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I Purchased the Ugliest Car Ever Made

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author photo by Doug DeMuro October 2016

When you think of ugly cars, you probably imagine the Pontiac Aztek, the Nissan Juke or maybe the 1990s Fiat Multipla. Compared to the car I just bought, these cars deserve to be displayed in a design museum highlighting the beauty of the automotive form.

I just purchased a 1989 Nissan S-Cargo, which is the single ugliest vehicle ever made. I know what you're thinking, "What about the ... " No. "Well, how about the ... " No. "But did you consider the ... " No. This is it, the ugliest car ever made. It cost me $7,500, and people laugh at me when I drive it down the street.

The primary reason the S-Cargo is the ugliest car ever made is that it was designed to resemble a snail, which is quite possibly the ugliest animal on Earth; a creature that looks like a rolled-up piece of clay with protruding eyes and a shell that inexplicably protects about 30 percent of its total body mass. Nissan must've considered shaping its car after some beautiful or powerful animal, like a tiger, a lion or one of those colorful tropical birds. But then, they were like, naaah, snail.

How do I know it was designed to resemble a snail? Check the name. The word "escargot" means "snail" in French, and Nissan was making a small cargo van. Small cargo. S-Cargo. Escargot. I can only imagine the chuckling that took place in the Nissan design and marketing offices when they came up with this one. And then, I can only imagine the chuckling that took place at Nissan dealerships when human beings saw it for the first time, in person. By chuckling, I mean rolling-on-the-floor laughter while bringing your Altima in for an oil change.

Before I get into my personal favorite parts of the S-Cargo's styling, let me give you a little background. The S-Cargo was sold only in Japan and manufactured from 1989 to 1991 in small numbers by Nissan's Pike Factory, which also produced three other late-1980s Nissan oddities: the Be-1, the Pao and the Figaro. The S-Cargo was, by far, the ugliest vehicle to come out of the Pike Factory, or perhaps any factory, except of course, the one that gave us Crocs.

It uses a 75-horsepower 1.5-liter carbureted 4-cylinder engine, mated to a 3-speed automatic transmission, which is a stellar combination that just screams highway cruiser. Despite the fact that it looks like a golf cart that might carry around shovels while sporting a door graphic that reads, "City of Topeka Department of Parks and Leisure," it's a real vehicle, with a real vehicle identification number and a real license plate, designed to go on real roads. Assuming, of course, that other drivers can contain their laughter.

What makes it so ugly? Well, all of it. The thing that really gets it for me, aside from the general snail demeanor, is the proportions. At 72.4 inches tall, the S-Cargo is only an inch shorter than my Range Rover. And yet, it's a foot and a half narrower. The result is that you constantly feel like you're going to tip on your side, an event that would undoubtedly inspire a viral YouTube video entitled, "Giant Wheeled Snail Tips Over."

I also think the rear-end styling is ridiculous. The entire car has all these curves, circles and arches, and then the rear end just stops. Abruptly. With no explanation. It's like the Nissan designers didn't know how to do the back of a snail, so they just threw a tailgate back there and said, "Eh, the first three-quarters are close enough." Then, they chuckled some more at their cheeky play on words. The result of this flat rear end is that the S-Cargo is just 137 inches long, placing its total length somewhere between a smart fortwo (106.1 inches) and a MINI Cooper (151.1 inches).

Of course, as you may have guessed from the fact that I purchased one, I kind of like the S-Cargo. In fact, I bought it from Japanese Classics, the same dealership in Virginia that sold me my Skyline GT-R, and they imported it especially for me. They have this amazing inventory of high-performance Nissan models, pristine old Hondas and Toyotas and cool SUVs and sport bikes. I looked at all that and asked them, "Can I get an S-Cargo?" To which they replied, "Are you literally insane?"

The answer to this question is, of course, yes. A few weeks later, my S-Cargo was on a boat.

I'm excited to have this weird thing, and you should be, too, because it's not often you get to see a human-powered snail driving down the street. In fact, I suspect there are, at most, a dozen other S-Cargo models in the entire United States. The other 11 people should really get their vision checked.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
I Purchased the Ugliest Car Ever Made - Autotrader