Motorsport has produced some incredible beauty over the years, some machinery that is really artwork rather than just industrial design – even cars that have been displayed in art galleries. But sometimes the opposite has happened, and it’s produced cars you wish you’d never seen. Here’s a selection of some of the very worse offenders.
The seven ugliest racing cars of all time
F1 began a brand new era in 2014. All-new hybrid engines arrived, and the cars transitioned away from high nose-boxes that had got higher and higher with every passing season – it was to be the beginning of something special. But as with so many things in motorsport, they began it very badly.
Never mind the fact that the first V6 hybrids made birdsong seem loud, it was the fact that suddenly pretty much every car seemed to have had a sex toy attached to its nose. Simply, this was because new rules mandated that the nose must be low, but only set a small minimum width that must reach down to the new level. Engineers, not wanting to lose the better airflow that the high noses had brought, mostly chose to keep the nose high, and extend a thin section down toward the nose to fulfill the needs of the regulations. They all looked awful.
The most heinous crime toward aesthetic taste that this brought was the Caterham CT05. In 2014 Caterham were on the verge of going out of business, and you could tell there was no real money in the design department at the first race. The first version of the CT05 looked hideous and basic. The team tried to hide the CT05’s long proboscis by paining it black, but there was simply no avoiding it. Later in the year a new version of the nose, which looked more like some other team’s interpretations, was introduced – looking marginally better. But the original CT05 was a crime against humanity.
Daytona Prototypes, at least the ones from the first and second generations, were hideous. All of them. In fact it’s hard to pick one out that looks worst. The first gen cars looked stubby and bulbous, and the second generation just made the whole situation worse, with big high cockpits that made the cars look fat. Most of the cars did at least try to create some kind of smooth outline, even if they knew there was basically no hope. Dallara however, decided to just go all in.
The DP-01 added to all the usual problems with Daytona Prototypes, by adding a gaping nose to the front, or is it a mouth? Whatever it is it’s hideous. Depending which team/engine it was running with, the headlight shape either made the DP-01 look so angry it had screwed its entire face up, or so surprised it was pulling some kind of weird duck face. Unfortunately for Dallara, there are not enough Instagram filters to make the DP-01 look good. It wasn’t even that successful either, being constantly trounced by the only slightly less ugly Riley chassis. A handful of wins later and the Dallara DP-01 was thankfully confined to the history books, as DP regs changed to allow more road car styling cues. If you ever get the chance to see one of these monsters in the flesh it’s worth it, mostly to see if your eyes can handle that amount of ugly, but also because most DP cars were fitted with giant V8s, and sound incredible.
Oh Panoz, what have you done? The Esperante GTR was awesome, the LMP-1 Roadster was incredible, the LM07 was weird but cool, even the Esperante GTLM looks OK. The 2011 Abruzzi, is just awful. This was Dr. Don Panoz’s big return to racing with his Panoz outfit – based in the US state of Georgia, just around the corner from Road Atlanta.
Let’s look at the good points first. It was powered by a 600PS, 800Nm, 6.2-litre supercharged V8 – an LS3 to be precise – it was a manual, and it had a Panoz badge. That’s it. Everything else is awful. Just look at it! The Abruzzi looks, quite frankly, like the Batmobile had a hideous accident. Even if we ignore that strange double-decker nose arrangement somehow, the rest of the car is just a mess. The rear is too fat, the wheels are way to small and in racing form the rear haunches just look odd. But at least it was successful. No, wait, it wasn’t. The Abruzzi raced once, in the 2011 Sebring 12 Hours, completing a magnificent 19 laps, before disappearing. And with it went Panoz’s road car division. Thankfully this was not the final car produced during Don Panoz’s lifetime – the much less ugly Avezzano came along in 2017 – because that would have been a travesty.
Be very clear here, if you Google ‘Ensign N179’, an image search will feed you a lot of pictures of a not particularly bad looking car. Do not be fooled. Focus your eyes on the one with the cheese grater on the front, and if you think that’s an odd description for a racing car, you’ll believe us when you see it.
