If you consider yourself something of a car enthusiast, there’s a good chance there’s one car out there that you adore despite the fact that it’s, well, a little bit ass. That’s okay — not everything needs to be good! We can enjoy a diverse amount of things! And today, we here at Jalopnik are going to open up our little car-loving hearts to tell you all about the tragic vehicles we can’t help but adore.
Elizabeth Blackstock: Plymouth Prowler
My god, what an ugly vehicle. What an absolute horror of a machine. And yet the five years of Plymouth Prowler production are some of the greatest years in all of automotive history. I have so much respect for the absolute audacity it took to design and build a retro-looking hot rod that also somehow fully embraced the late-1990s-early-2000s vibe. It first came out the year after I was born, so my formative era as a youthful car fan was spent fawning over this specific piece of machinery. I was under the Plymouth spell. And I’d still absolutely fuck with one of these to this day. I just don’t know if I’d want it in purple, or if I’d want to black with licks of hot rod flames.
I hear Y2K is coming back into style. Who’s giving me my first electrified Prowler?
Collin Woodard: Chevrolet SSR
If I ever actually bought a Chevrolet SSR, that single purchase would probably bring down the average age of SSR owners by multiple years. Guys in their 30s don’t drive SSRs. People like my parents’ elderly neighbor who parks his SSR next to his El Camino do. And yet, I can’t help but love it. Honestly, park this thing next to Elizabeth’s Prowler, and you’d have a hell of a two-car garage.
I mean, it’s a retro convertible pickup truck that only seats two people. No one was asking for that, and there’s a good reason no one’s tried to sell something similar since. Materials were cheap. The cupholders were laughable. I’d probably have to give up on dating for at least the next 30 years if I owned one. I can admit it’s not good.
But on the other hand, you can get it with an LS2 and a six-speed manual transmission. And calling it unique would be a serious understatement. A lot of people would argue that it’s uniquely bad, but I won’t be able to hear them over the sound of my 390-hp V8. It’s just too bad these things are still like $30,000 if you want the manual.
Owen Bellwood: Aston Martin Cygnet
There’s one car that ticks all the boxes for an awful car that I would love to own. It’s a car that was, for sure, ahead of its time, and one day soon we’ll all be wishing we’d plucked up the courage to buy one when we could.
Obviously, it’s something small and practical for city center driving, but it comes with an air of glam thanks to the Aston Martin badge stuck up front. It is, of course, the Aston Martin Cygnet. Released in 2011 to comply with new EU emissions regulations, the Cygnet was a Scion IQ with a nicer interior, an Aston Martin grille and a price tag more than double that of the car it was based on. But, once you can see past all its ridiculousness, you’ll understand why it’s the perfect supercar for 2023.
Maybe next year, car companies like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche will see sense and follow suit in creating cutesy luxury city cars instead of over-sized boujie SUV. It’s what the world really wants.
José Rodríguez Jr.: Land Rover Freelander
I desperately want a Freelander. Now there’s a sentence you don’t see everyday, but I just want one of those weird little Land Rovers so bad. I confess I nearly bought a first-gen model last year because it had the right number of doors (two) and was even the right color (yellow). It was being sold for a pittance since it had sat in someone’s yard for God knows how long. Typical, right?
And yet I find myself irrationally drawn to the Freelander. The only reason I passed was that it came with an automatic transmission instead of the manual. I should consider myself lucky, but I never learn; I still regularly search the local ads for a Freelander. On Fridays or major holidays, I’ll even mix it up by looking for a two-door Land Rover Evoque, the spiritual successor to the Freelander.
The original Freelander’s combination of two doors, manual transmission, sunroofs galore, bright yellow paint and that “Land>line break<Rover” badge get me every time. I know I’d be much better off buying an Isuzu Rodeo Sport or Amigo. Maybe a Toyota Rav4 or old 4Runner. There’s always the two-door Jeep Cherokee XJ, too, but none of those are dangerous. Not self-defeating enough.
