The Y2K scare that became popular as the 21st century approached included one bright spot: at least the 1990s would be coming to an end. A time when technology seemed to be improving the world at a rapid pace, the 1990s were an era when just about everything else went awry, especially in the automotive industry.
There were, however, a few bright spots. Cars like the Acura NSX proved that modern production methods could result in affordable, reliable performance machines able to take on the best of the complex, expensive exotics that Italian brands had been cranking out for years. Pickup trucks took big steps forward, as well, though on the whole, style and performance were in the gutter.
Just look at the likes of the 1990s-era Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, former stalwarts of Detroit. Some of the biggest failures in the auto industry came in the form of ridiculous features that seem downright hilarious today. Here are 15 of the worst, as a reminder that everyone should have welcomed the Y2K bug with open arms.
15 Cassette Players
While cassette players aren't as funny as the 8-track tapes that they beat out, today, even the worst cars on the market don't ship with a tape player. Even by the early-2000s, it was clear that tapes were on their way out. The only thing they're good for now is an Aux adapter that doesn't cost $400 to install.
14 Automatic Seatbelts
Seatbelt technology has come a long way since the first lap belts that adjusted only manually. But the automatic versions were always a bad idea, especially during the 1990s. Yes, they made it more likely people wouldn't forget to strap up—but they also broke and jammed constantly while still requiring the lap belt to be used by hand.
13 Windows Within Windows
The Subaru SVX is one of the weirdest cars ever made, even by Subaru's peculiar standards. A hilarious feature that the SVX included was the window-within-a-window. Like most of the SVX—the steering wheel and shifter, especially—this was a questionable design decision that no one would ever look back on kindly.
12 Car Phones
The quintessential image of a Hollywood producer blasting along Mulholland in his white Testarossa while screaming into the car phone is just pure 1990s nostalgia. But as cool as having an enormous battery under the seat powering an enormous brick of a phone may have been in the 1990s, even the cheapest burner phone today will perform better—and probably have Snake, too.
11 Roll-Down Rear Windows
The Toyota 4Runner had two amazing generations that proved successful in the 1990s. But despite legendary reliability (as long as the SUV was manual transmission) and perfect utilitarian design, the 4Runner did have one feature most people laugh at today. After all, what's more grin-inducing than seeing two or three dogs poking their heads out of a roll-down rear window.
10 Trunk Seating
Everyone who grew up in the 1990s remembers the one family that owned a station wagon with rear-facing seats in the trunk. Volvos and Mercedes-Benz wagons from the period could come equipped with these jump seats, though they may seem ridiculous today. Fun for the kids they may be, but apparently Elon Musk loves them, as well.
9 Open Wheels
The Plymouth Prowler debuted in the late-1990s with an awesome design that was part Indycar and part retro-roadster. The sleek lines and open-wheeled structure were ruined, though, by a sluggish V6 engine that was mated to a disappointing four-speed automatic transmission. Today, swapping in a V8 and a T5 gearbox is a great idea—those open front wheels, though, still are not.
Somewhere in the dreamy space between a convertible and a Targa, an engineer thought of the T-top design. The longitudinal brace between the removable roof sections may provide more rigidity, but the T-top has gone out of style for good reason. The 1990s just weren't a time when more rubber seals were a good idea to add to any car.
7 Wood-Panel Siding
The fact that the Jeep Grand Wagoneer was sold in the 1990s remains surprising. This early SUV has styling more reminiscent of the 1970s, right down to the hilarious wood-panel siding. The Grand Wagoneer may be holding its value these days, having become something of a cult classic, but that veneer is just hilarious.
6 Pop-Up Headlights
Apparently, some engineers in the 1990s thought it was a good idea to continue using pop-up headlights. Sure, having the headlights down during the day improves drag coefficients—but really, couldn't they have just made the headlights smooth? Instead, anyone who owns a Miata, Corvette, or NSX from the 1990s has to worry about another gizmo failing.
5 Rear-Wheel Steering
The Mitsubishi 3000GT was way ahead of its time during the 1990s, especially in VR-4 trim, which included active aerodynamics and suspension, as well as four-wheel steering. What may have sounded like a great idea—and probably still is for pickup trucks that do a lot of towing—was just another addition of extra weight on a sports car that was already far too heavy.
4 Dual Fuel Tanks
Today, every manufacturer struggles to make sure their entire lineup meets the consumer's expectations of efficient fuel economy. In the 1990s, gas was cheap enough that no one worried too much if their cars got horrible MPGs. But the idea of having two separate gas tanks to hold all the fuel is just absolutely absurd.
3 Power Antennas
Most new cars on the market today include a free Sirius satellite radio subscription, which is just another way to advertise technology and get buyers roped in to contracts they may have otherwise not wanted. But in the 1990s, everyone still listened to cassette tapes or the radio, and ridiculously faulty power antennas were commonplace.
2 Headlight Wipers
At first, the idea of a headlight wiper seems logical. Especially during inclement weather, having powerful, clear headlights becomes very important. But these days, most cars just have a jet to reduce obstruction by mud, dirt, or snow—mostly because headlight wipers were notoriously prone to failure on a regular basis.
1 Rotary Engines
The rotary engine earned its place in the aviation industry because it combined high power with low weight and could reach sky-high RPMs. But aircraft get stripped down and rebuilt constantly, without the stresses of daily driving like a car receives during its lifetime. Rotary engines never came in a cleaner car than the Mazda RX-7, but the technology should have remained in the 1990s, or maybe even earlier.
Sources: Wikipedia, Jalopnik, and Car and Driver.