The pickup truck used to be a tool that farmers and skilled tradesmen used. Somewhere along the line in the 1990s, the soccer mom took the pickup truck over. Starting in the mid-1990s, you saw the pickup truck become much more luxurious. Ford turned up the heat in 1997 with the redesigned F-150. The new F-150 was modern and comfortable in every way (via Core 77).
Pretty soon, GM would follow suit, and the Silverado became a hot commodity. Dodge even introduced a more modern Dakota. Pickup trucks were now an everyday car, and this fad would last well into today. Pickups are now more expensive than the best luxury sedan used to be a few decades ago.
The ’90s marked the wild ride in popularity for NASCAR. During the decade, the sport transitioned from its Southern roots. This was not a welcomed departure for traditionalists who believed the sport lost its way. NASCAR was at one point one of the staples of the South. Now that the motorsport had gone mainstream, there were a whole new generation of fans enjoying it (via NASCAR).
The new breed of NASCAR was different from the traditional stock car racing of the past. New technology was creeping in, and the cars were becoming a lot different. 1990s drivers and enthusiasts had to deal with this reality. The sport they had followed for a decade began to change altogether.
Many questionable car models became the norm in this decade. The Honda Del Sol and the Suzuki X-90 were both cars that looked and felt different. It’s no secret that the 1990s were a defining decade for design. But these two cars just pushed the limit when it came to styling and functionality of a car (via Cars.com).
Then you had groundbreaking cars like the Oldsmobile Aurora that took style even further. The extremities of the 1990s when it came to automotive style were apparent. Automakers didn’t know what was in or out, so they went for whatever. GM experimented with far more cars than the other automakers.
Speaking of questionable design choices, there were the Dustbuster-style vans that came out of GM in the early 1990s. The design was about as questionable as possible. GM supposedly dumped billions of dollars into the design of these Dustbuster vans. The end result was a product that consumers were confused about, to say the least (via Jalopnik).
The performance of the Dustbuster vans wasn’t terrible, but the design completely took away from it. GM released a few versions of the Dustbuster van, including an Oldsmobile luxury version. The sales were not what the automaker expected and the Dustbuster vans were quietly discontinued.
Anybody who went car shopping in the 1990s remembers the distinct lack of reliability. Most domestic cars were notoriously deficient. Their build quality was shoddy at best, not a good look when you promote quality. Domestic cars routinely broke down around 100,000 miles, and transmission failure was not uncommon (via Jalopnik).
Whereas their Japanese rivals developed a reputation for quality that has lasted to this day, the lack of reliability has stuck with domestic automakers. Consumers are pre-programmed to understand that Toyota and Honda cars last, whereas GM and Ford will always have a more seedy rep in terms of reliability.
If you were around in the ’80s or early ’90s, you know about T-Tops. These were the removable glass panes that went on-top of the vehicle. The concept of a T-Top is fine, as you can look out at the stars. You can also remove the T-Tops and have a convertible-like appearance without losing the stability of the vehicle. The T-Top concept is admirable, but the reality is far less fruitful (via Sportscar Digest).
T-Tops defined the look and feel of muscle cars and sports cars back then. But the maintenance for this upgrade was more than most owners wanted to deal with. A leaking T-Top could damage the interior of your vehicle. No one wants to smell mildew and other rotting elements inside their ride.
There was a time not too long ago when stylized alloy wheels were considered a luxury item, which meant most cars had plastic hubcaps on them. The problem with hubcaps is they’d fly off cars and get damaged. You’d never match all four hubcaps correctly. There are some benefits to hubcaps, especially on a cheaper model car (via Motor Biscuit).
In recent years, hubcaps have still been available on certain vehicles. The Toyota Yaris is one such car that comes to mind for still offering a pair of hubcaps. But the newest car makers have gotten rid of hubcaps altogether. The wheels are an option that’s expensive to replace and simply doesn’t appear all that impressive anymore.
Body cladding is one of those things that most drivers don’t like. It decreases the value of a vehicle tremendously. Plastic body cladding loses its color after years of washing and parking in the sun. Replacing body cladding on a vehicle can be pricey, and on a ’90s car is downright impossible.
