Ugliest American Cars

ford mustang II ugliest cars

Frumpy, under-powered, and unloved, this collection of American iron won’t be gracing museums or front lawns at Pebble Beach.  Each of these ugly cars tried to carve out its own existence and answer a question that nobody was asking.

One thing these ugliest cars all have in common is the era from whence they came.  From the 1970s until the late 1990s, American car design endured a dark ages.  Here are some of the people’s champs, in no particular order: 

Chevrolet Citation [1980-1985]

MSRP < $6,000 / 1.64 million sold

chevrolet citation ugliest cars

There really isn’t a good angle for the Chevrolet Citation

Notable awards/facts:  Best-selling car in the United States, 1980. Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, 1980. First major Chevy sales dud, selling only half the cars in its second year. Ugly, but cool: Citation X-11. 

The Chevy Citation was the successor to the Nova, itself an ugly car, so it had a low bar to deal with when it was introduced in 1979.  It was GM’s answer to import front-wheel-drivers like the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Rabbit, small cars which were selling well after the oil embargo of the 1970s.

One of the ways GM improved fuel efficiency was by shaving 800 pounds from the Nova in the 20-inch shorter Citation and its badge-engineered sisters, the Oldsmobile Omega and Pontiac Phoenix.   But it wasn’t exciting; it’s 2.8L V6 produced just 115 horsepower.  Oh, you could get 135 horsepower if you ordered the X-11 ‘High Output’ (H.O.) model, but you’d still be driving a Citation.

The car’s reliability record was so bad, sales fell off a cliff.  In 1980, the first year of the Citation, Chevy sold 811,000 cars.  Two years later Chevrolet sold just 166,000 Citations.  By 1985, the last year of the Citation, the company sold just 63,000.  GM actually changed the car’s name in 1984 hoping consumers would see this wasn’t the same ugliest car Chevy ever produced.

But the new name was ‘Citation II’ – it didn’t fool the public and Chevy still sold less than 100,000 cars.  The frumpy Citation was eventually replaced by the unpretty Beretta and forgettable Corsica, two  ugly cars that could probably earn a shout in their own right for this list.

Ford Fairmont [1978-1983]

MSRP: $3,700-$6,668 / 600k+ sold

Ford Fairmont ugliest cars

The boxy Ford Fairmont was an ugly car and had a face only a mother could love

Notable awards/facts: The Fairmont was the only Ford model in 1983 to not wear the Blue Oval badge.

The Ford Fairmont (and its sister, the Mercury Zephyr) was the successor to the Ford Maverick/Mercury Comet, another pair of ugly car nominees on this list.  Notably, the Fairmont marked the introduction of the famed Fox platform, also used on the popular 1979-1993 Mustang.

A ‘Futura’ sub-model of Fairmont took the weird to the nth degree, boating a basket-handle roofline on the coupe.  How bad was the Fairmont?  It’s replacement was the Ford Tempo, another ugly car that was considered an upgrade.

Chevrolet Chevette [1975-1987]

MSRP: $2,899-$4,995 / 2.8 million sold

chevrolet chevette ugly car

If your friend tells you they drive a ‘Vette, they might mean this

Notable awards/facts: Best-selling small car in the U.S. 1979, 1980.

The Chevette could be in the conversation for the ugliest car Chevrolet has produced.  It was the successor to the Vega, which was so prone to corrosion, reliability, and safety problems GM had to extensively rework the entire car in the Chevette.  It was produced by GM’s Energy Task Force in direct response to the 1973 Oil Crisis.  One of the ways GM improved economy was by reducing weight; ironically the Chevette’s 1.4 liter iron block weighed 59 pounds less than the aluminum block in the Vega.

Chevettes were rear wheel drive, but they were slugs disguised as hatchbacks with 13-inch wheels – the first engines produced a whopping 53 to 60 horsepower.  The car was designed to be economical, and that it was:  The EPA rated the Chevette’s miles-per-gallon consumption at 28 city/40 highway.  A concept ‘Electrovette’ used an electric motor fueled by a bank of lead-acid batteries to achieve a range of 50 miles and a top speed of 53 mph.

