Ugliest Cars of the Last Five Decades

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Design disasters, 1970 - present

Pontiac Aztek
Pontiac Aztek. Photo © General Motors

There are some car designs that fill us with desire -- the desire to poke out our own eyes with a salad fork. Here, presented in chronological order, are some of the ugliest cars produced over the last five decades.

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1970 Marcos Mantis

Marcos Mantis
Marcos Mantis.

This four-seat British sports "car" appears to have been designed by three different people, at three different times, all suffering from three completely different emotional disorders. It's as if someone discovered a scrap-heap of bad design ideas and decided to assemble them as some sort of Christmas party joke, which was then discovered by a mentally deficient middle manager who put the resulting mess into production. Amazingly, Marcos managed to talk 32 people into buying this vile contraption before the company went bust in 1971.

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1974 AMC Matador Coupe

1974 Matador Coupe
1974 Matador Coupe. Photo © American Motors

I almost hate to put the Matador on this list, because it's so gaudy that it's kind of cool. A massive expanse of steel and plastic, the Matador was the polar opposite of European coupes: Big, fat and lazy and not in the least bit ashamed of it. Horrific though it may seem from a modern perspective, the Matador won critical acclaim for its styling, which, when you consider the bulk of 1970s design, is not something to brag about. But AMC would not be foiled in their pursuit of the tasteless: They went on to develop a copper-trimmed Oleg Cassini edition and an extra-gaudy Barcelona Edition with a landau roof, and they even got James Bond to drive one in The Man With The Golden Gun

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1974 AMC Matador Sedan

1974 AMC Matador Sedan
1974 AMC Matador Sedan. Photo © American Motors

Apparently, after all, the money AMC spent on designing the Matador Coupe, the budget to redesign the Matador Sedan had to come out of the stylists' lunch money. They decided to blend the slab-side era of the '60s with the big-blocky-grille era of the 1970s. Result: Disaster.

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1975 Rolls-Royce Camargue

Rolls-Royce Camargue
Rolls-Royce Camargue. Photo © Rolls-Royce

For some reason, Rolls-Royce, a company with a track record for elegant, timeless design, decided to let Italian design firm Pininfarina have a go at their new two-door. Apparently, it never occurred to them that there might still be some post-WWII resentment in Italy. What the famed styling house sent back was this goofy, wide-eyed caricature of the classic Corniche coupe. We're doing Rolls a favor by showing you the Camargue from the front because the back is even worse -- the butt-end of the Camargue resembles any one of a number of cheap, anonymous Fords and Vauxhalls of the era. When the Camargue went on sale -- as the most expensive car ever offered to date, mind you -- they promoted its split-level air conditioning system as the most advanced in the world, a ruse to get punters inside the car where they could no longer see the exterior. The Camargue languished in the showroom for just over a decade, but only 530 people were suckered into buying one.

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1977 Volvo 262C

Volvo 262C
Volvo 262C. Photo © Volvo

Note to design students everywhere: This is why you don't want to sleep through the lecture on proportion.

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1979 Aston-Martin Lagonda

Aston-Martin Lagonda
Aston-Martin Lagonda. Photo © Aston-Martin

Aston-Martin has built some of the world's most beautiful cars, but all that came to a crashing halt one day in the late 1970s when this four-door abomination rolled out of the factory. The real tragicomedy is that this was an update of a 1976 design which was already on thin aesthetic ice. Happily, the Lagonda was plagued with rust and electrical problems which culled the herd significantly, saving future generations from having to behold this visual crime scene.

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1979 Commuta-Car

Commuter Vehicles Commuta-Car
Commuter Vehicles Commuta-Car. Photo © Henry Ford Museum

This cheese-wedge-on-wheels actually started out in 1974 as the CitiCar, a small coupe based on a Club Car golf cart. The design was sold to Commuter Vehicles in 1979; they promptly changed the name, upgraded the electric motor to a whopping six horsepower, and added the ginormous bumpers which ensured both crash protection and a place on this list. The Commuta-Car's 38 MPH top speed meant it could not remove itself from the field of view of passers-by quickly enough to avoid lasting trauma. And we wonder why an entire generation refused to take electric cars seriously.

