QOTD: Terrible Nineties Sports Car Design From Europe?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
qotd terrible nineties sports car design from europe

On last Wednesday’s Question of the Day post, we began our examination of terrible styling on sporty cars of the 1990s. First up was America, and the oft-fiddled Mercury Cougar. This week we turn our attention to Europe, and sporty designs from across the ocean that didn’t quite work.

Let’s review the rules. They’re the same as last week, except more continental:

  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 as long as it’s sporty.

My selection for bad design comes from a brand which largely avoided pitfalls with their sophisticated and slab-sided designs in the Nineties. But no OEM is immune from bad styling decisions, to wit:

The SLK-Class was a new offering from Mercedes-Benz, in the So Hot Right Now compact roadster class. It had no predecessor, as before the early Nineties Mercedes never showed much interest in catering to the whims of the general public ⁠— the sort of people who leased vehicles. But times were changing.

SLK entered production in 1996, riding on a shortened version of the C-Class, the company’s cheapest sedan platform. It had the correct roadster layout, with engine at the front and driven wheels at the rear. Engines were of inline-four or V6 variety, and power was increased in both engines via optional supercharging. A folding metal arrangement was the only roof offered.

The layout and power weren’t an issue, but the styling was. The SLK attempted to carry an amalgamation of styling cues. The front end was an interpretation of the company’s pinnacle offering, the S-Class coupe. The rear was contemporary C-class adjacent, with tail lamps previewed the C-Class that debuted five years later. The whole car was 157 inches long, its piecemeal appearance not aided by stumpy proportions.

SLK interiors didn’t fare much better, especially on early models. Weird shapes (Mercedes’ worst airbag wheel) paired with cheap looking materials, and analog gauges looked sun faded right from the factory. Faux carbon fiber trim was liberally applied. Updates to the SLK occurred along the way, and the model earned a successor in 2005. By then the Nineties design of the first generation was very tired, and it’s only gone downhill since.

What are your picks for bad European sports car styling from the Nineties?

[Images: Ford, Mercedes-Benz]

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2 of 45 comments
  • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Oct 16, 2019

    I'm torn between the original Mercedes A Class and the Audi A2, both are compact cars with big car styling badly dumped onto them. The Audi gets an akward front end, the Mercedes is just a mess. Then theres the Mercedes CUV of that time which looked a bit too much like a Lexus or Honda CRV.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Oct 17, 2019

    And so, kids, these are the things we do not buy: - Red cars - Houses on corner lots - European cars - Ford vehicles manufactured after 1953 (last year of the Flathead V8) - GM vehicles manufactured after 2003 (last year of the Chevy Small Block)

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.