If you’re a ’90s kid, you probably remember the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 from racing games like Gran Turismo and Midtown Madness. This American supercar was the talk of the racing community in the late ’90s. However, despite the promising start, Panoz built only a few racing versions and one street-legal example.
The technology behind the Esperante was for racing purposes. They mounted the front engine towards the middle of the car for the best weight distribution. Even though the characteristic front of the car was aerodynamically efficient, it wasn’t all that attractive. Under the hood was a Roush-built, Ford-derived V8 with over 500 HP they mated to a sequential gearbox. Panoz successfully raced the Esperante on numerous race tracks all over the world, but only built one street version.
Many car fans are familiar with the BMW Isetta or “bubble car.” They produced it in the 1950s, with various companies assembling it in different countries. The Isetta and all its variants became the most popular, successful microcars with an unusual wheel configuration. This vehicle has four wheels, two in the front and two in the back, yet it looks like it has three. The two rear wheels are so close together, they appear to be one wheel. Other interesting features include a motorcycle engine and one door to enter the car. In fact, the whole front of the Isetta opens to allow passengers to enter and exit the vehicle. The trunk is basically nonexistent, so drivers can only use the small space behind the two front seats.
The history of the Isetta starts in Italy where a company called Iso; hence, the name presented the concept of a microcar with a motorcycle engine. The Isetta originally had three wheels, but when BMW bought the licensing rights and changed the design, they gave the Isetta its four-wheel configuration. BMW sold the rights for production to a few small factories around the world. The Isetta was quite popular because it was an inexpensive and versatile mode of transportation during the early post-war years. Today, the Isetta is a highly-desirable classic car, which has become quite expensive for such a small, slow vehicle with unusual features and a unique design.
Despite the fact they didn’t produce it in big numbers, the Morgan 3-Wheeler is a popular, iconic vehicle. They introduced the original Morgan 3-Wheeler in 1932 in England. Soon, it became popular. The secret of its success was that three-wheel vehicles cost less in road taxes, making them affordable and appealing to customers. Powered by a motorcycle engine they mounted just above the front wheels, the Morgan 3-Wheeler was an agile machine with sports car performance. This also made it popular with enthusiasts and kept it in production until 1952. After the original 3-Wheeler, Morgan produced many regular sports cars, but the legend of a small three-wheeled roadster never left the company.
So in 2011, Morgan Cars announced plans for the revival of the classic 3-Wheeler in the same form and design, but with modern power and an updated drivetrain. They introduced it in 2012 as the new generation of the Morgan 3-Wheeler. It features a Harley Davidson V2 engine with 115 HP, which powers a single rear wheel over a five-speed manual gearbox. Since the weight of the vehicle is just over 500 kg, the performance is great. This little roadster needs just 4.5 seconds to sprint from 0 to 60 mph. The new Morgan 3-Wheeler proved to be popular and there is a waiting list over a year long. The company is even working on an electric version, so they can promote the concept to a wider and more environmentally-friendly audience.
A typical groovy Kei Car with three wheels from the early 1970s, the Bond Bug was a unique vehicle. Not only did it have a strange wheel configuration, but you could also lift the top of the body to allow access inside. In front, just above the front wheel was a small 700 cc, the four-cylinder engine they made from a light alloy that produced 29 HP.
You may think 29 HP is not that much and you are right, but the Bond Bug weighed less than 400 kg, so its performance was impressive. They designed it as a fun car, a kind of go-kart for adults. With its wedge design and cool 1970s style graphics, it soon became popular. Although it wasn’t stable due to the single wheel in the front, it could provide swift acceleration, which was good enough for most customers. Because of its small dimensions and lightness, it gave the exaggerated feel of speed, making drivers think they were traveling much faster than they really were. It stayed in production for four years from 1970 to 1974 and they built exactly 2,270 of them.
Introduced in 2000, the Pontiac Aztek was a good idea on paper at least. This mid-size crossover model came with sharp new styling, a decent engine lineup, and plenty of interior space. It was a modern concept at the time. Pontiac was eager to present it to the public since overall sales for the brand were poor.
They thought a new model would boost the popularity of the brand and bring new customers to their dealerships. The plan was sound, except for one thing, the design. Somehow, the Pontiac designers managed to draw and push to production one of the ugliest cars they ever made. Just look at it. Even from this distance and 17 years after the first Aztek saw the light of day, it is still a car with the design that makes no sense whatsoever.
The design of the Volvo 240 was always a bit controversial. No matter what body style you choose, sedan, two-door, or wagon, what you got was basically a tin box with four wheels and an engine up front. Even with the turbocharged engine, the Volvo 240 wasn’t a fast car.
