The Ugliest Cars of the 1960s
Car design in the 1960s got better—but it also got worse
After the chrome-laden excess of the 1950s, the 1960s saw car designers settle down a bit: Cars got lower, sleeker, and—in most cases, at least—a lot better looking. But even the prettiest gardens sprout a few weeds, and there were plenty of ugly cars that made their way to the showroom in the 1960s. Here are some of the most egregious visual offenders.
1960 Marcos GT Xylon
British automaker Marcos has something of a talent for producing hideous cars; witness the 1970 Mantos, arguably the ugliest car ever created by man or beast (we're thinking beast), or the Marcos GT, proof that even the most classic sports-car shape can be ruined if you try hard enough. But perhaps the company's biggest sin of the '60s was the GT Xylon—the last word is Greek for "wood", of which the chassis was made. It should have been called it the GT Tha, which is Greek for "would", as in we wish they would not have created this visual abomination. The GT Xylon was a racing car, and Jackie Stewart drove it with great success. Our guess is that his rivals saw it in their rear-view mirrors and laughed so hard they crashed.
1960 Plymouth Valiant
It has been said that the Valiant—which, by the way, did not officially become a Plymouth until 1961; perhaps it took the dealers that long to stop retching—incorporated several design cues that master stylist Virgil Exner wanted to incorporate into several future Chrysler models. But then he had a heart attack, and while he was out sick his minions stuck them all on one car. From the front, the Valiant is merely dumpy, oddly-proportioned, and overly-adorned; it's when you see it from the back, with its bustle-back trunk, cat-eye taillights, and—my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken us?—faux Continental kit pressed into the trunk lid, that you realize the true horror of this design. And while you might not think such a thing is possible, the wagon is even uglier.
1961 Checker Marathon
Oh, those poor, poor people of the 1960s. Just when they thought they had put all those awful, blocky, brutalist 1950s styling cues behind them—cars were finally getting lower and sleeker—along comes Checker to put all that ugliness right back into production in the 1961 Marathon. And if that wasn't bad enough, the car was built with virtually no changes for twenty-two years.
1961 Plymouth Fury
Chrysler gets credit for pushing car design into the future in 1955 and again in 1957—but in 1961 their designers tried to push it right back into to the past. Up front, the Fury had a ridiculously overwrought fascia, and out back the coupes had a deeply sloped roofline that, instead of sacrificing headroom for style, sacrificed headroom and style. By the way, did you know that the Lord Almighty drove one of these? Yep, it's true—read the Adam and Eve story: "And he drove them out in his Fury."
1961 Wolseley Hornet
When the British Motor Corporation designed the Mini in 1959, it had created the perfect people's car—small, affordable, and thrifty. So of course—of course!—the next logical step was to turn it into a luxury vehicle. BMC bolted on an upright chrome grille and a trunk with pokey little fins, then glued some wood veneer to the dash, creating the ridiculous little sedan you see here. For a name, well, how about dusting off a moniker that adorned some of the finest British luxury cars of the early 20th century? Because why just ruin a car when you can ruin the reputation of an entire marque as well? One would hope the country that once created the world's largest empire wouldn't be fooled, but it was—the Hornet was a surprisingly strong seller. Perhaps Cadillac should have marketed the Cimarron in England.
The early '60s were strange days at Chrysler, and even Imperial—then a stand-alone marque competing against Cadillac and Chrysler—was not immune. All three of the '62 Imps—Custom, Crown, and LeBaron—shared the same styling, with stand-alone headlights (apparently an obsession of designer Virgil Exner) that gave the front end a strangely emaciated look. Out back, the taillight pods looked rather like flashlights bolted to the top of the fins (yes, fins; Imperial hadn't gotten the memo that they were out of style). While most Chrysler cars switched to unit-body construction in 1960, Imperial retained its body-on-frame construction until 1967, giving the cars a boxy, blocky look that—along with the fins—made the car look instantly dated.
