By on July 31, 2020

“Awful” can mean a lot of things, some of them pretty benign. A car can simply a boring appliance, and to some, this makes said car awful. Others might disagree.

Other vehicles might boast many positive attributes, only to have reliability issues render them awful in the minds of many. Yet an awful car can still be a thing of beauty, in the purely physical sense. Name one.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made a point of looking, in vain, for that goddamn comet in the evening sky, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes from my viewing point along a well-treed shoreline of a nearby river. I’m convinced it’s a hoax.

The only real comet to ever exist was built by Ford Motor Company’s Mercury division. Prove me wrong.

But it’s entirely possible that, during those moments of fruitless sky scanning, my eyes flitted across a gleaming point of light. A very important star, if there ever was one: Vega.

The Chevrolet Vega was a disaster that sullied General Motors’ reputation in an era of decline, hastening the growth of a stigma that only swelled in size during the ’80s diesel fiasco. We all know the car’s shady history. Designed by committee at the highest levels of the GM totem, then hastily foisted on the Chevrolet division. There were innovations, careful considerations to packaging and shipping and cost.

Alas, GM delivered an oil-gulping turd that turned brown faster than a sliced apple on a hot day. But boy, was that an attractive car.

With a front mimicking a second-generation Camaro, a sporty, sloping roofline, and a tidy, almost Italian rear, the Vega had all the right proportions. Its little steel wheels were fetching, like that of a circa 1980 Corolla. Combine that car’s looks and handling dynamics with reliability, and you’d have had a real winner. Too bad that by the time GM fixed the model’s grievous engine wear, overheating, and corrosion issues, customers were treating it like a coughing stranger in an elevator.

Luckily for GM, Ford was already earning itself a black eye at this point with its sometimes-explosive Pinto, while Chrysler Corp was doing its part for domestic car stigma with the new Aspen and Volare. Sad!

My choice of Vega for best-looking shitty car might run in opposition to your choice. There’s a lot of automakers out there, and many foisted vehicle son the buying public that prioritized style over function and durability. Name some names.

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors]

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74 Comments on “QOTD: Best-looking Awful Car?...”


  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    For me it’s the Pontiac Solstice. A beautiful roadster that I wanted really bad. I’m a narrow build but even so unfortunately I wasn’t able to sit up straight in it as the door sill impacted my shoulder and kept me pushed over about 10 degrees. I couldn’t sit in it for 30 seconds.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Land Rover/Range Rover, to me the most beautiful SUVs ever made with legendary quality and reliability issues that make keeping one out of warranty financial suicide

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      If you looked at the actual numbers you’d see that the least reliable manufacture (which is Land Rover) has 2 problems per vehicle per year. The most reliable Lexus has about 1 (0.89 to be exact). So sure it’s less reliable. But is that one extra problem per year really going to be the factor that keeps you out of what you really want?

      There is a gaping chasm between what the B&B think about reliability and what the numbers actually show. TL;DR The gap between the most reliable car maker and the least is minimal.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        I agree but once you’re off warranty, if that one problem is a blown head gasket, broken transmission, or leaking AC evaporator, that one prob can cost many bucks or many hours of your labor.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Yea, your headbolts shearing off or your timing chain failing might be “1 problem” but it is pretty big one.

          I also think the stats jmo are quoting are for vehicles 3 years or newer. No one really tracks things beyond that. CR tries, but they’re stingy with the data. So people are mostly left to anecdotes and personal recommendations.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            All one needs to do is to watch Doug DeMuro’s Carmax Range Rover odyssey to understand the real world experience with one

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            DuhMuro is an idiot on a good day. I’ve had a P38a Range Rover and now a Discovery I. Both with lots of years and lots of miles on them. Are they Corollas? Of course not, but they are not really any worse than the WJ Grand Cherokee that preceded them (the Disco has been better, actually). Which is to say stuff goes wrong once in a while, and I fix it. Neither has been in any way ruinous to own. Of course, unlike DuhMuro, I know which end of a screwdriver is which, and I don’t go our of my way to have every little thing fixed in the most expensive possible way.

            Would I have one as my only car and pound 20K miles a year on it? Uh, no. But that goes for anything that isn’t an utter cockroach. And the thing with cockroaches is that while they may be hard to kill, they tend to be exceedingly unpleasant as well.

      • 0 avatar
        deanst

        A friend of mine has literally spent a few thousand dollars trying to get a wonky headlight fixed on his Audi. I think it still doesn’t work properly.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “All one needs to do is to watch Doug DeMuro’s Carmax Range Rover odyssey to understand the real world experience with one.”

