The first time I traveled to South Korea, I was simultaneously amazed, amused and appalled at how ugly some of their cars are. I don’t mean somewhat odd-looking; I mean seriously ugly — ugly enough to make an Aztek look like an Aventador. I came away from that fascinating country convinced that hideous design must be some kind of a national sport. So close your eyes, hold your nose, and let’s look at five of the ugliest cars designed in and for South Korea.
In 1983, SsangYong (motto: "If It Ain’t Ugly, We Won’t Make It!") began building a Jeep CJ-7 under license. It looked like a Jeep, it ran like a Jeep, and all was well. Then, in 1996, they did … this. Now, I could almost understand that giant schnozolla if the Korando had, say, an old Buick straight-8 engine under the hood. But it doesn’t. So what the heck could have happened? My guess is that one of the designer’s kids found the clay model and tried to stick it into his Play-Doh Fun Factory — and by the time someone figured out what had happened, the Korando had already been put into production.
Truth be told, the Porter isn’t really all that ugly — although it’s not all that pretty, either — but check out those wheels: 15-inch singles up front, 13-inch duallies out back! It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but out in the real world the Porter looks like one of those Warner Brothers cartoon bulldogs, with great big front legs and little tiny back legs that have to run like crazy just to keep up. At least Hyundai didn’t saddle the Porter with a silly name, as did sister company Kia, which calls this handy little trucklet the Bongo.
How does one even begin to describe the pure ugliness of this horrible, horrible car? Up front, you have a failed imitation of a Mercedes grille. Out back, you have that giant glass greenhouse rising above the roof pillars like some sort of malignant tumor. And in the middle, you have proportions that make the human mind scream "Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!" Now, are you ready for the punchline? The Rodius was designed by a British guy. That’s right — one of the most hideous Korean cars was foisted on them by the U.K. Was it supposed to be a nasty joke? If so, the South Koreans don’t seem to have noticed. Why am I not surprised?
Lest you think the worst of Korean designs never escape that hapless country, let’s recall the facelifted first-generation Hyundai Tiburon, sold here in the US in 2000 and 2001. The original Tib was actually a decent-looking car, but Hyundai put a stop to that with this version. Note the huge gap between the hood and the bumper — these were the days before the phase "uniform panel gaps" had been translated into Korean — and the way it seems to form arching eyebrows over the headlights, giving the car a look of surprise and terror as if it’s just caught a glimpse of itself in a mirror. And then there are those massive creases in the body sides, the purpose of which I can only surmise is to draw your attention to the fact that the fenders and wheels are way too small for the rest of the car. For the record, Hyundai did make amends: The 2003 Tiburon was basically a rip-off of an early ’90s Toyota Supra, and a damn good one at that. Find a Hyundai Tiburon for sale
By now, you’ve probably figured out that SsangYong is responsible for much of the road-going ocular pollution in South Korea, but the Actyon goes above and beyond: It isn’t so much a car as it is a visual crime scene. I have spent countless hours trying to figure out what the design inspiration was for the front end of this thing. My best guess: Some sort of prehistoric bird, except that the picture they used showed one that had been partially eaten. I’m doing you a favor by only showing you the front, because the back is even worse. SsangYong also makes a pickup-truck version of this contraption, and I once stumbled upon one parked at, of all places, the Los Angeles airport. I’d give you more details, but my mind has blocked out the details — a typical human reaction to severe pain and trauma.