The 1990s saw a sea change in automotive design as cars got sleeker and more aerodynamic. Sure, we saw some beautiful cars in the 1990s—but we also saw some real horrors. Here are the worst of the worst.
1990 Chevrolet Lumina
The GM-10 cars were really quite spectacular, at least by General-Motors-in-the-Roger-Smith-years standards: The Olds Cutlass Supreme looked futuristic, the Pontiac Grand Prix looked sporty, and the Buick Regal looked, er, regal. So how did the Lumina end up as a featureless blob? We imagine that just as the designers were congratulating themselves on three great cars, they remembered that they forgot to design the Lumina. In the frantic struggle to come up with something, someone jostled their coffee, pointed to the droplets on the desk and said “Let’s just make it look like that.”
1990 Chrysler Imperial
It’s not just the ancient styling (a rip-off of Cadillac’s front-wheel-drive DeVille; see our Ugliest Cars of the 1980s list) that makes the Imperial so ugly. Or the hidden headlights. Or the overstuffed front bench seat, or the large-font digital dash, or the whitewall tires, or the use of enough chrome to blind an entire village, or the fact that its target buyer was obviously a male between the ages of 75 and deceased. No, what bothers us the most is that giant seam on the rump, the place where Chrysler lengthened the car to make it look even more like a Caddy. Why bother to hide it, when the owners probably won’t even notice since they left their reading glasses on the nightstand? The Imperial was shameless—an ancient K-car derivative that Lee Iacocca dictated into existence for his aging cronies. It was about this time that people started whispering that the man who saved Chrysler should retire before he killed it again.
1991 Chevrolet Caprice
Chevrolet’s goal with the new Caprice was to make us forget the badly-outdated car it replaced; instead, the new car had us pining the return of the old. It looked as if Chevy had simply hooked up an air hose to the old Caprice and inflated its body panels. The new Caprice used the same 1970s-era mechanical bits as the old one, so not only did it look like the Goodyear Blimp, but it drove like it, too. Buyers were limited to old men and police departments, and we understand cops preferred Caprices to Crown Vics because it was much easier to handcuff a perp who is doubled over laughing at your car. When we have a spat with our colleagues down the hall, our below-the-belt blow of choice is to remind them that this was their Car of the Year for 1991.
1992 Renault Twingo
Designer Patrick Le Quément reportedly wanted the Twingo’s front fascia to look like a smiling face, but to us the Twingo looks like it’s just received a rather serious fright. Perhaps it drove in front of a mirror. Silly as it looked on the outside, the Twingo was even more ridiculous on the inside. The instrument panel was mounted in the center of the dash, a cost-saving measure for cars built with both left- and right-hand-drive—except the Twingo wasn’t built for right-hand-drive markets, so all this setup accomplished was to annoy the driver. The seat upholstery looked like something you’d use to wrap a birthday present for a five-year-old. And what’s up with mounting the antenna on the driver’s side mirror? Is that so you can break it off and gore anyone who laughs at your car? Because if that’s the case, you’re going to need a lot of replacement antennas.
1992 Subaru SVX
There are certain things we expect in a sports car, like racy good looks. Also, fully-opening side windows and a manual transmission. The Subaru SVX had none of these. From the front it’s not a terrible looking car, but things start to get a bit weird as you get to the doors, and by the time you make it to the quarter panels it’s all gone completely to hell. What’s up with that strange stand-alone crease? Why does the C-pillar look like it was drawn with the Photoshop clone tool? Why does the bumper have a seam right above a groove that would be perfect for hiding a seam? So many questions, and yet so few answers. By the way, the accountants found this car ugly, too—Subaru put an outrageous price tag on it and still managed to lose money on each one.
1994 Ferrari F512 M
Seeing this car raises two questions. 1) Who looked at a Testarossa and said “Gosh, we could make it a lot uglier”? 2) When this person is found, will they be shot, hanged, drowned, or all three?
1994 Ford Mustang
The fourth-generation Ford Mustang is one of the cars that never received the ridicule it deserved, perhaps because buyers were still traumatized from the Mustang II. (We can imagine Ford saying “Go ahead, make fun of it, and we’ll build you a Mustang based on the Aspire, see if we don’t!”) Just as the Mustang II was ruined by the 1970s, the fourth-gen Mustang was ruined by the ’90s, with soft and gentle curves on a car that made its name with razor-sharp creases. Ford must have seen the problem, because it ran ads comparing the 1994 Mustang with the ’64 original, but all they did was highlight the differences: The only things the ’64 and the ’94 had in common was the ancient live rear axle. Happily, as with many FoMoCo styling disasters, this led to the 2005 Mustang, arguably the best-looking Mustang since the original… but not before we had to endure ten years of this eyesore.
1994 Ford Scorpio
The Scorpio was an executive-class car in Europe, which some of us will remember as the Merkur Scorpio. It was a successful car—or at least it was until Ford did this to it. The second-gen Scorpio featured bulging-eye headlights, a full-width taillight that appears to have fallen off the trunk lid and landed on the bumper, and an interior with so much fake wood trim that a dozen plastic trees must have been felled for each one. The Scorpio’s design was so poorly received that Ford, to this day, refuses to release the name of its designer. After five years of giving away sales to its chief rival, the Opel Omega (a car we would get as the Cadillac Catera (see below, too)), Ford not only discontinued the Scorpio but gave up on the executive class altogether.
