15 November 2013

Love ’em or Hate ’em: Five of the most controversial cars ever

The old phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” wasn’t coined in reference to cars, but it might as well have been. Some cars, like the 1963-67 Corvette Sting Ray and Jaguar E-Type, are almost universally admired, while others are passionately loved by some and loathed by others. Here are five of the most polarizing:

  1. 1963-64 Studebaker Avanti: The Avanti was a Hail Mary play to save the ailing Studebaker Corporation with a stunning European-style GT car. Ardent Avanti fans point to its fairly timeless styling, which was supervised by the great Raymond Loewy, and the fact that the car remained in production in one form or another for five decades. Non-fans find the grill-less front end and porthole-like headlights to be a non-starter. A recent uptick in prices may indicate that Avanti lovers will have the last laugh on this one.
  2. 1971-73 Buick Riviera: The Boattail Riviera was one of the last truly audacious GM creations, and William Mitchell pulled out all of the stops with a huge, dramatic design including a pointed boattail reminiscent of some great 1930s cars. Haters just find it huge and over-the-top. 
  3. 1980-85 Cadillac Seville: The slant back or bustle trunk Seville was —like the Boattail Riviera — in some ways a throwback to the 1930s-1950s, cribbing a trunk from Bentleys and Daimlers of the era. Some people will come to blows over the merits of this version of the Seville, while some find it to be a caricature; it’s best if these two groups aren’t sharing the same air space. Regardless, nobody sits on the fence about this car.
  4. 1965-69 Chevrolet Corvair: The first-generation Corvair, introduced in 1959, was a pleasing and clean design. But the second-generation was drop-dead gorgeous. No less an authority than David E. Davis, Jr., writing for Car and Driver, called it one of the most beautiful cars America had produced during the post-war era. But many bow-tie fans — used to fins and lots of chrome or the long hood, short rear deck look of the Camaro and Chevelle — found nothing to like about the Corvair. We tend to agree with the fans here. It’s a beautiful little car.
  5. 1955-75 Citroën DS: In its native France, the DS can do no wrong. The letters “D-S” in French sound remarkably like the French word for “goddess.” But then the French also think that Jerry Lewis is a god. To most Americans, the sci-fi style of the DS just comes off as whale-like and weird.

42 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Scott McGrath Sunny South Florida November 18, 2013 at 12:55
    I'm interested in seeing how the last-gen "Bubble" B-bodies from GM play out going forward. When they first came out, I thought, after the box-Caprices of the past, that they were ugly blobs, but have, over time grown to rather like them (especially in the '94-'96 Impala SS form). The wagons were even more polarizing, first horrendous, and now not only attractive, but amongst the best vehicles to come off of those long used assembly lines.
  • 2
    Dave Iowa November 19, 2013 at 10:17
    What about the Tri five Chevies, the 55-57!
  • 3
    Noel North Carolina November 21, 2013 at 21:44
    I think my AMC Matador Coupes might qualify. It always amazes me and my wife how much attention they get everywhere they go. Whether people love them or hate them they consistently draw a smile to those whom spot them.
  • 4
    George Whiteley Blairsville, GA November 27, 2013 at 13:40
    What, no AMC Pacer?
  • 5
    Bill Evergreen,CO November 27, 2013 at 13:44
    The Citröen is a great car! What about the SM (Maserati engine)?
  • 6
    Norm California November 27, 2013 at 13:45
    How long will it be before the Pontiac Aztek becomes a collectible??
  • 7
    Steve NJ November 27, 2013 at 14:50
    The Pacer and Gremlin can also be on this list.
  • 8
    Scott Tulsa November 27, 2013 at 16:03
    What? no BMW Zed 3 Coupe? Love that car but a lot of "haters" out there.
  • 9
    SteV8 Nor Cal November 27, 2013 at 16:05
    Love'm or Leave'm they all can be viewed from an archeologist point of view....What was going on in the company that made them and what was going on in the country at the time of design/manufacture. T the time even the 70's seemed cool, but looking back.....What were we thinking!