Dodge 600 [1983-1988]

MSRP: $14,856 (’86 ES Turbo convertible) / 309,590 sold

Dodge 600 ugliest cars

Chrysler hoped the Dodge 600 would compete with BMW and Mercedes-Benz

Notable awards/facts:  Best year was 1984 with 61,637 units sold.

This ugly car’s impact on the market was so small most have never even heard of it.  It was the successor to the Dodge 400, another ugly car that was mercifully slaughtered after just two years of production.  The 600 was Dodge’s answer to European sedans, hence the numeric moniker meant to evoke thoughts of Mercedes-Benz (Chrysler even made an E-class).   Not evoking thoughts of Mercedes-Benz was the styling, which was decidedly early ’80s American bland.

Also un-Mercedes-like were the engines, 2.2 liter and 2.6 liter 4-cylinders.  From 1984 through 1986, an up-rated 2.2 liter 142 horsepower turbo engine was offered as an option but was expensive and did not sell well.  Production of the 600 ended in 1988; it was replaced by the Dynasty, another ugly car and nominee on this list.

Cadillac Cimarron [1982-1988]

MSRP: $12,131 / 132,499 sold

cadillac cimarron ugliest cars

The Cadillac Cimarron was a Chevy Cavalier with leather and power everything – except power

Notable awards/facts:  First 4-cylinder Cadillac since 1914. First Cadillac since 1908 with an engine displacing less than 2.0 liters.  First manual transmission on a Cadillac since 1953.

Cadillac has enjoyed some success with badge engineering.  The first Seville witnessed large sales as a re-bodied Chevy Nova.  Escalade has been immensely successful as a rebadged Tahoe with leather and shiny wheels.   But the badge engineering experiment Cadillac would like to forget was the Cimarron, the ugliest car Cadillac has ever made in what is essentially the Cadillac of 1980s Chevrolet Cavaliers.  Joining the Cavalier and Cimarron in the GM J-body compact stable were their platform-mate triplets of the ugly Buick Skyhawk, the unfortunate-styled Oldsmobile Firenza, and the horrendous 2nd generation Pontiac Sunbird.  With such a fantastic spectrum of ugly cars on offer, GM buyers could have their pick of ugliness in any variety of flavors.  How could GM go wrong?

Well, pretty easily as it turns out.  Cadillac wanted a small car to compete with the popular European imports.  GM’s president at the time famously told Cadillac’s head honcho “you don’t have time to turn the J-car into a Cadillac.”  Nevertheless the Cimarron was rushed to market, but even though it included standard air conditioning, leather, alloy wheels, and power windows and mirrors, there was no disguising its economy car roots.  Adjusted for inflation, the Cimarron’s asking price in 1981 of $12,131 would equate to $32,115 in 2016.

The ugly car sold less than a third of its projected numbers, eventually leading to Forbes placing the Cimarron on its list of “Legendary Car Flops.” But perhaps automotive journalist Dan Neil said it best; he noted the Cimarron “nearly killed Cadillac and remains its biggest shame.

AMC Eagle [1979-1987]

MSRP: $6,999 sedan, $7,549 wagon / 197,449 sold

amc eagle ugliest cars

The dowdy AMC Eagle was a Subaru Outback 20 years before the Outback was the Outback

Notable awards/facts:   Only 4WD cars produced in U.S. at the time.  First mass-produced 4WD car in U.S. with independent front suspension.  First mass-produced 4WD passenger car built in America. Sometimes referred to as the first crossover vehicle.  AMC killed the Pacer to increase production of the popular Eagle.

Part Subaru Outback, part Griswold Family Truckster, the unfortunately styled AMC Eagle was just twenty years ahead of its time. This lifted (by 3”!) four-wheel-drive car was actually the idea of AMC Jeep engineers who wanted to offer AMC customers wary of fuel costs during the energy crisis a more fuel-efficient 4WD option to the Jeep.  To this end it was successful, the 1984 Eagle with the 4-cylinder and 5-speed was advertised as achieving 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway.

