The search for the ugliest car of all time can take you into realms you would never expect, including culture, engineering and art. There is mystery, too: what can explain the thinking of the designers who created an apparition like the Chevy Lumina van?
Nevermind. Ugly as it may be, the Lumina didn’t make the cut when sat down to create a list of the 10 ugliest cars of all time. There were dozens of potential candidates. I voted for the Bond Bug – a horrible English three-wheeler that resembled a cheap hot tub that had been fitted with a windshield and headlights.
Several others listed the Dodge PT Cruiser – it came close, but missed the top 10. We considered the Ford Edsel, Plymouth Prowler, and many more.
Like all art, automotive design is subjective. There are no hard and fast rules to categorically declare a car ugly. But as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in his ruling on obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”
For the past week we have also run a March Madness-style bracket, where we asked readers to pick the ugliest car in a series of head-to-head match-ups. We began with 16 vehicles and finished with the finals yesterday between the Pontiac Aztek and the AMC Pacer. The Aztek was the clear winner as picked by readers.
1. Pontiac Aztek
The Aztek’s ugliness titles are both numerous and unfortunate. If you set out to build a car that violated every principle of aesthetics, you would find it hard to beat the Aztek: slab-sided, hunchbacked and perched on roller-skate-sized wheels, the Aztec looks like the spawn of an unholy union between a Transformers toy and a Dustbuster vacuum.
2. Citroën Ami
France may be renowned as centre of fashion, but it is also the birthplace of the regrettable Citroën Ami. The Ami came to market in 1961, and was noted for its reverse-rake rear window, a styling feature that has been employed by only a handful of manufacturers (not surprising, given the reverse-rake window’s lose-lose combination of dubious aesthetics and hopeless aerodynamics). Although its mechanical underpinnings came from the humble yet classic 2CV, the Ami veered off into a strange territory – like the polyester leisure suit and the mullet, rectangular headlights were a style that should never have seen the light of day.
3. AMC Pacer
Like avocado-coloured appliances, the Pacer is an enduring symbol of 1970s bad taste. AMC executives hoped that the Pacer would be seen as the next wave of car design. Instead, it was mocked as a rolling fishbowl. The Pacer’s odd design was heightened by its asymmetric doors – the right door was longer than the left, so passengers could climb into the back more easily. When the Pacer was converted into a station wagon, items stored in the back fell out when the right door was opened. And when it was converted to right-hand drive for some foreign markets, the long door was now on the wrong side.
4. AMC Gremlin
The Gremlin may well be the most badly proportioned car ever built. Seen from the side, it can resemble, depending on the light and the precise angle, a door stop, a wedge of cheese, or a badly-designed running shoe. Were AMC designers hoping that the Gremlin’s slightly elongated hood would conjure up the free-spirited Ford Mustang? If so, they failed. Instead of a wild horse, the Gremlin’s front end evokes a dog of questionable health and breeding. The Gremlin’s rear end was even worse, ending with an abrupt, strangely calculated angle that made the car look as though AMC had simply given up.
5. Fiat Multipla
Unique environments often produce bizarre creatures – like the sightless fish that live in deep caves. And Berlusconi-era Italy yielded the Fiat Multipla, a vehicle defined by a series of strange bulges, as if it had been constructed from soft plastic, then pumped up with air. The Multipla’s designers mounted running lights at the base of the windshield in a bulged fascia panel, giving it the look of a rain-forest frog that had undergone an unfortunate genetic mutation. When talent-show host Simon Cowell was shown a picture of the Multipla on Top Gear, he said it had a disease.
6. Nissan Cube
Another vehicle from the mutant creature school of design, the Cube is notable for its multiple stylistic sins, which include an asymmetric rear window that wraps around the left side of the car, giving it the look of a halibut (a bottom-dwelling flatfish with an eye that migrates to the top of its body during development). Nissan designers went out of their way to make the Cube unique, and they succeeded: the Cube’s slumping windows look as though they were inspired by a Tolkien movie set or a bad Salvador Dali painting.
7. Lamborghini Veneno
Cutting-edge fashion is risky – the line between aesthetic brilliance and stylistic nightmare can be a fine one. And the Veneno crosses the line. When it was introduced at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, the Veneno was immediately condemned by Edmund’s John Pearley Huffman: “Every supercar cliché and every bad idea Lamborghini ever had, stuffed into one overpriced show car,” he wrote. “It’s the worst thing out of Italy since fascism.” Agreed. Mercifully, the Veneno was a limited-production machine – only nine were built. The price was $4.1 million (U.S.), proving yet again that money doesn’t buy taste.
8. Suzuki X-90
Like an inbred family that has spent too many generations in a back hollow, producing children with close-set eyes and bad teeth, a car line can go down the wrong path. The X-90 is a case in point. Although related to the late, unlamented Suzuki Sidekick, the X-90 is uglier. The X-90 is a strange amalgam of disparate automotive forms – it has the front end of a Japanese economy car, while the rear resembles a miniaturized pickup with a wing bolted onto its tail. Not a pretty picture.
9. Nissan Juke
You may have hard the expression “hit by the ugly stick.” The Juke took more than one hit.
10. Tatra 603
If you don’t like Communist-era Czech streamliners that call to mind a Sputnik crossed with an Airstream trailer, the Tatra isn’t for you.
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