By on May 29, 2019

Lately, we’ve featured a succession of posts relating to automotive style in the Nineties here at Question of the Day. We started out discussing the best of the best from America, Europe, and Asia. Then, last week, we moved on to the Worst Ever awards from America. Many of you said I was nuts for disliking the refreshed Lincoln Mark VIII. While I still don’t like the VIII post-’96, I’ll agree the Buick Skylark for 1992 would’ve been a better selection. There, happy?

Let’s see if I can get my European selection to be a bit more agreeable to all you connoisseurs of things Nineties.

You know the rules by now, but let’s have a look anyway:

  1. All selections must be model years 1990 to 1999.
  2. Picks must be from a European manufacturer, even if sourced from an import.
  3. Any body style is eligible except for trucks.

Your author’s selection today took some time and consideration. Undoubtedly, some of you will disagree vehemently, but here goes:

It’s the Audi TT. New for the 1999 model year, the TT was a relative revelation in style. Compared with the staid predecessors of the TT, the coupe and cabriolet versions of the Audi 90, the TT was a breath of fresh air. It was modern and current, and had the element of concept in production about it which not many manufacturers can execute successfully.

They sold lots of them, and the first generation carried all the way through 2006. And the success of the original TT is the reason it looks dated today. Because it was a unique offering with that concept flair, it was very current-looking for all of 1999 and perhaps through 2001. Then it started looking dated. Today, it’s a round caricature of a car, which puts one immediately in mind of the also annoying New Beetle from the late Nineties. And that would’ve been a good selection too, but I’ve already typed up a TT rant.

Off to you, commentariat.

[Images: BMW, Audi]

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73 Comments on “QOTD: Terribly Aged Europeans of the Nineties?...”


  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Uh, let’s see:

    1. The Mk.3-based Volkswagens (of which I had one, a 1997 Jetta VR6 4AT) did not age well. Neither as classic as the Mk.2 nor as timeless as the Mk.4, they looked decent when new and are now the mark of an awkward teen-pimple-face era for the VW brand.

    2. The original Land Rover Freelander is another one. Looking something like a distorted CR-V, I always, always thought these were hideous, and time hasn’t made them any better. These were replaced by the better-looking Freelander 2 (LR2 in our market) and finally the Discovery Sport.

    3. And this is my first place vote—the original Aston Martin Virage, also known as the V8 Coupé and V8 Volante. It looked like it was styled by three different people who never spoke to each other, and was dragged kicking and screaming into the 90s. It did little to hide its parts-bin status (including the use of a corporate Ford airbag steering wheel with a sticker placed over the Ford logo) when new, and looks no better now. Of course, being an Aston Martin, it lasted for many, many years. For a brand known for its styling excellence, this generation of Virage looks ten years older than it is, and will always be a low point.

    Those are my top-of-mind examples, but I’m sure there are others.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Did a quick search online. Are you talking about the Virage that looks like a fat Corsica/Beretta? In that case, ewe are right.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Did a quick search online. Are you talking about the Virage that looks like a fat Corsica/Beretta? In that case, ewe are right.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      No points for the Virage, which looked like a disaster when it was new. It wasn’t age that killed the styling, it was styling.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I vehemently disagree. As related previously, on a beautiful weekend morning, I was standing outside the locked gates of Aston-Martin’s Newport Pagnell factory, when I heard a wonderful V8 noise behind me and saw the prototype Virage being returned from an early morning test. Inside were the Chief Designer and the Directing Engineer.

        What followed was a wonderful day with them taking us out for runs in the car, showing us the shop and then spending time in the local pub, discussing Astons.

        There is no way that I can ever show disrespect for that vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          During that vacation as well as touring the castles, cathedrals, battlefields, stately homes, and a number of distilleries manufacturing single malt Scotch, we also toured the Jaguar facility in Coventry, Ford in Dagenham, Silverstone, went to Abingdon which had little left to see, Longbridge, the Silverstone race course. We got to see Newport-Pagnell through sheer serendipity and later attended an Aston-Martin owners meet.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      Wow I had to google that steering wheel – that is SO bad. Same as I had in 2
      Mark VII LSC’s, where it wasn’t much better………
      https://www.wallpaperup.com/uploads/wallpapers/2013/12/27/206822/03d92fcf71d6635c1f4ff3fd6023f0f1-700.jpg

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    First gen Volvo S80

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    My favorite horrible car of all time, the East German Trabant. The last one rolled off the assembly line in 1990 while still maintaining it’s mid-50s-60s flair. A car literally made of recycled garbage it looked terrible all through it’s run and still looks the apex of communist block Europe

    https://www.louwmanmuseum.nl/~/media/Louwman%20Museum/Website/Collection/Cars/TRABANT%20-%20601%20LS%20-%201987/Trabant.ashx?h=412&la=en&mw=1000&w=1000

    After gazing at such a penalty box who wouldn’t embrace a capitalist ideal?