It was relatively successful, its run only truncated by the failure and sale of AMC to Chrysler.  Production of the Eagle ceased nine months later.  The Eagle actually maintains a cult following for its capability and durability, and it does have notoriety as being the car that killed the Pacer.  There’s no challenging the utility and legacy of the car, but that styling…  Not as weird as the Eagle Sundancer convertible, we suppose. Touché, Eagle.

Dodge Shadow / Plymouth Sundance [1986-1994]

+/-1.6 million sold

The Dodge Shadow actually helped push Renault out of the country, so there's that

The Dodge Shadow actually helped push Renault out of the country, so there’s that

Notable awards/facts:  Killed the Renault Alliance and prompted the withdrawal of Renault from the United States.  One of the first low-priced cars to have a standard driver’s side airbag. Cool: Shelby CSX, the last Dodge-based front wheel drive car produced by Shelby.

It’s almost unbelievable, but this ugly car replaced the Dodge Charger – ok it was the L-Body Charger, but still…  And while we’re connecting the dots we should throw in the nugget that the unfortunate Dodge Shadow was replaced by the breakthrough Neon.  While its looks won’t instill fear, its engine options actually offered a pretty decent output for the era.  The earlier years offered a 2.2 liter turbo with 146 horsepower and 170 lb-ft. of torque.  A later 2.5 liter turbo offered 150 horsepower and 170 lb-ft. of torque.  The most powerful Shadow was the Shelby CSX with its up-rated , intercooled 2.2 liter turbo.  It had a downright silly 175 horsepower and 205 lb-ft. of torque.  If you were interested in a Shadow, slap yourself – then buy this one.

What was wrong with the Shadow?  Well it was a K-car to start.  It looked like a short, two door coupe with trunk – but it was actually a hatchback.  The base (and most common) engine had less than 100 horsepower.  Sales were brisk, averaging nearly 200,000 units per year, but Chrysler reportedly lost money on every Shadow they built.  But the worst thing on this ugly car was the motorized passenger seatbelt – in fact these seatbelts were actually deemed unsafe by Canada, who will not let you import a U.S. Shadow into their country.

The Dodge Shadow has another interesting claim to fame:  When Chrysler acquired American Motors Corporation (AMC) from Renault, the Shadow replaced the AMC-built Renault Alliance and ultimately helped send Renault back to France.  Thank you, Shadow.

Ford Pinto [1971-1980]

MSRP $1,850 / 3,173,491 sold

ford pinto ugliest cars

The Ford Pinto was uglier than it was unsafe

Notable awards/facts:  First mass-produced American car with rack and pinion steering.  1977 recall was largest vehicle recall in history to that point.  Shortest production planning schedule of any car built before 1971.  Best sales in 1974 with 544,209 sold.

Pinto was introduced on September 11th, 1970 as a response to the popularity of the smaller Japanese imports of the 1960s.  It was Lee Iacocca who called for Ford to build a 2,000-pound car priced less than $2,000.  Product development was completed in a scant 25 months – half the industry average.

However the Ford Pinto and its sister Mercury Bobcat were lightning rods to controversy.  The rear-drive compact cars became embroiled in a fuel system fire fiasco after a claimed number of people surfaced claiming that rear-end collisions in the ugly cars would ignite the fuel tank and set the car on fire.  When the NHTSA conducted an investigation and found the fuel system defective, Ford issued a recall of 1.5 million vehicles, the largest recall in history at the time.  The Pinto made the list of 50 worst cars of all time for both Forbes Magazine and Time Magazine.  It was ranked third on Car Talk’s “Worst Cars of the Millennium” poll and named to CNN’s list of “10 Most Questionable Cars of All Time.”

Decades later, studies revealed the “Ford Corviar” was no more risky than its contemporaries.  Despite its dowdy looks and poor reputation, the maligned Pinto maintains a rabid fan club to this day.  The Pinto was eventually replaced in 1980 by the smaller, lighter, and front-wheel-drive Ford Escort.

