By on July 3, 2019

We spent the last three Wednesday editions of Question of the Day discussing the awesomeness which was Nineties truck and SUV design from America, Europe, and Asia. Now we’ll flip things around, and bring a critical eye to designs which didn’t age so well.

The rules of the game are probably seared into memory by now, but we’ll state them anyway:

  1. All selections must be model years 1990 to 1999.
  2. Picks must be from a domestic manufacturer, even if sourced from an import (eg. Dodge Ram 50).
  3. The only eligible body styles are trucks and SUVs.

And the display of today’s dated design brings your author no joy. No joy at all — in fact I kind of like it.

“Hey, that Blazer looks funny,” was surely someone’s first thought circa 1991. And the funny looks were down to the small details which made up the unfortunately styled Oldsmobile Bravada. The Bravada’s origins lie in the GMT330 platform, which debuted in 1982. At that time the smaller S-10 Blazer and S-15 Jimmy represented new midsize entries into the growing SUV market.

By 1991, the designs were matured, assisted by periodic visual updates to keep things fresh. And that year was an interesting one for the Blazer family and its cousins. Most importantly, the first four-door versions of the GMT330s arrived (Hey, the Explorer was coming). It was also the last year the S-10 and -15 names were used in conjunction with Blazer and Jimmy.

Bravada was the first SUV offering from the Oldsmobile brand, and to make the considerably higher asking price seem worth it, all Bravadas were blessed with the largest 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine and “Smart-Trak” all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive was permanent, unlike its siblings’ 4×4 systems. Outside, painted bumpers, gold badges (usually) and a different front end treatment displayed the owner’s prestige and personal brand. The interior was also made more upscale than its siblings, and featured a unique wave-like center console surrounded by low-quality ruched leather.

But the late introduction and unique components are what made the Bravada a bad moment in styling. It looked different enough to stand out, but was clearly a rebadge trying to be more luxurious than it was. The limited run of the first generation (1991-1994) meant fewer on the roads, and they looked old by the dawn of the second generation in 1996. Bravada also broke down more, because the all-wheel drive system was less robust than 4×4. It just didn’t work out for the first Bravada.

Let’s hear your selections for those poorly aged trucks and SUVs.

[Images: Oldsmobile]

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59 Comments on “QOTD: Trucking Awful Nineties Design From America?...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The front end of that Olds is truly ugly. The instrument panel is also unappealing, if ‘age appropriate’.
    But why include a photo of a Grand Cherokee, which is probably the most successful design of that era?

    • 0 avatar
      schild1987

      I’m guessing they are talking about eh Orvis Edition Grand Cherokee in particular. The interior is pretty unique!
      http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_p4PkoeXYyOQ/S1YMrYoH9uI/AAAAAAAAFw8/LAsYsS-Rkto/s1600/jeep_interior.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        That interior is epic!

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Actually, that looks terrific! It’s not a black, gray or tan monocolor. Having driven that era of Grand Cherokee, I can confirm those were comfortable seats, and the quadra-trac and 318 V8 worked well together.

        Corey may consider it ugly, but it was a pretty efficient, compact design with great visibility. Spare me the tall cowl, gunslit windows of today’s SUVs/CUVs, with lots of swoop that reduces usable interior space, especially at the rear.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      Agreed on both counts. The less said about (and seen of) the Bravada the better.

      On the other hand the JGC got it right from Day 1. That design in the first pic is as fresh today as it was then and looks better than 90% of the ugly blobs sold now.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The only design competitor for the JGC from that era would be the 1994 Dodge Ram 1500/2500/3500 pickups. Game changed.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    I could have sworn we did this one already, because I know I ripped on the “jellybean” F150 design here in the recent past. Oh well, calling it ugly/dated will never get old for me, so here’s another chance.

    • 0 avatar

      Have to agree Jellybean is far and away the worst truck of the 90’s.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      The “jellybean” F150 is the last one with appealing styling to me (I’m biased…I have a 2002). They’re not trying to look like something they aren’t. In this context “appealing” is a relative term to be compared with today’s less appealing Kenworth cosplay styling.

