It’s no secret that clasic American muscle cars pack serious muscle, but some of the best-selling Chevrolet models failed to live up to this reputation. Be it poor performance figures or maintenance and repair bills that will bankrupt you, these Chevy models were massive disappointments. Classic cars will always need some time and attention to stay in good running order, and may not be as competitive as they used to be, but these Chevy’s take unreliability and disappointing to a new (or shall we say old) level.
From the iconic Corvette and Camaro, to malaise cars that will never be worth anything, these Chevy muscle cars are absolute disappointments. Though those in the market for used cars should pay attention, many of the models sell for next for nothing and could be your next project. With enough time and money, you can make these cars into something somewhat fast, but there’s plenty other cool muscle cars that won’t break the bank we’d recommend before buying any of these.
So, grab a pen and paper, and write these down, so you know to run from these 10 disappointing old Chevy muscle cars next time they pop up on Bring a Trailer or Facebook Marketplace. Oh, and we aren’t just going after Chevy, there’s plenty of Ford Mustangs we wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. There is also something good about any classic muscle car, and we respect anyone willing to keep them running and driving, even if it is not a ‘HEMI Cuda or Corvette L88.
10/10 1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
The first car on the list is by far the least disappointing, so don’t take a sigh of relief just yet; the worst is yet to come. The top Camaro offering of 1979 made a whopping 175 horsepower (that’s less than a Toyota Camry). The 1979 Camaro Z/28 could drag to 60 in about 8.5 seconds, and made the quarter-mile in 17.5 seconds. This is even more disappointing when you consider that just nine years prior, one of the most special Camaro models was made, the 1970 SS.
The 1979 Z/28 features the iconic and bulletproof 350 cubic-inch V8. Good thing they used a reliable power plant, the money saved at the mechanic shop will help offset loses from racing bets. It’s a miracle Chevrolet sold nearly 85,000 Z/28s in 1979. Remarkably, the 1979 will go down in history as the best-selling Camaro of all time, selling more than 285,000 models.
9/10 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna
Though NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. has one in his collection and many loyal bow tie fans consider it to be the pinnacle of 1970s NASCAR homolgation cars, we have to disagree. The 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna S-3 could get to 60mph in 8.3 seconds, which doesn’t seem all that bad until you realize it made use of a massive 454 cubic inch V8. The previous entry could get to 60 around the same time with far less displacement.
The lack luster performance combined with the rust prone vinyl roof, and heavy luxury accessories only add to the disappointment. Hopefully the near 100,000 Chevelle Lagunas sold between 1973 and 1974 didn’t disappoint buyers as much as it disappoints us. Though we have to admit… the swiveling bucket seats are totally rad.
8/10 1979 Chevrolet El Camino SS
We hate to admit, the best-selling El Camino of all time was also one of the slowest ever made. In 1979, Chevy sold nearly 60,000 units, with a 5th being the “high performance” SS trim. The 350 cubic inch V8 could scoot the car-truck to 60 mph in about 9 seconds, with a 17-second quarter mile.
So, what made the 1979 El Camino so successful despite its lackluster performance? Most buyers were buying the El Camino for its practicality in a comfortable package. By 1979, Chevrolet added many comfort features like leather seats, cassette deck (if that doesn’t date the El Camino we don’t know what will), air conditioning, and power windows. We don’t see Snoop Dogg splurging on one of these El Caminos anytime soon.
7/10 1977 Chevrolet Monza Mirage
You’d think a light-weight hatchback paired with a rev-happy small block V8 would be a good combo, and it is, as long as it is not the 1977 Chevrolet Monza Mirage. The Mirage ought to be the performance oriented version of the Monza, but didn’t even break 150 horsepower from its gutless 305 cubic-inch V8.
With a quarter-mile ET around 17 seconds, you’d be better off racing in a 2000-2005 Cadillac Deville equipped with the putrid Northstar V8. The weak powerplant isn’t the only reason we don’t like the Monza Mirage, rust issues, poor paint quality, and even brake failure made the Monza too costly to maintain. Despite this, Chevy sold about 40,000 Monza units in 1977 alone. Shocking, isn’t it?
6/10 1976 Chevrolet Vega
Even Cosworth couldn’t save the Vega. In 1975 and 1976, they teamed with Chevy to attempt to bring some performance to the tiny economy car. Keyword, attempt. The Cosworth Vega only made 110 horsepower and could dash to 60mph in a little over 10 seconds. The base model Chevrolet Vega was even worse, hitting 60 in 11 seconds.