1962 Plymouth Fury
If you thought the Fury couldn't get any worse than the '61, well, you were wrong. Chrysler decided that 1962 was the right time to downsize its full-size cars, a move that only came 15 years too early. All shrinking its cars accomplished was shrinking its sales. (Get the inside story here.) While size mattered, the Fury's oddly-creased styling was a big part of the problem. The story goes that when Chrysler gave an early preview at their annual dealer meeting, dealers booed and started throwing things at the stage—and twenty of them gave up their franchises on the spot. Chrysler must have realized it had a turkey on its hands; Plymouth rushed through a conventional restyle of the '63, and sales started to pick up again.
1962 Renault 8
You've seen jokes about cars that look the same coming and going, right? This is where they all started. Renault even put the engine in the back, making it that much harder to guess which end was the front.
1963 Hillman Imp
Ah, the Hillman Imp—a British heap that isn't quite a sedan, isn't quite a hatchback, isn't quite a wagon and isn't even close to attractive. The oddball rear end provided easy access to its minuscule engine, the designers apparently realizing that the Imp would break down with a frequency that was impressive even by British standards. Still, there's no excuse for the Imp's wildly mis-matched proportions above and below the beltline—it looks as if the greenhouse for the real car was accidentally grafted on to a 7/8-scale model of the body and chassis. Our guess is that the Imp was originally designed as a front-engine car, but no one told the chassis engineers about the swap, which is the only explanation we can come up with for the permanent squat we see in most Imps.
1964 Lightburn Zeta Sports
Ever wonder why you don't see many Australian-designed cars? Because this is what they look like. This penny dreadful started out as a British design called the Frisky Sprint, which sounds like some sort of sexual Olympic event. The Sprint was first shown at the 1957 Earl's Court Motor Show in London, and Australian washing-machine manufacturer Lightburn decided to license it for local manufacture, but not before making design "improvements" that turned Frisky's futuristic rocket ship shape into a road-going eyesore. And no, before you ask, this is not a pedal car—it actually does have an engine, albeit a tiny 21-hp two-stroke twin. It should come as no surprise that even in a country as big as Oz, Lightburn was only able to sell 48.
1964 Morris 1800
Note to design students: This is why you shouldn't sleep through the lecture on proportion.
1965 Renault 16
The Renault 16 is a car we really ought to revere, because it was the car that introduced the modern interpretation of the hatchback, with a sloped back end and fold-down seats. But did it have to be so… so… French? The 16's greenhouse is just a bit too big, its wheels are a bit too small, and its nose is a bit too low, giving it proportions that, to paraphrase the great Douglas Adams, more or less exactly fail to please the eye. Trivia time: In French, the 16 is the Seize, which, in English, is what you could expect the engine to do with some regularity.
1966 Lotus Europa
Is it a sports car? Is it a delivery van? Is it a pickup truck? We don't know, and apparently neither did Lotus' designers. It's amazing that in a long history of beautiful cars with form that followed their function, Lotus managed to lay this egg. While we don't know the full story, our best guess is that the designers were halfway done with their clay model of the Europa, and while they were off to lunch someone accidentally put the unfinished design into production.
1967 Matra 530
We cannot even begin to imagine what went wrong with the Matra 530, because designing a car this ugly has to be an act of willful malice. We know that mid-engine cars are difficult to design; perhaps this was a protest staged by the designers against the engineers' decision to place the Matra's Ford V-4 between the cabin and the axle. Even so, the bizarre-o beltline and b-pillar treatment just added injury to insult. Happily, a seven-year production run yielded only some 9,600 cars, which greatly reduces the chances that your retinas will be assaulted by this little French fiasco.
1969 Alfa-Romeo Junior Zagato
This was a perfectly good design until someone grabbed the nose and bent it downward.
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
The Charger Daytona has become such a muscle car icon that it's easy to forget what an eyesore it really is. These cars were designed for racing, but NASCAR homologation rules required 500 of them to be built for the street. The rear wing needed to be full-width, and it would have worked just fine mounted a couple of inches above the trunk lid—but then the trunk wouldn't open. And so up it went. And as for the pointy nose-cone bolted to the front of the car, well, that's just a pointy nose cone bolted to the front of a car. The aerodynamics were a success, but the aesthetics were a tragedy. These things languished on used-car lots in the early 1970s, but twenty years later their values went through the roof.