Auto makers employ some of the world’s most skilled designers to help them create the general aesthetic for their brand, and the subtle nuances that help create an identity for each of their models. Sex appeal has always played a role in car design, as sales are often driven as much by functionality as they are by desire.
Bob Lutz, GM’s current head designer, has said that one of the main goals in automotive design is to “create an emotional connection with the buyer.” In the case of these seven… things, I think it’s safe to assume that emotion is either despair or embarrassment. Here are the seven ugliest cars ever built.
7. - Yugo GV
The Yugo GV entered the American market for the first time in 1986 with the compelling price tag of $3990 for a brand new car. The car was marketed as basic, reliable transportation in the tradition of the VW Beetle and the Ford Model T. Basic, yes. Reliable? Not really. Yugo gets a hat tip for offering a new car for under 4 grand that still managed to make buyers feel ripped off.
The ironically-badged “Great Value” Yugo was powered by an anemic 1.1 liter motor generating a feeble 58hp mated to a transmission which Car & Driver described was “like trying to shift a baseball bat stuck inside a barrel full of coconuts.”
So it comes as no suprise that the Yugo’s looks weren’t doing the car any favors either, and the GV became the prime example of a foreign sh!tbox economy car. The Yugo's appearances in movies and TV didn’t help its appeal, either.
6. - Mercedes Benz G-class
Born out of a joint venture between Mercedes Benz and Austrian company Steyr-Puch, a company who most likely made either security safes or refrigerators previously, the “G-wagen”, as it’s commonly known, started to come into favor with the blinged-out crowd a few years ago, for no discernable reason.
With the aerodynamics of a brick and the visual appeal of a vending machine, these vehicles weren’t officially released in America until just a few years ago, and were instead sold on the gray market by European companies who would convert them to US standards and sell them for around $135,000 – complete with roll-up windows and diesel motors, a la the Hummer H1.
Sorry - even if ugly costs 135 grand, it’s still ugly.
5. - Ford Mustang II
After the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, a dark, dark cloud formed over Detroit. The cars produced afterward were some of the lowest quality and worst designs in automotive history, as the pursuit of fuel economy and cheaper building costs resulted in some truly abominable cars.
One of the models that felt the pain the most was the iconic Ford Mustang. Where just four years previous was a luxurious muscle car, boasting well over 400hp in some iterations and timeless style, now stood the Mustang II, which was essentially a Ford Pinto with a pony emblem on the grill.
Suffering from an overly generous helping of mid-70s “ideas”, the Mustang II was a sobering realization of just how bad things had gotten. Performance-wise, the top shelf motor for the 1974 model was a 171 cubic inch V6, generating a depressing 105hp, good for a 0-60 time of 14.2 seconds. Try to imagine going flat out for 15 seconds and still not hitting freeway speeds. And this was the optional motor. Yikes.
4. - Pontiac Aztek
One of the reasons the Aztek is particularly notable is because this is a pretty recent design – I mean, you’d think that with some 90+ years of market research and design trial and error, disasters like this space-shuttle-meets-Gobot mutant would’ve been a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, Pontiac ignored the warning signs and produced this malformed atrocity, and the Aztek was almost immediately hailed as one of the ugliest automotive designs of all time.
This stigma apparently just fueled Pontiac’s designers even more, as they began adding more plastic moldings, chrome pieces, and various lights and vents - perhaps in an attempt to confuse and distract potential buyers into some sort of purchase-crazy frenzy before they could come to their senses.
Mercifully, it didn’t work, and the Aztek was gone after 2005, concluding its four year run.
3. - VW Thing
Probably the most accurately named vehicle on the list, the first time I saw one of these, I reflexively declared, “What the hell is that?”
I guess VW knew it was weird too – I mean, who names their car a Thing without consciously being aware of the fact that its appearance can best be described as bizarre. Initially designed for the German military for patrolling tasks, its civilian duty was short lived due to the fact that it was deemed unsafe by American safety standards. With doors that could be removed by hand, a collapsible windshield, and an unprotected roofline, the Thing was kind of a deathtrap.
The fact that it resembled the bastard child of aluminum siding and origami probably didn’t help either.
2. Citroën 2CV
Seriously – who authorized this? What sort of rationale is required to sign off on such a repulsive car? French designer Pierre-Jules Boulanger pitched the car in the initial design brief as a low-priced, rugged “umbrella on four wheels." Boulanger also had the roof raised to allow tall persons to drive the 2CV while wearing a hat. Neither of these things helped to make the 2CV a looker.
Part of the 2CV’s design mission was to basically create the cheapest car possible, both from a manufacturing and retail price standpoint. The result, while hailed by many automotive critics as a very functional vehicle, was a vehicle that was just flat-out horrendous to behold. The 1949 debut model wasn’t much of a driver either, considering its motor generated– and this is not a typo – NINE horsepower.
Not even James Bond could make this car cool. I think is the only car chase I've ever seen where the one of the cars needed a push-start midway through.
Apparently, it didn’t matter to the French though, as the 2CV had a production run of 42 years. Really, I swear.
1. - AMC Pacer
The fishbowl on wheels. Upon its arrival in 1975, American journalists tried to make the best of a bad situation by complimenting its “very modern styling” and “ample passenger room”. The British press, however, were less polite when The Motor declared, “We Tested the AMC Pacer – And We Wish We Hadn’t” and The Independent wrote that the Pacer “looked horrible, drove badly, and ate money.” Despite being powered by a paltry 95hp inline six cylinder engine, the Pacer still managed to average an observed fuel economy of less than 18mpg. Truly, it was not Detroit’s finest hour.
But what really sets the Pacer apart from the rest, aside from being just straight-up painful to look at, is the fact that it was such a bad car that it helped spawn a kitschy off-shoot car culture based around vehicles that were the considered the butt of the joke in their heyday. As the Pacer has aged, it has become the hallmark of bad 1970s automotive design, and an almost perverse interest in the car has resurfaced over the past few years. This phenomenon made its first major move back into pop culture consciousness via the Pacer’s appearance in Wayne’s World, complete with an ironic flamejob treatment to the paint.
Sadly, the flames don’t make this car suck any less, and it’s still the ugliest, and possibly worst, car ever built.