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1980 Cadillac Seville

Cadillac Seville
Cadillac Seville. Photo © General Motors

No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain the Seville, but it is clear that whatever senior managers signed off on the design never bothered to walk around to the back. The "bustle-back" concept might have worked, except that the corporate cost-cutters insisted that the Seville be squeezed onto the same 114" wheelbase as the two-door Eldorado, spoiling its proportions. As if the styling wasn't bad enough, the Seville could be ordered with a selection of GM's worst engines, including the dreadful Oldsmobile diesel, the disastrous Caddy V-8-6-4, and even a Buick V6, its 135 horsepower making a valiant but ultimately doomed attempt to power this two-ton behemoth. Horrid as it looked, the Seville sold in steady numbers, with its last two years (1984-85) garnering its best-ever sales... proving that good taste is not a dominant gene.

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1985 Consulier GTP

Consulier GTP
Consulier GTP.

Warren Mosler developed the Consulier GTP as a track car, offering $25,000 to anyone who could get a production street car around a track faster. (Car and Driver magazine promptly did it with a stock Corvette, but Mosler never paid.) The GTP was as ugly on the inside as it was on the outside, but it was such a successful race car that it eventually got itself banned from IMSA. The GTP morphed into the slightly-less-awkward-looking Mosler Intruder in 1993; the horror returned full force when it was replaced by the 1997 Mosler Raptor, which featured a V-shaped split windshield that made it look less like a car and more like a low-budget horror film prop. Mosler went on to design the MT900, which actually looked like a proper supercar.

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1985 Subaru XT

Subaru XT
Subaru XT. Photo © Subaru

The XT might well have been hailed as a design classic had some smart person not previously invented the doorstop.

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1990 Chevrolet Lumina APV

Chevrolet Lumina APV
Chevrolet Lumina APV. Photo © General Motors

The whole idea of a minivan is to maximize interior space, so why fit one with a four-foot anteater nose? The Lumina APV's ugly was more than skin deep; its giant schnozz gave occupants the disconcerting sensation of driving from the back seat, and any objects that slid down to the forward edge of the acre-sized dashboard were rendered unrecoverable until the van was crushed and shredded for scrap. Not content to limit the misery to just one marque, GM produced nearly-identical versions as the Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette. GM killed off the Dustbuster vans in 1996, then closed down and demolished the factory that made them, just for good measure.

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1991 Chevrolet Caprice

Chevrolet Caprice
Chevrolet Caprice. Photo © General Motors

Chevrolet wanted to get away from the boxy seventies-era styling of the old Caprice, and to get away from it Chevrolet got rid of the rounded behemoth featuring body panels that looked like they were inflated rather than stamped. The mechanical bits were unchanged from the previous 1970s-era design, so the Caprice's handling was simply ridiculous compared to the Japanese sedans that were flooding the market. Consumers took this as yet another sign that General Motors didn't have a clue. Speaking of clueless, for reasons that absolutely no one can fathom, Motor Trend named the Caprice their 1991 Car of the Year.

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1992 Buick Skylark

Buick Skylark
Buick Skylark. Photo © General Motors

Just as the human brain is capable of blocking out traumatic events, so is it capable forgetting ugly cars like the 1992 Buick Skylark, which seems to have escaped the ridicule it so richly deserves. The Skylark's awkward pointy nose took attention away from the long, slabby lines that formed faux fender skirts, so GM did its best to highlight them with contrasting-color body panels. A dreary plastic interior with the most depressing steering wheel in the history of motorized transport rounded out this mercifully-forgotten bit of automotive history. General Motors toned down the styling in 1996, then nuked the Skylark for good in 1998. Apparently, it wasn't just the buying public that was traumatized by the Skylark; Buick didn't sell another compact car in the US until the 2012 Verano.

