Unique environments often produce bizarre creatures, like the sightless fish that live in deep caves. And Berlusconi-era Italy yielded the Fiat Multipla, a vehicle defined by a series of strange bulges, as if it had been constructed from soft plastic, then pumped up with air. The Multipla’s designers mounted running lights at the base of the windshield in a bulged fascia panel, giving it the look of a rain-forest frog that had undergone an unfortunate genetic mutation. When talent-show host Simon Cowell was shown a picture of the Multipla on Top Gear, he said it had a disease.
Like an inbred family that has spent too many generations in a back hollow, producing children with close-set eyes and bad teeth, a car line can go down the wrong path. The X-90 is a case in point. Although related to the late, unlamented Suzuki Sidekick, the X-90 is uglier. The X-90 is a strange amalgam of disparate automotive forms, it has the front end of a Japanese economy car, while the rear resembles a miniaturised pickup with a wing bolted onto its tail. Not a pretty picture.
The Gremlin may well be the most badly proportioned car ever built. Seen from the side, it can resemble, depending on the light and the precise angle, a doorstop, a wedge of cheese, or a badly-designed running shoe. Were AMC designers hoping that the Gremlin’s slightly elongated hood would conjure up the free-spirited Ford Mustang? If so, they failed. Instead of a wild horse, the Gremlin’s front end evokes a dog of questionable health and breeding. The Gremlin’s rear end was even worse, ending with an abrupt, strangely calculated angle that made the car look as though AMC had simply given up.
The Ssangyong Actyon has a face that would scare most children. It has a moustache and two drooping eyes on its abnormally short front end, while the back somewhat looks like an X6 completely distorted. The wheels are far too small for this size car, and the overall design looks completely unstable. Ssangyong are pioneers of making cars visually disturbing.
An easy choice to make the top 10, and one whose name is almost certain to be mentioned whenever ugly cars are discussed – it's the Ford Scorpio. Touted by its maker as the brave new look of the future, the reception it got was, unsurprisingly, far from rapturous applause. In fact, it's hard to imagine how this design made it to production without someone going "Hold on a second, chaps – has anyone noticed this thing we're making looks like it's just sat down on a drawing pin?"
From the same era as the Scorpio comes another car which adopted the seemingly same combo of bulgy eyes and a gaping mouth – the Daihatsu Sirion. Curvy in all the wrong places, it managed to out beat even the frowning Ford Fiesta of the time – no surprise, then, that it didn't exactly prove to be a best-seller.
But proof positive that monumental errors of styling judgement aren't a new phenomenon comes in the shape of the Marcos Mantis M70. Powered by a Triumph 2.5-litre straight-six engine, it was designed to seat four in comfort – a specification which required a tall, boxy roofline that sat ill-at-ease with the low, snouty nose. The chunky headlamp surrounds and odd bonnet vent did nothing to help matters, mind. And what on earth is going on there above the quarter panel?
It is surprising, given their cars' reputation for wilful oddness, that we've had no contributions from the French yet. That's about to change. Here's the Renault Vel Satis, which actually looked OK from the side and the rear. It was that edgy, drooping front end that caused it problems. A shame, because inside it is spacious, comfortable and a refreshing change from the usual.
And while we're talking French cars, a nod has to go to Citroën. No car maker has such a history of divisive design; in fact, almost all of the company's classic models have found lifelong fans and bitter detractors in equal measure. And even in such Marmite company, the Ami 6 has to boast some of the most hard-to-love styling of all. The sharply raked rear screen, the overly-large headlamps, the frowning bonnet, the canted-forward stance... the list goes on.
Volkswagen was doing it with their Cross Polo, it worked, very well in fact. Then Toyota wanted a sliver of the pie too. They soon thereafter brought out their Etios Cross, and no means is it a good rival. The car itself may be good. But that styling though. Half the car is covered in black plastic as if no one will notice it's not a hardcore offroader vehicle. Honestly, the Land Cruiser doesn't have close to as much body plastic as this thing. Bad.