The best worst cars ever made

1960–64 Chevrolet Corvair

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Nader's Nemesis: Ralph Nader kneecapped this popular compact car (pictured, above) in his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed. But the Chevy had slick, minimalist styling at a time when other Detroit designs were overwrought.

Best of the lot: The Lakewood wagon, which debuted in 1961 and had the performance—not to mention surf-wagon capaciousness—other cars in its category don't.

Past five years: Some models are topping 20 percent growth. "If it's bad enough for Nader to hate," says McKeel Hagerty, a leading insurer of collectible cars, "it makes some people think they're going to love it." (Average 2014 sale price: $7,539. Highest sale price: $39,600, in 2013.)

1971–80 Ford Pinto
Lemon Par Excellence: The Pinto wasn't as sporty, efficient, or reliable as economy imports. And, oh yeah, it was infamous for exploding in rear-end collisions.

Best of the lot: The 1977–80 Cruising Wagon, which desperately tried to emulate the identically racing-striped and bubble-windowed "shaggin' wagon" van of the same era.

Past five years: Pintos are up about 25 percent in value. "People's parents bought them a Pinto, so that's what they end up collecting," says John Clor, Ford's liaison to Pinto car clubs. (Average 2014 sale price: $3,800. Highest sale price: $12,650, in 2007.)

1974–78 Ford Mustang II
The New Coke of Cars: This rebrand-gone-wrong was built with the guts of the Pinto and an 88-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, a far cry from the 375-hp V-8 Mustangs of a few years prior.

Best of the lot: The V-8–equipped, hot-rod-inspired (think spoilers, fatter wheels) 1976–78 Cobra II.

Past five years: They're up 24 percent because, Clor says, they're subversive: "They're the Kryptonite to the Superman of Mustang collectors. If you're the lone guy who shows up at a meet with a nice Mustang II, you are competing with no one. You win." (Average 2014 sale price: $4,307. Highest sale price: $18,975, in 2014.)

1975–80 AMC Pacer
"Bohemian" Behemoth: The Pacer's major use of heavy glass meant it got only 16 miles per gallon, even if you could headbang to "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Best of the lot: The 1975–78 X package, which sported vinyl bucket seats, chrome bumpers, aluminum rims, and door decals.

Past five years: Values are up about 9 percent. The car's oddball look, once a minus, is now a plus, says Alan Galbraith, who started the Concours d'LeMons show five years ago in Pebble Beach, California. (Average 2014 sale price: $4,886. Highest sale price: $16,500, in 2013.)

1984–88 Pontiac Fiero
The Pig in Lipstick: Imagined as a sporty two-seater with unique engine, transmission, and suspension components, the Fiero ended up taking its guts from Chevy's Chevette and Citation economy line. It did 0 to 60 mph in...11.3 seconds.

Best of the lot: The final-edition 1988 GT, with its upgraded suspension, engine, body, and brakes.

Past five years: The Fiero's worth has dipped about 4 percent, but Hagerty says it's poised for an uptick as demand for wedge-shaped cars from that era heats up. (Average 2014 sale price: $5,380. Highest sale price: $21,200, in 2011.)