Curbside Classic: The Ugliest Car Ever? 1977 Datsun F-10

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic the ugliest car ever 1977 datsun f 10

After two beautiful coupes this week, it’s time to get ugly. Seriously ugly, as in a serious contender for the ugliest car ever sold in the US. Yes, there’s competition for that title, one of which we’ve covered ( Gremlin), and others we will soon. But let’s behold this Datsun F-10 Coupe, for which I am thankful that one is still around. It’s driver bought it new in 1977, and she’s still in love with her beautiful baby. Which raises the question: is ugliness in the eye of the beholder?

There has to be some truth to that, because some folk’s idea of ugly cars is so totally off base. Business Week recently carried a list of ten ugliest cars ever, and it included (get your meds ready): the Corvair(!), one of the most influential, revered and copied designs ever in the history of modern automobiles! They also listed the Vega, which was rather cute and well done, despite its other flaws. Just goes to show there’s no accounting for taste.

It’s amazing how quickly a car company can fall off the pedestal. The Datsun 510 was hailed (still is) as a landmark in clean, timeless design, from a country that at the time was still finding its way stylistically. But only two years after the 510 arrived, Datsun was already going down a very different path stylistically. It started with the 1970 Cherry, the predecessor to this F-10. You can see two things going on in Nissan’s first FWD car, and one of the first from Japan. Its back half accurately predicts the very successful 240 Z but the front half is already going down the ugly road towards the F-10.

The Coupe version of the first Cherry then adds a very high and bulbous rear end, and now the ingredients are largely in place. But what really makes the F-10 bad are the front and rear end details: the front looks like the designers went home one night, and the janitors cobbled something up out of junk and by beating on itwith an ugly stick. It’s about as bad as a front end gets on a car, no doubt.

(Update) I now realize our featured coupe has non-original or different black trim around its headlights. Here’s a wagon (not my pic) of the un-adulterated F-10 front end:

And lacking any other inspiration, the designers decided to mirror the front on the back end, with over-sized tail lights and a general lack of design acumen. I don’t know what Nissan was feeding its designers at the time, but the F-10 wasn’t the only recipient of its effects. The B210 was the RWD counterpart to the F-10, and it’s details are only slightly less ugly, but its proportions aren’t quite as bad. We’ve got some nice ones coming in a CC soon.

My only regret is that I haven’t found an F-10 wagon, so that we could debate which one was worse. I couldn’t even find a decent color picture of one. But I knew someone who had one for years, and like the owner of this F-10, she loved it for the reliable and economical little hauler that it was.

Let’s get back to automotive aesthetics. It’s a funny thing about ugly cars, because even the ugliest can become endearing, because of their intrinsic qualities. The Citroen Ami 6 falls in that category. It was ugly as hell, but it was also so advanced, unique and eccentric, that I would love to have one. In the case of the Citroen, it was obviously designed by engineers who placed function over looks in every regard. That’s somehow honest and endearing.

What’s really ugly is when designers try too hard to make something good looking, and cluelessly step on their own member in the process. I give you the Ssangyong Rodius, which sports a rear appendage of a hatch that looks like the ultimate bad photo-shop addition. Or the Cadillac Escalade EXT, which is just a bad dream come true. The Isuzu Vehicross falls into that category quite handsomely. I see more than a hint of the F-10 in the Vehicross, if we can blank out the large wheels.

Much of aesthetics is context, and this is where the F-10 story gets interesting. As much as I like greenhouses with visibility, and can hold up the VW Passat/Dasher as an example of clean timeless 1970’s design, I also recognize that gun-slit windows may be here to stay, and the benefits of aerodynamic kamm-back tails are indisputable. So as I sat looking at these pictures last night, I realized that from a side profile, the F-10 really is somewhat contemporary, and a prophet of things to come. Just blank out those ugly front and rear end details, and you’re looking at what could be a Prius coupe, circa 1975. Or even a predictor of things yet to come, like the Honda CR-Z. Have we uncovered the design inspiration of another new car?

More new Curbside Classics here

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  • Geo Geo on Dec 31, 2016

    I hate it when ugly car lists are filled with Vegas, Citations, and Pintos (the latter always with some burr hurr reference to how it always exploded when bumped). Or conversely, when "worst car" lists contain the Aztek, K-Car, Explorer, or otherwise decent vehicles. Pop culture clickbait. I remember commenting to my dad on how ugly this F-10 was when I was about ten. He responded that it looked "very Japanese".

  • RedRocket RedRocket on Jan 01, 2017

    I suppose the people who do not think the F10 is ugly are the same folks who would consider buying a Juke or a new Civic hatch today. Anime design existed in Japan even back in the '70s. My memory is flawed, but I think I remember C&D (I believe) referring to this when new as an "atomic cockroach" and it still seems appropo. Simply a hideous design.

  • SCE to AUX Toyota the follower, as usual. It will be 5 years before such a vehicle is available.I can't think of anything innovative from them since the Gen 1 Prius. Even their mythical solid state battery remains vaporware.They look like pre-2009 General Motors. They could fall hard.
  • Chris P Bacon I've always liked the looks of the Clubman, especially the original model. But like a few others here, I've had the Countryman as a rental, and for the price point, I couldn't see spending my own money on one. Maybe with a stick it would be a little more fun, but that 3 cylinder engine just couldn't provide the kick I expected.
  • EBFlex Recall number 13 for the 2020 Explorer and the 2020 MKExplorer.
  • CEastwood Every time something like this is mentioned it almost never happens because the auto maker is afraid of it taking sales away from an existing model - the Tacoma in this instance . It's why VW never brought the Scirrocco and Polo stateside fearful of losing Golf sales .
  • Bca65698966 V6 Accord owner here. The VTEC crossover is definitely a thing, especially after I got a performance tune for the car. The loss of VTEC will probably result in a slower vehicle overall for one reason: power under the curve. While the peak horsepower may remain the same, the amount of horsepower and torque up to that peak may be less overall. The beauty of variable cam lift is not only the ability to gain more power at upper rpm’s on the “big cam”, but the ability to gain torque down low on the “small cam”. Low rpm torque gets the vehicle moving and then big horsepower at upper rpm’s gains speed. Having only one cam profile is now introducing a compromise versus the VTEC setup. I guess it’s possible that with direct injection they are able to keep the low rpm torque there (I’ve read that DI helps with low rpm torque) but I’m skeptical it will match a well tuned variable lift setup.
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