Are these the 15 worst cars ever sold in Australia?

Car makers have usually figured out what people want in a vehicle and how to put them together properly and make them safe too. This hasn’t always been the case — over the last 50 years, Australian car buyers have been treated to some real lemon cars. RACV Senior Vehicle Engineer, Nicholas Platt, gives his opinion on the 15 worst cars ever sold in Australia.

1983 Holden Camira JB SLX sedan

Holden Camira (all of them)

Mechanically one of the most unreliable cars of its era which, given the garbage it was competing with, is quite an accolade. But the Camira was a complete package, engineered throughout to displease. The exterior fit and finish was so haphazard that you’d think it was drawn by Picasso. It didn’t get any better once you moved inside, thanks to acres of hideous, poor-quality, miss-matched plastic that squeaked like the car was full of cicadas. Initially powered by a pathetic 1.6-litre engine and later by an equally pathetic 1.8, the car was slow, and horrible to drive — and it rusted.

1973 Leyland Marina 262 Six

Morris/Leyland Marina Six

The UK-spec Morris Marina was in its own right one of the worst cars ever created, but it was only with a bit of Aussie ‘can-do’ spirit that it turned into something truly diabolical. Adding a heavy and powerful six-cylinder engine to a terrible Morris Minor-based chassis was certain to bring about safety and handling confidence — not!

Ford Cortina

Ford Cortina six

Similar to the Morris Marina in that a heavy and overpowered 4.1-litre engine designed for a Falcon went beyond the poor car’s ability to keep it all on the road. If pushed too hard you discovered that a car can indeed understeer and oversteer simultaneously.

1974 Datsun 120Y B210 coupe

Datsun 120Y Automatic

Driving one was a Zen experience in the art of patience, such was its lethargy. But hey, the 1970s were relaxed times, so Datsun was forced to throw in some wretched handling, ugliness and a cramped interior for that extra dollop of awfulness. Even worse than their driving characteristics was the fact that they were nigh-on indestructible — ensuring that the agony of owning one would be passed on to a whole new generation, like some sort of automotive family curse.

HD Holden

HD Holden

While mostly remembered for its ugly front end with weird pointy pedestrian-catching ‘kidney crusher’ mudguards, the HD gave so much more. We can only assume that GMH put a lot of effort into designing a car with such poor braking and handling. Surely, chance or oversight alone could not explain how a car could do these things so poorly!

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1998 Ford Falcon Forte

Ford AU Falcon

Whereas the HD Holden had an ugly front, the AU Falcon, had an ugly front, middle and rump. With front and rear lights looking like a sad clown, all of the models were grotesque, but the pick of the bunch was the base-model Forte with its Waterfall grille. It didn’t look anything like that, of course, but it did bear more than a passing resemblance to the gaping maw of a baleen whale.

Holden Gemini Diesel

Holden Gemini Diesel

Combining a well-engineered but crude 1970s-tech Japanese diesel engine with a rugged and durable rear wheel-drive platform might’ve been a great idea — assuming the Holden TE Gemini was a farm tractor.

Leyland P76

Leyland P76

A lot of people look back at these wistfully, pointing out all the avant-garde features and the 44-gallon drum-consuming boot. Piffle, all of it — they were rubbish, both conceptually and in execution. What possessed a company that led the way in advanced, space-efficient front-wheel-drive cars (you know, the design direction that we know today?) to ditch all that and bet the farm on a poorly-built entry into a market already stitched up by Ford and Holden?

2006 Holden Barina sedan

Holden TK Barina

The Opel Corsa-based XC Barina was a highpoint in the nameplate’s history. It was well-designed and fun to drive. So what better way to replace it than with a second-rate Daewoo? It was a cynical exercise in cost cutting that gave Australian motorists a car that was in every way inferior to the one it replaced. Worse still was its pathetic two-star ANCAP crash rating. This was unforgivable for a company that was really pushing the safety qualities of its local product. Photo: TuRbO_J

European Mazda 929

Mazda 929

The 1973-77 Mazda 929 was in many ways the epitome of the well-equipped, well-designed, reliable but unassuming Japanese cars that profoundly altered the Australian market in the early 1970s. The 929 even spawned the cult RX-4 rotary that remains the darling of drag strips. The 929 wouldn’t even be on this list of worst cars were it not for a design feature so surreal that it belonged on a Salvador Dali painting. I speak of course of the door moulding, where it seems that the guy designing the back didn’t actually talk to the guy designing the front — with the result that they don’t meet in the middle. Pic: Charles01 (Euro version shown).

2000 Toyota Avalon

Toyota Avalon

If cars were clothes, then the Avalon would be a brown cardigan inherited from your grandad. Even when new, this car was old. The body tooling was a six-year-old hand-me down from the factory in America — and it showed. The Avalon’s dull and dated looks appealed to pretty much nobody.

1979 Ford Fairmont XD sedan

Ford XD Falcon

A reminder of how low our expectations of a large car really were in the late 1970s. They do now have a following on account of the fact that they are cheap, simple to work on, and can be fairly potent with a V8 option. At the time, it had a decent racing pedigree too (about as decent as it gets). However, that disguised some fundamental shoddiness. They weren’t particularly comfortable or well equipped, and woe-betide anyone but Arnold Schwarzenegger who forgot to tick the power-steering option. There were terrible quality glitches too, some of which — like the achy-breaky door handles — were never fixed during the entire 20-year XD-XH model dynasty.

1980-1981 Holden VC Commodore L station wagon

Holden VC Starfire four Commodore

This abysmal variant had a four-cylinder motor derived from an already elderly pushrod six. In every respect the engine was as crude, feeble and utterly ill-suited to the task at hand as its cobbled-together-on-a-shoestring nature suggested. The clapped-out machinery used to make them also meant that the engines were worn out before the dealer even handed the keys to the buyer. The best thing about the Starfire four engine was that, with its 88.9 cylinder bore, you could make a nice hipster wine rack.

1969 Holden Torana

Holden HB Torana

Basically a Vauxhall Viva with a Holden badge and a new name. The name is supposedly an Indigenous word meaning ‘to fly’ — and fly it did, with all the grace and elegance of a startled chicken. The sound was about as pleasing too. Pic: Sicnag.

1990 Toyota Lexcen sedan

Toyota Lexcen

Slap a Toyota badge on one of the most half-baked and poorly built Commodores ever and name it after a guy who made boats. Enough said.

Written by Nicholas Platt, Senior Vehicle Engineer
August 03, 2016