Pontiac Aztek [2000-2005]

MSRP: $20,000-$22,000 /  119,692 sold

pontiac aztek ugliest car

Staring at the Pontiac Aztek for too long can cause retinal burn

Notable awards/facts:  Designed by the same guy who penned the C7 Corvette.  Launched with the TV show “Survivor” in 2000.  Served as the pace car for the 2001 Daytona 500 (yes you read that right).  One of the first automobiles to be designed entirely using computerized rapid-prototyping/rapid-visualization tools.  Best sales year was 2002 with 27,793 units sold.

In the “ugliest car” list of life, the Pontiac Aztek is number one in your heart.  Oddly enough, the Aztek was designed by Tom Peters, the same author of the C7 Chevrolet Corvette.  This ‘funkiest car of the ’00s’ was designed to be different, featuring such different things as auxiliary controls in the rear cargo area, a sliding cargo floor with grocery compartments, and a center console that doubled as a removable cooler.  It was as handy and innovative as it was ugly, and it was launched with the popular show Survivor along with the tagline “Quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet.”

Interestingly the 1999 concept Aztek was well-received, which led to it getting the greenlight for production.  GM expected to sell 75,000 per year and needed to sell 30,000 units to break even – but it never achieved that mark; its best year was 2002 in which just 27,793 examples of the ugly car were sold.  To Pontiac’s credit the fact the Aztek was even built was a triumph of experimentation, if not good taste. One of the designers said that during the design process, the Aztek was made “aggressive for the sake of being aggressive.”  The best response was probably from GM executive Bob Lutz, who famously said many of the company’s products resembled “angry kitchen appliances.”

The Aztek did enjoy a brief resurgence in popularity in the 2010s as the car driven by Breaking Bad’s Walter White.  It is Web Authority’s belief the crossover Aztek was just ahead of its time; if the 2014-16 Jeep Cherokee can break sales records with that mug of a face, one has to wonder why the Pontiac is so widely panned.

Oldsmobile Achieva [1992-1997]

MSRP: $14,000-$17,000

oldsmobile achieva ugliest cars

Oldsmobile Achieva owners weren’t always achievers. The ugly car was  also a fleet sales champ.

Notable awards/facts:  Debuted the Oldsmobile-developed “Quad 4” engines.  Only compact car of the 1990s to feature rear fender skirts which partially covered the rear wheels.  Won the Touring Car Championship from 1992-94, the only GM division (and only second American car company) to accomplish the feat.  Cool: 1992 Achieva SCX.

The fleet-car Achieva (In 1997, 78% of Achievas were sold to fleets) was the Oldsmobile version of GM’s ubiquitous 1990s compact car platform which included the Chevrolet Corsica, Buick Skylark, and Pontiac Grand Am.  The Oldsmobile may be the ugliest car of the lot, although the 8th generation Buick Skylark could probably win the title in a fight.  Colloquially, the joke of the day was “owners of this car will probably never achieve a-nything.”

The 1992-3 Achieva SCX featured a highly-tuned 190 horsepower version of the Quad 4 engine and was actually a decently-quick car, reminiscent of the BMW M3 in spirit if not vehicular dynamics (and definitely not looks).  Achieva was eventually replaced in 1999 by the rental-car champion Alero.

Dodge Dynasty [1988-1993]

MSRP: $12,000-$15,500

dodge dynasty ugliest cars

Owners of the Dodge Dynasty ruled over a land of boxes and ugliness

Notable awards/facts:  None, it was that boring.

The Dynasty (along with the Chrysler New Yorker) was produced when Lee Iacocca’s blunted rear end look was in vogue with Chrysler.  The poor Dynasty was a homely looking car, borrowing its hood and front fenders from a Volvo 740 and possessing a front end that looked like a K-car version of the Aston Martin Lagonda.

Dynasty was eventually replaced by the Dodge Intrepid, a vastly different car that couldn’t be any more different in appearance.  As for its legacy, the Dynasty is famous for…. Well…. Nothing.  It was conceived and named during a time when the soap opera Dynasty was the most popular show on television.  Like the TV show, the Dodge Dynasty was off the air by 1993.  The ugly car was so unspectacular there isn’t much else to say.  And for a list of forgettable cars, that might be most damning evidence of all.

