Australia’s Worst Cars

By and large car makers have figured out what people want in a car and how to put them together properly and make them safe too. But this hasn’t always been the way – Over the last 50 years, Australian car buyers have been treated to some horrendous abominations. Here’s a few of the worst cars ever sold in Australia:

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 did it turn into something truly diabolical. Adding a heavy and powerful six cylinder engine to a terrible Morris Minor based chassis was a sure fire recipe for safety and handling confidence – not!

HD Holden:

Mostly remembered for its ugly front end with weird pointy pedestrian catching ‘kidney crusher’ mudguards. But the HD gave so much more. We can only assume that GMH must’ve put a lot of effort into designing a car with such poor braking and handling since there is surely no way any car could do these thing so badly by chance or oversight alone!

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. Didn’t look anything like that of course, but did bear more than a passing resemblance to the gaping maw of a baleen whale.

Holden Gemini Diesel:

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

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 an poorly built entry into a market already stitched up by Ford and Holden?

Holden TK Barina :

The Opel Corsa based XC Barina was a high point 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 delivered to Australian consumers a car that was in every way inferior to the one it replaced. Worse still was its ANCAP crash rating of a pathetic 2 stars – unforgivable for a company that was really pushing the safety of its local product.

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.

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.

Ford XD Falcon:

A reminder of how low our expectations of a large car really were in the late 1970’s. They do now have a following on account of the fact they are cheap, simple to work on, and with a V8 option can be made fairly potent. At the time it had a decent racing pedigree too (about as decent as it gets). However that disguises some fundamental shoddiness. They weren’t particularly comfortable or well equipped, woe-betide anyone forgetting to tick the power-steering option box unless you were Arnold Schwarzenegger. 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.

Datsun 120Y Automatic:

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

Holden Camira (All of them) :

Mechanically one of the most unreliable cars of its era which given the garbage that 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 either with acres of hideous poor quality, miss-matched plastic that would squeak 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, horrible to drive and rusted. A top contender on this list of worst cars.

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 1970’s. The 929 even spawned a cult classic the RX-4 rotary that to this day is the darling of the drag strip. The 929 wouldn’t even be on this list of worst cars were it not for a design feature so surreal that it belongs 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 the guy designing the front with the result they don’t meet in the middle. Weird.

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 is that with its 88.9 cylinder bore you can make a nice hipster wine rack out of it.

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 is as about as pleasing too.

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.

An abandoned car in a field
Beautiful restored vintage car
A vintage Holden Commodore
Ford Au Falcon
Holden Gemini Diesel
A barrel is pictured in the boot of an old car
A crash test car hits a wall
A vintage Ford drives a long a dirt road
An old Toyota Avalon
An old green Ford is parked
An unloved car is growing into desrepair
An old white car is parked
An old white car is parked, it's in good condition
Written by Nicholas Platt, Senior Vehicle Engineer
August 03, 2016