1970 AMC Gremlin
The Gremlin sold for two-thirds the cost of most small cars, which is appropriate, because it looked like two-thirds of a car. Truth be told, the Gremlin was a stroke of corporate genius, cheap to develop and right for the times, and it was a runaway sales success, at least by AMC’s modest standards. But did it have to be so ugly? As we outlined in our brief history of the Gremlin, it could have been worse: AMC considered a shortened version of the Hornet that design chief Dick Teague said was even uglier—though considering that he signed off on the Gremlin, we’re not sure his opinion can be trusted.
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1970 Buick Riviera
The second-generation Buick Riviera was a breathtakingly beautiful car—at least from 1966 until 1969, with its racy lines and inboard hidden headlights. And then… this happened. It takes a moment to appreciate just how ugly this car is, probably because of the mind’s defensive mechanism of blocking out extreme trauma, but look long enough (you poor thing) and you will see it: The way the grille seems to be sliding down off the front of the car, the way the skirted rear fenders seem to be growing over the wheels like runaway mold, and the way the whole body is bloated like a drowning victim. Riviera sales, steadily rising through the late ’60s, dropped like a girder in free-fall when this bastardized blob hit the showroom floor. Mercifully, it was replaced by the controversial but beautiful boat-tail Riviera in 1971.
1970 Ford Thunderbird
The late-60s T-Birds were, if not exactly pretty cars, certainly non-offensive—and then 1970 came along and Ford decided to stick a giant beak on the front. Seriously, Ford, WTF?? The emphasis should be on Thunder, not bird.
1970 Porsche 914
It is difficult to design a well-proportioned mid-engine car (though we’d argue that Chevrolet has finally done it), but there’s more to the Porsche 914’s strangeness than the huge expanse of space between the B-pillar and the rear wheel. There’s just something about the 914—its awkwardly swept-back greenhouse, its super-square squared-off bodywork, its relatively unadorned lines—that makes it not only a dorky-looking car, but one that has accepted its dorkiness. We’re not saying that dorkiness is unappealing; we love the 914. But we think a Porsche should be styled like a car you dream about, not the reality you wake up to.
The third-generation Sonett was designed with American buyers in mind, and someone must have told the Swedes that Americans like cars with huge front overhangs. That was a joke, Saab, a joke! Nevertheless, the Sonett showed up with this ridiculously elongated schnozzle, made worse by the big 5-mph bumper jammed onto the front end. And as if the proportions weren’t bad enough, the elongated front contrasted sharply with its awkwardly curtailed tail. No wonder Americans didn’t take Saabs seriously until the 900 came along.
1972 Subaru GL Coupe
Subaru, like other Japanese automakers, was making steady inroads into the US market with smart, efficient, and practical small cars that were sensible, if not exactly stylish. So their designers tried stylish, and this is what happened. Eew. Our guess is that the Subaru GL was just a little too long to fit into the shipping crate, and the solution was to cut eight inches off the tail, stick on a bumper and taillights, and send it on its way.