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20 of the Most Awkward and Probably Ugliest Concept Cars of the Past 20 Years

We are glad these concept cars didn’t make production

While production cars are often restricted by altogether acknowledged standards of manufacturing, concept cars are usually exactly the opposite. Often not bound for production at all, concept cars represent the perfect opportunity for both the manufacturers and designers to showcase their creative (usually wacky) side. Some of them end up being certain vanguards of styling and technological advancements for years to come, while others simply fail in that department.

This time, however, we reflect upon something different altogether. Here are 20 of the most awkward and likely ugliest concept cars from the past couple of decades which have done more than simply failing to deliver in terms of styling. They have forever been branded as cars that likely shouldn’t have happened at all. Luckily most of them have been forgotten the instant the auto show on which they were presented was finished. Forgotten before someone like us decides to remind you of them, that is.

Buick Signia

Year: 1998

Buick’s lineup during the nineties was somewhat bland and uninspiring to say the least. That’s one of the reasons why they’ve devised the Signia concept car. Another is their aspiration to create their very first crossover. Introduced at Detroit Auto Show in 1998 and based on Park Avenue sedan, Insignia featured all-wheel drive, lots of space and that wagon-crossover squared-off rear. So, what went wrong? Well, just look at it. It’s swollen, ugly and not at all practical. That glass hatchback canopy coupled with swing-out doors, bloated rear fenders and misshapen grille really ruined it. Futuristic interior made out of wood with golf club instead of a shifter wasn’t much better either. Even their first crossover, the Rendezvous (which looked nothing like Signia), didn’t look or perform much better.

Packard Twelve

Year: 1998

Packard Twelve concept car was a one-off attempt at reviving the long gone Packard brand. Roy Gullickson, entrepreneur and engineer came to the idea back in 1991, and he finally acquired the rights and completed the car in 1998 with the help of Lawrence Johnson, fellow automotive engineer. Sadly, the fruit of their almost decade-long labor was one ugly $1.5 million worth of investment. All-wheel drive concept was finally presented at the 25th anniversary celebration of Arizona Packards in Tuscon, in October 1998. One of the precious few good points about the car was its custom-built 573-horsepower V-12 mill. That and the fact it actually sold for $143,000 at Sotheby’s Motor City auction in 2014.

Pontiac Aztek

Year: 1999

Another one of Detroit Auto Show busts, this one doesn’t come as a surprise really. What still baffles me, however, is the fact the car actually got the green light. Not only that, but it was basically carried over straight into production phase with little to no changes. The result was something every respectable car journalist simply had to condemn in his review. Come to think of it, concept actually had a little bit more pizzazz to it than the original, hence it probably looked better. Just slightly, though.

Honda Fuya-Jo

Year: 1999

OK, it might have been presented in Tokyo – and we know a lot of crazy stuff gets revealed there – but still: “What the heck was that thing?” Honda Fuya-Jo is hardly a car. It’s more of a transporter. Since Fuya-Jo essentially translates to “sleepless city”, we can at least try and grasp the idea behind this awkwardest of concepts. It was aimed at “nightbirds” whose way of life demanded a car in which they would be able to fully enjoy their night(s) out. Fuya-Jo’s height which allowed the occupants to stand up and dance, it’s sound system with DJ mixing desk, and bar stool-like seats encouraged exactly that. Still, that doesn’t make it any more appealing to the eye.

Dodge Super8 Hemi

Year: 2001

Built more like a tank than a car, Dodge Super8 Hemi concept was actually a homage to the cars from the fifties. Reversed A pillars, upright windshield, slightly finned tail-lights and bench seat on the inside are all reminiscent of the 50’s era. On the other hand, Super8 managed to be contemporary and futuristic even. It had satellite radio, voice command system, and Infotronic system which enabled Super8 to offer limited internet access. That was back in 2001, mind you. All that didn’t help it look any better than it did.

