QOTD: Terrible Nineties Sports Car Design From Europe?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

More by Corey Lewis

Join the conversation
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)

  • MaintenanceCosts "But your author does wonder what the maintenance routine is going to be like on an Italian-German supercar that plays host to a high-revving engine, battery pack, and several electric motors."Probably not much different from the maintenance routine of any other Italian-German supercar with a high-revving engine.
  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.