By on July 10, 2019

Last week, in our Wednesday QOTD post, we switched over to the darker side of truck and SUV design from the Nineties. It seemed many of our dear readers were less than fans of the so-called “jellybean” Ford F-150. This week, attention shifts to east — to Europe. Which trucks and SUVs from that most stylish of continents have aged the worst in terms of styling?

Just like a few weeks ago when we considered the good Euro designs from the Nineties, we’ll be picking from a thinner field of contenders than either America or Asia. Our rules stand the test of time, as always:

  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. Vauxhall Rascal).
  3. The only eligible body styles are trucks and SUVs.

Unlike the fantastic Land Rover Discovery II which won Your Author’s Nineties Design Award, a different Land Rover vehicle from the same time period didn’t fare so well.

The golden egg seen here is the Freelander. As the Land Rover brand reached downward to the masses with the Discovery and Discovery II, parent Rover considered how it might move even further downmarket.

Their research from the Eighties suggested that a compact SUV offering would do well. With a limited budget for development (or anything, really), Rover hunted for someone with whom a partnership might occur. Naturally given their history, Honda was number one on the speed dial. But Rover’s Japanese friend was already in development of their own SUV (the CR-V) and declined. Rover had to go it alone.

Not an issue, as Land Rover turned to the parts bin like they’d done many times before. The donor platform was a modified version of the one on a Rover 200. Whether they wanted to or not, Honda ended up helping Land Rover develop the Freelander: The modified 200 platform was sourced from the prior generation. Said prior generation 200 was developed jointly by Honda and Rover — based on the previous generation Civic — and was also sold as the Honda Concerto. One could not simply drop Rover so easily.

The Freelander entered production in 1997, and was built at the factory which used to make the Rover SD1. Its rounded shape and excessive cladding didn’t share much with the rest of the Land Rover lineup, which is fortunate for those other models. Engines in North American examples incorporated the largest V6 available, a Rover-developed 2.5-liter KV6. Those motors usually killed themselves off around 60,000 miles, so it’s not likely you’ll come across many first generation Freelanders today. For the best, as it looks cheap and terrible in any context outside of London in 1999.

Let’s hear your selections for bad European design.

[Images: Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover]

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47 Comments on “QOTD: Trucking Awful Nineties Design From Europe?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Hands down the Lamborghini LM002, I know some people liked it, but it was a $126K (1989 price) Tonka Toy

    http://www.blogcdn.com/www.autoblog.com/media/2010/07/lm002.jpg

    In case you need reminding

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    The Mercedes-Benz ML was a good lead-off photo. They’ve yet to make one that isn’t sad to look at. I get it that ugly rules Germany, but the ML always looks weak, flabby, and feminine. The GLs aren’t as bad.

    I think the Freelander was fine stylistically. Mechanically, it was built like a Range Rover and then sold to a demographic that really needed something engineered and built like a Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      random1

      The GL is only marginally better. The closest thing to a minivan in a luxury SUV.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Not a “truck” but the R-Class MB was the one that always made me laugh. Like the ba$tard child of a Windstar and a Flex.

        There’s one sitting inside the fenced area of a local repair shop that specializes in foreign car repair. I should see if it’s still there.

        • 0 avatar
          Car Ramrod

          @random1, not that the GL isn’t minivan-like, but I think the current Q7 edges it out.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Ah, but if you want the last laugh, there’s the R63 AMG, with 507 hp to shut the haters up.

          https://www.autotrader.com/car-news/the-mercedes-benz-r63-amg-was-the-rare-v8-powered-minivan-of-our-dreams-257149

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Funnily enough, there are some who think that because the R-Class and the first-generation Pacifica were similar psuedo-wagon/crossover/minivan vehicles…they are structurally related.

          In fact, they are not. The Pacifica was an offshoot of the contemporary Chrysler RS minivan platform, and was therefore transverse-FWD. The R-Class was related to the contemporary M- (W164) and GL-Class (X164), and was therefore longitude-RWD.

        • 0 avatar
          cprescott

          Saw one of those yesterday – ghastly looking from every angle.