On a positive note, the boxy shape proved to be practical and dependable, giving Volvo a stellar reputation. Although a lot of people like those old Volvos, this car doesn’t have a design language. It’s just flat lines and a boxy look.
Behind this strange name was an even stranger vehicle only sold in a three-door specification, with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and automatic transmission. Isuzu designed the VehiCross to look like a modern, even futuristic off-roader. They even gave it their best all-terrain technology and components.
But, in 1997 when they introduced the VehiCross, the market just didn’t react the way it should. The vehicle was strange-looking and some drivers said it was ugly. And although it came in crossover form, it was a capable and quality built off-roader.
Even though the Juke proved to be quite popular with younger people and drivers who needed a compact, urban, crossover with decent handling, it is still critical when it comes to the design. Sadly, the Nissan Juke looks like a squished rubber ball with four wheels and four doors.
Some motoring journalists even called it a “pile of melted plastic.” Most drivers agree on this one. Even if the Juke is a decent driving car, it’s still so ugly that most drivers would be embarrassed to be seen in one.
Volkswagen based “The Thing” on the ultra-popular and influential VW Beatle. They named it the Type 181 and it was a utilitarian version aimed at buyers to use as a beach vehicle. Interestingly, the true roots of this model go back to Germany and the military version they called the Kubelwagen.
The Kubelwagen was the German rival to the Jeep Willys. It used a VW Beetle floorpan, engine, and open-top body similar to the Type 181. However, the 181’s boxy design and strange look gave it the nickname, “The Thing.” Some people said it was too ugly to get a proper name so everybody just called it “The Thing.”
The Wartburg was a mid-size family car produced in East Germany. During its 40-year history, Wartburg produced several models. But the most common is the 353 they sold as a sedan, station wagon, and pickup. The 353, also known as the Wartburg Knight in some export markets, was available between 1966 and 1991.
Its boxy style, thin metal plating, and basic interior were the objects of many jokes on the Western European market. However, for millions of buyers in communist countries, the Wartburg 353 was only available as a sedan. So even though it was ugly, people still bought them.
Even though the 2CV was one of the best-selling cars in Europe, it was still a terribly ugly machine. The idea behind the Citroen 2CV was to present the most affordable family car possible. It would be minimalistic and utilitarian, but still, have a certain level of comfort. Also, it had to have enough space for four occupants and their luggage.
The construction was extremely simple and durable and all 2CVs had their canvas top. But because it was an economy car, Citroen obviously forgot to invest in its design and development. However, despite its shortcomings in the looks department, the Citroen 2CV still managed to stay on the market for decades.
Often called one of the ugliest cars ever produced, the Nissan S-Cargo has a cult following and not only in Japan but worldwide. The reason is simply its unusual styling and design concept, which is unique in the car world. When Nissan presented it in 1989, the S-Cargo was a highly stylized urban Kei Car delivery vehicle.
And although it came with modest power and dimensions, it had great usability and practicality. It was powered by a 1.5-liter engine connected to a three-speed automatic gearbox. However, despite being unique and interesting, they only sold around 8,000 of them.
One of the world’s ugliest supercars comes from Japan in the form of the Mitsuoka Orochi. It’s a nasty looking two-seater with Lambo doors and a controversial design. The Mitsuoka Company was known for building restomoded cars based on regular models. But in 2006, they decided to enter the supercar market with the highly-exclusive Orochi.
Interestingly, they named it after a mythical Japanese dragon with eight heads that influenced the design of the car. They built the Orochi on the Honda NSX platform. Mitsuoka powered it with a Toyota 3.3-liter V6 engine pumping out 240 HP. Although that doesn’t sound impressive, because the car is light and nimble, performance is satisfying to say the least.
The Avantime was the answer to a question nobody asked, so people gave it mixed reviews. However, the car was an engineering success with a massive hardtop roof. Also, it came with problematic structural stiffness, which Renault engineers managed to keep under control.
The Avantime was also expensive and came with only the most powerful engines and a high level of equipment standard. But, although the Avantime was an interesting car, it was downright ugly, so it failed to attract customers. Renault discontinued the model after only two years, producing just 8,000 of them.
In 1973, they revealed the Reliant Robin just in time for the oil crisis, which helped sales. With its 850cc engine producing around 50 HP, and the low weight of just under 1,1000 pounds, it was surprisingly agile and fuel-efficient. It had three wheels and was one ugly automobile.
However, the three-wheel configuration was tricky in tight turns. Reliant Robins were famous for flipping over if the driver entered the curve too fast. So, not only it had a problematic design, but it was also dangerous to drive.
