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I Purchased the Ugliest Car Ever Made

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. See the Nissan models for sale near you

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. Find a Nissan for sale

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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41 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry, the author is an idiot.  This car isn’t meant for utility, performance, styling or something that even makes sense.  It’s designed to be a panel van with large flat surfaces in three directions, so that it can be used to promote a business.

    Similar in this vein might be a Hummer H2 or Honda Element with their slab-sided “styling”.
    Canada has 15 year importation laws, so these started hitting the roads here maybe a decade ago.  I personally own two of these.  Both of these are wrapped for business use to advertise and promote my businesses.  One local renovation company had three of them and they were being used on a regular basis, and they easily drummed up enough business to pay for themselves due to their high visibility at eye-point.
    Calling this car ugly misses the point and does the car a disservice.  in 1988-90, Nissan was on a roll, and cars like the Figaro, S-Cargo, and their other low-volume boutique vehicles were meant to showcase Nissan’s industrial prowess in design and also confidence.  Could you imagine GM making 10,000 of these two years after they killed off the Fiero?
    The hood of the S-Cargo is sharply sloped, and it’s a bit of a wonder of packing they squeezed the E15S under the hood. (go look).  It’s gutless but that’s not the point.  it will do 135km/h flat out, and it’s a bit of hoot, with a little child-like chime when you clear 100km/h that doesn’t stop until you drop below that speed.
    It uses Sentra guts and suspension pieces, and it’s a survivor.  These things have fragile cooling systems and all the little bits weren’t necessarily made to survive.  Calling this “ugly” is no different than calling a 1990 CRX or prelude or E28 M5 ugly—-these cars were made in an era where nothing was cad-cam, pop-up headlights were still legal, and there was no ABS, airbags, or side-impact standards.
    Cars from that era can no longer be made today for reasons of legality.  They should be admired for the guts it took a large automaker to make something so unique when the point was to make a point, not production numbers or profit.

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