        • 0 avatar
          SaulTigh

          I see 3 (three!) of these running around my neck of the woods with some regularity, which still blows me away because I think MB only sold a couple thousand of these a year in the states. Either the owners are careful with them or they’ve held up because they all look pretty good.

          The ML class Benzes I see, on the other hand, are several layers deep into BHPH hell. They have not aged well.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        random1, the first generation GL was execrable, but it wasn’t introduced until 2007.

        • 0 avatar
          random1

          Yeah, we got off-topic there, just an observation. And agree with everyone on the R. Almost forgot about that! My neighbor had one and loved it though.

          Kyree – I always assumed the Chrysler was related.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      My former deutsche firma which supplies OEM coatings to the industry worldwide leased M-B ML’s for the company vehicles used by top management here in the US in show of support to das Vaterland . There were two assigned to my plant out here in the cornfields (ethanol fields?) of Western Ohio and were roundly criticized by their users as being crazy-unreliable rattletraps – every week or so a rollback would come in the gate to tote either one or the other to a dealer in Dayton for some sort of repair. I fondly remember seeing the plant manager and one of his underlings using the company 6-cyl ’92 Ford F-150 XL, their luggage covered in plastic sheeting in the load bed, for an official trip to a Detroit-area meeting once due to the unavailability of the broken M-B’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      I suppose that’s why I like the first ML: it doesn’t look aggressive at all, like so many SUVs (and CUVs) do — it’s more like an oversized A class (the first one). Nice, clean, inoffensive lines.

      I see your Freelander and raise you one X5. Just count the horizontal lines on the front of that thing. And the layer of visual fat above the wheelwells. Looks like a raised 3-series Touring in a fat suit.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Well Corey took mine…Lord knows the Freeloade..err…Freelander horror stories I can pass on.

    So, time to dive deep into the memory banks because there are some slim pickings to choose from with this category. And then I remembered the “crossover” scourge that Renault started with the Espace. Not sure if this qualifies, but given who it was marketed to, I think it can slide.

    For those who were not living or visiting where Renault sold this monstrosity (during the late 1990s), and haven’t seen one, I want you to imagine a first generation GM “dustbuster” van making some really nasty grunge luvin’ to a Toyota Previa. They were all plastic like the dustbusters and I think Pontiac sold them some extra trim for the sides. The interior was typical French during that time – different for the sake of being different, and you would think the designer had never driven a car before given the layout.

    But it’s REALLY easy to pick on Renault during this time period!

    • 0 avatar

      Had to check to make sure the Avantime was not released on the 90s. Because you can forgive many sins in the time of Avantime.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        You have a winner for the next decade’s Euro truck challenge. I knew someone who drove one of those things, and having to see that thing every day…always waited for a bunch of clowns to come flying out of it!

        I mean there’s ugly…and then there’s “were the drugs worth it because you cost us hundreds of millions” ugly!!!

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          Oh lord, those things were butt-ugly

          https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/Renault_Avantime_lh.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            In person – 10X worse. Everything just looks “off” – lopsided, crooked, you name it. But I’ll save the venom for when the 2000s Euro-truck QOTD is posted!

        • 0 avatar

          I like the Avantime! We could do a 2000s design series. Gives me six more weeks of material. Ha. 12 if we go with non-trucks too.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            Around 2025, when the 25 years is up, we’ll all start up a GoFundMe and make sure you have the only Avantime in the Tri-State area! I guarantee you’ll get a lot of stares!
            There’s some interesting designs coming out of France to this day – look at the Citroen C4 Cactus, but the Avantime…really???? ;-)

          • 0 avatar

            I will happily Avantime to work every day. And I would like the Prestige trim with the gasoline V6.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            https://bringatrailer.com/2015/01/22/rare-in-the-usa-2001-renault-vantime-3-0-5-speed/

            Bask in the oddness! And enjoy reading the “yeah-huh, nuh-uh” between everyone about how legal it would be to drive it in the US.

            Now if it takes the spot in the garage where the Lexus now resides and you only take it out late on Sunday nights…mmmmm….

          • 0 avatar

            I am very certain that Ohio would never ever title that.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            I don’t think the Ohio BMV would even know where to begin with an Avantime! I can see the confused stare right now.

