I’m on a mission, here. Some cars are universally accepted as being completely and utterly, drool-worthily beautiful. Many Aston Martins, Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, the new Jaguar XF and XJ, and even some untypical cars like the Pininfarina-sketched Peugeot 406 coupé fall into this category. At the same time, certain cars have picked up the image of being design dogs. Take the BMW X6 or the Fiat Multipla, for example. Even then, you could argue that they look splendid when lined up alongside the SsangYong Rodius and Actyon.
Ever since their respective launches during the last decade, there are three cars widely considered as ugly that I have absolutely yearned for with a passion and hope to own used examples of one day. And no, despite the attendant at the local Shell garage telling me that the face of my beloved Vel Satis looks like a smiling alien, it’s not on the list. My Vel Satis was bought on a whim, in fact, whereas the cars I’m about to outline have been on my sensory radars for a long time. My mission is to drum up some affection for them. Who knows – maybe loads of like-minded admirers will come out of the woodwork and make comments at the bottom of my piece.
First up is one of two German cars, or more precisely, two BMWs – the E65 7-Series. Ever since I first set my eyes on one in a brochure in 2001/2, I fell in love. I fully realise that it was labelled the ‘Bangle Butt’ but I think the rather unusual rear-end designed by Chris Bangle looks fantastic. To me, it looks futuristic and very individual, but still captures the prestige saloon aura. You’ll all think I’m barking mad, but I once posted a thread on a BMW forum asking if it’s possible to buy a facelifted E65 with the improvements to its chassis and iDrive, digital TV and in 750i or Li V8 guise, and then retrofit the original E65’s backside onto it. All the replies were from rather bemused people, to say the least. The E65 BMW 7-Series’ face has always attracted unpleasant comments, too. But again, I prefer its squinty, frowning eyes topped with thick eyebrows, and would have one any day compared to the facelift model which is more pedestrian in its design.
The second car in my BMW duo is the more recent 5-Series GT. I agree that it’s perhaps a slightly ambiguous crossover of a model, but this article is about design and not about practicality or purpose – and I don’t care if it looks from some angles like a 1-Series that has been inflated by an enormous pump. The GT’s presence on the open road is amazing, with an imposing, elegant and sporty air about it. Granted, it looks rubbish in the beige/gold and if fitted with smaller alloy wheels. But I challenge you to not become a tincy wincy bit covetous next time you see one loom up behind you and then pass you by.
I bet some of you are intrigued to find out what the final, rather leftfield car is. One thing is for sure – it’s the one I’m least likely to own an example of in the future, as it’s only available on the continent. It’s none other than the Lancia Thesis. Many UK readers will now be thinking ‘a what?’ and firing up Google image search to see what one looks like. I disclaim any liability if you end up with vomit anywhere it shouldn’t be, as I do appreciate that it’s not got the prettiest of faces. I first saw one back in Rome about a decade ago. Actually, I saw far more than one, as every other car seemed to be a Lancia Thesis that week. It may bare a cross-eyed look with a stupid little mouth, but whenever I see one in reality, I melt, as to me they look great in the flesh – regal, imposing, rare and elegant. I saw one in Valencia a few weeks ago, which rekindled my Thesis love. The rear light clusters are an acquired taste too, I know – but they really float my boat. When it comes to the Thesis, I’ve already coaxed out a little love for it on Twitter, Luke McCorry and Darragh McKenna proudly making themselves known as fans. Good on you, guys!
Lancia Thesis photos courtesy of Rudolf Stricker
My love for what many others would describe as ugly cars doesn’t stop there and I’ll publish another post in due course with a few more examples. So come on, tell me what you think to the three heroes of mine that I’ve outlined – and if you’ve always loved another aesthetically challenged car and want to finally step up and admit to it, we’d love you to use Petroleum Vitae as the platform for making such a brave move.
Author: Oliver Hammond
I can see where you are with the seven series. But the other two? Sorry mate!
I second you there Olly with regard to the Bangle 7 and 5 Series for that matter. The current ones have lost their quirkiness and blend into the background too much. The previous generation M5 for example still looks epic today, a future classic for sure!
Hi Ollie. Love the Seven series and an absolute cracking second hand bargain. Go petrol though to grab the best deals and to avoid expensive bills with the diesel injection woes…The 5 series GT I really don’t like…it hints of old Hyundai Lantra hatch backs and the like. Sorry Ollie. No. But that Lancia…oh yes. Stunning. Like the Vel Satis (that I also love by the way 😉 ) the design has grown on me over the years. Maybe not as widespread as the Chris Bangle designs BUT it is lovely. As Paul Horrell of the UK´s CAR Magazine wrote at the time…
“The shape was “controversial, but certainly regenerates an authentic Italian alternative to the po-faced approach” of the competition. Look at that extravagant front end, like a row of chrome-decorated sand dunes. The whole form is plump and carries telling details of bi-xenon headlights and multi-LED blades of tail-lamp – a comfortably fed and well-jewelled car like the folk who´ll drive it.”
I want a 3.2 V6 version please….if I can find one!