Home Cars 30 Unreliable Classics That Drivers Just Can’t Forget

30 Unreliable Classics That Drivers Just Can’t Forget

Vukasin Herbez March 5, 2020

Like most auto fans, we love classic cars of all shapes, sizes, and makes. However, as much as classic cars are cool, desirable, expensive, and beautiful, they are often old, worn-out pieces of machinery. No matter how good the vehicle looks, it will give you trouble, and plenty of it. This is, unfortunately, the reality of classic car ownership that no magazine will ever tell you about.

Among all those classic cars, some are seriously flawed and unreliable, even when new. They’re cool and beautiful machines, yet problematic. Keep reading to learn about 20 fantastic yet troubled classic cars most drivers would love to own but hate to maintain.

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30. Oldsmobile Jetfire

The Oldsmobile Jetfire is an important model for automotive history that never got the respect it deserved. This was the first turbocharged passenger car alongside the Chevrolet Corvair Monza. However, the Oldsmobile system was more complex and powerful than the Chevrolet system. In those days, each GM division was in competition to present something better than their competitors. So Oldsmobile chose turbo-charging as the new technology to perfect. GM added a special “Turbo Rocket Fuel” tank consisting of distilled water, methanol, and a corrosion inhibitor mixture they injected into a fuel-air mixture to prevent detonation. This was necessary since turbochargers were prone to detonation in those days, which could ruin the engine.

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The Jetfire V8 was state-of-the-art technology and initially, the market was interested. The V8 delivered 215 HP, one HP per cubic inch, making it one of the best performance cars of the day. With the 0 to 60 mph time of eight seconds, it was almost as fast as the Corvette. However, the Jetfire had problems from the beginning, most owner-related. People praised the power delivery, but they weren’t used to maintaining a turbo engine. Many owners forgot to fill up the “Turbo Rocket Fuel” tank. This caused a loss of power and even engine failure. Soon, the Jetfire developed a bad reputation despite the praises of automotive magazines. After just two years and around 10,000 Jetfires sold, Oldsmobile decided to kill the car and turbocharging technology, putting it among our unique flops.

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29. Ford Pinto

In the 1970s, most domestic car manufacturers addressed the changing market climate and the rising popularity of compact cars with several homegrown models. However, most drivers consider all of them to be bad. One of those cars is the Ford Pinto that debuted in the early ’70s. The Pinto was popular due to its low price, reasonably nice design, and a long list of options. Ford equipped it with economical four and six-cylinder engines, and the overall quality of the car was decent.

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So what was the problem? While engineering the car, Ford “forgot” to add protection to its rear-mounted fuel tank. The fuel tank was below the trunk and just behind the rear bumper. In most models, there is a strong cross-member to protect the fuel tank in the case of a crash. However, the Pinto lacked this feature. Sadly, that became apparent when people started getting killed in fiery crashes due to the leaking fuel tanks. The families of the people who were killed or hurt in such incidents sued Ford. Eventually, the company spent millions to settle all the cases.

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28. Cadillac Cimarron

Today, almost all the luxury brands have downsized their lineups, offering more affordable and compact versions of their big sedans. But, back in the early ’80s, this move was unheard of and hard to understand. In those days, Cadillac was suffering from an identity crisis, so they looked for a way to reinvent the company to fight all their foreign competitors. After long meetings with the product development managers, they decided to introduce a small Cadillac with a lower price to attract more customers. The problem was that Cadillac didn’t have a small platform, so they turned to Chevrolet.

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They borrowed the modest Cavalier chassis, along with the small and slow four-cylinder engine. Although Cadillac dressed the Cavalier with unique trim, new colors, and a new name, the Cimarron just wasn’t enough. Sales were poor and Cadillac was under fire from their brand loyalists for ruining the company image. All throughout the industry, the Cimarron was a laughingstock. To this day, it has remained one of the worst examples of downsizing ever.