Likewise, many cars with body cladding have become relics of the past. The cheap plastic body paneling is not something that most drivers want to forget. The 1990s were an evolving state of design for the auto industry. Body cladding was just another way that automakers could rebadge an existing car.
The “Euro” trend also hit the automotive industry on all cylinders in the 1990s with cars like the Chevy Celebrity Euro. The trend for making these cars appear sportier was another sales attempt by domestic automakers. Euro styling never fully caught on, although there were a few rare cars with it (via Autoblog).
The Dodge Spirit also attempted this with the R/T model. The Euro treatment is a unique aspect of ’90s car design, but forgettable to say the least. No one wants a car that looks as dated as a Euro model. It is that quintessential 1990s treatment of the past that we know and remember.
Wagons were the last of the bygone era for many drivers. The wagons of the ’90s were peculiar-looking cars. But the wagons were nothing in the way of unique. The Ford Escort wagon is one that comes to mind. The cheap little wagon didn’t do much to boost confidence in the station wagon as a whole (via Driving Line).
There was also the Buick Roadmaster, which was the last V8-powered wagon at the time. Then there were unique models such as the Audi Quattro. Whether you were into family transport or rally racing, the wagon was a unique option. The Buick Roadmaster is just the most well known of the 1990s wagons, there were quite a few worth noting.
The 1990s birthed the riced-out racing truck trend. There were a few models that come to mind right off the top of his head. First and foremost was the Chevrolet 454 SS pickup. The 454 SS was the precursor to the Impala SS, which arrived in 1995. There were also the Dodge Dakota Shelby and the Ford F-150 Lightning (via Classic Truck).
The Ford Lightning was the most popular of all these truck models. The Dodge Ram SS/T was also a rare sport truck. The unique racing stripes and paint job separated the Ram from the other trucks on the market. The rise of the street racing-inspired truck infused a whole new generation of buyers into the pickup truck segment.
It’s no secret that 90s cars had a subpar interior quality. The main problem with car interiors in the 1990s was cheap plastics. Cracking was a huge problem, which is why dashboard covers were such a normal thing. Aside from that, the enormous amount of plastic used in the seating was also questionable (via Motor Trend).
Do you remember the valve seating from the early ’80s Chrysler cars? The materials also made their way into the 1990s. You’d often find seat rips and more when the car was still fairly new. These types of issues caused drivers to lodge complaints with automakers. Now the interior materials used in vehicles are much different.
Remember the Ford Ranger Splash? Its over-the-top decals from the factory were the norm in the 1990s. The eccentric decals are synonymous with the late ’80s and early ’90s. Whether it was the Chevy Baretta with the pace car decals or a Ford Festiva with stripes down the side (via Indy Auto Blog).
These decals are synonymous with the ’90s automotive designs. The unfortunate part is the decals didn’t do anything to boost performance. When the turn of the new millennium came, there were no decals used on automotive designs anymore. Still, the decals were a unique piece of automotive history during the ’90s.
Whether it was a Chrysler Laser or a Chevrolet Camaro, you’ve probably noticed rear window louvers. The Louvers were geared toward sports cars from that era. They didn’t do anything particular for the performance; instead, it was more of an exterior aesthetic. Nevertheless, there were plenty of drivers who had to have rear window louvers (via LS1 GTO).
Nowadays, you’ll see them every so often on a vehicle. For that real 1990s style, you can get an old sports car that still has them. The worst thing about rear window louvers is they impede vision. Creating a blind spot right in the rear-view mirror isn’t the smartest thing to do.
In the ’90s, the Chrysler trio of minivans was hotter than ever. But that created an issue for other automakers that wanted to replicate the magic. Honda and Mazda are two automakers that come to mind. The original Odyssey was a far cry from the polished van we observe these days. There wasn’t a lot that made the two vans similar, but the Mazda also had an awkward design (via Curbside Classic).
At a time when the Chrysler vans were dominating, it was strange to see these models. Honda miscalculated the traditional minivan shopper, and the sales were abysmal. The same can be said for the Mazda MPV, which was redesigned later on. The 1990s were a strange time for the brand new minivan industry.