It’s hard to work out what happened when they designed the N179. My best guess, is that the whole process went fine, until they took the wraps off the car and someone said to designer Dave Baldwin “Oi, Dave, so where’s the radiator then?”, at which point they realized they’d forgotten to include it. With little time to get the car ready for the new season (it missed the first two rounds) they just stuck it on the front and hoped it would work. Or at least that’s how I imagine it – it’s probably got more to do with cooling and other boring stuff. At the end of the day the initial N179 is hideous and we should all pity Derek Daly and Patrick Gaillard for having to be seen in it. Thankfully, like many on this list, an updated car came along later, with radiators where you would expect them to be, but the initial N179 should never be forgotten.
Porsche 917/20 – Pink Pig
Controversy! There’s people jumping to the Facebook comments right now, and others just plain closing the tab and not returning, but those of you still here, hear me out. When you stick a very specific livery on the Porsche 917/20, it is awesome. But if you look at the car objectively, and remove that livery, it’s a bit ugly. This one is more in this list due to the difference between its reputation and its actual looks than because it’s absolutely gopping, but I’m afraid the Pink Pig was objectively ugly. So ugly that, allegedly, its Martini sponsors refused to stick their livery on it – hence the one-off outfit. Whether that story is true or not, I cannot confirm. But the fact that the story exists is a measure of how unfortunate the 917/20 actually looks.
Born as a halfway house between the mighty 917K and the elegant, long-tailed 917/LH, the Pink Pig just does not live up to either of its forebears – and it wasn’t a success. Taking to Le Mans with a face only a mother could love, it qualified seventh, crashed out, and never raced again. It now lives in the Porsche museum, and is a cult icon. But that doesn’t mean it escapes our keen eye for ugly.
Why was Formula 1 so darned ugly between 2009 and 2016? It was meant to be the new, prettier era, ending the period of time when the cars were festooned with thousands of aerodynamic flicks and twists. The new cars were to be sleek and they would also be able to follow each other better thanks to new wings. But, no. Not at all. The 2009 cars were not pretty. They had high, thin rear wings and massive wide front wings, which looked completely out of proportion with each other. Some cars looked okay, like the championship winning Brawn BGP 001, or the Williams FW31. But some were just ugly. And the worst offender of all, the Renault R29 was not only ugly, it was quite simply fat and slow.
Renault had been on the way up in the second half of the previous year, winning races in the hands of Fernando Alonso. But even one of the greatest drivers of all time could not pull the R29 above fifth during the first 13 rounds of the 2009 season. The R29 was wide at the back, and wide at the front, with a nosecone that looked like it was hewn from a block of stone, rather than moulded from carbon-fibre. And if you take a closer look, you’ll see it was actually even bigger than you first thought. Renault painted the underside of the nose black to hide just how big it was. And speaking of paint, this whole sandwich of awfulness was topped off with the pickle of an atrocious livery, which looked like the inside of Cadbury Creme Egg had been poured over it. Disgusting.
I feel harsh adding the DeltaWing here, as so many things about the design are awesome. It was originally a candidate to be the new generation of IndyCar. Then, when IndyCar followed the entire rest of the single-make world by adopting a Dallara chassis, it was transformed into a sportscar, with the help of the aforementioned Don Panoz and a bit of help from Nissan (although much less than they claimed). It raced at Le Mans, it looked awesome, it raced in the ALMS, it looked just as awesome, they stuck a roof on it to comply to new regulations, it looked... awful. Suddenly this lightweight, funky sportscar, was stuck with one of the problems that cursed the Dallara DP-01 and others: a silly, high, domed cockpit. And it was then swathed in a chrome livery, which hid precisely nothing. The DeltaWing coupe looked awful and it made us feel sad. A splitter was added to the front eventually, but that just gave it a double chin. Every revision made it worse. Thankfully it retired in 2017 after IMSA introduced DPi regulations and we didn’t have to see it again. We can only hope that someone, somewhere, has returned it to the original format, so we might one day see it as we wish to remember it.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
Which of these racing cars was hit hardest with the ugly stick?
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