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27. Chevrolet Corvair

In the late ’50s, Chevrolet presented the Corvair, a revolutionary compact car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-six engine. For a couple of years, it looked like everything was okay with the Corvair, and sales were good. That was, until a book called, Unsafe at Any Speed hit the bookstores across the country, causing big problems for GM. The book’s author, Ralph Nader, was a consumer advocate. He discovered some classified documents showing the Corvair was responsible for many car accidents, some even with fatal outcomes.

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Apparently, the engine in the back of the car caused the Corvair to become difficult to handle. Chevrolet was aware of that, but they didn’t want to invest any money in additional stabilizer bars and suspension modifications. Soon, the book gained publicity and the public demanded answers while drivers continued to report crashes in the Corvair. Chevrolet was involved in government hearings where the company admitted its executives knew about the matter. In the end, they paid the settlement and promised to invest money in safety research. Corvair sales dropped dramatically, causing Chevrolet to discontinue the model in 1969.

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26. Audi 5000

Today, Audi is one of the leading luxury brands in the American market. Still, in the late ’80s, the company was almost gone from U.S. shores. That was due to the news of unintended acceleration problems resulting in numerous crashes. In 1986, the popular CBS TV show 60 Minutes ran a feature about Audi’s unintended acceleration on the popular 5000 model.

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However, television viewers didn’t see that they had rigged the car. In fact, the acceleration they featured in the show wasn’t genuine. After the show aired, the car community was buzzing. As a result, Audi’s reputation was badly damaged. Audi responded by publishing numerous tests and videos to show the only possible way something like that could happen was if the driver’s foot slipped off the brake to the accelerator pedal. Unfortunately, it didn’t help and soon their sales hit rock bottom.

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25. Yugo GV

Back in the late ’80s, ex-Yugoslav car manufacturer Crvena Zastava made a brave attempt to enter the American market with a compact model they called the Yugo. The Yugo was a three-door hatchback they built on a Fiat 127 base with some improvements in design and technology. It was inexpensive and easy to maintain. So why shouldn’t you touch it with a 10-foot pole?

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The reason was simple, it was the driving dynamics and quality. Both were horrible, even by the standards of the day. The engine produced 65 HP sent to the front wheels over a badly-assembled five-speed manual gearbox. The performance was painfully slow, but that was not the worst thing. Its fit and finish were also bad.

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24. 1980 Chevrolet Corvette C3

In 1970, the hottest Corvette delivered 435 HP. But in 1980, the hottest Corvette produced a disappointing 180 HP. And in California, it was even 10 HP less due to stricter emission standards. So what happened in just 10 years and where did all those horses go?

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When the recession, emission standards, and safety regulations appeared, they killed almost all the performance of the legendary Corvette. Unfortunately, the 1980 Corvette a dinosaur with old technology under its plastic skin. Also, it had a lazy engine and an outdated interior. Unfortunately, it still looked like business, but the years caught up with it and the disco era was over.

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23. Bricklin SV-1

The SV-1 was the brainchild of automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin. The Bricklin company produced it from 1974 to 1975 with less than 3,000 cars. For a short while, they marketed the SV-1 as the most advanced American sports car. However, as soon as the first cars started rolling down the assembly line, it was clear the SV-1 was not what people expected it to be. Their idea was to produce a safe-yet-fast sports car with the name SV-1 for Safety Vehicle One. Bricklin designed the car with big bumpers and numerous additional features like warring sensors.

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It came with power Gullwing doors and an integrated roll cage, making it heavy and not agile and also without any cigarette lighters. Power came from the 360 AMC V8 engine, which wasn’t powerful. Later the company turned to the 351 Ford V8, but it still couldn’t deliver any real performance. The public praised the SV-1 for its dedication to safety but criticized it for its lack of performance. Its heavyweight, high price tag, and poor build quality killed this car, ranking it among our list of flops.

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22. DeLorean DMC 12

Started by John Z. De Lorean in the late ’70s, De Lorean was briefly marketed as the next big thing in the sports car world. For a short time, it looked that America got a sports car brand that could rival Europe`s finest companies. De Lorean presented an interesting concept of a sports car with Gullwing doors, a modern wedge-shaped design, a mid-mounted V6 engine, and stainless steel body.

