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Looking for the Worst ... Truck ... EVER

I am writing a story in which one of the characters drives a small delivery van/light truck with notoriously bad reliability. (Yes, if the hipsters insist, the word “epic” could apply.)

Ideally, I am looking for an American vehicle from the 1970’s or 1980’s that could be used for both small-shop deliveries and comedically disastrous breakdowns. One friend summarized it as “the Ford Pinto of small trucks”. What I really need is vehicle that requires regular attention from a mechanic, an electrician, and an exorcist.

Right now, I am looking at a 1981 Chevy El Camino, but I am open to other options if anyone has a better candidate. The main draws to the El Camino are:

  1. useful, but ugly as sin … well, some sins at least (seriously, it looks like it was designed by someone who collects antique jackhammers as a hobby)
  2. comes from a company with a proven track record of sub-standard production
  3. the 1981 model had a recall for faulty suspension bolts (if they came loose, the driver would not be able to steer)
  4. the only colors I have ever seen a real one in have been rust brown or concrete grey (although that one could have been just primer … ), both hideous choices for a vehicle made of metal.

Please send me your recommendations and any stories that would corroborate the “worst truck” status.
Ugly is not a target criteria, only a bonus.


Any vehicle can be unreliable if improperly maintained. Perhaps that will open up the possibilities more. A couple of notes: The El Camino is not a truck. Trucks tend to be fairly reliable, even if made by a company with “a proven track record of sub-standard production” simply due to the heavy-duty nature of their construction, especially in the 70’s and 80’s before pickups became an urban fashion statement.

In the early 1960s, Chevrolet marketed a van called the Greenbriar. It wasn’t all that reliable. There was a commercial model available. It also came in a pickup truck version. The engines were in the back.
I think in the early 1970s there was a sedan delivery (a shrunken panel truck) in the Chevrolet Vega series. The Vega engine was about as durable as a potato chip.

El Caminos, even the 1981 models, bring good money today and are sought after by collectors and hobbyists…They were useless as both a car and a truck, so they never sold great numbers of them…Few of them ever saw commercial delivery service. They were favored by construction supervisors who seldom had to carry anything heavy…Virtually all the real trucks made were reliable enough, simple, heavy duty machines…The poor ones had major rust problems, they didn’t wear out, they simply dissolved and became unsightly so they were replaced. Ford finally broke down and installed decent painting equipment in their truck plants, a move that forced the others to do the same, with Dodge still lagging in that regard…

How about an old jeep converted mail carrier. Or, an older Chevy panel delivery truck with wood grain sides.

VW Transporter T1 or T2 in the pick-up configuration. The engine in the 1959 version was so unreliable that they were recalled and the engine replaced.

The worst truck I ever owned was a Corvair 95 Loadside pickup. I worked on it more than I ever drove it and it only had about 40K on the chassis. It would only start about one out of every three tries. It was also the worst oil burner I ever owned.

In the 1980s, my dad had an oldsmobile station wagon with a diesel engine that was converted from gas. That thing sucked in so many ways. Performance was terrible, it tended to freeze up every night in the winter in Southwest Missouri. It came with a built in block heater, with an extension cord sticking out the front grill. What great engineering! My dad added heating blankets under the hood every night in the winter to try to keep the thing warm and working. I remember one freezing night laying under it in snow and ice in our driveway aiming two hair dryers at the oil pan. Even when it was running, it smoked and gurgled like a moonshine still. I think if you could find a truck with that crap engine, you could build quite a lot of hysterical scenes in your story.

How about the Chevy LUV. LUV stood for Light Utility Vehicle but you could change it to something comical like loser underpowered vehicle. It was made by Isuzu.

Better yet why automatically throw a domestic under the bus when import car and trucks were bigger poc’s than domestics?

Well I had a 1972 f100 pickup I bought in 79. Sure there was some rust, sure the power steering did not work, but the price was right for only 30k miles. Well that dog (a farm truck) and I towed my 72 nova from IL to FL to ND then to IL, including winding down I65 in Indiana in a blizzard, like driving a snake down a river. Sure I needed heavy duty floor mats to keep my feet in the truck, and sure it felt like it was going 2 different directions in every turn because the frame was rusted out, and sure I did not need no stinking power steering, and sure I did not mind replacing the gas pump at 18 degrees in black river falls WI, but I really hated the red ford letters on the tan tailgate.

I dunno, did Fiat make a truck in the 80s? I worked with a woman that had a Strada, and it was the most unmitigated P.O.S. of a vehicle that ever existed, including Yugos for comparison.

Maybe the Plymouth Scamp would be in the running.

Or the Subaru Brat.

There was a panel version of the Ford Pinto station wagon in the 70’s.

Ed B.

Any late 70’s S-10 w/ a 4 cylinder would surely qualify. When my Dad bought one, I actually out ran it to the corner a few times!(about 110’)
He spent more time spinning the wheels in anything over a 1/4" of snow…or rain for that matter. Biggest POS I’ve ever driven. …and that right there says a LOT!
It became a “garage Queen” after 20,000 miles and was traded for a Ford F-150 at 22,000. My pick!

Back in 68, I had a friend who had a Morris Minor panel truck he called the “Pie Wagon”. It was made either in the late 50’s or early 60’s. It had a lot of character.|+Flickr+-+Photo+Sharing!&sigr=157gr8l0s&sigi=150abkve0&sigb=11t0c37lg&fr=aaplw

My friends did not have the rear side windows, it was a panel truck. I don’t know how reliable it was, he didn’t have it long, but since few people have ever had any experience with one, it can be as reliable as you want it to be. Whatever you want to fail will be believable to most of us.

“I dunno, did Fiat make a truck in the 80s? I worked with a woman that had a Strada, and it was the most unmitigated P.O.S. of a vehicle that ever existed, including Yugos for comparison.”

The Yugo was a Fiat design (Fiat 127) that was built in Yugoslavia. And I’m sure they built a truck then it just wasn’t available in the USA.

Let’s see…the worst American truck…
1971 Vega Kammback. Hands down.