Ever since the dawn of the automobile, Italian manufacturers have been leading the way both with pioneering performance and jaw-dropping designs. Brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini are some of the most universally acclaimed on the planet, and their greatest cars are auctioned off to eager collectors for eye-watering sums. But, as much as there’s been a lot of sales successes from Italy, the country’s carmakers have also seen their fair share of duds.
Every major Italian manufacturer has put out a sales flop at some point during their history, and despite what some enthusiasts might think, it’s not always just their infamous build quality issues that cause these failures. Among other things, there have been cars that are too slow, too basic, too ugly, or even just too boring.
Not only are these disappointing cars terrible for their manufacturers’ bottom lines, but their marketing departments would probably like everyone to forget about them too. After all, no brand wants to be remembered as the one that made that terrible car, even if they’ve made plenty of good models since. Unfortunately for those marketers, this list is all about recapping these glorious failures, and so let’s take a look at ten of the all-time worst Italian sales flops.
Chrysler TC by Maserati
Kicking things off with an Italian-American collaboration, the Chrysler TC by Maserati is infamous for several reasons. It was built by Maserati in their Milan factory, but most passersby would probably mistake it for a Chrysler LeBaron. In fact, the TC not only looked like the LeBaron, but it wasn’t much faster than it either.
The whole thing was built on K-car underpinnings and despite a hefty price tag and Maserati branding, it was just like any other K-car to drive. Edmunds summed the TC up nicely by calling it, “both the worst Maserati and worst Chrysler ever”.
Alfa Romeo 90
By the early ’80s, Alfa’s Alfetta sedan had been in production for about ten years and desperately needed something to replace it. The issue was that the company was very cash strapped, and so rather than produce anything actually new, Alfa re-bodied the Alfetta, added some new features, and called it the 90.
Buyers saw right through the ruse and the 90 was a complete sales flop, especially since the car’s German competitors were light years ahead in both reliability and performance. There were some unique quirks on the car, including a briefcase that mounted onto the dashboard and an early version of a digital rev counter. But, that couldn’t change the fact that this was an old Alfa in a new shell, and it still had the brand’s traditional rust and electrical problems on top.
In theory, the Lancia Gamma had the makings of a great car. It was attractively styled by Pininfarina, and it featured a number of innovations like a unique all-aluminum flat-four engine. Like many Italian cars though, its Achilles heel was its build quality or rather total lack of it.
There were some unusual design choices too that caused potential safety issues: for example, the power steering pump was connected to the timing belt instead of being driven off the crank pulley, and so when the steering was on full lock the belt had a tendency to snap. Unsurprisingly, the Gamma never sold well, and its failure signaled the start of a long decline for the Lancia brand.
Alfa Romeo Arna
With Italian build quality being what it is, it’s a wonder that more of the country’s manufacturers haven’t tried to partner with another foreign company to finally remedy the issue. Perhaps the reason they haven’t is that they all remember the failure of the Arna, a collaboration between Alfa Romeo and Nissan that has gone down as one of the worst cars in history. Rather than combining Japanese build quality with Italian looks and handling, the Arna did the opposite.
It looked as drab as many other Japanese cars from the era and its handling were similarly underwhelming. And, it still came with all the usual Italian build quality problems thanks to its assembly at Alfa’s factory in Pratola Serra. Despite all that, the car did manage to sell around 50,000 units, mostly based on the initial hype for the collaboration. As soon as buyers realized how bad the car was though, sales tanked, and the car was killed off just four years after it was released.
Ferrari Dino 308 GT4
Collectors love buying Ferraris because of their looks and performance, but the Dino 308 GT4 managed to have neither. It was designed to fit four adults, and it did but at the cost of its styling. It was boxy, uninspiring, and looked a lot like the regular passenger cars of the era.
It was also slow, especially in its early years of production. It never sold that well at its release and today 308 GT4s are some of the cheapest Ferraris to buy used if they’re even still around. Even the most pristine examples of the car struggle to reach $100,000, and most will go for tens of thousands less.
Fiat 127 Rustica
The original Fiat 127 was a fairly run-of-the-mill supermini that was sold throughout the ’70s in Italy and around Europe. After that car was discontinued, the nameplate was kept and slapped on a Brazilian-market Fiat 147, which was then sold in the Italian market as the 127 Rustica. It was the most basic off-road economy car the brand sold at the time, and it came with almost no features or conveniences.
It was only sold in one color, a dull beige, and strangely enough, Fiat hired Lamborghini to do the final assembly of the car in their factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese. Yes, this was a car that was built right alongside the legendary Countach. The 127 Rustica was a big sales flop as it was just too basic for most buyers, and it was quickly taken off sale just two years after it was launched.
The Lancia Beta was another car that was a great idea in theory but suffered from one big flaw: rust. It was designed as an entry-level sports car and received good reviews from the press when it was first released. Unfortunately, cheap steel used in the assembly of the car meant that Betas began to rust almost immediately after leaving the factory.
The problem became so bad that eventually, Lancia agreed to buy back Betas from customers in the UK. The bought back cars were not economical to fix, and so Lancia ended up crushing most of them. It also meant the company took a huge PR hit which, combined with general declining sales, led the company to pull out of its biggest overseas market, the UK, shortly after the debacle.
Alfa Romeo 4C
When news of the 4C first started emerging, enthusiasts were thrilled. Here was a pure-bred Italian sports car with a carbon fiber chassis and a relatively affordable asking price. What could go wrong? Well, it turns out the 4C’s handling didn’t quite live up to expectations.
It was too jittery on uneven roads, and not fast enough to be a serious track car. It wasn’t a great highway cruiser either, as the whining exhaust note from its four-cylinder engine quickly became annoying. Sales of the car were nowhere near Alfa’s expectations, and each variant was gradually axed, with the final Spider being given the chop in late 2020.
By the time the Biturbo was announced, Maserati had been very strapped for cash for years, partly thanks to slumping performance car sales and partly due to sloppy construction. The Biturbo really sealed the deal though, as it was so badly made that it cemented Maserati’s reputation as having dodgy build quality for decades to come.
Owners reported issues with almost every part of the car, from engine problems, interior trim falling off, gearbox faults, and of course plenty of rust. It regularly makes appearances in lists of the worst cars of all time, including by ourselves here at HotCars.
The difference between the Jalpa and many of the other cars on this list is that the Jalpa wasn’t actually a bad car, in fact, there wasn’t anything major wrong with it. It just suffered from a case of being conceived at the wrong time, as it was built alongside the much more exciting Countach.
Nearly every Lamborghini buyer wanted the faster, crazier Countach, and so as a result almost nobody bought the Jalpa. Only 410 units were ever produced and Lambo eventually axed the car after eight years as it just couldn’t compete with its bigger, better brother.
These cars were predicted to be the next big thing in the automotive world. Instead, they flopped spectacularly!
About The Author