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However, production was late, and when the car was finally revealed it turned out to be pretty slow, underpowered, and riddled with quality problems. Due to its prominent appearance in the Back To The Future movies and numerous music videos, DMC 12 is still a popular car and one of the automotive symbols of the ’80s.

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21. Subaru SVX

Back in the early ’90s, Subaru wanted to enter the sports car market and promote its biggest assets, all-wheel drive and flat-six engines. So, the company hired Italdesign to design a sleek and modern coupe. In 1991 the SVX debuted with strange styling, complicated side window patents but sublime handling and great performance.

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However, the car was heavy and it was introduced at the same time as much more competent competitors from other brands which made Subaru kind of redundant. Under the hood was a 3.3-liter flat-six which propelled this rare car to 7.3 seconds 0 to 60 mph times. Only about 14,000 were sold in America up until 1996.

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20. Maserati BiTurbo

The BiTurbo lineup of cars started with the 222. It was a handsome two-door coupe and continued with the 420 and 430 sedans. The BiTurbos were meant to be entry-level Maseratis at more affordable prices than expected. Under the hood was a new generation of turbocharged 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter V6 engines. They came with high power outputs from 180 HP all the way to 270 HP in later years.

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The BiTurbo generation, however, was infamous for a lack of reliability. The cars were prone to all kinds of mechanical issues. Maserati made over 40,000 BiTurbos in a 13-year period. But due to the poor quality, just a small fraction of them are still on the road.

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19. Chrysler Turbine

During the early ’60s, Chrysler was heavily involved in turbine car testing. At the time, the engines, similar to jet aircraft engines, made sense as the future of the internal combustion engine. But after extensive testing in laboratories and on the test tracks, Chrysler needed real-life data. The company built 55 cars, sending them to Italy’s Ghia design house to get hand-made bodies. Then Chrysler gave the cars to randomly-chosen families all over America to use as regular cars for a period of time.

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The extensive program lasted two years of testing the cars in various conditions. But because the Chrysler Turbine was so unreliable, they decided to abandon the project. The company scrapped all 55 cars to avoid paying the import duties since they were partially produced in Italy. Thanks to some lucky circumstances, nine cars have survived. Today, you can find them in museums and private collections all over America.

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18. Mazda RX-7

The popularity of Japanese sports cars from the ’70s to the ’90s is one of the biggest stories in the classic car world in recent years. However, if you are looking for a genuine JDM car, you are probably too late. Today, prices are stratospheric and the choice of models is limited. However, there is an alternative in the form of the Mazda RX-7. The first generation of the compact Mazda sports car has all the right ingredients to become a cult classic. It’s 40 years old and comes with rear-wheel drive. The Mazda RX-7 is inexpensive and plentiful. Also, it achieved some racing success.

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The first-generation RX-7 debuted in 1978 and stayed on the market until 1985. During that period, they built almost 500,000 RX-7s, selling most of them in America. Under the hood was a 1.1 to 1.3-liter Wankel rotary engine, which was the RX-7’s most notable feature. The Wankel was extremely compact and light. Also, it produced 102 to 135 HP, which was more than enough for a lively performance. However, the rotary engine was also the biggest problem for the RX-7 since sourcing parts and service for them was a problem. The Wankel rotary engine was a constant headache for thousands of Mazda owners. It’s an unreliable powerplant famous for failures to this day.

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17. Triumph Stag

Triumph presented the Stag from 1970 until 1978. The market was impressed by the new model featuring open-top driving with the hardtop. It still had enough room for four adults and all their luggage. The Stag was powered by a 3.0-liter V8 engine delivering 145 HP for decent performance. With its muscular appearance and V8 rumble, the Stag looked like a luxury muscle car, attracting many buyers.

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before most Stag owners experienced its notorious unreliability. That, along with its high price, destroyed any chances on the American and global markets. When they ceased production in 1978, Triumph had produced just 25,000 cars.

