The ugly car blues

By David Thomson on Sat, 4 Nov 2017


Why is it that almost all cars that look great when first released appear ugly - or at best nondescript - by the time they are a quarter of a century old, only to start looking great again four or five decades later?

That is a question my 18-year-old son and I found ourselves pondering on a Monday afternoon drive down Anderson's Bay Rd last week.

Mooching along in after-work traffic, we chanced upon a well-kept late-1980s or early-1990s Peugeot 405 Mi16. ``See that car there, it was considered a real looker in its day,'' I declared.

After a moment processing a colloquialism as dated as the car itself _ praise in modern idiom, apparently, is to describe a car as ``sick'' _ my son shot me a disbelieving look.

Yet I'm sure any Drivesouth reader who was in their late teens or early 20s at the time this Peugeot model was launched will confirm my comments. With lines provided by Italian styling house Pininfarina, the 405 was one of the sharpest looking cars of its day. The Mi16 boasted the extra appeal of a sports body kit and a zesty 16-valve fuel-injected engine, good for a then impressive 119kW of power.

Having discussed the trajectory of the 405, we spent the rest of our drive home spotting other cars suffering from the mid-life good-looks blues: a couple of 20-year-old Honda Preludes, various mildly sporty Ford Falcons, the most recent Holden Monaro, an early Subaru Impreza WRX, and several mid and upper-range Europeans.

We agreed that Land Rovers (including Range Rovers, but excluding the Freelander) and Jaguars seem to have a general immunity to ageing poorly. So to do most Nissan Z-cars, Porsche and Ferrari models, just about all utes, and select specific models, such as the Mazda MX-5 and Mark II Ford Escort.

And some cars are, presumably, destined to be ugly for all time; there may be many good reasons for buying a Nissan Tiida or Toyota Platz, but attractive styling will never be one of them.

Hope for those cars that looked good once, but do not have immunity from ageing, rests in surviving long enough to come out the other side and gain visual recognition as a classic. That's the point that those few remaining HQ Holdens from the 1970s (and Falcons of a similar age) have reached in recent years.

Presumably there was even a time in the 1980s when such obvious classics as an original mid-1960s Mustang, Corvette or Camaro was considered past it? Surely not, my son asserts, they were always ''sick''.

David Thomson