1995 Buick Riviera
The Riviera was often used as a proving ground for Buick styling, for better or for worse—and the final Riviera was definitely worse. To be fair to the Riv, it did have some rather intriguing lines; the C-pillar and trunk lid, viewed from just the right angle, are quite graceful. But it’s almost impossible to get over that Beluga-whale-inspired front end, and those buyers who could were put off by the low-rent, plastic-fantastic interior. Cursed with conservative engineering and V-6 power (V-8s being reserved for Cadillac and the closely-related and equally-ugly Oldsmobile Aurora), the Riviera wound up dismissed by would-be buyers as a second-rate luxury coupe, and yet another opportunity to reverse Buick’s image as an old-man brand was squandered.
1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
We expect the occasional “WTF?” moment from General Motors, but this is the mother of all of them—the bland, boring, soulless, featureless, forgettable mother. It’s as if the brand manager said “Restyle the Monte Carlo” and what the design department heard was “Unstyle the Monte Carlo.” We know what really happened: The Monte Carlo name was dusted off and affixed to the two-door version of the Lumina, already a poster child for anonymity. For the twenty-five years since its inception, the Monte Carlo had been notable for its standout styling; we can think of few such storied nameplates in automotive history that have been so badly abused. To be fair, General Motors was at least being honest: The bland, boring styling delivered on its promise with a bland, boring car.
1995 Lancia Ypsilon
At the Passover Seder, it is traditional to sing a song called “Dayenu,” which means “it would have been enough,” a sentiment that applies equally well to this rather unfortunately-styled subcompact. Had designer Enrico Fumia merely given the Ypsilon that silly, chinless, pinched face, Dayenu. Had he stopped at the oddly curved-down beltline, Dayenu. Had he merely outlined that ridiculous line in black plastic, Dayenu. Had he merely jammed cheese-wedge-shaped taillights under the lip of the oversized tailgate, Dayenu. But he did all of that, and the result is one of the ugliest Lancias ever created—and to that, we say oy vey.
1996 Ford Taurus
The original Ford Taurus was a truly revolutionary car, particularly in the area of style and design, so Ford faced a familiar dilemma: How do you follow up a legend? We don’t know what the answer is, but we sure as feces know what it shouldn’t be: This. In an attempt to make something truly revolutionary, Ford went with… round. Round headlights. Round grille. Round roof. Round rear window. When the car was unveiled at the 1995 Detroit Auto Show, we bet a lot of the onlookers went ’round the back of the stand to throw up.
1996 Saturn SW
Saturn was Roger Smith’s over-funded experiment to build a company-within-a-company that would rejuvenate General Motors. He sunk $5 billion into the venture, but all Saturn did was cannibalize both the sales and development budgets of other GM cars. By the mid-’90s, Saturn’s cars were aging and the brand wasn’t making business sense, so it redesigned the cars on the cheap, and the once-nifty-looking wagon sprouted the doors from the sedan—with predictably awkward results. It was a reminder to buyers (the few that still wanted wagons) of the Saturn’s cheap engineering. Sales of the wagon were never spectacular, and ‘got a lot worse after the redesign.
1996 Suzuki X-90
It’s hard to remember now, but Suzuki was doing quite well in the early ’90s, particularly with its rugged Sidekick off-roader—and then this happened. The X-90 was supposed to be Suzuki’s attempt to create something cute and fun, but what resulted was the complete opposite of both. If you are ever unfortunate enough to encounter one of these at a car show, walk around it and you will find there is literally no angle from which this car doesn’t look stupid. Critics said it looked like a Barbie car, until Barbie’s press agent released a statement saying she wouldn’t be caught dead in something so hideous. Styling wasn’t even the X-90’s worst failing: It had no back seat, no appreciable trunk space, and no off-road abilities, so it wasn’t even useful as an SUV. It literally was as bad as it looked.
1997 Cadillac Catera
Had the Cadillac Catera been badged as a Chevrolet, we wouldn’t have it on the ugliest cars list. We know this, because the Catera was nearly identical to the 1997 Chevrolet Malibu, which is nowhere to be found on this list. Caddy realized young buyers wanted European road manners, so it brought over the Opel Omega, apparently forgetting that a wreath-and-crest badge does not a Cadillac make. The brand may have been somewhat tarnished at that point, but Caddy still had a remnant of its image of stateliness and elegance. The Catera was just another anonymous blob, and by Cadillac standards, that makes it an ugly car. There is a happy ending, though: Cadillac realized its mistake, and the Catera’s replacement, the CTS, was one of the most handsome Caddies in decades.
1997 Porsche 911 (996)
It’s pretty difficult to make an ugly 911, but the 996 proves German ingenuity can accomplish nearly anything. The 996 was an attempt to bring the 911 into the 1990s, but we can only assume the basis for the design was putting a plastic model of a classic 911 into a toaster oven and letting it melt. The broken-egg-yolk headlights, flattened fenders, and goggle-eyed taillights were a bridge too far even for the most fervent of Porsche apologists, and when the 997 came to replace it, it did so with a more defined shape and a return to the 911’s traditional styling cues.