Chevrolet Lumina [1989-1994]

MSRP: $12,000-$19,000 / 901,245 sold

chevrolet lumina lineup ugliest cars

The Chevrolet Lumina lineup offered buyers their choice of three cars they didn’t want

Notable awards/facts:  First (and only) nameplate used on a coupe, sedan, and minivan.  “Lumina” name was a finalist for the model name of the earlier-produced Ford Taurus.  First-generation enjoyed shortest-lived production run of any GM W-body car.  In 1990 Lumina was “official car of Disney-MGM Studios.” Cool: Lumina Z34

Lumina was an experiment by GM to create a sub-brand identity within Chevrolet.  The Lumina featured a group of cars which included a coupe, sedan and minivan.   It was built on the same platform as the Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and Buick Century/Regal.  The styling of the Lumina minivan – known as the APV – looked like it was inspired by a dustbuster vacuum.  A “high performance” Z34 model was offered in 1990, adding some fun to the lineup by pairing a five-speed manual transmission with GM’s 210 horsepower LQ1 V6. For a front-wheel drive car of the era its performance was rather impressive: 0-60 mph came in 7.2 seconds and it ran the quarter-mile in 15 flat.  Alas, the Z34 only represented 4.2% of overall Lumina sales, meaning the vast majority of Luminas are of the more forgettable varieties.

The Lumina coupe was replaced by the Monte Carlo in 1995.  The Lumina sedan was replaced by a newer, less 90s-looking Lumina in 1995, and the Lumina APV minivan was replaced by the Chevy Venture in 1997.  The sedan and coupe were also aerodynamic in a 1990’s sort-of-way, but they turned out to be ugly cars and failed to age gracefully.  After the Lumina failed to make a lasting impact, Chevy killed off the name.

Ford Tempo / Mercury Topaz [1983-1994]

MSRP: $9,000-$12,900 / 2,732,542 sold

Ford Tempo Mercury Topaz ugly car

The Ford Tempo was an improvement over its predecessor, but it was still pretty terrible

Notable awards/facts:  First front wheel drive compact cars for Ford.  1985 model was first production sedan to feature a driver’s side airbag.  Was a consistent best-seller for Ford, finishing in the top five throughout most of its production.  Best sales year was 1984 with 531,468 units sold.

The front-wheel-drive Tempo and Topaz twins were smaller successors to the older rear-wheel-drive Fairmont and Zephyr, also on this list.  They were part of a movement to rejuvenate the Ford lineup to offer smaller and more efficient cars, and they paved the way for the groundbreaking Ford Taurus.  They also might be the ugliest cars Ford has ever produced.  Energetic ads proclaimed “Pick up the Tempo of your life!” and sales were indeed brisk.

For the time the design was revolutionary in that it was a vast departure from its previous model.  Ford switched to front wheel drive which increased economy and interior space – the latter of which was notable in that the Tempo had more rear seat space than the Mercedes 300D.  Tempo sold very well, and by all accounts was a good car.  It got a much-needed face lift – twice – but its styling is pure 1980s ugly car.

Ultimately Tempo was a good appliance but it was absolutely an ugly car and was devoid of any passion:  Nobody aspires to own a Tempo, and you’ll never find one on a poster unless it was the last car a missing person was seen in.

Chevrolet Celebrity / Pontiac 6000 [1982-1991]

MSRP $6,000-$20,500

chevy celebrity ugly car

The Chevy Celebrity was also sold as a coupe – for the buyers without kids, but with bad taste

Notable awards/facts/sales:  Best-selling car in United States in 1986.  In 1984 the Pontiac 6000 was the make’s best-seller with 122,000 sold.  6000 STE made Car & Driver’s Ten Best list three times, from 1983–1985.  6000 was last Pontiac model to have a number for a name.

