Bring back some good or bad memories


June 22, 2016

Here's a List of 10 Ugliest Cars From the 1950s

Remember 1958? Eisenhower was president, Pope John XXIII was crowned pontiff, 14-year-old Bobby Fischer won the U.S. chess championship, and Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army.

It was also the year American automakers produced the worst looking cars of the last 60 years: great tail-finned land barges draped in ornamentation and dripping in chrome. Designers had been trying to outdo themselves for so long, they'd lost touch with reality.

Chrysler Corp. got a jump on the competition in 1957 by tearing up its product plans and rushing out a line of cars with big tail fins and three-tone paint jobs. It was called the "Forward Look." General Motors, Ford, and American Motors hurried to compete. Excess was piled on excess. So many design changes had a predictable effect on quality, with Chrysler suffering the most of all.

Customers stayed away in droves. Tastes were changing as more restrained foreign cars made inroads and the paycheck-pinching Eisenhower recession took hold. By 1960 it was all over. Fins were all but gone, along with all the baroque frills that produced cars like rolling jukeboxes.

1958 should serve as a caution to today's automakers as they rush faddish styling ideas -- like four-door coupes, LED lights, or body side molding -- into production. Novelty quickly leads to the commonplace, and then to overuse -- with concomitant results for sales.

Herewith, ten egregious design examples from that forgotten year when designers ran wild, and American motoring taste hit a post-war low.

1. Buick Limited

When asked to describe the minuses of the Buick Limited, one critic summarized it thusly: "Dreadful styling, high thirst, gargantuan size, and barge-like handling: There's no bigger or flashier example of the best and worst in late-50s American cars."

Rushed to market to halt slumping Buick sales, the Limited was decorated rather than designed. Its grille was composed of 160 chrome squares, each styled with four triangular concave surfaces to reflect the light. The body-colored side insert panels featured slanted hash marks for no apparent reason. Heavy chrome surrounded the taillights, and the bumpers featured a pair of "Dagmars," so-named in honor of a busty female TV personality.

The Limited failed to arrest Buick's sales slide, and the model was gone the following year.

2. Chrysler Imperial Crown

While it is comparatively devoid of chrome, the Imperial Crown was a rolling mishmash of unfortunate design ideas.

Quad headlights under heavy brows, Forward Look tailfins, and gunsight tail lamps were standard. The ultra-kitschy FliteSweep Deck Lid with its spare tire bulge was an option, but buyers had to wait a year for the Silvercrest roof, which featured a stainless steel front with a rear body-colored canopy.

The Imperial was supposed to compete head to head with Cadillac, but Chrysler never got around to setting up separate distribution for it, so sales remained only a fraction of the GM brand's.

3. DeSoto Adventurer

By now almost forgotten, DeSoto was a Chrysler brand manufactured from 1928 to 1961. It can't be said the Adventurer did anything to halt its decline.

Another victim of Chrysler's rush to the Forward Look, '58 DeSotos were plagued with leaky roofs, flimsy transmissions, rusting metal, and faulty power steering units. They sure made a statement, though, at more than 18 feet long and two tons in weight.

A side sweep along the flanks directed attention to its fins, tall enough to be mistaken for the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. Unnecessary decorative touches included anodized aluminum triangles in the fins and chrome strips on the trunk lid.

4. Dodge Custom Royal

A late addition to the Dodge lineup, the Custom Royal's Regal Lancer model was added in February as a two-door hardtop with special colors. It featured nameplates at the front of the side spear trim and heavy eyebrow trim over the headlights. In the rear of the car were rocket-booster-shaped taillight fins, stacked to differentiate them from DeSoto's.

To match this dramatic style, Dodge equipped the Custom Royal with five available V8 engine options that sucked gas at the rate of one gallon every ten miles.

5. Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

Making a conscious effort to stand out from GM, Ford mostly ignored tailfins, but its designs were equally awful in their own way. Chief among them on the Turnpike Cruiser were rear fender side channels, twin air intakes at the top of the windshield, a retractable rear window for "Breeze-way" ventilation, and a three-tone paint job.

The car remained in production for only two years. Troublesome electronics and poor assembly quality were partly to blame, but a bigger problem was the unmistakable air of poor taste. Wrote one reviewer: "As one of the great artifacts from the age of automotive excess, it was the wrong product with the wrong features, built at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons."

6. Lincoln Continental Mark IV

Nearly 19 feet long and five feet wide, the Lincoln Continental Mark IV was one of the largest production cars ever made, making its lumpy body and awkward roofline impossible to overlook.

While the 1956 Mark II was the epitome of restraint, the canted headlights and scalloped fenders of the '59 Mark IV were over the top even in a year of conspicuous excess. Continentals of this vintage were known as "slant-eyed monsters."

A decision to reuse the Mark IV name a decade later caused the '59 version to be re-remembered as "The Forgotten Mark." Good call.

7. Edsel Citation convertible

The top-of-the-line Edsel, it bore the notorious "horse-collar" grille that critics said resembled "an Oldsmobile sucking on a lemon." Actually, the grille looked tasteful compared to the anti-tailfin taillights that stretched all the way across the trunk lid.

