My tolerance for cars that many consider ugly is abnormally high. I’m delighted by goblin-faced Citroën Amis and have publicly defended the late ‘90s Fiat Multipla. I’m not squeamish. That said, I have to admit that I have recently learned of a car that even I can’t defend, aesthetically: the Denag Lorelei.
Denag seems to be a German or maybe Japanese (it’s hard to say—its provenance is extremely unclear) company similar to Mitsuoka, in that they take mass-market models and do some creative re-bodying of them to give them a novel, retro look and feel, often one that evokes famous classic cars.
While Mitsuoka works mostly with Nissans as their canvases, Denag reached a bit further, and used the Mercedes-Benz W124 E-Class as a base, onto which they grafted a set of body modifications that, were you unaware that the intent was to produce a desirable motor car, you would likely have interpreted as the most eloquent argument in favor of the abolition of the sense of sight ever recorded by the hand of man.
Denag called their modified Benz the Lorelei, a lovely and lyrical name for a car that was very much neither. The entire front and rear clips have been entirely replaced, and while neither are great, I think the real crime scene on this car is its profile.
It’s unusual to gaze upon a brand-new car and have a very specific pair of questions leap into your mind:
First, what the hell happened to this car? And second, why have you forsaken me, oh Lord?
The car looks like it was in a wreck between two other cars, and both front and rear have been bent and kinked by the impact. I’m not exactly sure how Denag modified the Mercedes door skins to incorporate styling bulges that look almost exactly like random accident damage, but they sure found a way.
I guess the front end is the least-awful part of this car, but that’s not saying much at all. The grille manages to, paradoxically, feel both too much and somehow too flimsy, and it doesn’t help that it’s set off on its own weird boxy protuberance.
The hood bulges and undulates like a pair of pit bulls sleeping restlessly under a comforter, and I’m pretty sure those sealed-beam headlamps are ringed with 1968 and up Volkswagen Beetle chrome headlight trim rings. I have a few of those in my workshop here, so, Denag Lorelei owners in need, you know how to find me.
Somehow, the rear quarter view is worse, much worse, worse than I even expected. Maybe the profile isn’t as bad as this? That strangely flat rear trunk lid area, the awkwardly upswept and bulky rear fenders, the gap-tastic, oversized and puzzlingly-cornered rear wheel arch, it all just looks like shit, and, even better, it appears they forgot to find a place to stick the license plate.
It does appear that some versions did accommodate license plates, and it looks like there were some variations in taillights—either the three small round units or these vertical ones that I believe come from a ‘60s-era VW Type 3. I guess those are a little better.
I haven’t been able to find out just how many of these nightmares were built, but I did find one reference to their price back in 1995: about 1,700,000 francs, which would be about $340,000, which in today’s money would be roughly $572,000 today. Holy shit.
If you were paying over 500 grand for this thing, I’m honestly not sure you should have even been allowed to use any sort of money at all, for anything. One site claims only two people bought these, which, if that’s true, is a staggeringly high number of sales for this car. Based on available photos, it seems like more than two were built, but who really knows?
I’m sorry I subjected you to this, but I felt you had a right to know about it.