      Just IMO…..

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      I’m totally opposite on that. Every now and then i’ll see one in really nice condition and think it’s still a damn good looking truck. Especially in one of the Eddie Bauer two tone trims.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    It just ekes in, but I nominate the 1999 Cadillac Escalade. It just reeked of a rush job by GM to capitalize on the Navigator’s runaway success, and there was nothing in it, besides a better stereo and softer leather, that made it different from the Denali. The front grille borders on hideous – just a flimsy looking plastic mouth where a Chevy grille was meant to go.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      It was a rush job to placate the dealers who were howling because they didn’t have a “Navigator” to sell.

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      I have to disagree *slightly*. Although this was basically a badge job in the best of GM heritage – like the Chevy Caprice/Pontiac Parisienne variety. The next gen (2002-2006) was far worse.
      GM realized that they didn’t differentiate the Escalade enough form its Yukon/Suburban brethren. So, what did they do? Why, slap more plastic cladding on it, that’s what!
      Every time I saw one of those going down the road, it was like it was screaming at me: “I’m not a Yukon! I’m not! I’m not! I’m not!”

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Sorry but no the Olds did not break down more than the Chevy and GMC due to their transfer case. Yes it was a more complicated and needy transfer case but it didn’t have the highly failure prone front axle disconnect that the other trucks had. So in the end it is a wash with both highly suspect of not actually engaging the front wheels when you need them.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    One could get the Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible in 90 and a few in 91, so there you go.

  • avatar
    Lemmiwinks

    The 90s YJ Jeep.

    I hate square headlights on a Wrangler.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    Only 1 that comes to mind…

    Gen 1 Dodge Durango

  • avatar
    SatelliteView

    Sorry, but where is the article about Tesla latest results and jump of stock price? Would love to read skeptics comments here on TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      Lemmiwinks

      You’re gonna be waiting a while. I’m guessing with tomorrow’s holiday and subsequent long weekend, mum’s gonna be the word.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Skeptics’ comments are everywhere. The main one is what Tesla actually admitted: there was a rush to buy before July 1, when the tax credit was cut in half. Tesla is still losing money on every car, but now they’re making it up on volume!

      As for stock price, Wall Street analysts don’t know anything about auto manufacturing – all they know is what gooses stock prices and makes money for speculators, er, “investors”, and a one-time boost in sales is just what they look for.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I had a Jeep identical to the picture that I was rather fond of and thought it to be good looking. I also had a jellybean F-150 that I liked as well. I’m not doing too good today :(

    Probably my least favorite of this era is the 2nd gen S-10 Blazer/Jimmy (1994-2001). Something about it’s roundedness just struck me as kind of cheap. They seem to rust quickly and got kind of junky as quick

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    It wasn’t a SUV/CUV, but the manufacturer positioned it as one, and tried to design it to look like one.

    For your consideration, I nominate the Pontiac Trans Sport second-generation vehicle launched in 1997.

    * Head gasket and manifold gasket eating engine filled with gasket destroying Dexcool? Check!

    * Underpowered compared to the competition with coarse, buzzy 3.4L V6 stuffed impossibly into a cramped space, assuring that most would keep their back 3 spark plugs forever? Check!

    * Versatrak AWD system that was primitive, unreliable, and was…quirky…on dry pavement? Check!

    * Power sliding doors designed by Rube-Goldberg and manufactured by Satan assuring failure? Check!

    * Build quality slightly better than an 80s Yugo? Check!

    * A slight lift over platform mates offered by Oldsmobile and Chevrolet (about 1/2 inch IIRC) and lower cladding in an attempt to look more like a CUV/SUV, and an ad campaign to match with cowboys and showing the Trans Sport doing offroad SUV/CUV things? Check!

    * One of the worst vehicles ever tested by the IIHS? A death trap on wheels? Check!

