Say what you want about modern car manufacturers, but the present day automobile is probably one of the safest and most reliable ever. Yeah, it’s nice to think back nostalgically about that first car you got when you graduated high school, but even though it was much simpler and easy to work on, the old jalopy still wouldn’t start on a cold morning, or started leaking or burning oil after about 70,000 miles. I have an unofficial gauge to verify all of this: I count the number of “smokers” that I see on the road. By smokers I mean the cars that burn almost as much oil as gas and can be easily mistaken for one of those trucks that sprays for mosquitoes in the summer. There was a time when you saw a couple of these on the road every week. Now it can take months to spot one, not that I miss them all that much.
Think back to “Unsafe At Any Speed.” The 1960’s model Corvair. Actually my uncle had one of them. I don’t remember what year it was, but I know that it was a Monza . I remember that it was a convertible, which I’m sure, made it even more unsafe. Back then you didn’t really worry about safety. You gleefully got behind that long, stiff steering column or metal dashboard and never worried about seat belts or dreamed of the future safety bags. If the consumers didn’t care, then neither did the car manufacturers. My uncle was fond of opening up the hood in the back of the car and showing everybody the twin carburetors. Volkswagens were all the rage back then, and to compete, General Motors came out with its own version of a rear-engine car. There were some questions about carbon monoxide leaking into the car, but the most serious thing in the earlier models was a rear suspension design, which required drivers to maintain proper tire pressure to a very fine tolerance, which also happened to be outside of the tire manufacturer’s recommendation for the tire. If you went too far one way or the other with the tire pressure, then the thing was likely to skid out of control.
American automakers had some competition from overseas also. Remember the Yugo? “I don’t want to go. You-go!” “How do you make a Yugo go faster? Hook it to a tow truck.” “What do you call the shock absorbers in a Yugo? Passengers.” To list just a few of the car’s misgivings: the timing belt had to be changed every 40,000 miles. If it broke, it would pretty much tear up the engine. There was also a lot of criticism about the car’s use of outdated technology and old Fiat design. And we all know that F.I.A.T. stands for “Fix It At Least Twice Daily.”
Then there’s the AMC Gremlin, one of the ugliest cars ever built in modern times. And who was the marketing Guru who came up with the name. Someone must have been choking on his or her Halloween candy.
Finally, we come to the car that Forbes Magazine listed as one of the worst of all time, and remember, Ford built the Edsel. The Ford Pinto had a little design flaw that could lead to a double whammy. There really wasn’t much of a rear bumper and the gas tank hung down right behind it. During a rear collision, the tank was thrust forward into a number of protruding bolts that would puncture the tank. If a fire resulted, the passengers would be roasted alive when the heavy and improperly supported front doors jammed shut.