The mad, the bad and the ugly

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The Ssangyong Stavic is one of the uglest cars every built. Photo / Supplied
The Ssangyong Stavic is one of the uglest cars every built. Photo / Supplied

We all know that style sells cars: always has and probably always will. So carmakers strive for great beauty, and as a result there are countless models that showcase delightful design.

But it's the truly ugly cars that really make an impression. They might have become horribly deformed for engineering/packaging reasons. Perhaps they are simply the product of a company trying a bold new path, but heading in entirely the wrong direction. But truly ugly cars are remembered long after the lookers are forgotten.

It's a personal thing, but here are what we think are 10 of the ugliest cars ever made, with one proviso: American domestic-market models have been excluded because picking ugly American cars is just too easy.

TRIUMPH MAYFLOWER (1949)

If you thought Bangle-era BMW was the first car company to try a weird styling mix of hard edges and extreme curves, please consider the Triumph Mayflower.

The Mayflower was an early attempt at a premium small car. The styling combined the so-called razor-edge look of the time with the flowing curves associated with large, coachbuilt luxury models. Awkward.

In fact, Bernd Pischetsrieder, chairman of BMW when its controversial flame-surfacing styling template was developed in the 1990s, is known to be a hugely enthusiastic automotive Anglophile. Might be on to something there.

CITROEN DYANE (1967)

The Citroen Dyane.
The Citroen Dyane.


Now, we would never call a Citroen 2CV ugly, for the same reason we would never call a Fiat Multipla ugly: form is entirely dictated by function, which makes for a beautiful machine.

The problem comes when you try to make such a thing fashionable, as Citroen did with the 2CV-based Dyane. This was an attempt to compete with more modern models, the revised styling doing away with the most charming bits of the 2CV, such as its separate headlights and protruding guards. It did have one handy new feature, though: a hatchback.

The Dyane was ugly but quite successful, staying in production for 16 years. But the 2CV outlived it.

AUSTIN ALLEGRO (1973)

In the 1970s, the prevailing fashion in automotive styling was for sleek, angular body shapes. So why did the Allegro look so bloated? Because its new skin had to fit around massive, old-fashioned hardware from the British Leyland parts bin.

At least the two-box body shape lent itself to a practical hatchback configuration. Unfortunately, BL didn't bother with that: the Allegro stuck with an old-school boot.

Unfortunate looks were of course only a small part of the Allegro's woes, which also included poor quality and a square steering wheel on early models. Although that last thing was done on purpose.

ROLLS-ROYCE CARMARGUE (1975)

The Rolls-Royce Carmargue.
The Rolls-Royce Carmargue.


In 1975, the most expensive car in the world was also arguably the ugliest. Built on the platform of the Silver Shadow and Corniche, the Carmargue was notable for a number of features: it was the first Rolls-Royce ever built to not have an upright grille (it slopes forward slightly) and it had advanced technology such as split-level climate control air conditioning. But it was most notable for looking dreadful. That was despite design at Pininfarina, and a body by Mulliner Park Ward in London.

SUBARU VORTEX (1985)

From the company that brought us the brilliant BRZ coupe: the Vortex, so named because it created a whirlpool of embarrassment that threatened to suck the credibility straight out of the Subaru brand. It was also known as XT (America) and Alcyone (in Japan), by the way.


The Vortex was the first Subaru not designed around practicality or utility, which may explain why they tried just a bit too hard with the styling.

Why so wedgy? Well, the bonnet could be ultra-low because of the shape of Subaru's boxer engine, and they just went crazy from there. Plus it was 1985.

ALFA ROMEO 146 (1994)

The three-door Alfa Romeo 147 actually copped much more flak than its five-door 146 sibling at launch, thanks to its shooting brake-inspired shape. It was quickly dubbed "The Breadvan".

The Austin Allegro
The Austin Allegro


But in hindsight, at least the 147 was styled with a sense of purpose and cohesion. The 146 was unimaginative and just plain ugly, with awkward proportions and all sorts of unfortunate styling detail.

There were no good angles to view it from, really. Unless you were facing the other way.

SUZUKI X90 (1995)

The Suzuki X90.
The Suzuki X90.


Discovering that it had mastered the fashionable sports utility vehicle (SUV) segment with the rather excellent Vitara, Suzuki mistakenly assumed it could create an entirely new fashion segment with the ghastly X90.

The X90 did pioneer a combination of sports-car styling cues with SUV ride height (move over BMW X6). But it looked hideous. The provision of a novel two-piece removable top was futile: owners were reluctant to drive the vehicle in cabriolet mode, as it meant people could actually see them.

The motor industry is full of weird design ideas that have succeeded. But they have to look good. After just two years in production, the X90 was dead.

TOYOTA PRIUS (1997)

The first-generation Prius was a revolutionary car: the first truly mainstream petrol-electric hybrid. Perhaps one of the most significant production cars in history.

The first generation Toyota Prius.
The first generation Toyota Prius.

That doesn't stop it being ugly. Toyota twigged early on that key to the success of this model was for it to look really different to anything else on the road. It was a brilliant move to make Prius so dumpy looking, because it appealed to early adopters who wanted to make a statement about how they were rejecting the profligacy and status-conscious nature of the new-car industry.

So the first-generation Prius was cleverly styled. But still ugly.

SSANGYONG STAVIC (2004)

The first-generation SsangYong Stavic (also known as Rodius) is legendary for its horrible styling. This slab-sided people mover was apparently inspired by the world of luxury superyachts, hence the strange shape of the D-pillar.

The Ssangyong Stavic is one of the uglest cars every built. Photo / Supplied
The Ssangyong Stavic is one of the uglest cars every built. Photo / Supplied

Sadly, it looks more like a state house with a home-built extension on the back.

SsangYong is Korean, but the Stavic was designed by a Brit: Ken Greenley, former head of the automotive design course at the Royal College of Art in London.

Former head. Automotive Design. Royal College of Art. Just wanted to repeat those bits so you knew they weren't mistakes.

JEEP COMPASS (2006)

Back in 2006, Chrysler-Jeep was grappling with new things: imploding DaimlerChrysler infrastructure, having to borrow stuff from Mitsubishi (like the Lancer platform) and making its first-ever crossover vehicles - cars designed more for around-town running than the Rubicon Trail.

Somewhere along the way it lost the plot, judging by the bizarre styling of the Compass. In an apparent bid to emphasise that this was not a traditional Jeep, it gave the Compass cross-eyes, pre-dented doors and tiny wheels like a supermarket trolley.

Compass was restyled in 2011 to look more like its Patriot sibling. More like a Jeep, in other words. Because Jeeps look good.

Do you agree with our list of the ugliest cars? Let us know any additions you would make below or at facebook.com/DrivenNZ

- NZ Herald

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