  • 10
    BruceGlickman YuleeFl. November 27, 2013 at 16:15
    Thought corvair ended in 1966 with camaro starting in 67
  • 11
    Jerry Gardner United States November 27, 2013 at 16:52
    I think the early Buick Riviera are the most Beautiful cars ever produced. My father bought a new one in '63 and I always wanted one but could never afford it. I am still looking for the right one and will buy one if I can find it. I presently have a 51 Ford 2 door sedan and a 35 Ford pick up, crazy about those Flathead V8's
  • 12
    Jim Hester Bloomingdale, Il. 60108 November 27, 2013 at 17:36
    Citroen? That's not even a car! It's a French "after birth"! JPH
  • 13
    Dave Pyle Houston TX November 27, 2013 at 18:01
    I'm hooked on Avantis for reasons other than design even though I like the way they look. Mechanically they were somewhat more advanced for the era. And you are correct they got off to a slow start for production reasons, and high sales price limited acceptance . It has a fiberglass body and that to had its skeptics. I think it is a mistake consider it Studebaker's "Hail Mary"; even though made in South Bend home of Notre Dame that might seem appropriate. Actually It was (new) president Sherwood Egbert's personal contribution and more likely the last nail in a nearly finished coffin. Domestic production ended Dec. 1963...more a 'Swan Song" than Hail Mary. I'm from South Bend and that history goes to my Avanti interest.
  • 14
    Steve Mid-Hudson Valley, NY November 27, 2013 at 18:27
    Interesting comments on the 1965-1969 Corvairs. I have always felt that the best designs out of GM in the 1960's and early 1970's were that second generation Corvair, the early Rivieras, the '61 bubble top Chevy coupe, the '63 split window Corvette and the Opel GT. I have been fortunate to have owned an Opel GT and to currently own a '65 Corvair convertible.
  • 15
    Bob Akron,OH November 27, 2013 at 18:28
    Yes some people may have hated the Boattail Riviera's when they came out, but I happen to love the design. It was the last of that design that you will never see again. I bought a new 71 GS Riviera and I still have it today with only 20,000 original miles and never been restored. The comments and people flocking to see it at car shows is simply amazing. Good clean ones are now commanding $20K & up. The boattail Riv's are now attracting many buyers.
  • 16
    Michael Waters Pinetown NC November 27, 2013 at 18:34
    I agree that the 65-69 Corvair is a gorgeous piece of styling in auto bodywork. And what's not to like about the styling of the Avanti? It was a radical look for its time. But hey, I even like those boat-tailed Rivieras from the early seventies. Someday, some of you will regret your ridicule and wish you had one in garage. The Citroen DS....well it's French, so you kinda have to make allowances there. But the bustle-backed Seville? Now that thing was UGGGLEEEEE. Still is.
  • 17
    Bruce McMillan Manhattan, Kansas November 27, 2013 at 19:02
    I happen to own one of the "bubble" GM B-Bodies, a 1995 Buick Roadmaster with 204,000 miles on it. It looks great, rides like a dream and is at times mistaken for a Cadillac. I bought it new, sold it to a neighbor with 182,000 miles on it, bought it back from the estate with 187,000 miles when the neighbor passed away 4 years later and will keep it as long as I am driving. I use it as a back up and for enjoyment. I agree with Scott above, it is a great vehicle and will become collectable in a few short years.
  • 18
    Kent South Jersey November 27, 2013 at 19:20
    What? No AMC Pacer? 1970 Dodge Super Bee front end was unique. How about theVolkswagen Thing. Pontiac Aztec. 1974 Monte Carlo. Studebaker Bullet nose. Truth is, there were alot of weird cars. We car lovers love them all. Or should every car be as bland as the .... K-Car.
