Thou Shalt Not Poke Fun

Compiling a list of The 100 Prettiest Cars Of All Time sounds like a fairly straightforward task. Until you ask Chris Bangle to cast a vote… 

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Chris Bangle, photo (c) car blogger.it

AutoBild Klassik, one of the leading German publications in the field, is currently celebrating its 100th issue with a list naming the 100 most beautiful cars of all time. The jury tasked with naming the entries includes quite a few illustrious names, such as that of Peter Schreyer, Leonardo Fioravanti, Paolo Tumminelli, Simon Kidston, Gorden Wagener, Henrik Fisker and Laurens van den Acker, among others. One name that isn’t included though is that of the most significant car designer of the past twenty years, Christopher Edward Bangle.

This was not due to Bangle not having been invited, but because he deliberately chose not to cast a vote. Which had to do with a second vote, concerning The Ugliest Car Of All Time.

The jury thus discriminates against the unusual, the untried and the failed. To demonise such – occasionally brave – examples disqualifies those cars as a role model to designers and influences the public in a one-sided manner. This in turn results in a shrunken gene pool of design ideas. That way, car design ends up being an endless, sugary sweet repetition of beauty tropes. 

In order to design a car that’s beautiful in a way we have not yet discovered, we need to take risks. Designers and – more importantly – car manufacturers are incredibly risk averse. Nominating the ugliest car adds to this environment of fear. 

AutoBild Klassik is a wonderful magazine for fans of classic cars, of which some are peculiar and not pretty at all – but are loved nonetheless. Don’t future readers deserve a similarly copious banquette of design?”

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Here we have the ‘winner’! photo (c) carstyling.ru

Other members of the jury obviously didn’t share Bangle’s concerns, which resulted in a list comprising these ten supposedly ugliest cars of all time (in ascending order): Reliant Regal, BMW X6, Lancia Flavia Zagato, Pontiac Aztec, Studebaker President, Toyota Mirai, Citroen Ami 6, SsangYong Rodius I, Ford Scorpio II, Fiat Multipla.

Somewhat ironically, Bangle has been among the most vocal critics of current automotive design. Yet it hardly comes as a surprise that he isn’t one to slag off Roberto Giolito’s poor Multipla design.

 

The author of this piece was a member of AutoBild Klassik’s jury as well and runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com

34 thoughts on “Thou Shalt Not Poke Fun”

  1. What a tedious list, the sort of thing you would find on any click-baiting web portal written by a 21-year-old intern who’s been reading Wikipedia for a month and thinks he knows everything. With the possible exception of the Aztek and Rodius, which are admittedly rather less than excellent, none of the named would even make my bottom 50. And I HATE the X6. The Multipla makes my top 50.

  2. Thoughtful and thought provoking guy, Chris Bangle. I don’t want to just be an echo, but I completely agree with Stradale’s thoughts above.

  3. The X6 is a definite contender for my ugly top 10. It is not just visually challenged; it has an ugly soul.

    The Multipla is great, of course.

    1. The X6 doesn´t bother me. There isn´t much there however: some curvy sides and lots of autoBaroque detailing. The interior deserves some credit: that´s the real point of the car, that and it´s ride height. Remember, these CUVs are for older people and, to some extent, try to pre-empt criticisms of being “old person´s cars” by looking agressive. The typical user was 25 in the years 1990-1995, maybe a shade earlier.
      Overall, the list is a pointless one because it treats the qualitative in a quantitative matter. Better would have been to ask the committe to select examples of ugly cars and then justify those examples.

    2. Without wanting to excuse the X6´s failings, it does not live up my “wow!” test of ugliness. At a moral level I agree with Kris that the X6 draws upon unpleasant instincts and inclinations among a certain type of user. For others I imagine the high H-point is a draw and from that the rest of the car follows. The design is questionable but internally consistent in the way the arch-ugly car, the Aztek, isn´t . I think from this we get closer to an understanding of ugliness as a many facetted quality rather than a simple one expressable in plain terms. Mercedes Benz GLA shares a lot with the X6 but draws no ire. And Subaru, bless them, also have a knack for unattractive cars. I think it is the moral dimension that is most at play with the X6 rather than its physical attributes for otherwise several Subie´s and not a few Citroens and Kias might have joined the list.

