5 of the Worst Cars Offered as Game Show Prizes in the Last 50 Years
Did you know that the modern version of The Price Is Right has awarded over 8,400 cars as prizes since it premiered in 1972? The iconic game show recently gave away an Aston Martin Vantage GT Coupe and an Audi R8 Spyder. However, the most expensive car — which appeared but wasn’t won — was a $285,716 Ferrari 458 Spider. But what about the worst game show cars?
The list is long and undistinguished, but we’ve distilled it to five of the worst cars offered as game show prizes. The good news is that, sometimes, contestants can receive a check payment instead of the vehicle. Alternatively, they can sell it for cash. So, don’t feel too bad for the winners of the worst game show cars.
The Chevy Vega is 1 of the worst cars despite winning an award
The Vega was supposed to be General Motors’ weapon to fend off the newfangled import cars, which had the nerve to be affordable, reliable, and fuel-efficient. The Vega emerged in 1971 as a handsomely styled subcompact developed under the tutelage of none other than John Z. DeLorean, then the head of Chevrolet.
Within a short time on the market, the Vega displayed a few major problems. First, the car would start to rust at even the hint of rain. Also, Chevrolet also built the Vega’s all-aluminum engine without traditional steel sleeves for the cylinders. As a result, the engine block was prone to major heat warping. Finally, like the infamous Ford Pinto, the Vega’s gas tank was vulnerable to catching fire if the car was hit from the rear.
In 1972, after a seven-year hiatus, the iconic game show The Price Is Right was resurrected with some fun new twists, including amped-up the prizes. The first vehicle given away on the show was a red 1972 Chevy Vega. And before that, the game show Sale of the Century offered a 1971 Vega as a prize. We really can’t fault the shows, though. Before its many flaws got publicized, the Vega was pretty popular and even won MotorTrend’s Car of the Year.
The Cadillac Cimarron was bad by luxury standards
Ah, the Cimarron. It wasn’t necessarily a bad car, but it was a bad Cadillac. For the uninitiated, the Cimarron was Cadillac’s first compact, intended to compete with popular European vehicles like the BMW 3 Series. In reality, the only thing the Cimarron had in common with the 325e was that both had four wheels.
That’s because beneath the Cadillac crest, the Cimarron was really a badge-engineered Chevy Cavalier. True, Cadillac engineers conjured up a more luxurious interior and tweaked the suspension toward performance, but there’s only so much one can do. Its 85-hp engine made 0-to-60-mph acceleration a 13.7-second affair, per Car and Driver.
In a 1982 episode of The Price Is Right, a contestant came oh-so-close to taking home a new silver Cimarron, replete with thin whitewall tires on 13-inch (!) wheels. In this case, losing wasn’t so bad after all.
The Pontiac Fiero is a controversial pick
America’s long-running music game show Name That Tune aired sporadically since 1953. To spice up the show for a 1984 revival, producers launched a $100,000 tournament where the winner would receive $10,000 in cash and $90,000 worth of prizes. Indeed, in the 1984 premiere, a contestant won a Caribbean cruise, a grand piano, a hot tub, and a new Pontiac Fiero, which the show’s announcer dubbed “America’s first mid-engine production car.”
What really would have come in handy for the lucky winner, rather than an enormous white piano, would have been a fire extinguisher. According to Autoweek, about 20% of 1984 Fieros caught fire. Other sources say that at one point in the ’80s, over 20 Fieros per week were going up in flames. The weak link in Pontiac’s sporty commuter car — don’t call it a sports car, per GM — was a too-small oil pan that caused the engine to run hot, compounded by an electrical harness running too close to the hot engine.
The same oil starvation issues also caused the engine’s connecting rods to fail at an alarming rate, which fanned the Fiero’s reputation for unreliability. In 1988, GM killed Pontiac’s two-seater amid dismal sales. Nowadays, the Fiero is something of a cult classic and a basis for fake Ferraris and Lamborghini kit cars everywhere.
The Yugo GV is arguably the worst car ever sold on American soil
In the mid-1980s, eccentric businessman Malcolm Bricklin hatched the idea to import Yugo automobiles into the United States. Bricklin — who could easily be the subject of an entire article, not just a few sentences — had previously enjoyed massive success bringing Subaru cars to U.S. shores, so maybe lightning would strike twice.
It didn’t. The Yugo GV, short for “Good Value,” was little more than a rebadged Fiat 128, built under license in communist Yugoslavia. At a starting price of $3,900, the small hatchback was indeed cheap, but that’s about the best thing that could be said about it. A 1.1-liter engine made just 55 hp yet somehow returned only 26 mpg gas mileage.
At first, the Yugo GV sold like gangbusters. But soon, stories about shoddy build quality and general unreliability began circulating. Comedians had a field day with jokes about the econobox, like that it had an electric rear-window defroster so your hands would stay warm while pushing it.
Some gearheads consider the Yugo GV the worst car ever sold on American soil. In later years, the company offered more luxurious trims and even a convertible version, but it was too late. The Yugo’s reputation was tainted, and U.S. imports stopped in 1992 following a costly product recall.
In October 1987, the other game show hosted by Alex Trebek, Classic Concentration, gave away not one but two Yugos as, ahem, prizes. Reportedly, one of them even had air-conditioning.
The Mitsubishi Mirage is a popular game show car
If the Yugo had a modern-day equivalent, it could be the cheap Mitsubishi Mirage. A new 2024 Mirage starts at a miserly $17,950 and even the top-tier SE and Ralliart trims hover at $20,000. With that low entry price comes one of the longest warranties in the business (five years or 60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper) and free maintenance for two years. The Mirage also gets excellent fuel economy, with an EPA rating of 39 mpg combined.
So far, that doesn’t sound so bad. But once you get behind the wheel, the Mirage’s shortcomings become apparent. “It’s slow, not especially comfortable, and its interior feels chintzier than a watch from TK Jewelers,” Car and Driver says.
Maybe a comparison to the Yugo is a little harsh, but the fact is that buyers can do better in the same price range with competitors like the Kia Rio and Nissan Versa.
Nonetheless, an executive at Mitsubishi deserves a raise for relentlessly promoting the Mirage. It was awarded as a prize at least three times during the 51st season of The Price Is Right in 2022.