  • 19
    Tim Blackburn Springfield OH November 27, 2013 at 19:23
    Porsche 928.....I had a fixer-upper for nearly 10 years...Loved and hated it. I WILL have another tho. I see Risky Business and still think you could introduce that car for the first time today and it would look fantastic!
  • 20
    Bob Akron,OH November 27, 2013 at 19:27
    Yes there were some that did not like the boattail Riviera when it came out in 71. But I think it is one of the most beautiful designs that Bill Mitchell ever did. We will never see that design ever again. I bought a new 71 Riviera GS and still have it today. It just turned over 20,000 original miles and has not been restored. People flock to see it at the car shows. The boattails have a very loyal following and clean ones are demanding more than $20K.
  • 21
    RICH SAGE United States November 27, 2013 at 19:35
    The Pontiac Aztec would have to be #6 on the list.
  • 22
    Mike Virginia Beach, VA November 27, 2013 at 19:37
    Most controversial - gotta go with Plymouth Prowler!
  • 23
    Gary Chittenden Canada November 27, 2013 at 19:49
    The Avanti was a little weird for North American tastes. I loved it, except for the headlghts. I think a better design would have them hidden and the bumper higher, The 71 Buick had the most pronounced "Boat tail" and my favourite. The fact that they played it down in the subsequent years tells you that I'm among the minority. The Cadillac looks a little odd to me. I like it, but I must admit, I thought of buying one just to add fins and "real Cadillac tail lights. The Covair is possibly one of the cleanest designs ever. I had one given to me in 1977 /8 and it was great, except I could not get heat in the cabin. I gave it to my first wife. The Citreon DS was amazing in 1955 and for a few more years. The styling was not to my liking, but you have to admire the inovations. Gary C. Design Source / Old School Design
  • 24
    Mark Bardenwerper Wisconsin November 27, 2013 at 21:23
    To love a Citroen D, all you need do is ride in one, or perhaps just get a tour. Without so much as an explanation, the Citroen Ds does come off as strange. But the DS was strange. In fact it was a total rewrite of what and how a car was. The steering wheel had only one spoke. There was no brake pedal. Yet it was the smoothest riding car built in its day and the safest, with air over hydraulic suspension and crumple zones when every other car built was a bouncy-spring battering ram. Disk brakes when they were reserved only for exotics. Need I say more?
  • 25
    Chris Harris USA November 27, 2013 at 22:10
    Huh? Who doesn't love a tri-five Chevy?
  • 26
    Mark Australia November 28, 2013 at 01:33
    My view is - at least these cars have some character about them. Much better than some of the bland jelly beans being offered up by many of today's manufacturers that are totally forgettable and won't make anybody's list for any reason!
  • 27
    Mark Australia November 28, 2013 at 01:34
    My view is - at least these cars have some character about them. Much better than some of the bland jelly beans being offered up by many of today's manufacturers that are totally forgettable and won't make anybody's list for any reason!
  • 28
    Allan Arizona November 28, 2013 at 17:11
    Not tri-five Chevies when it comes to looks. Tri-five (55-57) Fords were much better looking!
  • 29
    Andrea Esler Fontana,Calif November 28, 2013 at 05:54
    I am looking for a STEERING WHEEL CORE for a 1973 super BEETLE-Yes a V W. I've restored. I'm told these are almost obsolete. Even gone to wrecking yards in my area..I want a complete original restoration which is why I need the core for the steering wheel Steering wheels are available , CORES are not.? It's registered as a classic through Hagerty so if you car buffs can help a girl out-it would be greatly appreciated.I know it's only a VW but my youth is in this car and now it's beautiful again-one owner car. Thank you ! Andrea
  • 30
    Mark Timonium, Md November 28, 2013 at 19:44
    I can't believe you overlooked the 65 to 67 Rambler/AMC Marlin. Or maybe the 74 AMC Matador with those hideous headlights.