Honda Unibox

Year: 2001

A see-through car is strange enough, but when it’s also box-shaped and hybrid-powered, then you know it’s a definite oddball. Only in Japan, however, as it first appeared at the Tokyo Auto Show. Apart from the transparent polycarbonate panels, Honda Unibox featured six ultra-lightweight aluminum wheels with built-in shock absorbers, navigation-linked headlights, pedestrian-protection front air bag system, and even two fold-up motorbikes stored within the rear doors. Good enough for 2001, but still ugly as… (you insert the appropriate word).

Toyota Pod

Year: 2001

Presented in – you guessed it – Tokyo, Toyota Pod was created in a joint venture with Sony. It was integrated with Sony’s then new DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication) system and mood reflection system which flashed different exterior light colors depending on driver’s mood. While quite advanced for its time, one can’t fail but to think that such industrial powerhouses like Toyota and Sony could have come up with something better than an overgrown toaster.

Ford SYNus

Year: 2005

There was a little bit of 2004 Bronco concept in it, but SYNus never had the same chance as the iconic SUV. Furthermore, 2004 Bronco concept was simply badass, while squared-off bank vault that was SYNus, never looked serious enough. Sure, it had the menacing front, but the rear, completed with four-spoke spin handled doors, was simply too much. Like the 2004 Bronco concept, SYNus was also powered by the 2.0L turbodiesel 4-cylinder engine making 134 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. It was built upon Fiesta’s platform, though, which speaks a lot about its size really.

Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car

Year: 2005

Mercedes-Benz Bionic was introduced at the Deimler Chrysler Innovation Symposium in Washington, D. C. At the time of its introduction, Bionic had only one job in its mind. Lower emissions. Although powered by 1.9L turbodiesel engine, it features up to 80% lower nitrogen oxide emissions – courtesy of its Selective Catalytic Reduction technology. Now, although quite advanced, Mercedes-Benz Bionic doesn’t really showcase the most beautiful of designs. After all, it has been modeled after a fish. Yellow Boxfish that lives in coral reefs, to be more precise.

Nissan Pivo

Year: 2005

Although selecting the original Pivo from the 2005 Tokyo Auto Show, it’s tough deciding which of the three oddball Pivo’s is the ugliest. Pivo 2 from 2007 and Pivo 3 from 2011 Tokyo shows have made quite the cases for themselves too. Anyway, small and awkward Pivo is a 360 degree rotating car which essentially eliminates the need for reversing. Moreover, parking’s easier that way too. But, why in God’s name couldn’t have it looked a little bit more… normal?

Honda Puyo

Year: 2007

Just another blobby car coming from the Tokyo Auto Show. At least at first glance. Honda Puyo, however, has made a few points upon introduction. It’s a pedestrian-friendly car with no edges whatsoever, and it’s powered by a fuel cell making it green in the process. Puyo also glows in the dark and illuminates the proper path for the driver. Guess it needed to do so for it has the joystick instead of a steering wheel. Then again, there’s the looks. Not exactly on par with the advanced technology used in it.

Scion Hako Coupe

Year: 2008

A proof that oddball compacts aren’t exclusively reserved for the Tokyo show. Scion Hako Coupe based on the xB hatch first made its appearance in New York. However, as you can imagine, it was put into motion by the Tokyo Design Division. It emphasizes on American vintage design, hence its boxy shape. Although we have nothing against boxy shape in general, Hako Coupe simply looks dreadful thanks to its wraparound windows, extremely flared fenders and upright windshield among other things. Take a look at it yourselves.

Assystem City Car

Year: 2008

Assystem City Car was developed through joint venture between Assystem and Sbarro. Unlike modern concept of the car, Assystem City Car incorporates the novel wheel arrangement. Two wheels in the middle are fixed, while front and rear wheel are able to rotate 180 degrees. That’s neat and handy in city crowds as the name of the car suggests, but yet again, there’s the questionable styling that remains a thorn in our eyes. Not even the swinging doors can help it.

