8 famous car designers and their ugliest creations
CY Foong · May 30, 2021 12:00 PM
Car design has definitely evolved in leaps and bounds and though it is a team effort, the person who envisioned the design in the first place is often given credit.
There have been numerous talented designers who have placed pen to paper (or on a tablet for today’s designers). Many of these designers have become recognisable names for better or for worse.
Even though these designers are credited for creating some of the most beautiful or iconic cars ever, they are still human. As such, we want to dedicate this list not for their prettiest design but to what we deemed as the ugliest.
Chris Bangle – BMW E65 7 Series
To some BMW fans, Chris Bangle’s tenure as Design Chief at the Bavarian automaker in the 2000s was one of the most controversial. The E65’s design was a huge departure from the classy but traditional styling of its predecessor.
The designer himself is a bit of a divisive figure even among his peers. Bangle was also the designer of the Fiat Coupe which is one of the prettiest common cars ever. Yet, the E65 looked dumpy and fat.
Add on the rear end styling, called the “Bangle Butt” by critics, and you get what might be the most divisive 7 Series. That is until the G11 facelift arrived with its massive grille.
Walter de Silva – SEAT Toledo
To those who may have not heard of his name, Walter de Silva was famous for designing Audi’s models throughout the 2000s. At the same time, he was appointed as Head of Design to the Audi brand group which included the premium German brand, Lamborghini, and Spanish carmaker SEAT.
He helped to create a design language for Audi and SEAT and the result was a confusingly similar look across the range. While this decision was controversial, it was made worse for the SEAT Toledo.
de Silva incorporated SEAT’s 'auto emoción' design philosophy on the Toledo and the result was a weird hatchback design with an extended boot. This was an homage to the previous gen's sedan design but clearly, that didn’t work. Eventually, SEAT replaced it with a more conventional sedan shape for its successor.
Harley Earl – General Motors Le Sabre Concept
The American designer is cited by many as the father of automobile design. In 1939, General Motors unveiled the world’s first concept car, the Buick Y-Job, designed by Harley Earl.
Earl was also influential in shaping the space-age design of the 1950s through the GM Le Sabre Concept in 1951. Many of the design elements from the concept car were brought into other cars later that decade including the wraparound windshield and rear tailfins.
As revolutionary as it was to American car design, it was ugly to look at. Thankfully, only one working model was made and it was Earl’s personal car for years. He later helped designed the Chevrolet Corvette and at least that looked pretty.
Battista Farina – Pininfarina Model X
Ferrari fans might be familiar with the last name of this designer as he was the founder of Pininfarina. Farina was also a legend among designers as he helped to shape many beautiful and iconic Italian classics that did not wear the Prancing Horse.
Apart from designing classy sports cars, Farina was an innovator too and loved to explore aerodynamics. In 1960, the Italian designed a car that was probably inspired by an American football called the Pininfarina Model X.
It doesn’t come with Falcon Doors but believe it or not, it actually has four wheels. The solitary front and rear wheels provide steering and drive respectively. The result of this weird shape though gave the Model X a drag coefficient of 0.23. Impressive even by today’s standards.
Marcello Gandini – BMW 2200 ti Garmisch
The following three designers are considered legends in their own right but we’ll start with Gandini first. If Farina was the man behind Ferrari, Gandini was the one that shaped Lamborghini with icons like the Countach and Miura.
Gandini was also the designer for a strange concept car that would eventually give rise to the first BMW 5 Series, the E12. Designed while he was at Bertone, the 2200 ti Garmisch was highly controversial thanks to its hexagonal-shaped kidney grilles.
In an alternate universe, the Garmisch’s grilles would be standard for BMW in the 1970s. In reality, that would arrive almost 50 years later in the form of the 4 Series. Controversial grilles, therefore, aren’t exactly a new debate among BMW fans.
An iconic designer with an iconic name, Giugiaro penned many designs for various manufacturers including Proton. He was well recognised in the automotive industry and was even awarded Car Designer of the Century in 1999.
Aside from supercars and concept cars, Giugiaro even lent his hand to a variety of regular cars for the likes of Hyundai, Isuzu, and Volkswagen. However, his ugliest and strangest collaboration would be the Ssangyong Rexton.
The Rexton was a re-bodied Mercedes-Benz M-Class and it was surprisingly well-received among Malaysian buyers when it was launched. My colleague, Sanjay is the only one in the office who managed to drive it, and needless to say, the Rexton is hands down the lowest point of the famed designer’s career.
Giovanni Michelotti – Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Special Saloon by Vignale
Aside from designing cars for established brands like Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and also Hino during its car-building period, Michelotti also helped to pen designs for carrozzerias – Italian for coachbuilders.
These carrozzerias are famous for taking an existing car and putting on some Italian flair in them. One of them is Vignale and though the coachbuilder has made some interesting cars, none are as weird as this custom Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.
It is the only one in existence and was commissioned by Joseph Maschuch, an attorney based in New Jersey. If you think Michelotti’s design is uh, interesting, then perhaps you might fancy the gold-painted toilet seat under the right rear passenger seat. No business is made there apart from being a champagne cooler though.
Shiro Nakamura – Nissan Juke
Our final designer might be a name familiar to Nissan fans. Nakamura-san had been Nissan’s senior vice president, chief creative officer, and head designer for 17 years between 2000 and 2017. His replacement has some big shoes to fill.
Under his leadership, Nakamura-san helped to shape Nissan’s design philosophy in the new millennium with the GT-R, 350Z, 370Z, and Murano among others. In fact, he was also the only Japanese car designer to receive the prestigious EyesOn Design lifetime achievement award.
Which makes the controversial-looking and frankly ugly Nissan Juke a black spot in the Japanese designer’s CV. The Juke itself was a misnomer as the model turned out to be a success despite looking disgusting. Maybe it was also that eccentricity that made it a huge hit when other crossovers look plain but we digress.
We’re sure some of these designs might have their fair share of fans and some could be defended by the designers themselves. Some even turned out to be successful, revolutionary, or as an inspiration for future designs. There’s no denying they aren’t pretty though.