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Guilty as charged. I had 3 of the 2nd generation GM mini-vans. 2 Pontiacs (the upgraded Montana edition) and a Chev Venture. Never claimed to be ‘smart’. However unlike 2 of the 3 Caravans that preceded them, the GM’s never ‘ate’ a transmission, had their ABS system go ‘haywire’ or their interior plastic crack ‘from stem to stern’. The best Caravan I had from that era was a ‘base’ model with the old 3 speed transmission. The issues that I had with the GM’s was 1 sliding door that ‘released’ which was a common problem and a leaking A/C condenser also a common problem. Both repaired/fixed under warranty.

      However my ’06 Montana SV6 was/is one of my all-time favourite vehicles. Never let me down, was wonderful in the snow and quiet at highway speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        quaquaqua

        Arthur, I generally agree with your comments, but it’s pretty sad that you’ve been saddled with such bad minivans that the SV6 is considered both reliable and refined!

        As for the Caravan, I had a ’98 with the 3 speed auto (and the 3.0L V6). Both the engine and transmission needed extensive work by 60k miles. Air conditioner went out twice, too. But I knew what I was getting into and bought the extended warranty. Holy crap that saved me thousands. And I only kept the minivan for 6 years, 80k miles. Was essentially worthless at that point.

        What’s even sadder is we’re arguing whether or not GM or Chrysler had the worst late 90s minivans…and meanwhile the Windstar probably took the cake. What a turd.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Was on a driving vacation the past couple of weeks. I was shocked to see several rusty Windstars moving under their own power in traffic.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            That is shocking, I haven’t seen a Windstar moving under it’s own power in a long time. What a horrible vehicle that was and Ford should feel bad about ever making it, of course they paid dearly for their mistake

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Stayed for a couple of days with my sister-in-law in Nashville. The neighbors had a Windstar with so much rot under the doors I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it broken in half upon waking one morning.

            The couple I saw in Ohio were better preserved but still rusty in areas that are known to belie bigger headaches under the surface.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          I worked at a new car dealer in 1989, as opposed to 1998. 3.0 liter Caravans were already a thing, and the problems we were having were already with 4-speed Ultradrive ATs. The three speed TorqueFlites were bulletproof, but were generally paired with 4 cylinder engines at the time. The most powerful one was a 2.5 liter turbo that put out more power than the Mitsubishi V6. It saddens me to hear that they were selling the same V6 almost a decade later without resolving its issues.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Agree 100% regarding the Ford offerings. Drove one for one month and absolutely detested it. And the Freestar was no better when they changed its name.

          Also agree that the resale for Caravans is pretty awful. Massive depreciation.

          From 1992 to 2012 we had a total of 8 mini-vans. 4 from Chrysler and 4 from GM. All of the minivans were originally acquired new on leases. Kept 3 of them after, their lease was up. The stripped Caravan, one other Caravan and the SV6.

          Later sold the SV6 to my employer where it is used to shuttle supplies etc and ran like a ‘charm’ until a recent accident bent the frame. I originally used it to commute across Southern Ontario for 2 of the worst winters in recent history and it never once caused me grief. The overweight front end allowed it to be stable in all conditions.

          Started with a ‘top of the line’ Grand Caravan ES which at the time was perhaps the most expensive vehicle sold in Chrysler dealerships. Blew through 2 transmissions and had the plastic crack throughout the entire interior back area. Also had serious issues with its ABS. Otherwise, we quite liked it.

          Added a short box Caravan that was some sort of special order for a local dealership. A ‘base’ model with the Mitsu 6-cylinder engine and 3-speed. Manual windows and door locks. But it had built in child seats, and power mirrors, A/C and an upgraded stereo. A classic ‘kid carrier’. Despite the Mitsu engine’s reputation that vehicle proved to be ‘bullet proof’. Passed it on to my sister-in-law and at over 300,000kms it was still reliable, when it was written off.

