Was 1980 the worst automotive year ever?

Mmm, the 1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 liftback.

Mmm, the 1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 liftback. (credit: By G.Goodwin Jr. and Snark at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Quick, what’s the worst year in American automotive history?

Recent bias might lead you to select 2008, when an unprecedented modern financial crisis slammed the overall economy and led to a government bailout of GM and Chrysler (those carmakers received $80 billion after taking a 40 percent nosedive in sales and having some 3 million jobs at risk). But the near-death experience yielded vehicles and automakers more closely aligned to consumers’ needs and desires.

Arguments could be made that 1929 proved far worse, as the stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed drove many automakers out of business. But that period also yielded some of the finest cars ever produced, ones with names like Marmon, Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, Stutz, and many others. Or perhaps it was 1957, when the last of the independent automakers, Nash and Hudson, disappeared from the market, and Packard was gasping its final breath as a poorly disguised Studebaker, a company that would disappear a decade later.

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