One of these days, I’ll get what I deserve. I’ll buy a Freelander and regret it on the way home; I’ll wonder why I do this to myself while staring at a dusty dash full of warning lights. But until that day, I’ll keep looking for my compact Rover.
Lawrence Hodge: Pontiac GTO
I never understood the weird hate this gen of GTO got. “CoOL CaVAlIEr BRo” or whatever people used to say about the sedate styling. But here was a car that followed the proper muscle car formula: big V8, rear wheel drive, manual option. And you could get it in cool colors like purple and yellow.
I loved this thing. I loved it so much that I used to carry brochures for it around in my backpack in high school so I had something look over when I didn’t have anything to do in class. Yeah, sure, GM finally did right by it towards the end by giving it the 6.0 it should have had when it was introduced. But as the years have gone on, I find myself having love for both the 5.7 and later 6.0 models.
I’d drive the hell out of one today. They aren’t as cheap as they used to be, but they’re cool cheap muscle. And while some may have a problem with its subtle styling, I say who cares? When has a sleeper ever been a problem on any other car? This thing is going to be a future classic. And when a pristine example rolls across the auction block at Barrett Jackson in 2045, maybe some of you will finally see the love I have for these things.
Adam Ismail: First-Gen Audi TT
Look, some cars only exist to be beautiful. Nothing else. They’re slow, they’re dead behind the wheel, they’re not efficient, practical or a good value. They’re just gorgeous. The first-generation Audi TT is one of these cars. In fact, it’s perhaps the archetype, because I’m not sure any automaker has ever committed to the “it only does pretty” bit harder than Audi did with this car.
Consider, for example, that the TT is built on the same front-wheel-drive platform as the Volkswagen Golf, but is of course much heavier. That’s always a recipe for thrill, right? Buying one, especially as we get further and further away from the first-generation’s 1999 launch, is an objectively idiotic financial decision, what with the list of misery that could beset the engine and electrical system.
But I don’t care, because have you ever seen this car’s heated seat dial? It’s genius. Same goes for the stitching on its leather seats, the design of the shift lever, every piece of exterior lighting, the monoblock five-spoke wheels and all that aluminum trim. Explain to me how aluminum trim — which has aged so horrendously in every other car from this time period — still manages to make the original TT look like an artifact from the future? I don’t get it, but life is about the little things, and Audi knew that when it made this car. God help you if there’s one in your garage.
Kyle Hyatt: 1996 - 2002 Dodge Viper Coupe
The second generation Viper, which was the first generation that saw a coupe variant, is in so many ways a total shitbox. I mean, this was Chrysler at possibly its worst, and here it is creating an utterly bananas shin-burning, tail-happy, no-ABS-having, plastic fantastic monster of a sports car. I fell in love with the Viper when I first saw the totally stupid TV show of same name, and that love only grew from there.
This car would be my pick even if I could only choose one variant (which is obviously the racing GTS-R variant that ran at Le Mans) but there were other great ones that people could buy like the GT2 Champion Edition and the ACR (which was actually an expensive package rather than a separate trim level, but I digress).
My great shame is that I’ve never actually driven an SRII Viper, or indeed any Viper, but I will someday rectify that situation. Mark my words.
Ryan Erik King: 1993 - 1997 Nissan Altima
In some circles, the current Nissan Altima has become the stereotypical sedan of choice for reckless drivers. However, I do have a soft spot for the earlier generations of the Altima. My family owned a first-generation Nissan Altima when I was growing up. The Altima’s body shape vividly sticks out in my memory and was emblematic of the era in so many ways.
The Nissan had a very bubbly body styling, seemingly avoiding straight lines wherever possible and being considerate of aerodynamics. The shape followed a similar philosophy to the third-generation Ford Taurus. I wouldn’t quite say the Altima was beautiful, but I can immediately place it in the 1990s. While I do appreciate this iteration of the Nissan Altima, I don’t want to buy one. I have fond memories, and I don’t want another Altima to ruin my nostalgia.
