Some of these cars looked dated the moment they were born.
There's a reason the greatest designers in the world earn the big bucks. Design is not easy. Automotive design is particularly challenging as the designers are working within many parameters and alongside engineers that need to tick individual boxes. A designer can sketch out the coolest looking car in the world, but if it has no room for the engine, doesn't line up with safety standards, or is aerodynamically unsound, then it's not a good design. Designers are also subject to fashions that come and go in varying lengths of time, engineers, or even worse, bean counters peering over their shoulders, and even worse than that, executives that think they know best.
In other words, there's a lot of room for a design to get to market that is less than ideal. Usually, we like to celebrate great designs and concepts, but it's time to look at those cars that really did not age well. In fact, these looked old the first day they hit the showroom.
The Ferrari 575M Maranello was, essentially, a 550 Maranello with some drivetrain updates minor changes in style by Pininfarina. It's a front-engined rear-wheel-drive sports car that reviewers loved in 2002 and Car And Driver favored over the Aston Martin Vanquish. However, the Ferrari might have outperformed the Vanquish, but there's no argument as to which has aged better. The Ferrari is instantly identifiable as a turn of the century car, and even with the Pininfarina design studio's updates, it still looks like a mid-1990s car with its awkward hood and a long overhang at the front.
As we'll see more and more through this list, nothing is more dangerous in automotive design as retro styling. It takes a light touch to pull it off while embracing contemporary design trends. Unfortunately, even then, if the modern design trends and the older design cues don't work together, you end up with Jaguar's S-Type, which was introduced in 2000 as a precursor to the Jaguar XF, but had its headlight and grille styling inspired by the original 1960s-era sedan with the smoothed off aerodynamics that the 1990s favored. The result is a car derived from a car renowned for timeless styling but which failed and instantly dated itself. It looked good in flashy, heavily stylized photographs, but in the real world, it didn't hold up at all.
When we think of excellent retro car designs, we think of the Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro, and even golden superminis like the Fiat 500 and the Mini. We try and forget things like the PT Cruiser, but the Cruiser is unique in that there are still so many on the road. Chrysler tried too hard to jump on the turn of the century retro influence with a hot-rod-inspired wagon, and the result was a car that looked out of date almost instantly. Had Chrysler given it a big engine, we might be singing its praises now as one of the coolest short-run production vehicles yet. However, what we have is an automotive cockroach that won't die. Worse still, Chrysler then made it a convertible.
Chief designer for Ford, Jack Telnack, at the time of the third generation Ford Taurus, likened the previous two generations to "a pair of slippers." The thing is, the people that bought Ford Taurus and Mercury Sables are the kinds of customers that like comfortable pair of slippers, and for whatever reason, Telnak and his team over-corrected. The 1996 Taurus reeked of being a try-hard design that went all-in on the zeitgeist of the 1990s automotive landscape with ultra-smooth lines and oval shapes. Even the rear window is oval-shaped, and the motif is carried on to cringe-worthy effect on the inside.
By the time Acura's attempt at a BMW-style four-door luxury coupe crossover started production in 2009, it already looked horribly dated. Amazingly, it was Acura America's first car design, and it came from the pen of a rookie designer called Michelle Christensen. Christensen is probably not to blame, though, as the designer's renderings were barely altered for the production model, suggesting there was a rush to market to compete with BMW's X6 model. Acura's engineers must've leaned heavily on the cad design too, because this coupe had more straight lines than curves.
The Chrysler Crossfire had a lot of potential for success. Mercedes had an ownership stake in the company, and the Crossfire was built on the Mercedes-Benz R170 platform, which made it pretty much a first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK underneath. It was a hand-me-down platform, but a good one. The production model was incredibly close to the original concept, but Chrysler was hellbent on having a retro feel and overplayed its hand. At the time, reviewers compared the rear end favorably to the boat-tailed Rambler Marlin from the 1960s. It didn't age well, though, and the overall language in the lines reminds us of the PT Cruiser. Chrysler came close to doing something amazing with the Crossfire, and all the automaker needed to do was take a leaf from Mercedes' book and tone it down a little.
Nothing reminds you some people were still rocking a mullet haircut hard in the 1990s like a Pontiac Firebird. It came to market for its fourth generation as a caricature of its former self, and just before stylists worked out that designing using a wind tunnel didn't mean you had to let the wind entirely dictate the lines. Underneath, the fourth-gen Firebird was basically a Chevrolet Camaro built to Pontiac standards - which means you should have bought the Camaro. We're not sure what was the worst aspect of this design - the pop-up headlights were awkward, the wing was just weird, and that massive hood scoop... just no.
It's hard not to cringe at the Crosstour's turtleback styling. We suspect it was a case of the car being designed to a spec then handed over to a design team that did their best to cloth it. It's truly a crossover in that the Crosstour was an attempt to turn the Accord into a blend of a wagon and an SUV. However, it didn't drive as well as the Accord sedan, and its sloping roof compromised rear-passenger headroom and cargo space. Above all, it looked wrong from the start, and in 2012 when it launched, crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV-4 were showing everyone a crossover could drive as well as most people wanted a car to drive, and they looked better, too.
The perennial whipping boy of the automotive world's styling fails. The Pontiac Aztek was styled by Tom Peters, who went on to design the C7 generation Corvette, so it's hard to blame him. The problem started when GM decided that 40 percent of its products would be "innovative." Anyone who has spent time in corporate America knows that's a recipe for disaster, and in this case, it set Pontiac on a path that disconnected the brand with its customers. And anything that looked "radical" and might appeal to Generation X was green-lit.
Compounding the problem was that Don Hackworth was in charge of development, and he was an old-school boomer with a totalitarian management style. Bob Lutz quoted him as saying: "I don't want any negative comments about this vehicle. None. Anybody who has bad opinions about it, I want them off the team."