    3. The GLA is an ugly car. As is the CLA. Or that new X2 (unless the pictures a deviously deceiving). But the CLC/-E coupés are uglier still.

      It is the combination of the forms themselves and their repercussions that seals the deal, as far as I’m concerned.

      A SsangYong Rodius I is an unquestionably ugly car, but it wasn’t designed to tell the rest of the world to go away and fuck themselves, because, hey I can do with our resources (fuel, space) whatever I goddamn please. It was simply a very misguided attempt at cladding an enormous people carrier in ‘interesting’ clothes that didn’t lead to any consequences, other than amusement.

    1. Hmmm. The decals are tasteless in the extreme. I´d agree the X6 is a bit pushy yet there are others which are also pushy and aggressive. A lot of performance-oriented cars have this characteristic. Alongside those, the X6 merely seems average. If the X6 is ugly it is ugly morally and then we open a can of worms because I feel a strong case can be made against flagrantly ostentatious cars (barrell, fish, shotgun). I do get the sense that whatever one feels in particular about which cars are ugly and which are not, our common frame of reference is in tatters. Was it ever not in tatters though? That´s not a rhetorical question. While I like to think that there was a time when there was a common frame of reference, one possbility is that there never was such a time.

    2. I disagree. I strongly believe that it was the X6 that opened the can of worms that’s today’s industry-wide spreading of aggressive design. For that I do hold it responsible. Moreover, I consider it a properly ugly device. Certain elements I can live with when viewed individually (light units, surfaces), but its stance and proportions are simply repellent, for their inherent pushy and aggressive cues are not put alongside any discernible sense of elegance or inventiveness.

      A Lamborghini Countach was a very aggressive-looking machine, but it possessed both of those other qualities to offset its weaponry-like stance.

  4. Did I read in Kris’s piece that the Multipla was voted the most ‘ugly’? How disappointing is that? It does, though, prove Bangle’s point. More disturbing for me is the presence of the Ami 6 in this list. Isn’t the act of voting for it in this way a borderline racist act (if the French can be categorised as a race). In my view, the Ami 6 was the last French car designed primarily with the French market in mind. I see nothing wrong with its design when viewed in this context. Furthermore, I recall that it was Bertoni’s personal favourite of all of his Citroen designs, so it feels like some kind of personal attack on an inspirational designer. Overall, this vote seems like a pretty tawdry exercise.

  5. Most disappointing for me is all the named designers who agreed to take part in this (childish) exercise – one would have hoped there would be more respect for their peers among creative people. More kudos to Bangle.
    As for what is ugly and what isn’t, it seems most people are struggling to keep aesthetic considerations separate from moral ones. The X6 may or may not be ugly per se, but it clearly is offensive enough judging by the reactions (which I share).

    1. Not all the designers named necessarily voted for an Ugliest Car. Entering a vote for that category was voluntary, which is also why I wouldn’t have nominated any car but the X6 myself.

  6. Obviously there is no hope for me. As one who still uses the Multipla I purchased new in 2002 as my daily driver, and is at present custodian for my late fathers Flavia Zagato I would dearly love to add an Ami 6 to my collection …

    1. Simon: We can promise a free subscription to DTW if you can post photos of the Zagato.
      I find that selection of cars wholly commendable. I have a lot of time for Multiplas. The Ami6 is another striking car and remarkably solid too.

  7. after I found out how Multiplas sold well in their target market (Italian cab drivers), I started seeing with different eyes.

    but c’mon, Bangle, if you really think such ugly cars shouldn’t make the ugly list, what about pointing what’s ugly to you? I bet you could cast a nice vote including the majority of small saloons designed for developing markets (the Peugeot 206 and 307 saloons, for instance) or any generation of the Honda Insight – not unusual or untried, just ugly.

  8. Thank you for your kind offer Richard. If you could arrange said subscription to be delivered in person by either Tom Peters or Tommy Forsgren driving a Mohs Ostentatienne Opera it would be most appreciated.

    1. As the under 15s say these days, goodness me. Of course, I’ve seen these cars in photos and in the metal but not as a “real car” owned by a “real person”. Am I right in guessing it’s as pleasant to drive as it looks? I won’t say it’s conventionally attractive but it’s delightful anyway. I do wish the theme had been tried on another package. It’s also not metallic grey so is that original paint? Aluminium body, I presume.