      If you watched the video you’d see that by far the major expense was new air shocks. They are a wear item, every car needs new shocks. And expensive cars are expensive because they use expensive parts.

      • 0 avatar
        redapple

        I leased a new LR 4 10 years or so ago.
        Year one. Wipers went wonkie and ejected the rubber strip.
        Horn stopped working.
        Front wheels were toed in. Ate the tires in 12,000 mile. Bad calibration at the plant. Tires were $300 each – I think. They wouldnt pay. Raised hell and they paid 1/2.

        NEVER AGAIN.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Here’s Doug’s final tabulation…

        Price paid: $26k

        Warranty: $3,899

        Vehicle price + warranty: $29,899

        Warranty claim pay-outs: $16,925.04

        Money saved via warranty: $13,026.04

        Those are some expensive shocks :(

        • 0 avatar
          jmo

          “Those are some expensive shocks :(”

          Of course they are! It’s an expensive car. I think they were $2500 each for parts and labor.

        • 0 avatar
          Dilrod

          I saw Doug’s video on that. He really came out the winner with that warranty. If I ever buy something complicated like a Range Rover I’ll do the same.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Yes, Doug did come out the winner, but what those numbers don’t tell you is the grief and aggravation of having a car you depend on constantly breaking down and in the shop. Even if it doesn’t cost you a cent out of pocket who wants the hassle?

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        The Carmax warranty covers “wear items”?

        And even for “wear items” it is worth recognizing if things are requiring replacement sooner than its competition.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I thought the Vega was better looking than the contemporary Camaros (those were a little over-styled, but that’s just a matter of opinion and taste).

    I liked the sedan Aspen/Volaré styling but I also liked the Fairmont/Zephyr (which in their day weren’t awful cars). The infamous Cimarron was also easy on the eyes- tarted up with some shiny stuff but it wasn’t gaudy, faux riche like a lot of Caddies.

    But you know what “good from far but far from good” awful car takes the cake, in my opinion? I can think of one particularly good example. Utilitarian styling makes a car good looking in my book- not much wasted on visual features that serve no useful purpose. A car that sits high enough off the ground for most driveways, bumpy roads, snow covered roads with the occasional frozen chunk of salty slush that fell out of somebody’s wheel well. Dark rubber trim accents on the doors and bumpers that are actually durable to gentle dings from stray shopping carts or careless people’s doors in neighboring parking spots. Rain gutters above the door openings. Simple steel wheels. Plain door handles. Near-vertical side windows and a not-steep windshield for better shoulder room and efficient interior space.

    For something with such practical, unpretentious styling, what an awful disappointment the Yugo turned out to be!

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      It was a good looking car, with a well designed suspension, influenced by Opel. Coils all around, with upper and lower A-arms up front, and upper and lower trailing arms in the rear.

      Sadly, at the start, base cars didn’t come with front or rear sway bars, and if you wanted to add a front sway bar to a base car, you had to swap the lower A-arms for ones for the GT, since the sway bar brackets were welded to the A-arms.

      They did add a Panhard rod and a traction beam to the rear suspension on the ’76 and ’77 models.

    • 0 avatar
      ffighter69

      I also liked the look of the Vega even better was the Vega Wagon. Drop a 427 into it upgrade suspension and brakes and you had one hell of a sleeper grocery getter as long as you used quiet performance exhaust. I don’t know how many times I got that dumbfounded look from guys driving Corvettes, Cudas and Chevelles when I blew the doors off them. Always threw them off with that exhaust.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I was tempted to say the Jaguar X-Type, but those actually aren’t awful. Ditto on the GMT330 Bravada, GMT360 Rainier, Chrysler LeBaron, and Allante.

    I guess I’ll choose the large RWD Cadillacs from the HT4100/Diesel era (so ’82-’85). Excellent design but otherwise lacking.

  • avatar
    cliff731

    VW’s 1980’s first “gen” Jetta… gas or diesel didn’t matter. The electrical gremlins were fully fed and watered and let loose upon and in that car. I and many others who owned one couldn’t keep these damn VW Jettas running. You learned quickly to be your “own mechanic” and “auto electrician”… or else you donated very generously to a VW dealer’s service department… and spent lots of time visiting therein. It got to where I was literally too doggone “skerred” to take the thing out of town on a trip to anywhere!!!

  • avatar
    someoldfool

    How about anything from Lotus in the 1980s? Gorgeous but….