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16. Citroen SM

One of the coolest-looking, most exclusive Citroen cars was the gorgeous SM introduced in 1970. This elegant coupe had some interesting features that made the competition look outdated and old. In the late ’60s, Citroen became the owner of Maserati. The Citroen management team wanted to use Maserati’s powerful engines and sports car know-how to produce a luxurious, fast coupe. It would come with Citroen’s signature design and style, and that’s how the SM was born.

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The aesthetics were clearly French with a hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension and front-wheel drive. But instead of the underpowered four-cylinder engine, the SM got a 2.7-liter V6 developed by Maserati that provided enough power for a lively performance. The French hydropneumatic suspension, Italian engine, and questionable build quality resulted in an unreliable but gorgeous car as its 12,000 owners eventually learned.

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15. Lancia Scorpion

Are you looking for a limited production Italian sports car from the ’70s with two seats and a mid-engine layout with only around $20,000 to spare? Although that sounds impossible, there is a solution in the Lancia Scorpion. In 1976, Lancia presented the Scorpion, a U.S.-spec version of the Beta Montecarlo model. Lancia couldn’t use the Montecarlo name for the American market because Chevrolet already had a car they called the Monte Carlo. So Lancia decided to go with the aggressive Scorpion nameplate. Despite the car’s modern looks and technical layout, the Lancia Scorpion had a sluggish four-cylinder engine that delivered only 81 HP in U.S. spec.

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The Scorpion was available for two years, in 1976 and 1977, with Lancia selling approximately 1,800 of them in America. The car sold in such small numbers because it was underpowered, unreliable, and rust-prone. Unfortunately, there were problems with everything from the engine and differentials to electronics and body rust. The Lancia Scorpion looked cool, but it was just a poorly-built Italian coupe.

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14. Alfa Romeo GTV6

The Tipo 105 successor was the coupe version of the Alfetta, which debuted in the late ’70s. Alfa employed advanced construction and offered an updated suspension and several other details. The GTV6 came with a transaxle gearbox that vastly improved the weight distribution and handling. They added a De Dion type rear axle that helped with cornering and driving dynamics. With a 2.5-liter V6 engine in the front, the GTV6 delivered 160 to 170 HP and a vivid performance for the time.

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Even today, the GTV6 is famous for its perfect driving dynamics and solid acceleration times. On top of that, drivers got a fantastic soundtrack coming from the high revving V6. But sadly, it was also famous for rust, failing electronics, and random screws falling out of nowhere. If you’re still interested, you can pick one up for a bargain price.

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13. Ferrari F355

Ferrari introduced the F355 in the mid-90s. Obviously, the car was beautiful, fast, and powerful, yet it’s also relatively inexpensive and common. Unfortunately, it has a problem with durability and maintenance costs. There are several significant problems with the F355, including cracking exhaust manifolds due to bad engineering and poor material.

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The cost of replacing the headers is close to $5,000. If you don’t replace the headers and keep driving, you could face engine failure. A full engine rebuild costs around $25,000. In addition, the valve guides are prone to failure in one out of every five Ferrari F355s. As you can expect, the price of sorting this problem out is also astronomical at approximately $6,000. But it doesn’t end there, because every three to five years, F355 owners are required to do a regular belt change and full service. This includes pulling the engine out of the car and several days of expensive labor. Some dealers charge around $10,000 for this routine service.

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12. Fiat 850 Spyder

Fiat was always one of the best producers of supermini and compact cars. The company offers sportier or open-top versions, and that’s exactly what the 850 Spider is. Presented in 1964, the 850 Spider was a cool-looking roadster version of the regular 850 compact family car.

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Despite looking like a toy compared to other full-size cars of the period, the 850 Spider was a capable driving machine because it was so light and nimble. With just 49 HP, the car couldn’t outrun any Porsches. But since it was so small, it could provide a lot of driving excitement. However, most Spiders never got to fulfill their owner’s dreams as they rotted away so quickly.

