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GoAuto Oddspot: The bad and the ugly

When it comes to truly terrible automotive design, we reckon these cars are the world’s worst

18 Mar 2022

BEAUTY is in the eye of the beholder; at least that’s what those of us who didn’t win the genetic lottery tell ourselves. But when it comes to car design, beauty and bad design are often dismissed as subjective, and the issue politely left at that.


Which is complete and utter bollocks.


If that sentiment were true, we’d have no cause to drool longingly over models like Jaguar’s E-Type or Ferrari’s 250 GT Berlinetta – and we certainly wouldn’t stick them in museums.


In fact, if ugly cars were as sought-after as those styled with the passion and finesse of Malcolm Sayer, Carrozzeria Pininfarina or Masahito Nakano then we’d all be paying seven-figure sums for Malaisse-era Americana or oddball Eastern Bloc shitboxes.


This month in the GoAuto Oddspot, we look at some of the automotive world’s worst and ugliest cars – designs not even a mother could love, and others that were simply “unsafe at any speed”. Here are 10 of our “favourites” in alphabetical order.


BMW Isetta

If the idea of having your legs crushed in a minor nose-to-tail collision, being unable to escape from the wreckage of said accident, or having your face impaled by the steering column mounted to a front-hinged door appeal to you, then the BMW Isetta is your kind of car.


Sure, it’s kind of cute, if you’re into soft-shelled eggs, but with less metal in its construction than in the tailgate of a modern SUV, and an asthmatic 7kW two-stroke motor, the Isetta is slow, fragile and remarkably unsafe – even when viewed against full-size cars of its day.


Crumple zone? You are the crumple zone, squishy human!


Bad? In hindsight. Ugly? The jury’s still out.


Chevrolet Corvair

History might have been unkind to the Chevrolet Corvair, a car American consumer advocate Ralph Nader famously christened as “unsafe at any speed” and “the one-car accident”.


The first-generation Corvair utilised a swing-axle suspension design which, combined with the car’s rear-mounted engine, caused severe tuck-under oversteer. The car was maligned, and despite efforts made to address its disastrous handling traits, went on to be remembered more for the legal battles it incited than its ahead-of-its-time design.


Ultimately, it was penny-pinching on GM’s behalf that caused the Corvair’s failure. The later installation of a front sway bar solved the model’s issues, and with the issue addressed, the car was eventually ruled as “possessing no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporary competitors in extreme situations”. Unfortunately, by then, the Corvair’s reputation was irreparably damaged.


Bad? At first. Ugly? No way!


Chrysler PT Cruiser

At the turn of the millennium, every car manufacturer and its (guide) dog took turns in producing a “retro” model. Volkswagen reinvented the Bettle, badly, Toyota had a crack at reviving the FJ LandCruiser, which admittedly was great off-road, and Chrysler poisoned the ground water of the automotive world with its hideous PT Cruiser.


Styled like a ‘50s wagon with an additional chromosome, the PT Cruiser is an unfortunately styled vehicle that simply has no good angles. Its proportions are all wrong, the styling cartoonish, and the engine an oil-slurping disaster.


And as if the wagon wasn’t bad enough, Chrysler chopped off the roof to foist upon us the even uglier PT Cruiser Convertible. There’s a special place in hell for the designer of that thing.


Bad? Truly. Ugly? Not even a mother could love it.


Datsun 120Y

Smelly, cramped and slow, the 120Y was cheap and (not so) cheerful motoring at its, um, finest? Before the Hyundai Excel, the 120Y was about as cheap and reliable as it got.


With a lacklustre 51kW on tap and a dozy three-speed automatic transmission, the 120Y couldn’t get out of its own way, or that of any other trouble you might face on Australian roads, like a 40-tonne log truck, for instance.


The 120Y did have a positive side or two. It offered a lot of features for a good price and was rather durable. It was also a very economical little car at a time when fuel prices were beginning to climb. A pity, then, that quirky styling and ho-hum build quality are what the 120Y is most remembered for.


Bad? Mostly. Ugly? All except the two-door coupe.


Ford Cortina

While the Cortina wasn’t a bad car per se, the idea to shove a pair of over-sized and overweight six-cylinder engines under its bonnet – a decision made to meet local-content rules – was simply terrible.


