10 Classic American Performance Cars We Wouldn’t Touch With A 10-Foot Pole

American cars do not have the best reputation for being reliable or well-made. Although the quality and desirability of American cars – especially muscle cars, sports cars, and luxury cars – has improved massively over the last 20-plus years. Unfortunately, the era when they were at their lowest was the late 1970s to the early 1990s.



American cars of this era had the unlucky duty of complying with strict fuel economy ratings – thanks to the energy crisis – which turned once-powerful muscle coupes into terrible and slow compact sedans. Even the models that stayed the same were not as good as they used to be, thanks to the automakers de-tuning the massive V8s for better fuel economy. It got so bad that the Pontiac Trans Am, which at one point produced almost 370 hp from its 7.5-liter V8, to where a 6.6-liter V8 produced only 185 hp. This was, without a doubt, the low point in the American car industry.

So, while there are many classicAmerican performance vehicles out there that are jaw-droppingly gorgeous and massively desirable, there are more that simply aren’t good enough. Here are ten classic American performance cars which we wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

10 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am

The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is an awesome car. It started out life as a slightly redesigned Chevrolet Camaro but eventually became popular enough to feature in the Smokey & The Bandit films. The second-generation Trans Am is definitely the most well-known model, but unfortunately, it was in production during the US energy crisis, which led to some performance losses.

The Trans Am was fitted with various engines, including a 4.9-liter, 6.6-liter, and 7.5-liter V8. The most powerful version produced around 370 hp in the HO ‘high-output’ trim in 1970. By 1977, the 6.6-liter was de-tuned to just 180 hp, while the 4.9-liter produced just 155 hp. Quite a sad time for the American auto industry.

Related: A Detailed Look Back At The Pontiac Turbo Trans Am

9 Ford Mustang II

The original Ford Mustang was a revolution in design and took the rest of the industry almost three years to catch up. When the first generation was finished with production, Ford had the second one ready – coincidentally fitting perfectly with the ongoing energy crisis.

The Mustang II was a world away from the original, being powered by 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines, only receiving a V8 because Ford needed to keep the competitive edge. The Mustang II was a real let-down and is one of the worst American cars ever made.

8 Pontiac Fiero

The Pontiac Fiero was a mid-engine sports car built to compete with the Toyota MR2 and other such affordable sports cars. But where the Toyota succeeded, the Fiero failed miserably. It was slow, unreliable, and had safety concerns, yet it was featured on Car and Driver‘s Ten Best List in 1984.

The Fiero was available with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or a 2.8-liter V6, the former of which was capable of 37 MPG in the city and a massive 60 MPG on the highway. The 4-cylinder produced 92 hp, while the V6 made 140. Both engines were mated to either a 4- or 5-speed manual, or a 3-speed automatic which tanked the fuel economy.

Related: Reasons Why The Pontiac Fiero Deserves A Comeback

7 AMC Gremlin

Contrary to popular belief, the AMC Gremlin was not actually such a bad car. It was based on the AMC AMX-GT concept car and was marketed as a compact economy car alongside the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega. It was available with a 2.0-liter i4, a 3.3-liter i6, a 3.8-liter i6, a 4.2-liter i6, and a 5.0-liter V8.

While none of the engines were particularly exciting or powerful – the V8 only made 150 hp – the Gremlin had a successful time in production, getting praises and criticisms alike. This was mostly due to the unique design and the excellent fuel economy. Yes, it had a V8, but it really wasn’t anything to write home about.

6 Ford Pinto

The Ford Pinto was designed as a more affordable and fuel-efficient alternative to the sports cars and muscle cars of the 1970s. Unfortunately, the thing the Pinto is most known for is exploding.

Thanks to the terrible design, the fuel tank sits just behind the rear bumper, meaning that if another car bumps the rear slightly, there is a good chance that the fuel tank would rupture, spinning fuel all over the hot exhaust, potentially creating a fireball . There were many official investigations, but people mostly remember the spoofs and skits regarding the fuel tank – with even Top Secret (1984) gagging with it.

Related: Here’s Why The Ford Pinto Is So Infamous 50 Years Later

5 Chevrolet Corvette 305 ‘California’

The Chevy Corvette C3 was an evolution rather than a revolution on the C2’s design. That being said, it was a brilliant car. It looked great, drove great, and had pretty good engines until it was left in production for too long and Chevrolet was forced to comply with the times.

Unfortunately, it did not escape the rising cost of fuel, so GM de-tuned the 5.0-liter V8 to such an extent, that a Vespa scooter could almost beat it to 60 mph. The V8 produced only 180 hp and had an automatic transmission as the only option – adding to the terribleness of the car.

4 Cadillac Fleetwood V8-6-4

Another car with an interesting way to improve fuel economy was the Cadillac Fleetwood. It was fitted with a 6.0-liter V8, producing only 150 hp, but it had a clever party trick up its sleeve – it was available with cylinder deactivation.

Modern cars feature cylinder deactivation to conserve fuel and improve economy, which is automatically done. The Fleetwood V8-6-4 had a button on the dash so that the driver could choose which configuration they wanted to use. It was a massively complicated system and failed most of the time and was extremely uncomfortable in 4- and 6-cylinder modes, but it was still quite interesting, nonetheless.

3 Chevrolet Camaro ‘Iron Duke’

Following the Corvette, the third generation Camaro was available with a 4-cylinder engine, called the ‘Iron Duke’. The model was produced to use less fuel and create fewer emissions, a feat which is accomplished at a massive compromise.

The Iron Duke displaced 2.5 liters and produced around 90 hp and 130 lb-ft of torque, sending all the power to the rear wheels via either a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic. The Camaro Iron Duke has an awesome name, but this is where the greatness ends. The Iron Duke was underpowered and not befitting of a Camaro.

Related: 8 Camaros That’ll Be Worth A Fortune Soon

2 Dodge Challenger

The Dodge Challenger was Chrysler’s answer to the Ford Mustang but was slightly larger and featured bigger engines. Unfortunately, the original Challenger only had a short production run before a new one was released – a far worse one.

The second-generation Challenger was based on the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe, which was available with either a 1.6-liter or a 2.6-liter inline-4 engine, making either 77 or 105 hp respectively. This generation was quite a long fall from the magnificence which was the Challenger R/T with the HEMI V8.

1 Oldsmobile Cutlass Diesel

Oldsmobile was known for its big, comfortable cruisers and even their proper muscle cars were more on the road yacht side of the spectrum. Unfortunately, the economic situation changed, and consumers wanted smaller vehicles, so Oldsmobile moved the Cutlass into a new GM platform that offered what they wanted.

To help comply with emissions and fuel economy ratings, Oldsmobile converted one of their V8s into a diesel, and stuffed it into the front of a Cutlass, putting a ‘Diesel’ badge on the rear. The larger of the two diesel engines was a 5.7-liter, which produced 120 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. While America produced some pretty awesome vehicles in the past, many others were awful, and we wouldn’t dare step anywhere close to them.