Tang Hua Book of Songs

Year: 2008

Some might find this ugly duckling cute, but as far as concept cars go, Chinese offspring is as bad as they get. Even the name is rather questionable. Book of Songs simply doesn’t sit all that well in the western world and that wouldn’t have been the problem had it not debuted in Detroit. But back to the car itself. Book of Songs by Tang Hua is one small electric car with electric motor up front and no trunk whatsoever. Since we’re already slamming it for its looks, try flipping the image of Book of Songs upside down in your head. Do you see what I see? Let me help you: it starts with the P, has five letters and ends with an S (and that’s the nice way of saying it).

Sbarro Autobau

Year: 2010

Just like Assystem City Car which was revealed in Geneva and in which Sbarro had their hands involved, Autobau too was first presented in Switzerland. And boy, did it shock the crowd! It’s easily one of the ugliest cars we’ve ever seen overall, let alone one of the ugliest concept cars. It was intended as Swiss racer Fredy Lienhard’s tribute, but one wonders if Franco Sbarro secretly hated the guy given Autobau’s aesthetics (or lack of them). At least it’s powered by a beauty – a V-12 Ferrari engine packing 500 horsepower that’s stuck somewhere in the back.

Lexus LF-SA

Year: 2015

Although featuring Lexus’ current design language, LF-SA is simply way too small to ever make production under luxury maker’s wing. Maybe if it was Smart. Then there’s the problem with it being a little bit too ugly for a Lexus as well. Concept cars are expected to be futuristic, free of usual constraints and wacky even, but LF-SA takes all this in the wrong direction. Furthermore, with only 11 feet of length, LF-SA dares to accommodate up to four persons. Well, at least it might try to. I highly doubt it can.

Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo

Year: 2015

As it’s name aptly suggests, this Mercedes-Benz concept was first revealed in Japan. Given its blobby nature, it doesn’t really come as a surprise. Not only that, but Vision Tokyo glows like the streets of the city by which it was named. Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo is one highly advanced car as well. Powered by a fuel cell with up to 600 miles of total range, Vision Tokyo is essentially a vanguard of next generation of cars. Not only because of its futuristic glowing looks and contemporary powertrain, but also because of the fact it’s another one of those autonomous vehicles we’ve been reading so much about lately.

Chevrolet FNR

Year: 2015

Produced by Shanghai-based Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC), Chevrolet FNR is the latest addition to the GM portfolio of self-driving cars. And it’s likely one of their most inspiring ones at that. If not the most inspiring. Although it looks like it’s just been pulled off from the new Batman movie set, FNR still doesn’t qualify as one of the prettier concept cars. In fact, it’s simply overwhelming, and in the wrong way at that. There’s a tender line between what’s tastefully futuristic and what’s overdone, and Chevy FNR has crossed that line by miles.

Honda NeuV

Year: 2017

One of the latest additions in the world of oddball self-driving concept cars comes from Honda. Revealed at 2017 CES in Las Vegas, NeuV is actually one rather handy vehicle. Being powered by a 20kWh battery pack and 55 kW motors, it’s actually able to help the local grid in times of high demand for electrical power. That’s one way it actually earns money to its owner. There’s another way it’s able to do so and that one is even more palpable. Honda’s ride-sharing service allows other people to rent the NeuV while owner isn’t using it. If only it looked better, maybe someone would actually be willing to rent it.

Rinspeed Oasis

Year: 2017

Also a two seat autonomous car and also presented at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Rinspeed Oasis is as wacky as they come. Not only visually either for it sports a real garden between the seats and the dash. A garden in which you can plant small plants of all kinds. In a car. I’m not joking. Apparently, Swiss company puts great emphasis on ride enjoyment and relaxation. That’s the reason Rinspeed Oasis features oasis of sorts within itself. Although boxy and see-through, I wouldn’t call it ugly. Awkward for sure, though, and it’s a new arrival too so we felt the need to spread the word. Plus, most people will likely find it unappealing which is a feat concept cars often do.

Categories: Gear Grinding

Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Although driving a piece of junk, Nikola is a true car enthusiast. Very few things move him as muscle cars do - especially those from the golden era. Which makes him wonder: why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been able to enjoy the likes of Pontiak Aztek, Fiat Multipla, and the likes this way - right?