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1998 Fiat Multipla

Fiat Multipla
Fiat Multipla. Photo © Fiat

As if to prove that the French do not corner the market on funny-looking cars (you'll see what I mean when you get to the slide featuring the Renault Avantime), Fiat introduced this glassy little gem in 1998. The silly-looking front end was only the beginning; the rear end deserves praise for the near-impossible task of looking almost as goofy as the front, and the Multipla's interior had all of its gauges, controls, and vents crowded together in a bafflingly disorganized center cluster. Despite the hilarious styling, journalists praised it for its three-across seating up front -- an old hat for us Yanks, but a novelty in Europe.

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2000 Hyundai Tiburon

2000 Hyundai Tiburon
2000 Hyundai Tiburon. Photo © Hyundai

How do you screw up the classic lines of a two-door sports coupe? That's easy -- you give it to the South Koreans. The irony here is that the original Tiburon from 1997 was actually a decent looking car, an oversight that Hyundai corrected with the 2000 model. The wheels were too small, the creases on the fenders were too big, and the tail was too droopy. But the piece de malfeasance had to be the headlights, big goggly-eyed affairs that looked like the sprues on a plastic model. Hyundai's panel gaps were still wide enough to stick your hand through, and the hood's cut line seemed to form eyebrows arched in surprise and horror as if the car had just caught a glimpse of itself in a mirror.

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2001 Pontiac Aztek

Pontiac Aztek
Pontiac Aztek. Photo © General Motors

The Pontiac Aztek is often referred to as the ugliest car ever created, but to call it merely ugly is to do it a great disservice: The Aztek is stunningly hideous, a design that fails in every respect from its awkward shape to its dreadful details. To this day, the Aztek is recognized as one of General Motors' biggest design disasters and served as evidence that even after sliding from prominence throughout the 1990s, the company was still largely out of touch with American consumers. The ironic thing is that beneath its awful sheet metal, the Aztek was actually a rather useful vehicle -- a minivan-based SUV presaging the car-based "crossovers" that dominate the market today.

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2002 Renault Avantime

Renault Avantine
Renault Avantine. Photo © Renault

Ads for the Avantime suggest that it was designed to look like a woman's dress, but I think it looks more like one of those plastic sliding puzzles that haven't been solved yet. The giant doors (there were only two) had a complicated double-hinge mechanism that supposedly allowed them to be opened in narrow parking spaces, but that didn't solve the problem of poor back seat access in what was supposed to be a family car. The Avantime was bizarre even by French standards, and after selling just 8,500 units in a little over two years, it was given la Hache -- the ax.

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2004 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx

2004 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx
2004 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx. Photo © General Motors

I always thought the Malibu Maxx was the result of simple miscommunication: Chevrolet's management said "Make a Malibu hatchback," but the design department thought they heard "Make a Malibu hideous." What's truly puzzling is that the European version of the Malibu, the Opel Vectra, was also available as a hatchback, and it looked just dandy, with a sweeping rear window that blended gracefully into the rear deck. But Chevrolet insisted on doing it the American way, and wound up with a car that wasn't quite a hatchback, wasn't quite a station wagon, and wasn't even close to being attractive. Chevrolet redesigned the Malibu in 2008; mercifully, the hatchback experiment was not repeated.

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2004 SsangYong Rodius

SsangYong Rodius
SsangYong Rodius.

South Korea is awash in ugly cars -- visit that fascinating country and you'll begin to wonder if the horrid design is a national sport -- but the SsangYong Rodius is vulgar even by Korean standards. What amazes me about the Rodius is that it is ugly on so many levels -- it would look awkward and misshapen even without the giant rear window that rises tumor-like above its Aztek-esque rear pillars. Oddly enough, the Koreans aren't to blame for this road-going travesty; the Rodius was penned by a British designer named Ken Greenley who was the head of the Transportation Design School at the Royal College of Art in London. One can only hope he created it to show his students how not to design a car.

