.

Maybe I needed this V8 experience to show me why I appreciate little rev-happy 4-cylinder cars so much. And maybe a big, old-tech V8 was the wrong car to buy when living in a city surrounded by hills.

The other ‘lesser vehicles’

  • Holden Gemini (x2) – I had fun in my two Geminis but really, they were much like the Torana, above.
  • Saab 900 Turbo – my first 900 was a five-door automatic. It served us well, but it wasn’t the 900 I was looking for.

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  1. It could be worse. I owned a Rover Metro 1.0. It was 0 to 60 in about a minute and I had to ask my passengers to get out of the car if we went up a hill. Once you went above 65 mph the whole thing shook so much you thought pieces would be falling off it.

  2. Of all the vehicles I’ve owned, the only one I wouldn’t buy again is the 4Runner. For all the flaws the others had, they all had great points which I loved them for. The 4Runner suffered from the unforgivable automotive sin – being bland.

  3. I think I’ve owned three bad cars too. A Fiat 128 when I was a student. Great to drive but so unreliable.

    A Rover SD1 3500 which I bought on a working holiday in the early nineties. Not bad to drive and my only V8, but it just broke down too often.

    And more recently, a Saab 900S 2.3 Talladega coupe. With this one I went against my own advice about buying a neglected Saab. It’s the shortest I’ve owned a Saab. I bailed out and lost a heap.

  4. I must admit to feeling slightly stung to see that a classic 900 5d T16 Auto made it onto the dishonourable mentions pile. I’d be interested to hear you expand on that Steven, given my obvious bias as an owner.
    Sure it’s nice to find a holy grail aero but I’ve always held the belief that an outstanding example of a C900 of any spec is a better option than an average Aero (which so many of them seem to be). I’ve certainly not been disappointed with my car but I don’t tend to thrash it either. I mainly look on it as a nice place to be which also happens to be great to drive 🙂
    I would also admit that I haven’t driven a well sorted manual turbo for comparison. One day.

  5. Like you I’ve had a mixed bag of cars over my 30 odd years of driving, from a ’72 Datsun 510 that I passed my driving test in and loved to bits until some swine rear ended it to the modern Mercs I drive today. Most are just distant memories but the Alfas and FIATs are the ones I truly remember, some for good reasons, some for bad, but all stick in the mind for something! Oddly, the best Alfa was also the worst, something I’m sure a lot of Alfa owners can identify with! In the mid ’80s I got myself a 2.0 Guilietta with a racing gearbox! Yup, it was a bit of a special and I loved (and hated!) every moment of it! The noise was awesome, the zero to sixty was unbelievable, but the ride, driving position, build quality and thirst were hateful!! I had it for about 6 months and then passed it on the a friend who raced it until it died.

    The best car I ever had was probably my Mercedes CLS. So perfect (to me) in so many ways. I miss that car more than most.

  6. Being in my 60’s, there have been a few ‘bad uns’ , but only 2 stick in my mind constantly, and both were from GM.

    FIRST: Vauxhall FD estate 1971 as here:

    Where to start……painful.
    I was a young rep at the time in my early 20s. My boss game me a similar car, but it was terrible underpwered for a car going all over the UK. So I talked him into buying one of these with the bigger enging, NEW from the factury.

    For 18 months the last 3 months were spent with me at the weekend and in the main dealer all week, with:

    Replacement Engine (Started making loud noises & burning oil)
    Replacement Gearbox (The gearbox broken in half, at the drive coming out of the box)
    Replacement Prop-shaft (out of balance, Probably causing the above)
    Replacement Rear Axle (Same s above)
    Complete rewire. (Don’t ask)

    After I decided enough was enough, my Boss used it himself in London for years and had no problems (he said it was my driving, but at that point everything had been replaced!!).Terrible Car.

    SECOND: Opel Monza GSE 1984 as here:

    Oh, I wanted this car so badly……

    At this point in my life, I had just started making furniture & had a big Ford estate.
    I got fed up forcing big furniture pieces in the back & bought a van for that, so didn’t need an estate.

    I had seen the Opel in all the glossy Magazines, in the Sunday papers at that time, and simply could not afford one, UNTIL as ad appears for a 1 years old version @ £7995 (Alot of Money in the early 80’s.) and I dived in an bought it.

    Just 1 mechanical problem, but no one could find a fix & remained with the car whilst I owned it.
    Simply, the ‘electronic ignition would just go into a limp mode. You could be going on a motorway at 80-90mph, and suddenly it would start to slow to 30mph with no warning, no one ever found out why!, the fix was simply go away & have a cup of tea, come back and it was OK again…..

    The worst thing, was just after I bought it (13 month’s old) spring in the UK arrived. To impress, I went over my Parents to show them the car, Sun Roof open, etc….
    On leaving I started to drive home, and along came the Spring showers, pressing the button to close the Roof, Nothing happened, Oh hell, it was wet.

    I want to a Vauxhall dealer in a panic and rushed in the service dept, telling what happened. They said no problem, just undo the zip in the headlining and there’s an allen key there, wind the roof closed………Rush back to the car, searched & search could not see Zip, ran back to service and the boss came out telling me I was silly….., He jumped in the car and went quite, then said NO ZIP.
    This car then spent 8 weeks in that garage (Opel honoured the car’s warranty) where the whole interior of the car was stripped out to fit the correct headlining, with a zip. By this time the desire to own it was gone & so was the car at a great big loss.

    Then I bought my 1st SAAB and never looked back……!!

  7. Get a 2006+ Saab 9-5. Best all-rounder I’ve had and I can’t see myself getting rid of it…ever!

  8. Steve you must make sure the 928 accelerator linkage is properly set up. Then realise it was designed to amble to conserve fuel (thus keeping the boffins happy ; well heeled original owners and mericans with cheap fuel couldn’t give a rats) Until provoked. When properly set up and poked in the eye it goes from cruising the reef to full attack mode. Ask me how I know ;<) cheers, paul

  9. Interesting that, time and again, the worse sin attributed to Japanese family cars is that they are dull.

    Japan is probably the greatest automotive nation in the world in terms of actual engineering and manufacturing excellence, far surpassing the Germans, and yet … nobody lusts after a Toyota Celica. Do they?

    I suppose it’s a totally different story when it comes to affordable Japanese sports cars, though.

    Now then, Swade, what’s going on in Trollhattan? Apparently good news today. But what does it axctually mean?

    How about you get your shovel out and do a bit of digging, then back to the keyboard for a bit of analysis.

    1. My understanding is the early and nicely styled Celicas are and highly sought after – not quite as much as the Datsun 240Z which can fetch more than a 911. Then there’s that high revving old Honda and quite a few other Japanese sports cars that aren’t so boring mechanically or aesthetically. Having said that , Swade’s Celica is not the most desirable coupe I’ve seen. I’d rip the bumper off for a start.

  10. That Celica violates one of the Swade maxms: when you buy, buy the high-end model. 4-cylinder, stamped steel wheels, probably a middling suspension and a lot of plastic inside. If you had bought the Supra (as called in the US), you’d have liked it more.

    My worst has to be my 1978 Oldmobile Cutlass Supreme. What a craptastic car. Gutless 260 cu in/4.3l V-8 mated to the infamous Turbo HydroMatic 200 3-speed transmission. Bad build quality and horrible performance. I wanted my 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass back almost immediately.

    1. You need to go back to my complete list, Eggs 🙂

      I only had the Celica for a short time – because I almost immediately went out and bought a Supra 🙂

      In fairness, this was long before the maxims existed.