          I replaced the ES with the Caravan ‘Sport’ based on the reviews from auto ‘journalists’. What a crock. Have never trusted any car reviews in mainstream media since then. The tires were expensive, the child seat did not fit behind the driver’s seat and it had zero ‘sportiness’.

          The GM vans prior to the SV6 were largely forgettable. However the rear air compressor was handy. And the multi-use individual bucket seats (holdovers from the Flying Dustbuster) were exceptionally handy.

          After 7 years without a mini-van, I now long for another one. And due to its pricing am hoping to get another Caravan. With the hope that the current driveline is indeed as reliable as it is reputed to be.

        • 0 avatar
          nrd515

          A friend of mine had a Windstar that had during the three years he had it, along with a ton of electrical stuff going wrong and a water leak, SIX failed transmissions. One of them lasted only long enough for the van to be backed out of the service bay, and it failed again. It was one of many Ford turds he owned over the years. All the problems he’s had with Ford vehicles would have driven me away forever, but he just put a couple of grand into his Ecoboost F150 with another drivetrain issue, and he just bought a Bullitt Mustang. I don’t understand it.

      • 0 avatar
        whynotaztec

        also guilty. my wife and I with 3 small kids did enjoy our 99 montana in may ways – seating for 8 which was a bit rare at the time, the van was able to carry quite a bit, and it wasn’t bad to drive. of course there was a coolant issue, a power door recall, and eventually the engine seized at 6 years, right around the 50-60k mark.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I also have a weird, well, not soft spot for the jellybean F-150, but given the state of what pickups are now, I at least admire Ford for trying it. But loaded up with plastichrome frippery as a Navigator, it’s maybe a little more dated in a bad way (the globe badge on the doors is neat though).

  • avatar
    ptschett

    I’d rate the ’97-’04 Dodge Dakota as worse than the contemporaneous jellybean F-150.
    Yeah, the F-150 was a blob. The Dakota was a blob (because 1997) that somehow also had to have the Ram big rig look from a few years before.

    I will grant that Dakota sales fell off after the ’05 redesign. (Heck, I bought an ’05, when I could have bought a brand-new holdover ’04 for less. Overall I liked the ’05 better, sufficiently that it was worth it to me.)

    But one also has to look at the fact that the Chevy/GMC twins, Nissan, Toyota were upgraded to near-Dakota specs in roughly the same timeframe as the Dakota ’04-’05 restyle; and Honda’s Ridgeline came out then too.

  • avatar
    geo

    The two-door Explorers (or Navajo) were pretty awful. The proportions were way off, while the S-10 Blazers 2-doors at least looked right.

    Both had seating for four, about 14 Mpg, poor ride, few redeeming qualities.

    • 0 avatar
      The_Guru

      I wouldnt say the Blazers looked right. The tires were tiny and those oversized wheel openings, yikes. Always looked silly. The 2DR Explorers were wayyy better proportioned.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    By the time I was old enough to be aware of the cars on the road SUVs and to a lesser extent trucks were already the vehicle to have. Consequently, my mind had already averaged them together to the point where I didn’t really register any egregiously ugly ones; well there was one, but we won’t mention it (and by we, I mean me. It’s only a matter of time before somebody blasts off with it. Suffice it to say that it’s from a defunct brand.)

  • avatar
    jfb43

    The obvious answer is Pontiac Aztek. Most of the 90s styling (on all types of vehicles) is endearing to me and is refreshing compared to what we get today.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Actually the Aztek doesn’t nearly as oddball to me as it used to, I think the BMW and MB lifted and squashed 4-door coupes cured me of thinking the Aztek was strange

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    Corey, the GMC Jimmy lost the S-15 prefix for 1992 but the “S-10 Blazer” continued until the redesign for the 1995 model year. Reason being, Chevy’s redesigned fullsize SUV also kept its Blazer moniker until it was rechristened Tahoe for 1995, while GMC adopted the Yukon brand for its largest SUV in 1992.

  • avatar
    AdamOfAus

    ZJ was an odd photo to use for this article… Arguably my favourite JGC.


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