Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. It goes a long way in explaining how our future president has amassed five wives. And also how cars like the SsangYong Stavic, Fiat Multipla, and Pontiac Aztek ever made it out of the design studio and onto the showroom floor.
“But cars are there just to get us from A to B,” you may argue. Fine point. But there’s no reason to look like an idiot on the way there.
AMC PACER (Reign of terror: 1975-1980)
What car would two mulleted losers who play air guitar, worship Alice Cooper, get tongue-tied over Kim Basinger, and head bang to Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’? The ultimate loser-mobile, of course – a baby blue AMC Pacer with non-matching wheels and flames on the bodywork.
It’s only appropriate that ‘Wayne’s World’ gave the car described by Time Magazine as a “glassine bolus of dorkiness” its moment of glory. Designed to look futuristic, the rounded car turned out more like a jelly.
Shorter than your typical Yank Tank of the time, it was just as wide, making it an easy target for critics. The public didn’t seem to care: 280 000 units were sold, including one to Bridget Bardot.
Party on? No thanks!
AURORA SAFETY CAR (Reign of terror: 1957)
Would you let Paris Hilton design a nuclear reactor? So why would you let a priest design a car? And yet Alfred A. Juliano convinced his parishioners to help bankroll what he intended to be the world’s safest car. It’s certainly not the prettiest.
The swoopy fibreglass and plywood body (supposedly resistant to rust and dents) boasted a gaping nose to scoop up pedestrians and hold them on a foamy platform. Beneath the nose, the spare tyre was held in a crush space.
The shatterproof resin windscreen bulged outwards to avoid head injuries in the case of collision, plus the aerodynamic design meant no wiper blades were needed – raindrops simply blew away.
Inside, the emphasis on safety over style resulted in safety belts, seats that could be spun backwards in case of an impending crash, and a padded instrument panel.
But the 5.5-metre creation was never a big hit. Surprising that. Blame the looks but Aurora was also overpriced, disastrously launched to the media, and the target of tax investigations.
Juliano declared bankruptcy after one $30 000 prototype was produced, and it lay forgotten until the mid-’90s when the car was tracked down in a field and restored to all its former, uhm, glory.
CHRYSLER PT CRUISER (Reign of terror: 2000-2009)
“It’s a friendly face from the country that gave you friendly fire,” Jeremy Clarkson once quipped of the car that was more retry than retro. Inspired so heavily by the failed Chrysler Airflow of the 1930s you could picture Al Capone at the wheel, it brought anything but sexy back.
Unlike the cute VW Beetle and funky MINI Cooper which updated classic looks with modern flair, the Cruiser’s only real concession to the past 70 years of design was the removal of the crank handle.
FIAT MULTIPLA (Reign of terror: 2002-2009)
Cranky Simon Cowell of ‘Idols’ fame may not be the least critical person in the world, but it’s hard to argue with his assessment of Fiat’s Multipla: “It’s like the car’s got a disease,” he once sneered on ‘Top Gear’. “It’s deformed.”
Others have called it a “mobile fish tank” or a crash-landed UFO but, like Crocs, the six-seater MPV overcomes its looks. It may not win any beauty competitions but once you’re inside, the Fiat is spacious, comfortable and versatile, with storage everywhere you look. It’s even fun to drive.
PONTIAC AZTEK (Reign of terror: 2001-2005)
After 42 days on a deserted Australian island, fighting off bugs, hunger, backstabbing Americans and those ever-present ‘Survivor’ cameramen, you scrape together the strength to win the final reward challenge – only to discover that your prize is this. Frankly a rock to the head would have been preferable.
“This car could not have been more instantly hated if it had a Swastika tattoo on its forehead,” is how Time so politely described the crossover SUV in its list of Top 50 Worst Cars Of All Time. ‘Designed’ by committee and built in Mexico, hence the (misspelled) name, its “multiple eyes and supernumerary nostrils” make the car look “deformed and scary, something that dogs bark at and cathedrals employ to ring bells”.
Pontiac begged to differ, marketing it as “quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet” – although they may have been on to something: how many cars can simultaneously traverse dongas, curdle milk and make children cry?
If looks could kill, they probably will.
SSANGYONG STAVIC (Reign of terror: 2004 – )
You say SsangYong, I say managing expectations. With an unpronounceable brand name like that (and model names like ‘Actyon’) they can only be thinking: “Well, nobody’s actually going to come into our showrooms and have to use these words, anyway.” Yes, their haphazardly styled cars are that ugly, seemingly designed by teams of crayon-wielding monkeys working under a tartrazine-addled seven-year-old with ADD.
And the Stavic (called the Mercedes R-Class with Down’s Syndrome by a less-than-PC critic) is the ugliest of the bunch. Created by a man who once headed the Royal College of Art’s head of automotive design, it was supposed to capture the feel of a luxury yacht. But looking even more stitched together than other SsangYongs, this seven-seater is one green paint job and an exposed bolt away from Frankenstein’s monster.
Nevertheless, as they say, beauty is only skin deep. Like the Fiat, it’s spacious and well-specced. It features Mercedes mechanicals. And you don’t need to worry about insurance – a fender-bender can only improve the looks; and nobody’s going to steal it.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.