I’ll take “things you won’t feel like when driving this car” for $100, Alex.  The stodgy midsize Celebrity was certainly an ugly car, loaded with 85 whole horsepower from its ubiquitous ‘Iron Duke’ engine when it was introduced in 1982.  The Celebrity’s up-level platform sister – Pontiac 6000 – was blessed with 90 whole horsepower and was so unremarkable, its own designer couldn’t pick it out of a lineup.  On the other hand, the Pontiac 6000 was the first American car to put radio control buttons on the steering wheel, so there’s that.

pontiac 6000 ugliest cars

The Pontiac 6000 built excitement for the mother of its designer and maybe a handful of other people

As a testament to how bad the car choices were in 1986, the Celebrity was the best-selling car in the United States that year.  The Celebrity continued the GM habit of putting seat belts on doors, although at least the cars didn’t have the motorized belts that were popular in the mid-1990s.

If the standard Celebrity was too boring for you, a “Eurosport” upgrade package offered larger 14” wheels, a sport suspension, and a blacked-out trim package (it was essentially an ugly-car delete option) – but it had the same sleepy engine as the plebian Celebrities, so owners would be wise to not try and race someone from light to light.

The Pontiac 6000 was replaced by the Grand Prix in 1991.  In 1990 the Celebrity nameplate was euthanized by the ready-for-the-1990s Lumina lineup.  The only celebrities who ever drove Celebrities, were those renting the ugly cars from Hertz.

Chrysler LeBaron [1982-1995]

MSRP: $6,000-$21,200

chrysler lebaron ugly car

It’s hard to believe somebody actually once said about the Chrysler LeBaron: “You know what this car needs? Wood paneling.”

Notable awards/facts/sales:  One of the longest running nameplates in Chrysler history, “LeBaron” was used off-and-on for 46 years.  Cool: GTC Turbo.

The 1982 the LeBaron moved to the front-wheel drive K-car platform, and it unfortunately inherited the unspectacular K-car looks.  But it filled a void in the sparse convertible segment and enjoyed success on its near-monopoly for more than a decade.  The best feature was Chrysler’s Electronic Voice Alert, a startling computerized voice from the dash that scolded drivers when things went wrong.

If the regular LeBaron wasn’t classy enough for buyers, Chrysler offered a “Town and Country” model with wood paneling.  Its owners probably drank scotch, and were likely important and owned many leather-bound books; basically this ugly car was something Ron Burgundy would buy.  If a LeBaron could be fun, the fun model surely would have been the GTC Turbo.  it was equipped with a 2.2 liter 4 cylinder pushing 177 horsepower and 271 ft-lbs. of torque, and could do the run to 60 miles per hour in under 8 seconds.  For ugly cars, that’s Ferrari territory.

The first remodel in 1987 would slide the car to the J-platform and make the LeBaron less frumpy with motorized headlights and a cleaner rear end.  A subsequent 1993 remodel deleted the motorized headlights and rounded the car further for the duration of its final two years on sale.  LeBaron may have served its purpose well, but it didn’t look very good doing it.

Dodge Aries / Plymouth Reliant [1981-1989]

MSRP: $5,880-$7,595 / 2.1 million sold

dodge aries plymouth reliant k car ugly car

A favorite of school principals and teachers everywhere, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant resurrected the manufacturer. Of course it’s brown.

Notable awards/facts/sales:  Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1981.  Smallest cars in the 1980s to have six-passenger seating.  Best sales year was 1984 with 272,282 cars sold.

What would an ugly car list be without the infamous Chrysler K-car?  This notorious platform produced some of the ugliest cars of our lifetime, gracing half the cars produced by the manufacturer between 1981 and 1995.  The K-car platform hosted five body styles and twelve engines across nearly fifty different models over the course of its life.  Most well-known of the K-cars are usually the first Chrysler produced:  the Dodge Aries, the Plymouth Reliant, and the 2nd generation Chrysler LeBaron (also mentioned on this list).  Because the Dodge and the Plymouth were virtual carbon copies, they share this space.

K-cars were the product of a Congressional bailout for struggling Chrysler.  Development of the platform cost the company $1 billion over three years, although one has to wonder how much of that was spent on the design – or where that $1 billion was spent at all.