    Long live Democracy and the beautiful cars that go with it :)

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Top tip. If you paste a long link, the comment container will expand and cut off your comment. So, use a link shortener like bit.ly. :)

  • avatar
    thalter

    Sorry – cannot disagree more. The original 8N Audi TT is an icon, and therefore has transcended time to become timeless. It is a great design that the second and third generation models cannot hold a candle to. This fact alone speaks to the inherent “rightness” of the original design.

    Other than a slightly too long gap between the rear wheels and door cut line (owing to its econobox underpinnings and “cab middle” styling), there is not a bad line on this car.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      Agreed, and it’s fun to see a well kept example in a sea of toasters…oops, I mean crossovers.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Agree 100%. Corey I’d argue the exact opposite of calling the TT dated. It is such a clean and unique design that it is timeless.

      A coworker had a gen 1 car up until this summer, replaced with a current gen TT. The old one, aside from faded headlights and constant brake dust, never stood out in the parking lot as looking “outdated.”

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Sometimes I think you’re the most non-car guy car guy I know of, Corey.

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    New Beetle.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      This x 1000. Any kitschy charm these cynical cash-grabs possessed when new has long since vanished and even the best-kept examples just look sad now.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I’ll put the VAG stuff based on the MkIV Golf chassis, since they debuted in 1999.

      The auto broker I’ve used for several car purchases, and who passed away last year, worked as a salesman at the local VW dealer, along with his brokerage on the side (with a better deal to be had with purchases through the dealer) before he went into the brokerage business full-time, so in 2000, when my brother, Mom, and myself were in the market for new wheels, my Mom and brother purchased a Jetta and Passat, respectively. I entertained the idea of a silver New Beetle GLX Turbo with a five-speed, but decided on an Accord instead, my first, to replace my 1994 Civic. (As I’ve stated here, all my Accords have had six holes in the engine until my new one, my fourth, arrives sometime in June.)

      Turns out I made the right decision! My brother acquired a company car sometime before the Passat’s warranty expired (and he had ample opportunity to use it, IIRC), and my Mom’s Jetta was classic Emm-Kay-Four fail all the way!

  • avatar
    ajla

    I never liked the Z3 coupe. I always thought it was a cool convertible purposely transformed to look dorkier to appease hatchback fetishists and anti-style Jalopnik readers. The later Z4 coupe was much improved IMO.

  • avatar
    Hank

    I guess the Fiat Multipla is just low hanging fruit, being an Italian AMC Pacer. So I’ll throw out the 4 door mid-90s Chevy Cavalier. It was GM design at its laziest.

  • avatar
    whynot

    Volvo 960/S90/V90 (NOT the 940) especially in sedan form. Trying to modernize the classic Volvo look while still being boxy made for one awkward vehicle.

  • avatar
    lstanley

    Nothing says terribly aged European more than a 90’s era E34 BMW five series sedan, especially in lower end specs.

    I’ve always been struck by how nowadays a BMW 5 series E28 looks like a stylish classic with long legs into the future collector car market, but most E34s look like something on its last legs off a Buy Here Pay Here lot. Even the most lovingly cared for e34 looks like something that just………… exists.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    The TT coupe’s front end and butt are saved by its roofline but the convertible is not. It and the original SLK will always look more like toys than cars, the dream cars of my friends when I was in high school but an embarrassing memory 20 years later. Like dating a Spice Girl.

    But for worst European car of the ’90s I’m going with the 1996-99 Rolls Royce Silver Spur, which I fooled myself into thinking looked classy when it came out but, with time, looks for all the world like a kit car W126 that started with a mid-’80s Town Car and stopped halfway through.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      My tailor owns/drives a Silver Spirit. The Silver Spur is a longer wheel base version.

