You could argue the vast majority of automobiles choking our roads are ugly, but you might be arguing bland is ugly. There are plenty of blobs, and lookalike junk.
It isn’t easy designing cars, they’re difficult objects to make harmonious at the best of times and budget, what with strict international safety regulations to follow, and all those angles meeting at a single point, (like bathroom tiles in the corner above the bath) they present designers with blinding headaches.
But every so often a car is produced designed by somebody with absolutely no aesthetic training at all, and surprisingly, they’re often designed by art school graduates.
Here are a few I’ve chosen. Readers are welcome to nominate theirs.
SUZUKI X90: Suzuki created a chic little SUV a bit unsteady on its feet going around corners, and then thought it would be terrific to junk what practicality it offered by slicing off the rear end. The idea behind the stupidity was Malibu surfers could park their surf board on it. Some Malibu surfers bought one but then Malibu surfers are not known for their searing intellect – dude. Chopping off the back reduced it to a useless two-seat, two-wheel-drive, mini-flatbed. It’s name alone, X90, is ugly. By the way, the building behind is the beautiful all-brick San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, but it doesn’t make the car look any better.
REVA G-WIZ: As an enthusiastic owner of a Smart car, readers will know my admiration for small city cars is boundless – then there’s the micro G-WIZ. You see lots parked in London’s posh streets because being electric they pay no congestion charge and they park free too. In most countries the vehicle (hard to call it a car) does not qualify as a vehicle. It has nil, zilch, nada crash protection and even less street cred. The second iteration got Lithium-ion batteries which offer 75 miles on a 6 hour charge. Switch on radio, lights, wipers and air conditioning all at once and expect to get out and push. Created from fibreglass, it doesn’t have to look like an infant’s plaything. Celebrities boast about owning one, but then no one said they had good taste.
Ssangyong Rodius: When asked what car do you drive, how do you answer with any degree of pride or confidence, “I drive a SsangYong Rodius”? It’s big, bland and bulbous, with the rear end of a male hamster. They call it a people carrier, one assumes the people in it are all sight challenged. Those rear side windows will cost a mint to replace if broken. And they do damn all for all-round visibility. Why not drive a small bus instead? Whisper it: it was designed by Ken Greenley, a former head of car design at the Royal College of Art. Ouch! Some gifted teacher.
PORSCHE CAYENNE: Designing a car proves a major problem when even the company that creates the beautifully distinctive 911 can get its first SUV so terribly wrong. The one in the photograph has been ‘improved’ by an aftermarket redesign company who love American station wagons. Porsche, jettisoning its sportscar-only heritage embraced the fashion for SUVs and made a fortune, so much so the company almost bought over VW. (VW now owns Porsche.) The designer decided it had to look like it’s flagship brand and duly stuck the face of its 911 on an elephant. They have since modified the down-road graphics, (front elevation) three times but it doesn’t look any better. Being a Porsche it sold like hot cakes proving money and status talk, and some drivers have no aesthetic education whatsoever. Then again, who feels they must drive at 150 mph with bags of garden peat in the back, or domestic rubbish to the local council recycle yard?
NISSAN MICRA C+C: When Mercedes Benz brought out its SLK sports car with its clever folding hard-top, (an American invention) every other manufacturer decided they had to have a similar model. The C+C is Nissan’s version. Mercedes was smart enough to employ an Italian to design their sports car. Nissan chose a Brit who probably never left Sunderland in his life. Pink only makes it look more ludicrous than it is. The interior is seriously cramp, a terrible driving position, a rudimentary rear seat, and the feeling a whole middle section has been cut out and thrown away. To boost appeal they gave it lurid colours. Where do you park a cone of strawberry ice cream on four wheels without being seen behind the wheel?
MITSUOKA OROCHI: The characterful puffer fish has a mouth exactly like the grille on this disaster, a supercar called the Orochi. Japanese design works well when handed over to a European to design, such as the early Toyota RAV SUVs, cute and cuddly. The Japanese aesthetic of restraint and simplicity is here junked for an exercise in making a car seem fluid, like water rolling over a stone. The designer has lifted ideas from the sports cars of other manufacturers and stuck them all together to create this monster.
LANCIA THESIS: Proof the race with the most assured aesthetic in the world, the Italians, can get it wrong at least once. Lancia created some of the most memorable designs as well as truly inspired pioneer engineering. In this instance they moulded an old-school upright grille onto a contemporary sloping bonnet (hood) and placed the weird-shaped eyes (headlights) so far apart it left a football field of negative space between them. Ford did something similar with the Scorpio, (1994) but at least Lancia had the good sense not to sell the Thesis in the UK.
LAMBORGHINI LM002: There’s ugly and there’s downright puke-vulgar. This jeep is jaw dropping preposterous. Just when you thought the Italians might mess up one design along comes another. It issues from the same company that created the Miura, arguably one of the world’s prettiest sports cars. I have seen an LM002 in the metal and I was so severely struck dumb that I had to be lifted away rigid, washboard fashion, and revived. Then I remembered Lamborghini loves the Origami School of Car Design, and this jeep is its extreme consummation.
CITROEN AMI 6: In the Ugly Stakes the French score high too. Amazingly the Citroen Ami comes from the same designer who created the beautiful DS, Flaminio Bertoni, the DS a car so far ahead of its time you’d be proud to drive one down the High Street today. The Ami could easily be found scribbled in a schoolchild’s jotter. It sits on a 2CV chassis, a car he also designed but with flare and common sense. If you stare long enough at the Ami’s square headlights and melted bonnet you’re liable to feel giddy. The rear is as bad: the window has an extreme rake and a table-top boot lid. Turn your gaze away now!
The truly awful Austin Allegro contributed to the British car industry’s collapse. It was the automobilia equivalent of self-harm. Those on the right-wing blamed lazy commie workers for the crap cars they sold. Those on the left-wing blamed callous bosses and penny-pinching budgets for the crap cars they sold. What can’t be denied is, every manufacturer, from BMC to Rolls-Royce, left development of the car to the customer. Brit cars fell apart after two years. Folk with money traded them in just before Armageddon. I must confess to owning an Allegro in my naïve youth – nothing worked, and it leaked like a sieve when in a car wash. Austin decided the model needed a fillip. They turned to their up-market design house, Vanden Plas, for a deluxe refit and this is the result. It’s the same car as the standard model but with ugly posh appurtenances, including chrome hearse grille, picnic tables, a dashboard in walnut veneer, Connolly leather and Wilton carpets. The sods sold it with a 50% hike in price. There exist fans who collect the things as classic cars, just as I did some years back … to my cost.
I could list another ten ugly cars, including most of Jaguar’s current range that has ditched elegance, but I’ll stop here. Readers are free to discuss their own choice, or vomit in the sink.