The Most Hideous Cars Ever
Contorted metal and fibreglass stylistic nightmares
Left: MOHS Ostentatienne Opera Sedan
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so we keep being told. Cars have to be designed and marketed such that they might be sold to people other than their creators. But some creators have forgotten this, usually to their own peril. No matter how clever or well appointed a car is, if it's as ugly as either end of a Bulldog, nobody will buy it. Some cars have just been pointlessly ugly.
I'm not talking about cars which have some unusual styling element – case in point the early 2000s model of Renault Megane, the rear end of which polarised opinions. I mean cars which are completely butt-ugly.
Using my background with a degree in Industrial Design and having specialised in automotive design, I've narrowed down a list of the Fuglies from Motoring History, plus some current contenders for your enlightenment.
Australia's own. All the styling of a '50s Cadillac on a car smaller than a Mini. The advent of fibreglass for manufacturing car bodies was novel and commendable – but it allowed designers to come up with some grotesque and over-styled designs.
The Zeta was a very hopeless design in many ways. It was awful to drive, the 324cc 2-stroke engine was pathetic and inadequate, the gearchange ghastly, ride appalling and the only sophisticated parts were the Michelin radial tyres. But clearly, and obviously the worst part was the hideous styling.
Fins on the roof of the little wagon didn't compensate for the lack of a rear opening (no bootlid, no hatch). Heavily sculptured front and rear guards didn't fit with the completely flat doors (made of steel, so unable to be as stylised as the rest of the car).
The bonnet with huge air-scoop didn't give a look of performance like the 'power-bulge' other car makers used. The pouting lower lips front and rear, on which the bumpers sat really made the Zetas look sad.
The deluxe versions featured extension pods for the front indicator lights (and a passenger side sunvisor!). The grille badge was from the Austin Lancer, wearing a Zeta badge.
Eventually Lightburn saw the error of their ways and restyled the Zeta with completely smoothed-off styling, very much in the early '60s BMC idiom. But it didn't help. The damage had been done and every other aspect of the Zeta remained woeful. 363 were made before the Adelaide company gave up.
I was the proud owner of one for over twenty years...
The Americans have nothing they could be less proud of then the cars that the MOHS Seaplane company tried to sell in the 1970s. Two models were announced – the Ostentatienne and the Safarikar.
Both were supposedly safety-inspired. The Ostentatienne's greatest feature (apart from being an aesthete's nightmare) was a central rear roof-hinged door, which provided the only access to the cockpit. The walkway between the seats helps illustrate how large the car was.
The engine options were 5-litre, 6.4-litre and a whopping 9-litre V8. The big engine only produced 250bhp. No surprises there. The company thought these were very luxurious and would appeal to people who owned private aircraft, like those they also built.
Slab-sided, blocky styling was unlike anything else. Thankfully. The Safarikar was a blockier design which was even more primitive and amateurish.
MOHS listed these monsters for sale for about a decade. Priced to appeal to (seeing impaired) princes, there's no surprise that sales were dismal.
If you thought a priest might make an unusual car designer, you'd be on the money… Well, quite probably the only car to meet such a description was the Aurora, produced in the USA in 1957. The man to be blamed was Father Alfred A Juliano, a misguided Catholic Priest.
Somehow safety was the key factor in the design of this disgustingly unattractive beast. The large lips at the front were not actually for kissing other cars, but to act as a scoop for pedestrians unlucky enough to have got near the Aurora.
Back in the '50s people often hit their heads on windscreens in accidents. Clever Juliano's answer was to make a bulbous windscreen which was a long way from anyone's head. His brains seemed to be a long way from his head… Aside from looking 'challenging' the windscreen posed a problem for clearing when wet.
The chassis was from a 1953 Buick.
Not so amazingly, nobody else was interested and only one was built. Having had financial support from his congregation, the project went nowhere and ended in bankruptcy.
Amazingly it survives and in 1993 an Englishman tracked it down, bought the Aurora and began a challenging restoration which was completed in 2005.
Citroen was already used to producing unusual designs when they launched the Ami in the early Sixties. Their 2CV which had been in production since 1948 was always considered a funny looking car, but its practicality far outweighed unusual looks.
The DS, from 1955 was like a space ship on wheels. Definitely very different looking, but all with justifiable purpose – and with exceptional, brilliant engineering.
There was a gaping gap in the company's model range, so to try moving up a little from the 2CV, a model was designed using uprated 2CV running gear. 2-cylinder air-cooled engine, torsion bar suspension, et al. The result was the Ami.
How the scooped bonnet with overlapping top lip, sculptured sides with little ribs on the front guards, oval headlights, moustache and uplifted rear end ever made it past the drawing board is a bit of a mystery.
The rearward angled back window is understandable as it gave very good rear headroom. This design feature was later copied by Ford for their Anglia and Mercury models, Mazda for their 360 Carol and others. Clever-ish, but certainly not an attractive feature.
As ungainly as the Ami looked, it was clearly a good car and it became the biggest selling car in France for several years. Later a wagon version, then models with smoother styling and even a hatchback and 4-cylinders came. And then a limited production run of a 2-door coupe with a rotary engine…
The Ami was lovely, if quirky to drive. Hugely loved by many, the Ami is proof that looks aren't everything.