The problematic-looking Covini C6W is an Italian super sports car featuring twin front axles and a rear-mounted V8 engine. The four front wheels are for turning and braking while the rear wheels get their power from the engine. They started the ambitious Covini C6W project back in the mid-’70s by a group of young Italian engineers.
However, a lack of interest from the customers and technical problems delayed production. Most people would say the bigger problem is the design. Sadly, despite being an interesting vehicle, the CW6 is simply extremely ugly.
The Pacer is a car people equally love and hate but it is legendary and recognizable. It was AMC’s effort to produce a compact car. However, it turned out to be less compact than its competitors and had numerous flaws. But the main problem was the design aspect of this infamous model.
After the success of the Gremlin, AMC envisioned the Pacer to be bigger and more advanced. But unfortunately, its design was repelling. The large glass areas were practical but also looked like a bubble. The front end was far from beautiful and the silhouette was egg-shaped, which was strange and unheard of at the time.
As you probably know, the Japanese car industry is full of Kei Cars. They are diminutive subcompacts perfectly suited for the narrow streets of Tokyo. And one of the ugliest is the Nissan Cube, which they sold in America and Europe with limited success.
The Cube gets its power from its 1.4 and 1.5-liter gasoline engines. It features a strange square design with an asymmetrical rear window. The car has compact dimensions with plenty of room on the inside. Popular in Japan, thankfully, the Cube is rare elsewhere.
Even though the Multipla is common in Europe, it’s a useful car with its six-seat configuration. And although it has plenty of space, it’s still extremely ugly and repelling. Fiat, as a company, was famous for producing beautiful cars. Being an Italian manufacturer, it’s no stranger to flowing lines and nice shapes.
But what happened with the Multipla is anyone’s guess. Was it the “form follows function” mantra or just the mistake of their styling department? Perhaps it was it deliberate attempt to make a controversial model. Even though no one really knows, it hurts most people’s eyes to see the Multipla.
Marcos is a small English company dedicated to building sports cars with components borrowed from other brands. But in 1968, they wanted to expand and offer a luxurious GT. The Mantis came with a Plexiglas body, 2.5-liter straight-six engine, and more interior comfort.
The idea was great, so the company came up with a cool name. But unfortunately, the design was hideous. In the early days of composite materials, the design was much dependent on manufacturing technology. And that is why the Mantis was an ugly, almost scary sports car.
Honda’s luxury division, Acura, is infamous for elegant cars, powerful engines, and quality products. But they are also known for a strange, ugly model they called the ZDX. Acura offered it for just three years.
The Acura ZDX was their attempt to present something between a sedan and a crossover, but it ended being neither of the two. Despite the good technical layout, decent power, and interior features, automotive buyers simply didn’t like the ZDX. In the end, Acura managed to sell just 72,000 of them.
South Korean manufacturer SsangYong tried hard to enter the global car market. However, every one of their models was a disaster. The ugliest of them was the Actyon, an SUV with terribly ugly aesthetics.
When you look at this vehicle, you have no clue exactly what designers wanted to accomplish. The whole car is ugly as well as all the design details. As you can expect, the Actyon was a sales failure and was never well-received due to its looks.
When it debuted on April 1, 1970, the AMC Gremlin looked like an April Fool’s Day joke. Competitors laughed at its compact dimensions, funny rear end, and diminutive engines. But soon, AMC was the one smiling all the way to the bank. The Gremlin proved to be a sales success as the first American subcompact.
But even though the Gremlin was successful on the market, it remained the laughingstock for its ugly design. It was clear they styled this model in a hurry. Perhaps AMC intended the Gremlin to be a regular compact car with its rear end chopped off.
How about a two-seat, two-door SUV with compact dimensions and a removable T-Top? Well, that’s exactly what the Suzuki X-90 was when they introduced it in 1995. Powered by a 95 HP 1.6-liter four-cylinder, the X-90 had a rear-wheel drive as standard. Also, customers could opt for the all-wheel-drive model with limited interior and trunk space.
They officially sold the car in America and Suzuki even managed to sell 7,000 copies. But neither the buyers nor the motoring press understood what Suzuki wanted to say and do with this model. It wasn’t an off-roader and it wasn’t a roadster. But it was ugly and unappealing, which sealed its fate.
When you hear the name Aston Martin, the first thing that pops in your mind is luxury sports cars from England. However, Aston produced the total opposite of that in the form of a subcompact economy car they called the Cygnet.
