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History's most infamous vehicles

World’s worst cars: cyberspace is plagued with lists like this. The typical ‘Top 10’ features a selection of the same old cars – Austin Allegro, Matra Rancho or the Ford Edsel.

Well, here’s a twist – seven infamous cars that are actually great classics today. And why they deserve a place in the automotive hall of fame, after all.

  1. Austin Allegro (1973-1983)

    It looked like a cottage loaf in an era of origami-neatness, and ended up becoming a notable commercial failure, but there’s no denying that the Austin Allegro makes a great deal of sense today as a classic.

    It’s largely rust-free, easy and cheap to run, thanks to engines and running gear shared with many other British Leyland (BL) cars.

    Low values (although they are rising) and its ability as a talking-point styling mean that the Allegro has picked up a following with younger generations who don’t care about British Leyland’s troubles in the 1970s. Austin Allegro
  2. AMC Pacer (1975-1979)

    When the Pacer was launched in 1975, it was supposed to be the USA’s answer to the Energy Crisis.

    But with hulking great six- and eight-cylinder engines, it was as uneconomical as any typical American of the time.

    Asymmetric doors and shoddy right-hand drive conversions in the UK made them unsaleable over here, too.

    But thanks to the film Wayne’s World, and a new-found love of the worst of 1970s cars, it’s now a much-loved classic.

    You might not like its 17mpg thirst, but owning one will certainly make you the centre of attention. 3 NSU Ro80
  3. NSU Ro80 (1967-1977)

    Let’s clear up a few misconceptions about the Ro80 – this was a commercial failure because of circumstance, not unreliability.

    Time and time again, you’ll read that it failed because its rotary engine was unreliable. Not true.

    Yes, early examples ate their rotor tips, but NSU fixed that quickly and always repaired owners’ cars under warranty.

    No, it failed because it would struggle to better 18mpg, and at the height of the 1970s Energy Crisis, this was never going to fly.

    Today, it’s celebrated as a design and engineering masterpiece, simply launched at the wrong time.

    Buy this classic with confidence – modern technology has overcome all of these problems.

    Ford Edsel

  4. Edsel (1958-1961)

    Edsel is the most famous of all automotive failures of all time.

    It was an attempt at creating a new middle-market brand in the Ford empire, a way of countering the growth of the multi-marque General Motors.

    Its commercial failure is well documented, and now, it’s a celebrated classic car.

    And with good reason – it has striking styling and well-proven V8 running gear that is both simple and inexpensive to keep in fine fettle.

    That grille might have been a shocker in 1958, but today, it’s no worse than what they stick on the front of Audis and Alfa Romeos.

    And as commercial failures go, total sales of 116,000 aren’t bad – which means finding one now isn’t difficult at all.
  5. Morris Marina and Ital (1971-1984)

    The family car that many people love to hate has starred on more world’s worst lists than just about any other British car.

    But was it really that bad? Given it went from drawing board to production line in just three years, BL could be forgiven for raiding its parts bin.

    It was also BL’s bestselling model of the 1970s (bar the Mini). So, was it that bad really?

    No. And as a classic car, it makes a great deal of sense, with engines shared with the MG Midget and MGB, as well as a raft of easy modifications to make it drive as well as any of its more celebrated rivals.
  6. Matra Rancho (1977-1984)

    The Matra-Simca Rancho should be lauded as the groundbreaker.

    Today, no one bats an eyelid when carmakers launch front-wheel drive SUVs, but back in the 1970s when the term crossover had yet to be coined, magazine journalists struggled with the concept.

    They panned the Rancho because it couldn’t go off-road – and said we should all buy Lada Nivas instead. But buyers got it, and Ranchos were soon crowding the smartest London and Parisian neighbourhoods.

    In total, 56,700 examples were sold, and it only went unreplaced because Matra needed all of its production capacity to build the new Espace for Renault.
  7. Triumph Stag (1970-1977)

    The Triumph Stag was so unreliable new that it earned a nickname in the trade while it was still on sale – the Snag.

    With engines that boiled over at the drop of a hat, and imploding electrics, one of the finest-looking cars to emerge from the UK proved such a tough sell, BL pulled the plug early and never bothered to replace it.

    But like so many of the most compromised cars built in Britain, an industry sprung up to fix its ills, and make it a great classic car.

    In the 1980s, that usually meant sticking in a Rover V8, but by the following decade, all of those cooling maladies were sorted – leaving classic enthusiasts to enjoy the car as its designers had intended.
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