            Side note – for future QOTDs, was rewatching an episode of The Grand Tour last night with the Testarossa v. Countach track battle. Got me thinking about a best and worst American/Japanese/European sports cars from each decade. Guaranteed to bring out some passions! (Give me a Testarossa but with the animal wail the Lambo makes and close to perfection for the 80s.)

          • 0 avatar

            That’s a good idea! I’m always up for series QOTDs which are repeatable.

            PS. Grand tour borrowed both of those cars from Harry Metcalfe of Harry’s Garage.

            https://twitter.com/CoreyLewis86/status/1130324453538357248?s=20

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            You’re welcome. The Japanese in the 70s might be a lost cause for high performance cars compared to the Europeans, but let the rumble begin for the rest of the decades.

            Didn’t know that about Harry’s Garage – just checked it out. I would like all access to that garage, even if just for a day…please???? Of course it won’t be cheap as the conversation between May and Hammond about replacement drivetrains and clutches proved! (Rolling start drag race?)

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, if the Avantime qualifies, I’m nominating the Fiat Multipla.

    No accident that these cars both starred as rides in the awful future of “Children of Men.”

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      The duck-billed platypus of hideous designs. Good call. Also chalked up under the category of “you sure you guys have designed a car before?”

      I remember in Rome – in the early 2000s, you’d see the little smart fourtwo, the Ford Ka, and these Multiplas EVERYWHERE. I think it was the last thing you’d see before getting plowed into by a speeding Vespa.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Yep, it’s the Avantime’s uglier step-sister

        https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a2/Fiat_Multipla_front_20080825.jpg/1200px-Fiat_Multipla_front_20080825.jpg

  • avatar
    TimK

    The Geo Tracker had to be a pinnacle of some sort.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    I may be the only person to like the first gen ML.

    ML55 – yes
    Modified MLs in JP2 – yes yes

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Lots of folks liked the ML…and then they bought one.

      #GoodFeelingsOver

      Did you actually one one of these? I’ve heard nothing but bad stuff about them.

      • 0 avatar
        jh26036

        Oh I am perfectly aware they were total disasters. I still find them handsome, that’s all.

      • 0 avatar
        downunder

        I still got my ML320. 2000 build, has a little rust stain on the corner of the door, lives outdoors in the Australian climate, especially summer and the paint still looks like the above photo. No major mechanical issues (touch wood) and the only things I have replaced are brake pads and updated the radio. It just needs a refresh on the interior leather, especially the door grab handle.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      As we used to call them in Atlanta, the “Bama Benz”

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    European SUVs from 1990 to 1999… well your only choices are going to be from Mercedes and Land Rover, specifically the first generation M-Klasse and the Freelander (I doubt the G-Klasse qualifies since it was designed in the 1970s…).

    Opel had a selection of SUVs on sale, but they were badge engineered Isuzus.

    BMWs first generation X5 debuted in 2000.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    I can never see an old ML from the front and not think of its corporate sibling, the Freightliner Columbia, that used the same dang headlights.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Copping to my ignorance of European vehicles in general and in the 1990s specifically I can’t think of any that haven’t been mentioned. I did find some Ladas after a quick giggle search, but they just look utilitarian and not necessarily ugly.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    The Freelander didn’t look that bad, I think you’ve forgotten cars like the Vauxhall Frontera! In actual fact the Freelander let us the worst looking car Land Rover ever made…. but if it’s their worst what about everyone else? Ford for example, hard to choose between the Sierra, the Scorpio and the Edsel! Jeep, gave us the Compass and the weird Cherokee with that grill. In pure styling terms Land Rover is arguably the most successful car maker in the world.

    • 0 avatar
      ThomasSchiffer

      But the Vauxhall Frontera was based on an Isuzu design (the name of the car eludes me), so technically it’s not European.

      For the time (I remember that era rather well) the Opel Frontera was actually quite ‘sporty’ in appearance. Nowadays I look at it and wonder how I ever could have found it attractive.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    I remember reading somewhere that they did a stellar job with the promotion of the ML by having Catherine Zeta Jones drive it in the movie Traffic as a drug lord’s trophy wife. It showed her hauling a bunch of kids and being able to fit a bunch of golf clubs in it. Sales exploded after that.


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