    Does a DeTomaso Pantera qualify?

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      In the same vein as the Pantera I would nominate the DMC DeLorean. Totally futuristic looking but filled with left over parts someone found in a dumpster. The performance was pathetic even by the standards of its day.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I won’t go as far to call them “awful”, but I was very excited for the BRZ/FRS/86 when they were in development. Then the reality upon introduction was deflating. I wasn’t expecting a quarter-mile king, but I was planning on something equal to the V6 Camry and with direct power delivery (why bother with natural-aspiration otherwise?). There were also a lot of quality issues suffered by people in the first few years.

    Much happier with the Supra, although most people don’t seem to like that one either.

  • avatar
    brodyboy

    First gen Audi A4. So nice to look at. but not great to own, with time. Agreed on the Vega. The wagon was even better looking, beautifully styled. If they had given it an Opel or Holden style nose, been even better.

    • 0 avatar
      randyinrocklin

      I had a 74 Vega GT Wagon nice little car, with a/c, 4 spd, comfortable seats and a nice steering wheel to boot. Someone stole the trim rings of my wheels while I had my weekend drill and the local NG HDQTRS.

  • avatar
    cliff731

    Exiting from that VW Jetta disaster, I bought a 1987 Chevy S-10 Blazer… with the only V-6 engine available that year (GM’s 2.8 liter)… and an automatic transmission. Figured I was “good to go” there with some “domestic” iron made in the U.S.A. Boy oh, boy!!! Was I ever wrong…!!! That 2.8 liter V-6 engine teamed with said GM auto transmission was a fiasco in waiting. It couldn’t slug its way up even a gentle slope of oncoming highway without downshifting furiously and often. Did I mention GM’s use of a questionable material in manufacturing the 2.8 engine’s head gaskets? These were prone to early leaking… and catastrophic engine failure if not caught and replaced at less than 40K to 60K accumulated mileage. The automatic transmission as “lightly built” (reducing vehicle weight there) and teamed with that particular engine was a monumental “mis-match” guaranteed to result in premature transmission failures. But that compact S-10 Blazer two-door sure did look nice… in even plain-jane entry level trim!

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I had an 85 with that 2.8/700R4 combo and ran it to 140,000 miles with no engine or trans problems other than a cracked exhaust manifold. Only corrosion finally killed it. And yes it was slow.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      We had a 4×4 S-10 with that V6, but thankfully the manual trans. I can’t imagine it with a 3-speed automatic. I remember one agonizing uphill grade while trying to tow a new-to-me Datsun I’d just picked up.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Mitsubishi Lancer wagon. Beautiful, to us wagon lovers – but a Mitsubishi. Ugh.

  • avatar
    Bobby

    1995-1999 Olds Aurora. Sleek sinuous silhouette but with troublesome Northstar-based engine, electrical problems, etc. Shame so few have survived but not really surprsing. Was supposed to be one of the best (if not the best) luxury-sport sedan of its time.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Buy one for pennies and swap in a legendary 3800 supercharged or a LS4.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        This!

        • 0 avatar
          Runfromcheney

          I was going to nominate the 92-97 Cadillac SeVille, which the Aurora was basically a dumbed-down version of. The 1992 generation SeVille was easily one of the best looking luxury cars of its era, but the engine was hooked to the wrong wheels and a catastrophic engine and/or transmission failure was a matter of when, not if. It could have been the car that put Cadillac back on the map but it instead furthered the decline.

        • 0 avatar
          teddyc73

          @ Mike Beranek People are still posting the word “this”? I thought that trend died.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “This” is just the latest version of an old thing.

            “And postin’ “Me too!” like some braindead AOL-er…”
            – Weird Al Yankovic, It’s All About the Pentiums, Running with Scissors, 1999, Volcano Records

  • avatar
    Bobby

    1995-1999 Olds Aurora. Sleek sinuous silhouette but with troublesome Northstar-based engine, electrical problems, etc. Shame so few have survived but not really surprsing. Was supposed to be one of the best (if not the best) luxury-sport sedans of its time.

  • avatar
    bogardus

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the design of the Maserati Biturbo (I’ll have mine in red over gray, please). But the thought of actually owning one is terrifying. This could apply to lots of Maseratis, I guess.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Back in the 80s my neighbor was the (adult) son of the local Maserati dealer. He had one of those, it was pretty cool, but it spent a lot of time in the service bays, even in its first year of service.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Every Italian car, every Jaguar, and my 02 Passat. I couldn’t keep it out of the shop, and its throttle lag was dangerous.