      As per a discussion that I had with another TTAC poster about a year ago, Rollers (to us), Royces (to their owners/aficionados) of that era are really not very good cars. Inferior in many ways to even American ‘luxury’ cars.

      However I still appreciate the RR styling, although not as timeless as that of the Silver Cloud, or even the Phantom.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    I can think of a few off the top of my head

    Late 90s Benz C-class
    Mid 90s Saab 900/9-3
    Late 90s Jag S-Type

    But these were ugly cars to me right off the bat…so fail on my part.

  • avatar
    volvo

    BMW E30 and E34. Seems that designers had a contest where the one that made a design with the most sharp angles won.

    Should have had better design at those prices.

    Lots of them still out on the road here in NorCal and IMO are an eyesore.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Does this mean that all the RWD Volvos had been wiped out by the Prius apocalypse before you discovered the brand? Or is your name being shared with a subsidiary of Geely a coincidence?

      • 0 avatar
        volvo

        Now Now don’t be snarky.

        Not that it matters but my Volvo experience was only red block wagons. Got them as reasonably safe stick cars for my kids when learning to drive.
        Kept the 85 240 wagon for myself until 2015. 300K+ miles. Still see it driving around town.

        They were as square a design as could be but IMO worked OK in the huge greenhouse 240-940 wagons.

        No more Volvos in my life now. I was really not interested in Volvos after the 240/740/940s went out of production. Just kept the screen name for this site

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    Umm this one is easy – ALL OF THEM. Special mention goes out to the TT, for being crappy and ALSO hideously ugly.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    1999 Lexus SC Convertible, the ugliest blob to come out of the 90s

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Lexus_SC_430_Tiger_Eye_Mica.jpg

  • avatar
    NeilM

    The Audi TT never worked for me. Yes, toy-like.

    The E34 BMW? A timeless classic.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Late 1990’s Fiat Multipla. During my heavy travel days, I saw these EVERYWHERE in Europe and wondered what in the holy Hell the designers were smoking, injecting, or inserting when they thought of this abomination. But they sold, so someone loved this thing.

    (Got beat to the New Beetle. Proof that the retro-craze was not the brightest idea…)

    Corey – have to fiercely disagree with the TT. If you look at the entire car as a whole, the interior still is drop-dead beautiful, with a stark and Germanic design that I wish more designers would use today (like the current TT and the minimal switchgear.) It does look a little slab-sided – likely based on the platform it’s based on – but the overall shape I think has aged very well.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Several VWs from the 90s looked dated the day after they went on sale. By contrast, I think the TT was a very handsome car that still looks good today. No, it doesnt look as modern as current cars, but it doesn’t scream “OLD HAT” like a 1990s Jetta.

    Dont get me wrong, I dont hate the styling of the Jetta of the era, but it wasnt exactly modern then, and time has done it no favors.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Agreed. The TT looks more timeless than its successors, which have tried unsuccessfully to capture that same concept-car charm.

      Speaking of the “concept-in-motion” phenomenon that Corey mentioned, I think the car that pulled that off most recently is the current-generation Mustang. When it debuted in 2015, it looked like nothing so much as an expensive road-going concept car. It’s an exceptionally well-done design that has only been diluted by the ubiquity of the Mustang; you see them everywhere.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Here’s an idea for a series; vehicles that were so painfully designed to pretend they were much more than they were. I’m thinking the circa 2003 Kia Amanti with its cribbing of Mercedes Benz cues (I even got mixed up when I first saw one) and the Hyundai XJ something or other with its knockoff all the things.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      The U.S.-spec 1970’s Ford Granada belongs in that group. There was a Ford print advertisement that showed a stereotypical New York Jewish woman proudly holding a parking ticket issued to her car, where the meter maid wrote that it was a Mercedes. Talk about shameless pandering.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      You mean the XG 350, and yes.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I don’t get the hate for the TT (or its’ spiritual stablemate, the New Beetle) – the design may not be “in vogue” today, but it still looks damn good to me.

    Having said that, though, I’m nominating the W140 S-class Benz, particularly the coupe, which was a blob back then and doesn’t look much better these days.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      The New Beetle at least gave passing consideration for human occupancy. Too bad that legendary self-destructing VAG quality came standard.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Yeah, the W140 was too big for the coupe body. Even the W124 was a smidge chunky for a 2-door. The W140 sedan also gets a demerit for ripping off the A31 Nissan Cefiro.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    It’s too bad you said no trucks, the first generation ML made the C-class of the era look classy and timeless by comparison.