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2005 Subaru Tribeca

2005 Subaru Tribeca
2005 Subaru Tribeca. Photo © Subaru

The Tribeca's awkward grille was meant to recall the aircraft industry of Subaru's parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries; probably not such a good idea as most Americans equate Japanese aviation with the Kamikazes. One auto writer famously lost his job with a major newspaper after he likened the Tribeca's grille too, er, lady parts taken wing. Even without the googly-eye headlights peeking over the Georgia O'Keefe-esque grille, the Tribeca's basic shape failed to capture the rough-and-ready proportions that endear SUVs to their owners. Two years after launch, Subaru redesigned the Tribeca with a more subtle (but sadly, not smaller) schnozz, but it remained one of the slowest-selling SUVs ever peddled in the United States. Subaru finally euthanized it in 2014.

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2006 Jeep Commander

2006 Jeep Commander
2006 Jeep Commander. Photo © Chrysler

Seriously, people -- how hard is it to make a decent-looking Jeep? Weld together a boxy body, throw on some big tires, cut seven vertical slots in the grille, and you're done. It's a formula that's worked from the post-war Willys right up to today's Grand Cherokee. And yet Jeep's design department managed to get it heroically wrong when they released this tragicomedy of an SUV. One can assume that the Commander was supposed to capture the proportions of the classic Jeep Cherokee; one could also assume that Hitler merely wanted to improve France's highway system. Where, exactly, does this design fail? Is it the stupid looking headlights? The bumper that looks like the styrofoam packing pieces they use to box up flat-screen TVs? The over-long body, the proportions of which seem to have been chosen expressly to displease the eye? Whatever it is, this is one ugly friggin Jeep. 

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2008 Tata Nano

2008 Tata Nano
2008 Tata Nano. Photo © Tata

This Indian-designed eyesore was developed to be the least-expensive car in the world, so we didn't expect it to be beautiful -- but did they have to make it so darn depressing? Every line, curve, and crease of the Nano seems as if it was carefully arranged to remind the owner of the dire circumstances in his life that led him to such a desperately cheap purchase. Viewed in profile, the Nano looks like a pimple about to burst, with teeny-tiny wheels seeming to emphasize that this truly is the most minimal form of personal mobility. Paint it a cheery shade of yellow and the Nano bears a striking resemblance to a lemon on casters. Incidentally, the Nano's Kleenex-gauge sheet metal and complete lack of airbags make it the kind of car Dr. Jack Kevorkian would endorse -- an organization called Global NCAP crash-tested one, and it scored zero stars.

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2012 MINI Cooper Coupe

MINI Cooper S Coupe
MINI Cooper S Coupe. Photo © Aaron Gold

MINI says the Cooper Coupe's roof is supposed to resemble a baseball cap worn backward. One wonders why they couldn't have used a sombrero and covered the whole car. Not only does the MINI Coupe look ridiculous, but as I discovered when I reviewed it, the ludicrous roofline makes it impossible for anyone taller than 5' to drive comfortably. When I commented to Jason Fogelson, our SUVs Expert, that the MINI Coupe might look nice from some angles, he answered: "Maybe from underneath." At least the Cooper Coupe is fast, so owners can scoot away before anyone recognizes them.

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2014 Jeep Cherokee

2014 Jeep Cherokee
2014 Jeep Cherokee. Photo © Chrysler

When Chrysler first announced a new Cherokee based on an Alfa-Romeo hatchback, car enthusiasts fretted that it would look like a butched-up Giulietta -- but what the company revealed at the 2013 New York Auto Show was infinitely worse. With its squinty headlights-that-aren't-really-headlights and a goofy rendition of the seven-slot grille, all the Cherokee is missing is a puddle of drool underneath its abbreviated chin to complete the image. And it's not just the front of the Cherokee that's ugly: From the rear, it looks as if the entire section below the taillights and above the rear bumper has gone missing. Chrysler began apologizing for the design as soon as they published the first photos, with comments like "Exterior looks are just part of the total package." True enough, but it's hard to appreciate the interior comfort and driving dynamics of a vehicle when seeing it in your driveway makes you throw up in your mouth a little.