Many great things have come out of Europe through the years; from fine cuisine to the fashion industry to Kate Beckinsale. In North America, we often look to Europe to inspire and lead us in the automotive world. Historically well-known manufacturers have emerged from Europe: Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Ferrari, to name a few. But it hasn’t all been gold stars for European creations. Let’s move East a bit…
Among other things, Eastern Europe has had an issue, to say the least, in its automobile designs and engineering. Listed below you’ll find six of Europe’s worst of the worst; the cream of the rather mildewy crop. And you thought it couldn’t get any worse than the Pinto.
1. Yugo - Yugoslavian
The Zastava Koral (aka Yugo) has become the brunt of many jokes. From its lack of speed and power to its nonexistent shocks and unreliable brakes, every inch of this dud has been criticized. The Yugo even holds the honorable title of Worst Car of the Millennium as voted by listeners of Car Talk.
In the ’80s the Yugo was marketed as a car that would fit everyone’s life. It was supposed to be the secondary car that everyone had to have; a winter beater or just a daily driver that was fuel efficient and easy on the road. One of their slogans was "Everybody needs a Yugo sometimes.” Everybody needs a trip to the dentist sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we enjoy it. And driving the Yugo was hardly enjoyable.
Boxy, uncomfortable, unreliable, and downright dodgy, it’s a wonder the Yugo has lasted so long. Some can still be seen in parts of Eastern Europe today thanks to the abundance of repair parts. Yugo even warns you: The manual is full of useful hints about when the car will break down, what parts will give out first and at what mileage you’ll need to replace certain things.
The Yugo makes the cut for one of Europe’s worst because it’s just downright horrible. Out of the hundreds upon hundreds of criticisms this little ride has evoked, very few compliments can be found, and for that, it rises right to the top of Europe’s very worst.
Why it’s one of the worst: It has heated rear windows so your hands will stay warm while pushing it.
2. Lada - Russian
During the ’80s, Russian car manufacturer AutoVAZ introduced the Lada Riva. The name evokes images of picturesque seaside drives, cruising into a perfect sunset, and romantic weekend road trips. But one look at this tank and those fantasies quickly speed away. Based on looks alone, the Lada never should have made it off the design board with its simple yet boxy shape. If you can bear to look beneath the demure child-like exterior, it doesn’t get any better. The Lada came standard with minimal horsepower, which has hardly increased in the 2006 model, and it has horrendous fuel economy. Along with a poorly performing engine, the Lada also boasted tank-like handling; great for those slippery winter roads in the Soviet. Even though the Lada was a smaller, “economy” car, it was said to drive rather like a tractor and required quite a bit of muscle to control.
Despite the criticism, Lada sales in Western Europe during the 1980s were surprisingly good thanks to its roomy interior and low price. The UK was riddled with Ladas scooting about.
Why is the Lada one of the worst European cars? I gave you a little hint above; since its inception, the Lada has remained astonishingly similar to its original design and technology. It’s not very often you see a car manufacturer release a car in the ’90s that looks, feels and drives as if it belongs in the ’70s.
Why it’s one of the worst: It’s never a good thing when an automobile manufacturer gets stuck in its ways for more than a decade.
3. Dacia 1300 - Romanian
There’s something to be said about a company that designs a car with a seemingly incomplete steering wheel and nearly bald interior. It is one thing to strip down to the bare essentials, but it’s quite another to strip down to nothing. If you’ve seen the interior of a Dacia 1300, you know precisely what I mean.
Dacia’s began their life in Romania in the ’60s. Two versions of the 1300 were manufactured: One was for export and the other was to be sold in Romania. The export models were built with better parts and they were assembled with greater care. Domestic models were so badly constructed that many Romanians crossed the Romanian border to purchase their Dacia.
Its loud engine, lack of power steering and poor ventilation, led to less than stellar sales outside of Romania. The strangely unbalanced structure and tiny wheels probably didn’t help its popularity either. Not to mention the stark interior that almost makes you wonder if Dacia left something vital out. Even the steering wheel seems to be missing a few spokes.