    My vote goes for the 1998 redesign of the Audi A6, but just the sedan. I don’t know how you could hate the TT and not hate it as well. Every other generation of that car has been attractive.

    Runner up for me is the 1st gen Boxster. Makes a nice autocross car, but no style points given

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I don’t know how I missed this, but I agree with the A6.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Beat me to it – Audi was on a roll in the late 90s (and yes, I include the TT, which I like just fine). Everything they did has aged well (well, aesthetically), but the A6 is just a little bloated. The detailing is fine and in line with everything else they do, but wedged between the A4 and A8, it seems just a little chunky.

  • avatar
    formula m

    1999 Jaguar S-Type is what came to my mind instantly. They make the 03′ Kia Amanti look like an improvement

  • avatar
    EGSE

    To me the TT just looks ungainly as if one stylist did the body and another the greenhouse/roof. Neither knew nor cared what the other was doing and they fobbed them off to a hapless third party to mash them together by any means necessary. From the side profile it resembles a Zika virus baby with a tiny underdeveloped head on a less deformed but not-quite-normal body. It could be excused if it had been a high-school shop project; that’s as much as I’ll give it.

    Little did we know it was the shape of things to come. This styling philosophy metastasized throughout the auto industry and the clownish Camaro is but one mutated descendant of an unfortunate trend.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I too went straight to Audi, though for me the early 2nd gen A6 (98-02) sedan takes the loss. It has no other style than being rounded on every corner. It saw what Ford did with the ovoid Taurus and said “We should try that!”
    Fine in its day, but bleh to my 2019 eyes.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    1996-99 first generation Mercedes SLK (Silk). Looked like a stunted runt when new, and the few which have avoided the junkyard look utterly ridiculous on the roads with today’s super-sized vehicles. Honorable mention to the scramble egg headlighted and water cooled 1999 911, and of course the new Beetle. I was also never a fan of the BMW Z3 roadster and I don’t think aged well either, partucularly with their milky yellow headlamp lenses, but they don’t look quite as hideous as those others.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Mercedes-Benz W210 and W220. They didn’t look crisp or clean when they arrived, and they aged like milk on the hood of a better car in August. Where I live, I see more W123s on the road today than both of them combined. If they were still around, I think people would notice how poorly they were designed, which may be why nobody attended to their mechanical frailties.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I concur with the W220. The styling is not as Benz like and looks like a larger Acura RL if they built a executive class V8.
      Plus it’s from that Daimler era of cost cutting with self destructive wiring harnesses and sagging air suspension.
      They’re fairly inexpensive out there if you want to chance it. Personally the W140 is a far better vehicle and of course the W123 is rock solid.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    I had an e34 – It was the 530i, the small V8. When it ran, it was awesome. Ok power, but the sound and handling were terrific. Reliable it was not, even though it was well maintained.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Fiat Multipla

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Can’t think of any other stinkers beyond a lot of Euro mini junk that never made it to our shores.

    The AM Virage is the winner. Thankfully I had completely forgotten it, but upon being reminded by Mr Williams took and look, and see now that I have unconscious amnesia syndrome when overwhelmed by beauty’s opposite. Thank the good lord.

    Second place to the garden shed Jaguar Type S, Ford’s idea of a Jaguar. This hulking monstrosity I first espied in the flesh head on as it approached down a side street. As it drew closer and closer, my mind refused to accept the inevitability of its sheer ugliness until it could no longer be denied. Sir William Lyons would have had a litter of kittens had he been alive – the thing was the complete antithesis of his esthetic, a cartoon by incompetent sketchers.

    My choice of bad was the Audi TT. Couldn’t see a single virtue in it from day one. It looked like an overgrown dung beetle to me, a joke competing with the J30 from non-Europe for outright “they just don’t get it” silliness. A stinker, Bauhaus inspired or not.

    As for things like the nondescript E34 BMW and Roller, they weren’t ugly, just anonymously mousey. The Roller was 30 years past its sell-by date anyway. The Volvo S80 looked like a billowing cloud of roly poly Michelin man, but not ugly as such.

    It’s all in the eye of the beholder anyway as to whether certain proportions hit the sweet spot or its opposite. Liked this QOTD.

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