  • 31
    William Cardinal Michigan November 28, 2013 at 19:47
    The boattail Riv is my favorite.
  • 32
    Gary V Hamlin NY November 28, 2013 at 21:11
    Sounds like the author Rob Sass needs to get out more. Seems like he has never seen a 1960 & 61 Plymouth Valiant, Chryslers first compact car. They are still a "love it or hate it" car, with the oddly sculpted body lines, cats-eye taillights, and continental spare stamped into the trunk lid. Makes the Caddy and Riviera look like shipping boxes. ... Gary V
  • 33
    Manuel Gualco Traverse city November 29, 2013 at 12:32
    Drove my 65 corvair corsa convertible summer and fall. Almost everyone had one, or new someone that owned a corvair. Most said they wished they still did!
  • 34
    Steve East Coast December 1, 2013 at 01:20
    The 60-62 Valiants were so ugly they were cool, articularly the 61-61 coupes
  • 35
    Mike E V San Diego December 1, 2013 at 13:54
    The 4 door hardtop Corvairs of the second generation were very well proportioned andpleasing to the eye. You rarely see a four door.
  • 36
    Mike E V San Diego December 1, 2013 at 13:54
    The 4 door hardtop Corvairs of the second generation were very well proportioned andpleasing to the eye. You rarely see a four door.
  • 37
    Russ Texas December 5, 2013 at 07:19
    I am an avid Studebaker driver but never liked the Avanti. Although Bonneville records and seeing them still used in futuristic films like Gattica says a lot about their endurance. I will say the Avanti looks better in person than photographs. A side story: I met an architect who in college had interned with the Loewy firm. He told me how in the studio he recalled how the firm was working on the most radical, beautiful car design he had ever seen. "The Avanti?" I asked. "No," he answered, "the 53 Starliner."
  • 38
    Jed NY January 16, 2014 at 10:39
    I am glad you included the "bustle back" Seville on your list. I have loved these cars ever since I saw them on the road as a kid. I think it is truly the last exciting design to come from GM. Bill Mitchell was a big supporter of this great design from Wayne Kady, who identifies this car as his favorite design of his career and still owns one. I own an original paint 1980 model with the Cadillac 368 engine. After sorting out the one-year-only fuel injection system, the car runs great and has lots of power. Ride and handling are excellent with the 4-wheel independent suspension. I brought it to the Rhinebeck, NY car show a couple of years ago. The other Cadillac owners came up to me and told me that they liked this car and were glad to see a well preserved example. People have come up to me to tell me what an ugly car I have, but I love it. If you really want one, hold out for an '80, because they have the best mechanicals.
  • 39
    David A Logan Sr Lebanon Penna. April 1, 2015 at 17:40
    As a long time FAN of AMC, and owner of 5 different models, I lament the lack of Pacer's, Hornets, and my Personal all time Favorite, the Ambassador. While some would say the Ambo's styling was run of the mill, itwas to me fantastic! I even liked my Pacer, except for the 232 6 cylinder enging which left it too slow for the cars weight. Dad was a loyal Hudson Man, and switched to AMC, and I followed suit. never regretted that.
  • 40
    Mike Graves Arkansas April 2, 2015 at 03:31
    I think the Avanti is fabulous. I was able to tour the post Studebaker plant in South Bend in 1979 and watched them being hand built. I also love the early Valiants and have owned five of them. There have been plenty of non descript and bland car designs so when a controversial design appears, it at least means some designers were trying !
  • 41
    Cheri McCollough Maryland September 16, 2016 at 09:32
    Where is my 928S Porsche....you either loved it or hate it. I love my 928S!!!
  • 42
    Joe Smalcuga Sarasota Florida July 1, 2017 at 13:23
    I'm partial to the AMC Marlin. The 1965 and 66 Rambler Marlins were ungainly awkward looking vehicles, but the 1967 model was drop dead gorgeous, especially the front end with the Ambassador grille.

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