So terrible, in fact, that Cortina owners soon found it was possible to own a car that oversteered and understeered all at once; and that correcting any such mishap was a mission all its own, thanks, in no small part, to the Cortina’s tractor-esque steering setup.


Yes folks, the later Cortina was an overpowered nightmare with sloppy handling (the leaf-sprung rear was a liability on wet roads), terrible fuel consumption and dubious build quality. Production tolerances were seemingly non-existent at Ford in the 1970s and on the Cortina, it really showed.


Bad? Yes. Ugly? From where we’re sitting, yes.


Holden Camira

The saying “a good idea, but badly executed” could have been the marketing catchphrase for Holden’s Camira. At a time when a mid-sized Australian car could have taken the market and run with it, a penny-pinching parent company decided to cut corners on quality from start to end.


A feeble engine, poor assembly quality, corrosion issues (especially around the front and rear windscreen and throughout the firewall), heavy unassisted steering, and a terrible gearshift action marred what was otherwise a good-sized car with a half-decent chassis.


Add those points to questionable paint application and cavernous panel gaps and the Camira soon became a car people loved to hate.


Bad? Yes. Ugly? Only if you owned one.


IFA Trabant

The prospect of waiting four years for a LandCruiser may seem ridiculous in 2022, but it’s nothing compared to waiting 13 years for a two-stroke “car” made of cardboard and communist ideals.


The IFA Trabant proves that not all German-made cars exude high quality – its misshapen gear stalk and Duroplast body are as peculiar as the fact it had no brake lights, indicators, fuel gauge, tachometer, rear seatbelts, or class. As if that’s not bad enough, the engine’s fuel system was gravity fed meaning the fuel tank sat above the engine – and the front-seat occupants’ legs.


Somehow, more than 3.7 million of these 499cc smoke machines were made before the Berlin Wall came down, and when it did, the Trabant was (in)famously known for producing up to nine times the hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide output of its West German rivals.


Bad? By western standards, yes. Ugly? As a teenage millionaire.


Morris Marina

The Morris Marina was largely a victim of a lazy and misguided British car industry,  which, at the time, was in more financial trouble than a third-world meth addict. Rushed into production, the Marina had a propensity to rust from week one and was infamously unreliable, its outdated engine almost as woeful as its half-cocked suspension setup.


As a rival to Ford’s Escort and Holden’s Torana, among others, the Marina suffered quality issues from the get-go, and despite its reasonably well-proportioned looks, was a handful to drive on rough roads with bump- and understeer dished out in equally diabolical servings.


Despite its chronic awfulness, around 13 million Morris Marinas (including associated variants) were produced between 1971 and 1980. Thankfully, most have rusted away to whence they came.


Bad? Very. Ugly? We’ve seen worse.


Reliant Robin

Mr Bean was right to hate this car. The Robin, its predecessor, the Regal, and any number of three-wheeled abominations produced by England’s Reliant car company were not only aesthetically unappealing, but fundamentally unsafe.


Britons refer to the Reliant Robin as the Plastic Pig, and in our eyes, that’s being kind. English motoring journalists of the day described the Robin as being “among the worst handling cars out there” and said the three-wheeled model was “notoriously unstable”.


Apparently, getting a Reliant Robin to travel in its intended direction was “an art in itself” while driving it in a cross wind was an experience akin to abseiling with a shoelace.


Bad? Yes. Ugly? You betcha!


SsangYong Stavic

There’s really no excuse for how ugly the SsangYong Stavic is. In a time when computer-aided design was already widely in use and talented car designers were ripe for the picking, the Stavic was an unacceptably poor example of free-flowing idealism gone wrong.


At the time, SsangYong defended its design saying the Stavic was styled to “capture the essence of a luxury yacht”. But motoring critics of the day were far more accurate.


Described by some as “an R-Class with Down’s Syndrome”, “an ocular insult”, and even a car that “looks like it was bottled in a pub brawl and put back together by a blind man”, the Stavic was (and still is) one of the world’s worst designed cars.


Bad? Yes. Ugly? So much that it frightens small children.


We’re sure there are plenty more with this came from, and we’d love to hear all about your ownership experiences with bad and ugly cars. Join the conversation now on our Facebook page @GoAuto.com.au – we look forward to hearing from you.

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