Erin Marquis: Karmann Ghia
When I told my Dad when I was 13 that all I wanted was a Karmann Ghia, he was perplexed. He’d raised me to appreciate zippy little British roadsters and big American behemoths. How I’d become infatuated with this tiny, underpowered Italian copy-and-paste job from a fancy design house was a mystery to him.
“It’s underpowered/just a Beetle under the hood,” he’d say. Or “You can’t drive it in the winter, you know.” And I’d say, so what? I love the little underpowered Beetle, and it’s hard to care about power or driving dynamics when you are too young to drive. The heart wants what it wants, after all, and I wanted a car that was pretty. No car on the planet was prettier to me than the Ghia. I think because Volkswagen owned the fact that it was an underpowered car made me love it even more.
I love the swooping font of the name plate, the grille that reminds me of a snooty waiter’s mustache, the bright-eyed round headlights and the general movement and flow of the body. Despite my Dad’s criticism, I actually love the simplicity of it. You can fix a VW motor with a paperclip and chewing gum, but in the Ghia you’ll at least look slightly upscale while doing it. I also love that they weren’t really popular back in the day, and now every time I get excited about this economical sportscar. When my dad and I finally got to drive one together, it was a 40-HP dream come true. I’ll never not love this bad little car.
Erik Shilling: Third-Generation Chevy Camaro
The third-generation Camaro was never all that fast or powerful, but goddamn if it didn’t look absolutely stellar, like if you combined every dirtbag thing about the 1980s and made a car out of it. There is probably no more 1980s object, let alone vehicle, in existence. I can’t remember the first time I saw one, but it was at a very early age, because in Northeastern Ohio, where I grew up, they were ubiquitous. The third-generation Camaro is a car for being young and being cool. And also for being young and stupid, because if you buy a third-gen Camaro it suggests that you don’t really know about much cars, but you do know a lot about looking spectacular. Legally, I think only teenagers are allowed to buy third-generation Camaros, for the purposes of fornication. Certainly anyone old enough to know better and buy a good car looks absolutely ridiculous in a third-gen Camaro, as they should.
Steve DaSilva: Chevy Cobalt
Okay, listen, hear me out. I’ve never driven a Chevy Cobalt. I’ve never even sat in one, to my knowledge. But I’ve seen plenty of them out on the streets, going about their daily chores, and I can firmly say: The Chevy Cobalt is genuinely a great-looking car. That sounds absurd, sure, but look at it — smooth lines, just enough detail not to fall into that melted-bar-of-soap styling so prevalent in the ‘90s but far from modern over-styled aesthetics. The Cobalt SS was bloated, sure, with the massive front and rear bumpers that formed the style at the time, but base coupes had solid proportions and a clean look. If you’re looking to send me hate mail in response to this take, you can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lalita Chemello: Alfa Romeo 4C
You thought I’d pick the Aztek, didn’t you? Fair assumption, but for all of the shade thrown at the Aztek for its less-than-conventional looks, it was honestly a solid vehicle, and among my top five favorite owned vehicles. So no, we’re not ragging on the Pontiac Aztek today.
Instead, I look to my Italian roots — the Alfa Romeo 4C. Every single time I have encountered one of these on the Detroit Auto Show floor, I absolutely fawn [read: drool] over it. The lines. The angles. It is a truncated sports car in the cutest way possible, which is great for someone of small Italian size, I guess. The only thing I still haven’t entirely loved is its wheels.
The biggest thing counting against this fun little sports car is that it is, in fact, an Alfa Romeo. And not to say the 4C is utter garbage, cause it isn’t. But the brand itself has a reputation, and its hard to see past that, especially at any of its vehicles price points. But I do find myself occasionally called out to by the sirens that are the Alfa Romeo 4C, to approach this dangerous beast, and be taken into the depths of the sea where one may not come back from. One day, I might just do it.