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11. Aston Martin Lagonda

The 1976 to 1990 Aston Martin Lagonda is one of the quirkiest cars you could own. Aston Martin envisioned it to be the ultimate luxury sedan with V8 power, a bespoke interior, and top-of-the-line features. However, the Lagonda was one of the most expensive cars in the world during its production run. That’s the reason Aston only sold approximately 650 of them.

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The main selling point was its exclusivity and unusual wedge-shaped styling. Unfortunately, Lagondas soon showed their dark side because they were notoriously undeveloped and problematic. That was mostly due to then-new electronic systems the company installed in the car. The Lagonda was so bad, it broke down moments before they were going to show it to Queen Elizabeth II.

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10. Porsche 996

In 1998, the 996 generation of the 911 debuted, shocking Porsche purists. Air cooling, a defining characteristic of the car, was gone. The reason was that air cooling couldn’t handle the rising power of modern engines as well as the demanding engineering of Porsche cars. The engines had to use regular water cooling, which is far more efficient and commonly-used. Some experts say that removing air cooling caused the 911s to lose some of their appeal. However, it was the right move because it enabled the engineers to develop the car.

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However, the biggest problem wasn’t the engineering or design. Rather, it was one tiny yet crucial mechanical component called IMS for “intermediate shaft bearing.” It is a small shaft that connects the crankshaft to the camshaft. Porsche never provided the proper lubrication, causing the bearings to break, which led to fatal engine failure. The absolute worst thing is that IMS could fail without any warning since it wasn’t connected to normal wear and tear or total mileage. If the IMS fails, drivers have to do a full engine rebuild, which is expensive and frustrating.

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9. Cadillac 8-6-4 Engine

Back in the early ’80s when fuel efficiency and cost savings were imperatives in the car game, most manufacturers were experimenting with various different engine and drivetrain options. Oldsmobile went the diesel route by introducing the notoriously poor-performing 4.3-liter V8 and then the improved 5.7-liter V8. However, Cadillac decided to install a fancy electronic cylinder deactivation system in its gasoline V8s.

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When cruising around town, the car would only use four cylinders and the rest would deactivate, stopping fuel delivery and shutting down the spark plugs. When the driver needed more power, two more cylinders would activate, making the engine a V6. But when the driver pushed the throttle to the end, all eight would fire up to deliver full power. Unfortunately, as soon as the first examples arrived, problems started because the electronic system was unreliable. The engine tended to get stuck in one mode, usually four-cylinder. After a few years on the market, Cadillac discontinued this option, but it took even longer for the company to recover from its lost reputation.

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8. Oldsmobile Diesel

In the late ’70s, American manufacturers were all about fuel efficiency and downsizing. The era of big cruisers and powerful gasoline engines of the ’60s was gone. Everybody was trying to introduce new, innovative technologies. Oldsmobile was at the forefront of this new trend with the introduction of the diesel engine in passenger cars. The company introduced the 4.3-liter V8 diesel engine as an option for the Cutlass line. Soon afterward, this model was subject to enormous amounts of recalls and engine swaps.

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Unfortunately, the 4.3-liter had the tendency to explode and shatter during normal driving. Passengers weren’t hurt, but the car was unusable. Oldsmobile later introduced the 5.7-liter diesel that was somewhat more durable. But most people consider the 4.3-liter the worst diesel engine in history.

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7. Sterling 825

If you don’t know what the Sterling 825 is, nobody can blame you. Once marketed as the next big thing in the luxury car segment, Sterling is now a forgotten brand in automotive history. However, Sterling was a British company that began in the late ’80s with Honda capital and Rover styling.

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The finished product was attractive with a stylish interior and decent power coming from the Honda V6 engine. But after the introduction in 1987 and the promising sales numbers in the first few months, problems showed up. The Sterlings were poorly constructed, the electronics were troublesome, and some cars even developed rust issues. Honda tried to improve the production process, but by the early ’90s, Sterling was gone.

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6. Range Rover

When the Range Rover debuted in 1970, it took the Land Rover Defender concept and improved it far beyond market expectations. Most car historians agree the Range Rover launched the modern SUV class with a unique blend of off-road capabilities, elegant design, and luxury appointments. Thanks to the Range Rover, many other car manufacturers started selling comfortable off-road vehicles. Soon, the SUV craze swept through the industry.