    • 0 avatar
      ktm

      The B5 years were dark for VW. I owned a 2002 Audi S4. LOVED that car, still do, but it was in the shop for 24 days in a 6 month period, to include replacing the turbos and transmission.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I have to agree with the Vega. I’d also nominate the Alfa 75 (Millano), but at least I knew what I was getting in to with that one. I think the only good Vegas are the ones on their second life where they get driven 1/4 mile at a time.

    • 0 avatar
      pwrwrench

      Yup,Guy I raced with (RR) had a shop where he did custom work. Mostly drag cars. Vegas were popular, not much left except the body. Narrowed 9″ Ford axle,trunk was filled with wheel tubs. 4 link rear susp or similar. Big block Chevy usually, with choice of trans. And wheelie-bars. Some were quick detach as the owners wanted to run on the streets.

  • avatar
    e46 Touring

    1983 Isuzu Impulse–Giugiaro on the outside, Chevy Chevette on the inside.

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    The Triumph Stag. Gorgeously styled convertible with a V-8 fashioned from two I-4s that was just looking for a reason to fail. And the crazy part? British Leyland had a proven V-8 in the 3.5 liter Buick-derived motor they were using in practically everything else.

  • avatar
    Ryannosaurus

    1984 Camaro, I had a buddy in high school with one and I was jealous seeing as how I was driving my mom’s old minivan. He was always driving that red low slung car slow and deliberate, not showing off, which made him look even cooler.
    Then one day he let me drive it. My god was that car slow! Iron Duke 4 cylinder engine and a 3 speed automatic. My minivan (Dodge Caravan with a 4 banger and 3 speed auto) could outrun it! I learned a valuable lesson about not judging a car by looks alone.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    The Suzuki Kisashi. Probably the best-looking small sedan ever, but I sure wouldn’t want to own it (or wrench on it!)

  • avatar
    warrant242

    The last-gen (1999) Mercury Cougar. Hasn’t aged as well as some, but it was better looking than it really should have been.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      How good looking should it have been?
      Auto Exec: So this is your Mercury design. Hmmm, It’s better looking that is should have been. We wanted it a little less good looking.
      Designer: Huh?

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I don’t specifically know that it was awful, but the 1975 Chevy Monza 2+2 was based on the Vega, and was even prettier.

  • avatar
    volvo

    MBZ S550 coupe. I love the look but would not want to face cost when things go wrong. Probably a car where 95% of them on the road are leases.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    1. Cadillac Allante and the 1992-97 Cadillac SeVille, which were easily two of the best looking luxury cars of their era, but the engine was hooked to the wrong wheels and build quality/reliability was awful. They could have been the cars that put Cadillac back on the map but they instead furthered the decline.
    2. 1998-04 Dodge Intrepid/Chrysler Concorde. Beautiful cars that were very good in every way, but had their reputations quickly and permanently destroyed thanks to the wonderful 2.7L engine.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      What about the ones with the 3.5? My 01 LHS had no issues. Fantastic beautiful car. Although, I also had no issues with my 98 Concorde with the 2.7 before it.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    @PeteRR and @SCEtoAux have nailed it.

    Triumph Stag at #1 because as noted it would have been so easy to use an actually reliable engine. But there are so many other instance of UK built/designed/engineered vehciles circa the 1970s/80s. Triumphs, MGs, Jensens and TVRs. Even the TR7 and TR8 (yes they were considered by many to be ‘good looking’ at the time.

    And the Italians have specialized in this. It is part of Italian vehicle heritage. Just about anything from Alfa, Lancia, Lamborghini, Ferrari or Maserati. Beautiful works of art, guaranteed to break your heart and your wallet.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Closely-related proposed QOTD:

    -> Which vehicle body would you hang onto and convert to EV propulsion 10 years from now when you can get all the modular prepackaged parts (your choice of performance vs. range) delivered to your driveway for reasonable money?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @Toolguy: Those kits are showing up now.

      Two of these yamaha units, one in front, the other in back, would be my choice. I’d like to put them in a Factory Five 818C. A Tesla powered 818C can do the quarter mile in 9.3 seconds.

      https://www.thedrive.com/tech/32157/yamahas-new-270-hp-ev-crate-motor-could-be-perfect-for-your-dream-ev-swap-project

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The 2013+ Dodge Dart.

      I still think it has one of the best shapes on the road, and the main think wrong with it was the terrible drivetrain options.