It’s pretty obvious why the 1300 has been nominated as one of the worst European cars, but if you still have doubt, consider the fact that not one 1300 ever featured a diesel engine, power steering, antilock brakes, air bags or air conditioning.
Why it’s one of the worst: It's always a step behind the times and an entire lap behind the competition
4. Skoda Estelle - Czechoslovakian
The rear engine Skoda Estelle became the brunt of many jokes in Western Europe due to its technological gaps and constant mechanical troubles. The Estelle featured a dodgy gearbox that tended to whine and screech and made gear selection difficult. It had the handling characteristics of a busted shopping cart. The vehicle resembled a line drawn by a black marker when viewed from the side and a badly constructed Lego car when seen from the front. Styling was obviously not at the top of Skoda Auto’s list when they produced the Estelle; however, competitive pricing ensured that the Estelle graced many Western European roads, where they continuously broke down.
Strangely enough, the Estelle has a loyal following and owners swear by their little rust buckets; somehow they can see past its faulty exterior, geriatric engine and overall poor construction. Horror stories range from complete engine failures to door handles falling off while driving. The Estelle is badly designed from nose to tail.
Why it’s one of the worst: Skoda translates to ”damage” in Czech; what more can I say?
5. Zaporozhets - Ukrainian
When the Zaporozhets was introduced to the Soviet Ukranian public in the late ’50s, they believed it was meant as a type of punishment from the USSR. The Zapor (translates to ”constipation” in Russian) was a squat little car designed to appeal to the common people because it was affordable and functional. At least it was one of those things.
Uncomfortably small, the Zapor resembled a shrunken model of a VW Beetle with a fraction of the styling. Equipped with a rear engine, the Zapor sported an “ear” on each flank to cool the engine; hardly adding to the aesthetics. Insect-like in appearance, the Zapor was sure to make your skin crawl once behind the wheel.
The goal of the Zapor was to appeal to the population in price and efficiency on tough Russian roads. The Zapor was a well-known purchase for those who couldn’t afford any other vehicle. The crude construction was also surprisingly resilient to the Russian terrain and they became quite popular.
So, how did the Zapor make it onto the worst European cars list? Well, when a car is looked upon as an act of vengeance from a government, it’s difficult to think of it as a great piece of machinery. The Zapor also lacked power and comfort, and let’s not forget the in-dash mini-fan.
Why it’s one of the worst: A winner of a Zapor was said to have posted a sign in the window while driving that read, “I’m not stupid, I won this!”
6. Moskvitch - Russian
The Moskvitch, manufactured by the Moscow Compact Car Factory in the ’60s, doesn’t seem to have been designed with any statement in mind at all. Boxy like the Lada, the Moskvitch didn’t set out to win any beauty contests or safety prizes. The safety point was brought to light when the Consumers Association Motoring decided to take a closer look at the sharp-edged metal dashboard and kneecap-crushing aluminum hand break lever. The Moskvitch also boasted a “lovely” PVC interior.
Quite a few consumers were able to look past the Moskvitch’s luster-lacking exterior and hazardous interior to purchase the vehicle. They probably weren’t buying it for the handling; it was known for its constant understeer troubles. Some seem to think that the pull of luxuries, such as two-speed windshield wipers and reclining front seats were enough to drag in the buyers. But, perhaps the astonishing affordability of the Moskvitch had more to do with it than anything else.
The “Son of Moscow” didn’t seem to have as many electric or engine problems as the others on this list, but the lack of manufacturer attention to design detail places this vehicle on the list. To create a car with barely a thought toward creature comforts leads to a short-lived popularity and lands you on this list.
Why it’s one of the worst: This car came equipped with its own 21-piece toolkit and a starter handle in the ’60s.
While there are many great things that have made the trans-Atlantic jump to North America from Europe, there are the select few items we wish had never survived the journey (we’ll keep Kate Beckinsale though). Eastern European cars are most definitely among these items. While each of the above car manufacturers had the right idea in mind by trying to provide affordable, bare necessity, functional automobiles, the end results burned out faster than a Yugo doing 60 mph on the highway.