      I’ve notified the subscriptions department. Delivery will expedited by our printer who insists he isn’t Colin Chapman but looks a lot like him.

    2. That’s a very fine specimen and a pleasure to know that such vehicles still exist outside of museums. Made my day … Thanks.

    3. SV: Yes, I felt the same way. Is it interesting for the same reason an XJ-S is? And the Kappa coupe, while I am at it.
      The more I think about it the more inane the 100 Ugliest poll was. It’s just not constructive.

  9. Thank you for your kind comments. I am the first to admit that the side profile is not its most endearing feature, and yes it is a delight to drive in the understated way in which a Flavia performs compared with the more frenetic experience one gets with a Fulvia. Aluminium body indeed, but has been subject to an extensive restoration some years ago due to it spending its formative years in the UK. Pretty much the bottom third of the car was replaced such was the corrosion and I must credit my late father with having the tenacity to see it through. It will probably come as no surprise to tell you that he was an architect.

    1. Simon: good choice. That and the Multipla are car design’s last spasms of formal innovation, aren’t they? I’ve raved a bit about Toyota’s unhelpfully named C-HR (I never remember its name without Google help). Is that formally innovative or really an extreme expression of something we know already? Why is it not an “event” car because it is very unusual looking. And is it attractive?

  10. Fantastic car, this Flavia. Maybe not the very finest piece of Zagato design of all times but putting this wonderful car on that list is a real impudence !

    Such uninspired pieces of metal like the Porsche Cayenne (especially the first one) or the Panamera or the ugly Bentley Bentayga should be on that list, but not a Lancia from zagato or a wonderful Fiat Mutlipla.

    What modern cars are architects driving in 2017? Tesla ? Or Range Rover? The only architect i know has a Renault Avantime….

    1. Unlike my father I am not an architect but a frustrated one obviously lurks within as I have recently purchased an Avantime ….

    2. The first Cayenne would be a car that’s getting towards ugly, I agree. The Zagato here and perhaps the Multipla are shibboleths: to call them ugly serves to indicate where one stands in the æsthetics debate. Neither car qualifies as ugly though they aren’t beautiful. What does this say about beauty and ugliness? I think beauty is often taken to mean conforming to an ideal and having an additional, overpowering “wow!” character. Anti-Multiplaists are fixated on classical norms.

  11. I quite agree with those sentiments Richard. Your summation of beauty could not be more true in a world where scant respect is given to the true meaning of the word. Interestingly young children who have yet to have free thought trained out of their fertile minds react to the Multipla with nothing but delight.

    1. That’s the Multipla’s “wow!” quality, I suppose. The formal qualities in a conventionally beautiful car are derived from factors which are sociological and technical. I feel like reaching for the word “hermeneutics” but the effect on visitor numbers would be catastrophic for DTW’s revenue.

  12. It seems no one mentioned the Phantom VII. Is there an uglier car? I doubt it. One must also be intrinsically ugly to drive this thing.

    1. Hello Sal:
      The Phantom VII. Hmmm. Photos don’t do it justice. It lacks obvious beauty, that’s clear. Is it more unpleasant than the Silver Spirit? That’s short on grace as well. Overall I’d describe the Phantie as imposing and verging on elegance (but missing).
      Do others approve?

    2. I’ll speak up for the Phantom, the 2003 iteration at least. It’s not my kind of car really, but as a reinvention of a marque that had somewhat lost its way, I consider it masterfully well judged. It was imposing, without being vulgar. It combined huge confidence with a (small) degree of restraint. Despite its vast size, it’s proportions and surfacing were truly excellent. It was a statement of arrogant excess, yes – but I’d have it all day and every day over any Maybach monstrosity or latter-day Bentley anyone cares to mention.

      In fact, Phantom – (can’t speak for the new one), Ghost and Wraith: All really accomplished designs in my view. Bravo BMW. Other opinions are available by the way…

  13. The Mulsanne is the only Bentley worthy of the flying “B” in a long, long, time. Other VW era models are an abomination, re-badged phaetons, upper class Seats & Skodas.

    The Ghost has much better proportions than the stubby, vulgar Phantom VII. Sadly it is not a RR but a 7 series, but it hides its lineage well.

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