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The Range Rover was for those customers who needed a capable car but not an off-roader like the Defender. During the ’80s and early ’90s, the original Range Rover became the best-selling vehicle in its class and a legend of the industry. However, soon the customers found out that the Range Rover was unreliable thanks to three major issues. The first was rust and the second was electronics, like many British cars. But the problem that was the worst was that Range Rovers were prone to overheating. The owners found that simply adding coolant wasn’t an option since overheating bent the fragile aluminum heads in the V8 engine.

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5. BMW 8-Series

The 8-Series was a new model BMW conceived to be the best Gran Turismo coupe in the world. The design and platform were new as well as the engines. The BMW 8 Series featured the V8 as well as the advanced V12 engine. The car was full of advanced technical solutions and electronic systems as well as top of the line hardware. BMW included lots of luxury details and acres of the finest leather.

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The big coupe lasted on the market until 1999, but it wasn’t a big commercial success for the company. However, it was one of the finest cars BMW ever produced and a true future classic. But behind the perfect design and impressive numbers were some fragile mechanics and the complicated V12, which loved to burn oil. Not to mention the problematic suspension setup and electronic problems that plagued the 8-Series throughout its production.

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4. Mitshubishi 3000 GT

One of the unsung heroes of the ’90s Japanese sports car invasion was the Mitsubishi 3000 GT. Today, the Acura NSX gets all the attention, but the 3000 GT is an accomplished and exciting car. It has advanced technology for its day with a twin-turbo V6 engine delivering up to 300 HP in top-spec, intelligent all-wheel drive, and even four-wheel steering.

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However, it was a bit heavy and expensive to maintain. Soon, this JDM gem was forgotten. Because it was prone to all kinds of problems, owners soon gave up on them.

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3. Fiat 124 Spider

The Fiat 124 Spider entered the market in 1966 and sold in America until 1985. The Spider came with a Pininfarina design on a 124 Sedan platform with straightforward mechanics. Fiat equipped it with a twin-cam engine, four-speed manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive. Early models got 90 HP from the 1.6-liter engine, while later versions got 2.0-liter engines with fuel injection and 102 HP.

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However, despite looking like a Ferrari from the ’60s at discount prices, the Fiat was notorious for having rust issues. So much so, there’s not a single Fiat 124 Spider that doesn’t need a restoration. These cars were so bad, if you want to buy one today, the first thing to look for is rust. Chances are part of the floor is missing.

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2. Lamborghini Miura

Many car enthusiasts claim the Miura is the first proper supercar in the world. It may qualify with its fantastic design, crazy power, and performance numbers. Also, it comes with a high price tag and the company limited the production numbers. The Miura was also the first car to feature several technical solutions that later became mandatory features in the supercar segment.

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If it wasn’t the first, it is certainly was the most influential and iconic. Part of that appeal came from the 4.0-liter V12 transversally mounted behind the driver delivering 350 HP to its rear wheels. Sadly, the Miura was one of the most dangerous supercars ever made since it could catch fire at any moment. Quite a few Miuras were lost due to fire because of mechanical flaws, poor carburetor assembly, and bad fuel lines.

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1. Classic Mini

The Mini was an immensely influential and significant car when it was released in 1959. Today, every front-wheel-drive car uses the same drivetrain layout and concept. However, the first Mini wasn’t without its flaws. Apart from being unsafe and rust-prone, the Mini had one major design flaw. Due to a transversally-mounted engine, the radiator was on the left side behind the wheel well. But this design feature left the distributor and spark plug wires without any protection. So during rainy days, water flooded the starting system of the Mini through the front grille.

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This left thousands of owners stranded and without any chance to start their car. These are 20 of the most unreliable classic cars that were a thorn in car owners’ sides for years. They all have their innate qualities, yet they also come with some serious flaws, some even with deadly consequences. Hopefully, the car industry has learned some valuable lessons from these cars to protect drivers in the future.

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