A package added to make the car better, but the Vega then “melt engines”; meaning the cylinders would often get too hot and warp, and usually break the rod bearings and crack the cylinder head. Oil leaks, severe rust, and valve issues made the Vega one of the most unreliable cars of the era. The Cosworth Vega was also known for faulty fuel injection, with many doomed for the junkyard before the end of the decade. We would recommend staying away from the Chevy Vega, though that might prove to be challenging with more than 160,000 Vega units produced in 1976.
5/10 1984 Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta
In 1982, Chevy reveaped the Camaro, and the iconic 3rd generation successfully revived the Camaro from the malaise era. However, the tacky luxury trend of the late 1970s didn’t die as easily as the Malaise era did, birthing the Berlinetta trim. Chevy sold nearly 35,000 Camaros with the Berlinetta trim. Remarkable, given it cost over $3,000 more than the base 1984 Camaro, and $200 more than the top performing Z/28.
The Berlinetta could either have the 2.8L V6 good for 107 horsepower and a 0-60 mph dash of 13.3 seconds, or the 5.0L V8 good for 150 horsepower and brought the 0-60 mph time up to 10 seconds. Both are awful figures, especially coming out of one of the best classic Chevy muscle cars of the 1980s.
4/10 1975 Chevrolet Camaro LT
The 1975 Chevrolet Camaro features a 350 cubic-inch V8, 4 speed manual transmission, and a variety of rear gears that could be as road friendly or track oriented as the buyer desired. This should be the recipe for a fun, low buck muscle car right? Not quite. The 1975 Camaro could make a 0-60 mph run of 11 seconds… yikes. An absolute far cry from the iconic SS 350 Camaro Chevrolet produced in 1970.
Chevrolet sold 145,000 Camaros in 1975, so good luck avoiding them. They still frequently pop up all over Facebook Marketplace and eBay, and many already spruced up to bring some life back in the small block V8. Still, 145 horsepower? We wish Chevrolet would have done such an iconic and great looking muscle car more justice.
3/10 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Sport Coupe
As previously mentioned, the 3rd generation Camaro is one of the most important cars in not just the history of Chevrolet, but all muscle cars. Unfortunately, the base model came with the infamous 2.5L Iron Duke Inline-4. Though reliable, the Iron Duke made no power and was already obsolete by 1982, considering Dodge was already using DOHC in their inline-4s. Still, Chevrolet sold 173,000 units in the first year of production, with 11% paired with the dreaded Iron Duke.
The Iron Duke made 90 horsepower and made the 0-60 mph run in 12.3 seconds, so it’s not the slowest car on this list despite having the smallest engine and lowest power-output. That doesn’t say much though, the Iron Duke Camaro is by no means a double COPO Camaro. The weak engine paired with poor early styling makes the 1982 Camaro one of the worst in the Camaro’s over 50-year history. We’ve even dubbed it the worst Camaro in history.
2/10 1975 Chevrolet Corvette
Despite making only 150 horsepower, this Chevrolet could get to 60 mph in 7 seconds and could do the quarter-mile drag in 16 seconds, while also coming with loads of comfort features from factory. If you thought we were talking about the 1975 Chevrolet Corvette, you would be wrong. We were actually talking about the 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24. The ’75 Corvette took over 10 seconds to crawl to 60mph, and 17.6 seconds to reach the end of the quarter-mile… yuck.
The 1975 Chevrolet Corvette came at a time when insurance companies were charging steep premiums and gas cost nearly $4 a gallon if counted for inflation in 2022. Chevrolet detuned the Corvette to save on gas and stop the insurance companies charging a pretty penny for coverage. We have to give Chevrolet credit for keeping the Corvette alive in the midst of the gas crisis. An unpopular new front bumper and catalytic converters made things worse. Impressively, Chevy sold almost 39,000 units of them, against all odds. Still, we would stay away from this Corvette.
1/10 1981 Chevrolet Citation X11
The Chevrolet Citation X-11, we bet you’ve never heard of it, but long story short, it is one of the worst cars ever. A “high-output” 2.8L V6 making about 135 horsepower paired to a 4-speed manual transmission, good for a 12 second 0-60 mph. Power goes to the front wheels and the engine mounted transversely as well, making the V6 extremely difficult to service and maintain. The Citation also had rust issues, poor build quality, cheap interior pieces, leaky fuel and brake lines, and faulty power steering systems.
Did we mention the massive lawsuit by the United States federal government again GM? The power steering and braking systems were so faulty it would cause the car to lose control at high speeds or when under heavy braking. Despite the lack luster performance, outdated appearance, reliability issues, and bad publicity, Chevy managed to sell 413,000 Citations, though GM never specified how many of which were X11s though.
Sources: Chevrolet, Hemmings, Washington Post, Bring A Trailer