Cars like the Ford Edsel, the AMC Gremlin and the Ford Pinto come to mind.
And who didn’t love to hate the Yugo?
One popular joke about this piece-of-crap cruiser was that the Yugo came with a rear-window defroster “reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it.”
But fasten your seat belts Inland Empirians, because an online auto reviewer recently claimed that the all-time lousiest vehicle was made in 1977 – in Post Falls.
“This is the Leata Cabalero,” wrote Brendan McAleer in the March 22 installment of The Drive, “and it is probably the worst automobile in America.”
He continued, “Actually, there is no ‘probably’ about it: this feculent lump of eyesore has actually won an award for being terrible, the zero-prestige Worst of Show trophy at Concours d’Lemons.”
I know what many of you are thinking.
You’re thinking, “What? Post Falls built automobiles?”
It’s true. Although fewer than 100 Leata cars and pickups would be made between 1975-1977, the independent motor company’s short-lived production run.
In 1989, I drove to Post Falls and interviewed the dynamic force behind the Leata – Donald E. Stinebaugh.
“I should never have got into it,” lamented Stinebaugh, who was 72 at the time. (Stinebaugh died in 1992.) “I lost a lot of money.”
Today I’m putting out the call. Does anyone in the area have a Leata Cabalero lurking around?
If so, contact me via the information below.
I’d love to come check out your Leata or, if possible, drive it to see if McAleer is correct or huffing exhaust fumes.
From what I’ve gathered so far, he’s more right than wrong.
The Cabalero had the “squashed look” of an “old World War II German army helmet,” said Mitch Silver, the name behind Spokane’s Silver (collector car) Auctions and one of the most knowledgeable car guys I know.
“I don’t think they (Leata builders) did anything well.”
Silver’s opinion carries weight because he actually owned – and sold – a Leata.
Part of the problem was that Stinebaugh based his Leata on the Chevy Chevette, which, as McAleer asserted correctly in his article, “is never a good place to start anything.”
Silver laughed. Unlike a lot of oddball autos, there’s nothing about the Cabalero to give it that endearing factor. “Somehow the Leata just doesn’t have any elegance.”
“If you had a great one I could probably talk someone into paying three grand for it,” he added. “But I’d probably have to talk hard and they’d have to be from outside Spokane.”
A Leata on exhibit in a Boise museum is reportedly quite beloved. But that car is one of the more rounded Leata sedans, which are easier on the eyes.
But getting back to the story, consider the sad Leata economics.
Let’s say you bought a new ’65 Mustang back in the day and moored it in a garage as a future investment.
That $2,395 you shelled out would’ve grown to $23,000 and up, depending on the options.
But a Leata?
A pickup version sold in a 2011 Barrett-Jackson car auction (sorry, Mitch) for $7,700.
Original sticker price was $10,000-plus, which included extras like leather seats and cruise control.
There’s a reason for the deflation, wrote McAleer.
“More than 350 pounds of Bondo, fiberglass and despair have been added to craft this lumpen turd of an automobile, making an already slow and crumbly rear-drive vehicle even worse.
“It was built with an obvious indifference. The brakes don’t work. Oh, and that’s not even the correct way to spell ‘Caballero.’ ”
So much for “Pride of Post Falls,” as the Leata was once dubbed.
Like a lot of dreams, this one was pure pipe.
In the beginning, Stinebaugh claimed that some 2,000 customers were waiting for a Leata. He also predicted that his company could crank out 10 of the small, fiberglass two-seaters a day.
By 1978, all the predictions were up in smoke.
The Leata had gone the way of the Tucker and the Crosley and the Hupmobile – oh, my.
Stinebaugh told me about a certain Ritzville farmer who invested in his car company. Out of funds, the carmaker paid off the investor with a dozen Leatas.
After the Leata, Stinebaugh said he tried making exotic custom cars that ranged between $60,000 and $100,000.
Stinebaugh said he sold one to a guy who gave him a $75,000 check – that bounced.
It’s difficult to say where the story of the Leata will end. Silver is certainly more optimistic about the car than McAleer, who noted that there’s “little enjoyment to be had in a Leata Cabalero. And the closer you get, the worse it all becomes.”
Added Silver, “In the big picture, unique cars come back. So do I think it would be a bad idea to put a Leata away?
“Not at all. If I had an option to buy one and it was a good and honest car, I’d buy it.”
Silver chuckled again. “I may not put it in the front room, but I’d store one away.”
No doubt suffering from an overexposure to orange face paint, I forgot to thank my friend Larry Treffry in my Tuesday column. Treffry was part of my entourage Monday when I visited Gonzaga University to yell “Syracuse Rules!” as payment for my losing Zags bet with Syracuse New Times columnist Jeff Kramer.
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at email@example.com.
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