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Ugly Cars

Updated on May 9, 2010

Ugly Cars?

We know, we know. Automotive designers and engineers spend many years in college learning their trade. They invest thousands of hours studying.

Sometimes it just doesn't work out.

Sometimes the final product emerges so unspeakably hideous, so whisperably annoying, so laugh-out-loud ugly that even their Mothers don't want one parked in the driveway.

What were they thinking?
What were they thinking?

The AMC Gremlin

Somewhere in the labyrinth of cubicles that comprised the American Motors Corporation resided a community of people charged with making up names for new models. Day after day they toiled. They bounced ideas off each other, off the ceiling, off the wall.

They came up with Gremlin.

To be fair... wait, it's impossible to be fair here. Even in 1970 the word gremlin brought to mind anything but a sporty reliable vehicle. Perhaps the advertising geniuses planned to target the burgeoning Dungeons and Dragons market.

Sporting pin stripes, fake vents, and a roof rack, the thing would lose a beauty contest with half a burnt-out Ford Pinto. Note the door 'handles' that AMC ordered by the million and by corporate fiat applied to every model they ever built. Each handle provided dual pinch points and a handy repository for ice and snow, which wasn't as problematic as you might think because the engine never started below 30 degrees anyway.

To spread the suffering, Gremlins were assembled in 3 different plants in 3 different countries. Perhaps AMC anticipated a demand that would require resources from all of North America.

Drive like a Communist: The Yugo
Drive like a Communist: The Yugo

The Yugo

If driving a Porsche sends a message that you have money, piloting a Yugo screams "I hate myself". A face tattoo would be less painful and at least you wouldn't have to look at it all day.

Imported from sunny communist Yugoslavia by businessman Malcom Bricklin, Yugos were sometimes given away by GM dealers as a spiff when customers purchased a new Cadillac. Second prize was two Yugos.

Rust was as inevitable as the pity looks from passing motorists while you sat by the side of the road, just far enough away from the dealership that you were no longer on their property. One could only hope that the corrosion would appear in places no one would look, like the inside of the vehicle. Forward-thinking Yugo designers called for rust-colored paint and interior fabric, but that simply confused the scrap metal dealers.

Yugos were built by the Zastava corporation, which also produces small arms for military and sporting applications. Should you find yourself in front of a firing squad, pray that Zastava products are aimed at you.

Ugly at any speed

The "Early Model" Corvair. Leaking oil is implied.
The "Early Model" Corvair. Leaking oil is implied.

The Early Model Corvair

Chevrolet spent years cultivating a loyal customer base with sporty Corvettes, cool Belairs, functional pickup trucks, and house-sized Cadillac behemoths. Evidently it is possible to have too much success. In an effort to compete with Volkswagen and Porsche, Chevrolet cobbled together an air-cooled rear-engine flat 6 chromified compact car that leaked oil, burned oil, and distributed oil vapor throughout the passenger compartment via what the engineers humorously called the heating system.

Sporting a one-piece steering column pointed directly at the driver's chest (behind a mostly empty engine compartment), early model Corvairs included an 80 horsepower engine in an economy package. Convertible models were guaranteed not to admit water when parked in the garage. Driven at highway speed, the fabric top ruffled like Bill Clinton at a VFW Hall.

Power steering? Nope. You didn't need it because there was no weight over the front wheels. Air Conditioning? Sure, as long as you didn't mind lugging around a compressor from a GM Frigidaire home refrigerator.

Styling? Absolutely. Roughly a cross between a Ford Falcon and Grandma's living room furniture. Evidently somebody had a little too much chrome in inventory.

Aspen, Volare, Granada, who can say for sure?
Aspen, Volare, Granada, who can say for sure?
Try to stay awake, just try!
Try to stay awake, just try!

Dodge Aspen

Difficult to find is an action shot of the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare. These clunkers-to-be spent most of their useful (?) life parked next to a curb, gathering parking tickets and change from panhandlers. Perhaps boring is a better description than ugly. Showing off enough plain sheet metal and uninspiring monochrome color schemes to bring tears to the average circus clown, these four-wheeled atrocities depressed driveways across the United States from 1975 to 1980. Even the Carter administration looked promising when parked next to an Aspen.