  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    I bought a new ’81 Skylark with a 4 speed stick back in the day. To my eyes, it was a very classy looking 4 door sedan to serve as a daily driver. This was one of GM’s infamous X-cars however, and while I sort of enjoyed shifting it’s somewhat balky gears, money-wise I would have been farther ahead buying an automatic out of the gate. Buick’s clutch on this car was a disaster, and after 71,000 miles and replacing the clutch three times (not to mention several other major issues), I dumped it for the first of 3 Accords – the first two of which had flawless, smooth clutches/trannies that lasted well over 100,000 miles. So in retrospect, the Skylark’s good-to-my-eyes looks was probably it’s only attribute.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      My dad got laid off in the early 80’s and lost his company car. He bought an ’81 or ’82 Skylark with the Iron Duke and an automatic used at a local Chrysler dealer. I remember it being rather square and handsome by the standards of the day. I also remember the entire dash and steering column shuddering at stop lights from the engine vibrations. He only kept it a couple years before moving on.

      • 0 avatar
        amwhalbi

        Yeah, I do remember the shuddering at times as well. I had a friend who bought an ’82 automatic and he had better luck. In fairness, when the clutch wasn’t wearing out, the gearshift wasn’t finicky, or the front end wasn’t shimmying, it actually wasn’t a totally bad car. I remember many good times looking at it in my driveway.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Like other GM cars of the era, Vegas were painted with Magic Mirror acrylic lacquer, and the paint quality was very good. This was before plants were converted over to using enamel (like the awful paint on my mom’s ’78 Malibu Classic), which happened during re-tooling in the plants in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as cars were being downsized.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Vega, good choice. How about its cousin the Monza, even better looking and with the same shoddy quality and a slate of dull, unreliable engines. More recently, how about the Lancer Ralliart, cool WRC/Tokyo Drift looks saddled with a guaranteed to fail transmission.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    I nominate my new 1991 GTI 16V. It needed new 2nd gear syncros right off the lot, ate engine mounts and strut-top bearings, and had butter-soft BBS RM wheels.

    The Recaros’ bolsters yielded during cornering, the trans was notchy, the outside front strut would bottom once or twice upon turn in, and the 134hp put it way behind Neons.

    But people THINK they were great.

  • avatar
    ect

    Meant as a reply to brodyboy, but didn’t appear that way.

    Huh? I had a ’96 A4, acquired October ’95 and sold at a good price in June ’03 with approx. 120,000 miles on it. No big issues, some niggles but not anything out of the ordinary. Wonderful car to drive, I bought an ’03 Avant to replace it.

    My own nominees would be the Chevy Chevette, which looked fine for what it was and was a horrible POS in reality. Same with the early Hyundais – that brand has come a VERY long way in the past few decades – so much so that I now drive a Kia Sportage SX.

  • avatar
    davew833

    I’ll nominate the 1987-91 Rover Sterling 825/827SL. Much more distinctive looking than its Acura Legend counterpart (which looked like a big Accord to me) and oh, that Connolloy leather and burl wood interior! And of course the bulletproof Honda C25/C27 V6, but oh the gremlins these were plagued with, many caused by Lucas, the British Prince of Darkness himself. By the time Rover finally got many of the bugs worked out (post-1989), any possibility of a second-generation model had evaporated.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I thought the 1970s-1980s Jaguar XJ6 was a surefire “winner” in this category. John DeLorean, in an interview with Playboy, stated that he bought one new, tried to drive it home five times, and it never made it once. But it certainly was nice looking–to the point of placing in a 1982 Car and Driver article about the most beautiful cars ever made.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      There’s one of the rectangular headlight models in my neighborhood (from the 1979-1992 generation). Hasn’t moved an inch and has chocks under the tires to keep it from going anywhere.

      A few weeks ago the rear of it got raised in the air (it’s been sitting in the same spot in a driveway) wooden blocks placed under it instead of jackstands, and a drip pan was strategically placed. It doesn’t seem that anything has happened since.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Shocking comment from me:

    For some, it’s a Tesla Model S, X, or 3. Despite widespread praise and adoration – and objectively good looks – all of them have had their share of ownership horror stories.

  • avatar
    geo

    Some early Korean vehicles looked great but were awful to own and drive.

    This would include the Hyundai Excel, Stellar and Pony. This tradition held into last decade with the Aveo and Suzuki Verona; both nice-looking but crappy.

    I believe reputable European designers were involved with most of these examples.

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