The Top Ten Most Under-Powered American Cars Of The Malaise Era – Who’s The Feeblest Of Them All?

3,000 lbs/hp

As befits the subject matter, my journey to identify to most under-powered American car has been a long, slow and torturous one. There have been several false endings, when I assumed wrongly that I had arrived at my destination. Innocents have been wrongly accused of being “The Most Malaise Car Ever”. After a long rest, I decided to take my Quixotic quest and identify not only the worst offender, but also to list the nine runners-up.

I sincerely hope I got it right this time, but I make no guarantees.

The magic number is pounds per net hp (lbs/hp), based on the stats from the American Encyclopedia of American Cars. The weights given are for the manufacturer’s  “curb weight” of any given model, which of course does not include any optional equipment or accessories, which of course would make the numbers even worse.

#10: 1976 Buick LeSabre  V6  –  37.5 lbs/hp

4129 lbs; 110 hp

My journey started with this one, back in 2015. I should have know better. And I won’t be surprised if someone finds one or more others that will bump the Buick off the list. But it’s a sentimental favorite of mine, thanks to its sheer excess size as well as the thrill of trying to find the little V6 when opening up that hangar of a hood.


#9: 1973 Ford Pinto 1.6  –  39.7 lbs/hp

2145 lbs; 54 hp.

1973 was the last year for the Pinto’s base 1.6 L four, the British built ohv “Kent” engine. Obviously, emission controls were not kind to it, and it was mercifully axed for 1974, when the Pinto would add a not insignificant amount of weight thanks to 5-mile bumpers and other reasons.


#8 1973 Ford Gran Torino Brougham Six  –  40.1 lbs/hp

3690 lbs; 92 hp

The 250 six makes its first of several appearances here, even if back in 1973 it was still making a relatively hale and hearty 92 hp. But the Torino was no lightweight, and combined with the base 250 six, the numbers are not good. Mercifully, the 250 did not reappear in the Torino in 1974.

#7:  1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Sedan (4.3 L Diesel V6) – 40.3 lbs/hp

3422 lbs; 85 hp

The “Standard of the World” set some new questionable standards all through the 1980s. One of these was the all-new 1985 downsized FWD Seville and Fleetwood with the no-charge optional 4.3 L diesel V6. Mercifully, it too was gone the following year.

#6:  1981 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham (Diesel) – 40.5 lbs/hp

4250 lbs; 105 hp

The 1981 Fleetwood Brougham with the Olds 5.7 L v8 diesel manages to top that by a whisker.


#5: 1973 Chevrolet Bel Air Six –  40.9 lbs/hp

4087 lbs; 100 hp

1973 marked the end of the big Chevy six, and according to one source, all of 1,394 were built, most likely for fleet orders. I drove for Yellow Taxi Cab company I drove for in San Diego, and their newest cars were ’73 Chevys, but they had V8s. Maybe because of CA emission regs? Well, someone ended up with those 1973 Chevy sixes, and I hope they appreciated them more than the ’71 sixes (with PG) I drove for that company. Yuck…


#4: 1981 Chrysler Newport Six  –  41.4 lbs/hp

3515 lbs; 85 hp

After falsely assuming the ’76 Buick V6 had the worst power-to-weight ratio, the next victim was this, the 1981 Chrysler Newport with the 225 slant six, emasculated to 85 hp. No one busted me on it, despite the obvious fact that Ford’s 250 six sank deeper into its malaise funk. My bad.


#3: 1975 Ford Maverick Six 4-door Sedan – 41.9 lbs/hp

3018 lbs; 72 hp

A 250 cubic inch (4.1 L) gasoline six making a mere 72 hp is an amazing record. One would have to go back to the 1920s or early 1930s to find something comparable. So anything powered by it was bound to be a strong competitor, and sure enough, the relatively light Maverick moves into third place, thanks to that optional engine. And to top that, the base 200 CID six was rated at 75 hp!  You explain that to me, please.


#2: 1975 Ford Granada Six  –  46.4 lbs/hp

3342 lbs; 72 hp

I awarded it with “The Most Malaise Car Ever” title, but it turns out I was wrong,a t least technically so, based on the stats. But given its popularity and relative acclaim, the ’75 Granada six still gets my vote for that title. It’s the great pretender, the ultimate sizzle, all hat. But enough of that; let’s find out which American car was able to top it, in terms of its vital stats.


The Winner:


#1:  1986 Ford Tempo Diesel  –  48.5 lbs/hp

2522 lbs; 52 hp

Technically, this is the winner. But how many Tempos diesels were sold? A few dozen? A couple of hundred, maybe? It wins on its stats, but the 1975 Granada, which was built by the hundreds of thousands and has a gasoline engine, is still the winner in my book.


Obviously, I didn’t get into all the imports, for a number of reasons. One was just the sheer number. And there’s the fact that for the most part, their power to weight ratios didn’t drop as much during the Malaise Era as American cars did. But I decided to check a few random ones to see how they would compare:

1981 Peugeot 504 diesel wagon: 3410 lbs; 71 hp  = 48 lbs/hp.  Right up there with the Tempo diesel.

1974 Mercedes 240D: 3080 lbs; 62 hp = 49.7 lbs/hp. A winner!

I’m hard pressed to think of two imports during this era with a less favorable power-to-weight ratio, but perhaps you can. And if you can find other American cars with better stats, let’s see them and get this updated.