Its looks were as lithe as its name slips off the tongue. And it helped put a nail in the company's coffin.
Apparently the scoop in the front spoiler of a previous model came about because TVR's owner's dog took a bite out of the styling model, and they decided it looked good enough to be added to the other side (that's 100% true).
On the strength of this the dog was then promoted to be Head of Styling at TVR with the result being the Sagaris.
What an abomination. Lumps, bumps, holes and asymmetric shapes all over the place. Dramatic, but not attractive.
At least the cars were fast. They were built like crap – huge panel gaps, silicone filling gaps everywhere and doors which only opened half as far as they should.
And inside TVR had just as much success. On several models, mounted on the centre console were aluminium taps which opened the doors…
Who knows what they were thinking, or snorting.
Obviously it didn't work because following decades of making reasonable designs, after these stylistic nightmares, the company folded.
Alvis TB 14 Roadster
The British Alvis
company had a long history of producing very
well engineered cars. Some of their models had
been positively glamorous. That was, until the
TB 14 somehow came to the marketplace in 1948.
Remember, in the same year Jaguar's gorgeous XK120 sports models had been launched, and somehow the good folk at Alvis thought they had the answer to the XK…
With a front immensely heavier looking than the back of the car, this proportionate problem exaggerated the ugliness of the car. It looked like under heavy braking the rear wheels would lift off the ground.
Maybe someone who worked at Alvis liked American cars of the 1940s and thought a large chunk of US styling could be plonked onto the front of their new sports model. Wrong.
Alvis promoted it as "A special sports tourer of striking individuality". Uh huh.
When I first saw one of these cars, as a kid in Melbourne, I was genuinely scared. Until then, I didn't know cars could have that effect.
Alvis did rectify their error and survived a few more years after having adapted Swiss coachbuilder Graber's elegant and attractive bodywork to their chassis and running gear.
Some current models to ponder
Pah! Pah! Pah! You know, when you have to spit a foul taste out of your mouth? Latest Fugly Car on the market distils everything Lexus has learnt about ugly all crammed onto one useless but very well equipped SUV. Is there a single element of the styling on this monster that's attractive? I keep reading reports saying it's edgy. Bollocks! It's just plain disgustingly bad taste! I think I've made my point...
Juke? Joke. It's understandable that for the small on-road 4WD category, which is rapidly growing, some makers like to offer something a little bit different. And there are some 'unusually' styled care being offered. But Nissan really lost the plot with the Juke.
The overly rounded rear wheelarches take your eye to the tail end styling – which looks like it's off another car – that's been involved in a disfiguring accident. Twisted tail-lights take on a new meaning here…
The front looks like it had one designer do the top half – and he never saw what the guy doing the bottom half was up to. What the hell are lumpen lights doing on top of the bonnet?
We were lucky for a while, Nissan Australia skipped this dog for a few years and we didn't have to see them littering our kindergarten carparks. Unfortunately we get them now…
It's pretty sad that the great engineers at Porsche are trapped in a 911-mindset. They're shit-scared that if they release a car which doesn't look like a 911 that nobody will buy it. The 'different' 928 and 924/944/968 from the mid-1970s did sell well enough, and were eventually outlived by the 911.
Trying to make the front of the 4WD Cayenne look like a 911 (and having to share the back half with a VW Toerag) resulted in one of the ugliest 4WD cars on the market. And in spite of that and terrible reliability of early-production models, it sells in huge numbers.
So what was the thinking behind the Panamera? There's good sense in expanding the model range and sharing components with the Cayenne. Lots of Porsche owners would love a big sedan in addition to, or to replace their sports model. Still good.
But a hump-backed, clumpy-looking, long 911 which has suffered some kind of terrible disease probably isn't the best solution. How strikingly elegant is Aston Martin's sporty 4-door Rapide? How sophisticated does a Maserati Quattroporte look? An AMG improved Mercedes S-Class is a pretty hot looking machine.
Big performance and on-road competence don't make a car look good though. The Panamera is undoubtedly a very good car, but it's as ugly as ugly gets.
One of the all-time great car designers Giorgetto Giugiaro (of Italdesign) famously commented about the angled crease dominating the side styling of the TR7 when it had its motorshow launch: “I hope they haven't done that on the other side too”.
British designer Harris Mann was responsible for this one. Previous TRs had Michelotti and Karmann apply their styling genius with some lovely results, but this time it was all wrong.
There was no purity to the shape and the overall look just failed to make it. The overhangs were too long – or the wheelbase too short. The soft suspension showed this up as the cars pitched around on the road. The almost vertical rear window with ribbed, black plastic cladding on the pillars didn't help. For the hefty, clumpy bumpers they cited American regulatory requirements – though other companies managed this much better… Unrelated holes and bumps dotted the bodywork. And the style-less steel wheels with little plastic hubcaps were hardly sporty. So the details did the TR7 no favours either.
And the rather pathetic 4-cylinder engine was a retrograde step too, after the lusty sixes from the previous models. Triumph had a wonderful 16-valve 4-cylinder engine in their Dolomite Sprint – why didn't that go into the TR7?
What was wrong with BL management? Everything!
I know, later on they made a V8 model and a convertible – all too little, too late. No styling changes. This only served to prove you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Or an entire pig.
Apologies to my old mate Andy, who genuinely likes almost every ugly car ever made...