Inside, the push-button transmission control was located inside the steering-wheel hub -- another rarely imitated design feature because drivers confused it with the horn. The Citation is the landmark of bad taste. Ford put Edsel out of its misery shortly after the start of the 1959 model year.

8. Oldsmobile 98 Holiday coupe

Projectile-shaped chrome strips in front and horizontal strakes in the rear put the Olds in the race for most be-chromed body side panels. The dip in the waistline behind the door was an especially nice touch, not soon to be repeated.

Some models had white roofs with matching white insets on the front fender, previewing the men's haberdashery white belt/white shoes look that became known as the "Full Cleveland."

Big coupes like this one, projecting affluence but astonishingly inefficient in their use of interior space, have all but disappeared from the portfolios of American manufacturers.

9. Packard Hawk

One of four Packards produced during its last year of production, the Hawk was a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk differentiated by a fiberglass front end and a modified deck lid. The changes did nothing to improve its appearance.

A low and wide snout that opened just above the front bumper and stretched the width of the car earned it the nickname "catfish." The metallic gold finish on the tailfins was a unique touch, and the raised spare-tire hump on the trunk lid added another dimension of cheesiness. Just 588 were sold, and then Packard was gone.

10. Rambler Ambassador wagon

In 1957, George Romney, father of Mitt, was running American Motors. He decided that his company's Nash and Hudson brands had outlived their usefulness, so he replaced them with Rambler.

The Ambassador was the top of the line. The pillarless hardtop wagon was especially awkward, with the rear third looking disconnected from the front by virtue of a swooping belt line. Vinyl wood grain decals were available for the adventurous.

In the end, neither the station wagon, the pillarless style, nor American Motors survived. The company was sold to Renault in 1983 and then absorbed by Chrysler in 1987.

(This original article was written by Alex Taylor III, and pubished on


  1. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I found the Continental, Imperial, and (especially) the Adventurer to be lovely designs. I agree with you, however, with the Dodge, Edsel, and (especially) the Hawk. Thanks for the pics!

  2. The 1958 Old was my dream car. My second choice was the Lincoln Continental.

  3. 1958 was Detroit's ugliest year ever, it wasn't one model of one brand, it was every model of every brand. 1958 was the first year of quad headlights, none of the makers had any experience on where to put them or how to tastefully integrate them into the grill so the common theme was to stick them on top of the biggest and ugliest grill possible.

    1. Uh, no. A glaring exception is the 1958 Chevy. A beautiful car with a gorgeous white one featured in “American Graffiti.”

  4. If anyone has one of the first nine cars and they want to get rid of it let me know. I will take it off your hands.

  5. I agree with the first poster. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. The cars that made this list were different, some kinda w weird looking and maybe not for everyone. By 1958 the American car buying public were exposed to excessive everything not just cars. Take for example women fashions weird hair styles that had no real focus. Kinda messy and nondescript. Their clothes were odd too, especially the bras. They made women's brests look like the Dagmars that for some reason were added to the fronts of cars, so the cars fit right in. I like some of the 58 designs. Again looking at the big picture I thought the 58 Oldsmobiles were well done based on space age theme of everything else. I like the way the headlight treatment has that wrap around look. And the afterburner style look that angled forward and backward at the same time. The Buick Limited did have a lot of chrome, but I like the overall design. The hooded headlights were popular at the time, and the grill was elegant and very detailed. Think of the manufacturing time and money that went into that. I also like the shape of the taillights. The GM styling was, pretty complicated. I think the 58 Chevrolet Impala is beautiful. It's grill had a cute female look, and the back was very interesting to look at. Chrysler was in a league of their own, that you either like or don't like but either way not for everyone. I like them. Dodges too. And at Ford, I like what they were doing with the Fairlane and Mercury. But we can all agree the Lincolns were huge and kinda scary looking. At the end of the day, the author was a little harsh; but the beauty is in the eye of the beholder; so I respect his opinions even though I don't agree with him. But aren't we glad the 50s cars are what they are? They are part of American history. And they will never return.

  6. no such thing as an ugly car in the fifties. Beautiful compared to the, all look the same ugly S.U.V'S today!

    1. I own a 59 Cadillac coupe de ville and a 59 Imperial crown with stainless steel roof BOTH beautiful. You can keep your plastic boxes and especially the massive con of electric cars. Built like tanks and still here 60 plus years on. Nice comments EVERY time I go out in them. Obviously, the author has no idea what the word STYLE is. Be a long time before I buy an Asian SUV and watch my money go down the drain very rapidly.

    2. Watch Godfather Two and see that ugly Chrysler Imperial Crown thing as he is being driven around by a chauffer.

  7. To each to his/her own. I highly disagree with the author about these beautiful masterpieces. I may agree on one maybe two of these but these are still works of art on wheels (especially that Adventurer).The author can keep today's blandmobiles.

  8. Definitely some of the best grill designs of all time in most of these models. The Chrysler is a beautiful car. These cars were designed at a time when true artistic craftsmanship was valued.

    1. The author of this article is totally oblivious to what is ugly or not. Should keep his comments to himself.




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