These hapless beasts were saddled with federally mandated bumpers that extended into past and future time zones. To distract from the acres of faux chrome, Dodge topped the front bumper with a grille inspired by tedium and capable of swallowing insects of amazonian proportions.

A Mitsubishi Lancer crashes through a bad dream.
A Mitsubishi Lancer crashes through a bad dream.
An exhausted hood ornament struggles mightily to distract from the hood.
An exhausted hood ornament struggles mightily to distract from the hood.

AMC Pacer

Making this list twice, AMC achieves a dubious victory. The bulbous Pacer lumbered through 6 uninspired model years dressed in acres of drab colors and incongruous white wall tires.  Designers somehow managed to create a vehicle that looked completely different from the front than from the rear. Twas a boon to bank robbers, but not much incentive for law-abiding citizens to drive/push it off the sales lot.

The thing was offered as a hatch back and also as a station wagon. Few station wagons exist to this day. They were driven/pushed to third-world countries, where the glass was harvested to glaze entire villages and the suspension held up as an example of what might happen if you didn't stay in school.

Pacers increased the sales of Pintos. Economy car shoppers recognized the lesser of two driving evils; at last Ford would probably be around into the next century. AMC suffered (deservedly so, based on this carbuncle) the sad fate of being absorbed by a European manufacturer before being shut down in 1987.


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    • nicomp profile imageAUTHOR

      nicomp really 

      6 years ago from Ohio, USA

      aaron 40 minutes ago

      jajajaja some are ugly but the aspen man you are an (genius) there are many cars whith this same body and man there look very very nice you should take a look to a suber bee 78 or an duster 79 i think you will never get a car like that you are not so man to have one

    • zzron profile image


      8 years ago from Houston, TX.

      I agree, these are some ugly cars. I personally prefer the style of the older cars.

    • nicomp profile imageAUTHOR

      nicomp really 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      @Stan Fletcher: Ah, yes, the Fairmont, another car that starts with F from the Ford Corporation. Ironically Ford has survived while the other 2 formerly US automakers have been nationalized.

      Perhaps Iacocca revived Chrysler because the competition was so bad during that era.

    • Stan Fletcher profile image

      Stan Fletcher 

      8 years ago from Nashville, TN

      NiComp - Great hub, and one of my favorite subjects. I would like to add a couple. The late-70's Ford Fairmont. Would barely stay together while driving off the lot, new. The most recent super-ugly car is the Pontiac Aztec. They actually have an internet fan club. I mock them openly when I see one.

      Didn't Iacocca rebuild Chrysler by manufacturing a lot of these butt-ugly cars? That's amazing to me.

    • travelsee profile image

      Ohh Betty 

      8 years ago

      Ha - you should have seen some of the designs in the UK during the late 70s - Incredibly ugly

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      nicomp - fun to read but how could you omit the Edsel? With that "open-mouth" monster grill? Though I wish we each had one. Probably would be worth a fortune and eagerly sought by car collectors with Mr. Magoo eyesight.

    • dabeaner profile image


      8 years ago from Nibiru

      Funny. As ugly and drab as some of the cars from those years were, at least there were a variety of looks.

      Now let's see one from you about the 1990s and 2000s cars. :-)

      You will have only one or two examples -- because they all look alike! Except for the Toyota Prius which is different looking. Really different looking. Ug-leeeeeeee.

      The reason all the cars look alike now is because of federally mandated mileage requirements. The standardized "streamlining" at the expense of looks is an attempt to squeeze out another mile per gallon.

    • OpinionDuck profile image


      8 years ago


      These are certainly ugly, but I also never cared for the VW Beatle, or the Porsche Bathtubs.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      8 years ago

      What were they thinking? As you said, years and years spent in research and design, and this was what they thought would 'sell through the roof'. Crazy.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      There are a few I could add to this list LOL! A very interesting one! I think all that time spent learning the trade of car design is totally wasted on some!

      Love and peace



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