In fact, the Cygnet is a rebadged Toyota IQ/Scion IQ with the signature Aston front grille and leather interior. They built the car to meet the average fleet emissions standards proposed by the European Union. They presented the car in 2011 and discontinued it in 2013 after just two years of production.
In the midst of the mid-2000s retro craze, the Chevrolet development team came up with the crazy idea to produce a nostalgic two-seater convertible pickup with muscle car performance. The result was the SSR, a vehicle that looked unlike any other car on the market, but not necessarily in a good way. The 1950s-inspired design didn’t work well, so the SSR looked just plain odd.
Despite many efforts to make the SSR appealing to their intended audience, Chevrolet managed to sell just around 24,000 of these oddballs. The SSR was a painful realization they needed much more than a wild imagination to make a concept work.
If you think the automobile industry has invented all the car classes, think again. There is always room for more, although possibly useless concepts. One of those was Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. If you’re not familiar with this car, that’s because they only offered it for sale from 2011 to 2014, producing it in small numbers.
Nissan realized SUVs were becoming more luxurious as people wanted a more personalized product. They thought they would take things a step further and present a convertible SUV. It would have all advantages of an SUV in terms of ride height, comfort, and usability with the luxury and open-air feel of a convertible. However, despite the almost bespoke nature of this car and dependable Nissan technology, the CrossCabriolet flopped. Obviously, there wasn’t a market for SUV convertibles, so the CrossCabriolet became Nissan’s newest black sheep.
The second generation of Ford Mustang debuted in 1974 and was on the market for four years until 1978. Despite the fact it was a subject of so many jokes and bad press, the Mustang II was actually a very important model. The downsizing of the whole Mustang range, the introduction of economical four-cylinder engines, and part sharing with other Ford models helped the model survive the recession of the ’70s and the death of the muscle car movement.
But all of that doesn’t mean there were no exciting Mustangs between 1974 and 1978; they just were slow. There was one particularly exciting model, and this was the special-edition King Cobra. Ford knew that their 5.0 V8 engine made only 140 hp in Mustang II, and the performance was very slow, but they also knew that by dressing up the car, they could attract some buyers. So the King Cobra was introduced. With a flaming snake on the hood, front and rear spoilers, and full body kit, the King Cobra was a typical ’70s factory custom car. The 5.0 V8 was mated to a four-speed manual transmission in an attempt to make a performance car. Needless to say, the performance was not great. In fact, it was terrible, but the outrageous body kit stole the show, and today the King Cobra is considered a collector’s item.
For decades, engineers toyed with the idea of a floating car, a vehicle that could be driven on the water as well on the roads. However, most of them decided that it was not worth the trouble of investing in running (or floating) prototypes and abandoned the idea, except for Amphicar.
The Amphicar was a German-made half car half boat produced from 1961 to 1965. Immensely popular in the States, it sold over 3,500 examples. The power came from diminutive 1.2-liter four-cylinder engines powered the rear wheels and propeller mounted in the back. On land, Amphicar could achieve up to 75 mph, and on the water, it could do seven knots. To be perfectly honest, Aphicar wasn’t much of a boat or much of a car either.
Hot Rod culture is one of the key ingredients of the American automotive landscape. However, no company ever dared to present a factory-built Hot Rod until 1997 when Plymouth presented the Prowler, a retro-futuristic roadster with a V6 engine and fantastic looks.
Imagined as the follow-up of the Viper, the Prowler was the hit on the show circuit, and Chrysler wanted to capitalize on that. However, despite some people like the looks, everyone thought the car was underpowered. Ultimately it was a hot rod without any power, which buyers found quite pointless.
Built in Czechoslovakia, in the ’50s, the Velorex Oskar was one of the strangest cars ever to be produced behind the Iron Curtain. A motorcycle company produced it, so it was kind of a three-wheeled bike more than a real car.
It was powered by a 300 ccm motorcycle engine with 6 HP, and since the car itself was extremely light, this tiny motor even produced some performance as well. Interestingly, the Velorex didn’t have body panels, but canvas stretched over the frame rails.
The Mercedes G-Class is one of the longest-running models in the car world. First introduced in 1979 as a primarily military off-road SUV and truck, it is still on the market with the same basic design. It survived many modifications and redesigns during the course of almost 40 years but never changed its distinctive appearance and basic mechanical layout.
So, what do you do when you cannot modify the model anymore and can’t make it more exclusive? Simple, just attach a pickup truck bed and install one more axle and make it the fastest, most expensive, and rarest 6X6 in the world. Mercedes did exactly that creating one monster of a truck. Monster by power and torque ratings and monster by sticker price too. Under the hood is the 5.5-liter twin-turbo engine with 540 hp, which delivers power to all six wheels through a specially built automatic transmission unit.