Yet initial sales were brisk, and eventually snowballed into one of Chrysler’s best-selling cars of all time to that point, generating 50% of the company’s profits.  Hilariously, the 1981 cars which featured the optional Mitsubishi-derived, 114 horsepower 4-cylinder with hemispherical combustion chambers still had “HEMI” badges on the front fenders.  If that wasn’t amusing enough, Dodge released a LE “Luxury Edition” model… For the Aries.  A luxury edition…  For the Aries!

Lincoln Continental Mark IV [1972-1976]

MSRP: $8,640-$11,060 / 278,599 sold

The ugly but legendary Lincoln Continental Mark IV is as wide as a Lamborghini Aventador

The ugly but legendary Lincoln Continental Mark IV was longer than a Suburban and as wide as a Lamborghini Aventador

Notable awards/facts/sales:  One of the first mass-produced American cars to come equipped with anti-lock brakes.

You may be asking yourself how on earth a car that had Bill Blass, Cartier, Givency, and Pucci editions be included on an ugliest cars list?  Well, that’s one of the reasons why the car is on this list.  Each edition included the designer’s signature on the windows and a 22-karat gold plaque on the instrument panel engraved with the original owners name.  Ok so maybe that part is cool, but then those models (along with the Louis Vuitton edition) were the 1970’s automotive equivalent of “making it rain.”

The mammoth Mark IV was produced at the height of Ford’s 1970s-ness.  This ugly car is a boat, checking in at 228 inches long and at 79.8 inches wide.  It is longer than the Chevy Suburban and about as wide as the Lamborghini Aventador.  Unlike the Aventador but much like the Suburban, this tank was built with the heaviest metals its maker could harvest, and it tips the scales at 2.6 tons.  With an OPEC-era 460 cubic-inch V8 (7.5-liter) engine motivating it, the Continental Mark IV has the efficiency and performance of a tank too: It ran 0-60 mph in 10.8 seconds and earned a paltry 11 mpg city/14 mpg highway in its EPA testing.  Impressively low, even for an ugly car.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; to some the Mark IVs are fantastic examples of 70s excess and overwrought proportions.  To others it is the ugliest of cars and stands for all that was wrong with the 1970s, reminding them of disco, OPEC, and their dad (who probably had one and didn’t let them drive it in high school).

Dodge Aspen / Plymouth Volaré [1975-1980]

> 2.3 million sold

The poor Dodge Aspen was a rare example of wood paneling actually improving the look of a car

The poor Dodge Aspen was a rare example of the case when wood paneling actually improved the look of a car

Notable awards/facts/sales:  Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1976.  Volaré was Canada’s top-selling car in 1977.  Cool: “Kit Car” edition tribute to Richard Petty.

Not to be confused with the modern SUV Chrysler Aspen, the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré were Chrysler products (and ugly cars) produced in the 1970s – although judging by the fact they re-used the name on an SUV, they probably didn’t want to remember the original).  In Spanish, Volaré means “fly away” or “blow away,” and Aspen conjures images of a ritzy sky resort town filled with art galleries and wine-tasting rooms.

Dodge PR chief R. M. Schirmer said “Aspen is a very pleasant name.  People think of the outdoors, but not necessarily skiing when they hear it.”  Schirmer might be right:  It is unlikely an owner of a 1970s Dodge Aspen has ever visited the town, and Plymouth owners were likely blown away by how pedestrian and ugly the car was.

The cars weren’t lookers and they also weren’t fast.  It had an R/T 360 V8 option – but the engine only produced 170 horsepower, and took nearly nine seconds to reach 60.  The speedometer didn’t even read to 85 miles per hour until the 1979 model year.  By 1980 the car’s top-line R/T had an engine that only produced 120 horsepower. If the car wasn’t unattractive enough, Chrysler added a station wagon option and of course included the prerequisite ugly-car wood grain trim.  The Aspen and Volaré were quickly forgotten when replaced by the infamous K-cars in the early 1980s.

