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Automotive Oddballs

Avert your eyes. Run for the hills. And call the National Guard. The mutants are attacking. Not from outer space, but from car factories right here on planet Earth. It’s time to don the 3-D glasses and check out some freaks of the four-wheeled variety.

The list doesn’t include cars of the ‘60s or earlier, so don’t look here for Edsels and the like. And it only includes one model from the American Motors Corporation, because there’s just not room for all the mutant masterpieces from that sadly defunct company. Finally, there are no Eastern European junkers such as the Yugo or Trabant, because some targets are just too easy.

This isn’t just a list of Uglymobiles, or it might have to make room for the likes of the Honda Ridgeline. Outside of its, well, unusual styling, the Ridgeline is actually a useful and well-designed vehicle. But to be a genuine mutant, a car has to be seriously out-of-whack for more than just its styling. Just to make sure today’s cars don’t escape our wrath, a couple of current models are on the list.

Suzuki X-90
The X-90 had to be the most bombastically bizarre production car of the past 20 years. This anemic SUV-meets-sports car was a punch line, minus the punch. Even its sci-fi name recalls the classic Marvin the Martian bit from Bugs Bunny: “That creature has stolen my Suzuki X-90 space modulator!”

1975 AMC Pacer
I have to confess that I once drove a beat-up, burnt-orange AMC Gremlin. I blame my dad, who brought it home like an abandoned three-legged dog. Yet the Pacer, if possible, was even stranger than the Gremlin. Looking like a toxic bubble brewed up from a industrial canal, the Pacer was also portly, sluggish, thirsty and laughably space inefficient. In other words, Motown’s idea of an economy car.

2008 Dodge Nitro
Wait a second, isn’t nitro something unstable and explosive? Well, my eyes certainly burn whenever the Dodge drives into view. Looking like a Hummer formed from melted G.I Joe dolls, the Nitro belongs to that embarrassing breed — cars that try to look expensive, but that any onlooker can tell is cheaper than topsoil. Throw in clumsy handling and a mediocre powertrain, and the Nitro drives as well as it looks.

2006 Chevrolet SSR
Hard to choose between the Lincoln Blackwood and the SSR — one a loser, the other a snoozer. But we’ll go with the SSR for raising hopes with its hot-rod looks, then totally dashing them with gutless performance, a wonky convertible top and a shocking $42,000 price. GM claimed to have built just over 24,000 SSRs between 2003 and 2006, but considering how few anyone has ever seen, I figure GM must have secretly shipped them to some Third World country.

2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class
The slow-selling R-Class has proven, like the Chrysler Pacifica before it, that the three-row, six-passenger layout has its issues. The result is an overweight, overpriced and fuel-thirsty SUV that can carry just four adults in comfort, no more than you’d fit in a Honda Civic or other compact car. It doesn’t help that the R-Class looks like a hearse for affluent corpses. With buyers flocking to Benz’ superior GL- and M-Class models instead, Mercedes appears on the verge of putting the R-Class out of its misery.

Isuzu VehiCROSS
When Isuzu rolled out the VehiCROSS in for 1999, some in the media called the design “ahead of its time.” What time did they mean? When Rosie O’Donnell is named Miss Universe? The VehiCROSS had a starring role in the film Mission to Mars, a planet that was more hospitable to Isuzu’s lunatic lander. Here on Earth, Isuzu managed to sell barely 4,000 units to Americans over three years. One of those rare VehiCROSSes, in fact, is parked in my neighborhood in . To this day, people point at it and laugh.

Pontiac Aztec with Tent Attatchment
Making fun of the Aztek has become almost like mocking the handicapped, so I’m determined to say something nice. OK, here goes: The little pop-up tent thing was a pretty good idea. And I suppose “Aztek” is a better name than "Touareg" or "Tiguan."

1996 Buick Roadmaster Wagon
In 1991, the same year the modern SUV craze kicked off with Ford’s new Explorer, Buick’s big idea was the Roadmaster. The Roadmaster borrowed its name from the ‘40s, its fake-wood paneling from the ‘60s and its chassis from the ‘70s, proving that Buick’s leaders were closely attuned to the latest trends and technologies. A trip in the Buick’s floaty back seat could produce instant seasickness, and taking a fast turn felt like driving a waterbed at 70 mph.

2006 Subaru Baja
Once wasn’t enough for Subaru, whose previous car-meets-truck monstrosity (the Brat) became the perfect white-trash chariot for Jaime Pressly’s character Joy on “My Name is Earl.” The Baja, circa 2003-2006, was a plastic-wrapped eyesore that married the worst features of tiny trucks and cars. A scrawny, useless cargo bed was combined with a cramped back seat and an underpowered four-cylinder engine. The Baja actually drove decently — but what sane person would get close enough to notice?

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