Back in the early ’90s, Subaru wanted to enter the sports car market and promote its most significant assets of all-wheel drive and flat-six engines. So, the company hired Italdesign to design sleek and modern coupe. In 1991 the SVX debuted with strange styling, complicated side window patents but sublime handling and excellent performance.
However, the car was massive. The attempt was also introduced at the same time as much more competent competitors from other brands, which made Subaru kind of redundant. Under the hood was a 3.3-liter flat-six, which propelled this rare car to 7.3 seconds 0 to 60 mph times. Only around 14,000 were sold in America until 1996.
Younger enthusiasts don’t remember the name Panoz. Yet back in the ’90s, this company was one of the best known limited production American brands. Successful in racing, Panoz was one of those brands that offered many racing technologies in street-legal vehicles, which made them favorites with performance driving fans.
The Roadster model was introduced in the early ’90s and represented the modern-day version of the legendary Shelby Cobra. It was a pretty stripped-down open-top two-seater built of aluminum, which kept its weight down. Panoz used a lot of Ford Mustang components, including the engine, drivetrain, and suspension, which meant that the Roadster had 300 HP and amazing performance.
Even before retro was a thing, Nissan presented a very influential and crazy-looking compact model called the Pao. It was for sale on the Japanese market only, and all models came in right-hand drive configuration.
The design kind of resembled the Austin Farina or Mini, but underneath the body, the Pao was an advanced car with independent suspension and 52 HP engine. It was sold for just three years between 1989 and 1991, with over 50,000 made.
Daihatsu is one of the prime manufacturers of Kei Cars with its entire range dedicated to those small vehicles. Their most exciting model is definitely the Copen, a tiny roadster. If you want to visualize what Copen is like, try Miata but the half size.
The Copen is introduced in the early 2000s and is in its second generation. As expected, the 660 cc engine is under the hood, and power is below 70 HP mark. However, the turbocharged engine is highly tunable, and if you want, you can get some pretty lively performance from this compact roadster.
One of the unique ’80s cars was Nissan’s Pulsar in the NX Sportbak package. This car’s idea is to combine a regular two-door coupe with a wagon body style but not in a Shooting Brake kind of way. Nissan decided to make a standard coupe but add body extensions, which transformed the Pulsar Sportbak into a wagon.
Introduced in 1986, Pulsar Sportbak did receive some attention from car enthusiasts, but eventually, people turned to more conventional coupe styling, and wagon canopy addition was less desirable. The model was discontinued in 1990 and still remains one of the strangest production cars ever made.
The venerable K-Car platform saved Chrysler from bankruptcy in the early ’80s, and the company used it for most models in its lineup. Minivans and compact sedans were built on it, and it was cheap and easy to produce. However, in 1986 Chrysler decided to introduce a luxury convertible called the Le Baron.
Not only that, 2.2-liter four-cylinder wasn’t the best choice for the car, but Chrysler’s stylist also gave the Le Baron faux wood panels on the side, mimicking the classic ’50s and ’60s station wagons. The crazy and ludicrous mix of styles featured on this car turned off many buyers, and Chrysler sold only less than 2,000 copies.
At first glance, the Toyota Sera looks like a generic Japanese compact from the early ’90s, but drivers can see why this little car is so special when you open the door. Conceived on a regular Corolla platform powered by a standard 1.5-liter four-cylinder, Sera is technically a regular car. Still, the design and technical solutions of the cabin, doors, and roof are unique.
The Sera project was kind of a design exercise to show the world how a boring compact car can be transformed into a design marvel. In order to do so, Toyota installed a glass canopy, which partially opened with butterfly-style doors very rarely seen on anything except for the McLaren F1 supercar. This feature’s production was very demanding, and Toyota needed special tools and machines to fabricate door mechanisms and make a specially curved glass. However, Toyota’s engineers managed to pull it off, and the Sera was introduced in 1990 and stayed in production until 1996, during which time over 16,000 were made. Unfortunately, almost all sold exclusively in Japan.
The 1985-87 Nissan MID 4 is a courageous and competent mid-engine sports car concept, which unfortunately didn’t become the production model. Even though it is mostly forgotten today, it is still a fascinating engineering piece that deserves a better look.
The MID 4 had a mid-mounted 3.0-liter V6 engine with around 200 HP, specially designed all-wheel drive, and almost perfect weight balance. Nissan envisioned it to fight sports cars from Ferrari and Porsche. Unfortunately, the company pulled the plug at the last moment, and MID 4 was left as a concept that influenced the Honda NSX.