Dodge Spirit / Plymouth Acclaim [1989-1995]

MSRP: $9,920-$14,496

The Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim ironically lacked both spirit and acclaim

Incidentally, the Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim lacked both spirit, and acclaim

Notable awards/facts/sales:  Smallest six-passenger car of the 1990s.  Beat out Ford Taurus SHO for Motor Trend’s “Domestic Sport Sedan of the Year” in 1991 & 92.  Cool: Spirit R/T model, at the time the fastest sedan made in America.

It’s almost cheating to list the Spirit and Acclaim here.  Another K-car variant, this poor thing was a replacement for the Aries. The Spirit was an ugly car stretched version of the Chrysler K-car platform and equipped with a 100 horsepower engine. It shared its design with the LeBaron – so it was already fighting an uphill battle when it was released. And of course the 1994 models had the dreaded motorized seatbelt.  Woof.

The car was unattractive but it sold well, and was rated higher than the Stratus model that replaced it. The lineup’s saving grace was the R/T model, which added a sweet graphics package, body-colored wheels and a 224-hp turbo engine made by Lotus.   It could hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, making it the quickest front wheel drive cars ever offered in the American market.  Only 1,399 copies of this model were sold so if you do find one, buy it.  In the world of ugly cars, the Dodge Spirit R/T is a Bugatti Veyron.

Mustang II [1973-1978]

MSRP: $3,200-$5,900 / > 1.1 million sold

Owners of the Ford Mustang II appreciated the trunk-mounted luggage rack, which was capable of holding onto all sorts of disappointment

Owners of the Ford Mustang II appreciated the trunk-mounted luggage rack, which was capable of holding onto all sorts of emotional baggage and disappointment

Notable awards/facts/sales:  Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1974, first and only Mustang to achieve title until 1994.  Base 2.3L engine was first fully metric-dimensioned engine built in the U.S.  Best sales year was 1974 with 296,041 units sold.  Cool: 1978 Mustang II “King Cobra” model.

The Mustang II is actually a re-bodied Ford Pinto, which also shares a place on this list, but because the Mustang II had such a unique ugly car body, it wins its own place here.  Mustang II was an oil crisis car, which meant it was small, under-powered and not particularly quick.  It was intended to fill the gap recently vacated by the Mustang, which had grown in size and was no longer classified as a compact car (the Mustang II was 20 inches shorter and about one thousand pounds lighter than the equivalent Mustang).

Unlike the regular Mustang, the smaller Mustang II was designed to compete with smaller European and Japanese sports cars such as the VW Scirocco, BMW 2002, Datsun 240Z, and Toyota Celica.  The Mustang II started with an 88 horsepower 2.3L 4-cylinder, but halfway through its run Ford shoved a V8 under its hood.  Before you get excited – it was an 140 horsepower V8 that struggled to push the car to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds, and could only reach a top speed of 106 miles per hour.  But most II’s had the 4-cylinder, which struggled to reach 60 miles per hour at all.  If there is a cool Mustang II it must be the King Cobra model, with its V8 engine and Pontiac Trans-Am-style graphics package.  But it’s probably slower than an actual King Cobra snake – and it’s definitely slower than a modern minivan – so to be a Mustang II owner means to know ugly car hubris.

Ford called the Mustang II “the right car at the right time,” and it sold surprisingly well, eclipsing 1 million units in four years.  What likely helped the Mustang II was the lack of competitors in the marketplace, which was decimated after the oil embargo.  Autoblog called the Mustang II one of the twenty “dumbest cars of all time,” while Car and Driver calls the Mustang II one of the ten “most embarrassing award winners.”  If there is something to be learned from the success of the Mustang II, it’s that just because something sells well doesn’t mean it’s not an ugly car.

What do you think? Which American car was the ugliest car for you? (You can choose up to four ugly car choices in the poll)

7 thoughts on “Ugliest American Cars

    • A 1970 GTO would be on the “most beautiful cars” list, that’s a pretty car. And if you had one you were a lucky man. 🙂

      No Gremlin or Pacer on this list?

      The Oldsmobile Achieva was a pretty terrible car, my older sister had one like almost twenty years ago. I never wanted to borrow it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a list of infamy!
    But sadly it reflects the fall of the American car industry, for good reasons, as shown here.


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