10 Worst Automotive Fads
Concurrent with the mid-’80s stock market boom was the evolution of a certain species of shallow, self-involved man (think Gordon Gekko from the film “Wall Street”) who enjoyed turning perfectly good sports cars into embarrassing exercises in self-glorification. The typical member of this clan bought himself a 911, then proceeded to desecrate it with a full-length reflective decal that said “Carrera” and a “Porsche” windshield decal, just in case anyone was wondering what that iconic-looking vehicle he was driving was.
A lot of these vehicles ended up wrapped around roadside trees, since the notoriously tricky rear-engine 911 had a nasty penchant for oversteering that often gave overconfident and underskilled drivers a high-speed lesson in physics. These overbadged cars may have died, but in an unfortunate case of trickle-down economics, these decals were eventually available to drivers of everything from Chevy Cavaliers to Ford Mustangs.
Carbon Fiber Accents
If you liked branded decals in the ’80s, you were definitely into carbon fiber accents in the late ’90s and early this decade. This ultralight, uber-strong material was, and still is, a common structural material for race cars and exotic supercars. Back then it was far too expensive for the sub $100K market. Even so, a brisk business built around “affordable” carbon-fiber accessories (trim and dash panels, mostly) emerged that catered to the “tuner” (think “Fast and Furious”) who wanted to shave off 5 ounces of weight from his Japanese four-banger by, say, replacing a plastic shift knob with one made out of the lightweight material. For the most part, these individuals were more interested in the carbon fiber look than how it actually can be used to improve a car’s performance. Plus, the accessories were often flimsy and felt cheap to the touch.
Even further down the ladder of pointless automotive indulgence is faux carbon fiber. Sold in vinyl sheets, this appliqué can be stuck to any plastic surface in the car to give it the appearance of high-tech fanciness.
Thankfully, automakers have evolved from making primitive, hard-to-read digital displays to digital interfaces that are easier to use and interpret, such as this one in the 2010 Honda Insight.
A close cousin to the talking car, the digital instrument panel of the 1980s is the precursor to modern touch-screen interfaces. But unlike today’s touch-screens, most early digital dashboards offered few functional improvements over their analog contemporaries, and were harder to read at a glance. Nevertheless, automakers that were looking to tap into the excitement of the burgeoning computer age loved these things. Almost no manufacturer was immune from their allure: The Dodge Daytona, Nissan 300Z, Audi Quattro and Chevrolet Corvette all had digital loveliness available as at least an option.
Digital displays never truly went away, but the ’80s enthusiasm for designing screamingly bright, utterly nonstandardized instrument clusters certainly did. Now that driver distraction is a real danger, automakers smartly focus on making their digital interfaces easier to use and less obtrusive.
It’s debatable whether the trend towards humongous SUVs that lasted through the 1990s until last year represents a fad, a market phenomenon or a national character flaw. Whatever it was, it reached its gas-guzzling peak from 2003 to 2005, when buyers had a triple choice of huge trucks — the Ford Excursion, Hummer H2 and Chevrolet Suburban — offering fuel economy between 8 and 14 mpg. Of course, we needed these things. We had eight children to bring to soccer practice, hundreds of pounds of groceries to pick up at Costco and an enormous boat to tow. At some point in 2008, however, lifestyles must have changed, because when gas reached $4 a gallon, people couldn’t get rid of these vehicles fast enough, and the entire U.S. auto industry seems to have collapsed as a result.
As fuel-economy standards get more stringent, it’s possible that these dinosaurs will become truly extinct in the coming years, but their impact on the icecaps may last for centuries.
Fake Air Intakes/Outputs/Hood Scoops
Performance cars need air, and lots of it, so hood scoops, brake vents and other various holes and bulges in the car body are acceptable. If they don’t have a purpose, they just look like a bad toupee on an aging hipster.
Performance cars are heavy breathers. They need air, and lots of it, so sometimes car designers have to cut a hole in the body of the car to either let cool air in or let hot air out. (The Porsche 911 Turbo, for instance, has two huge intakes just behind the driver and passenger-side doors to let air into the engine.) It is just as important for fake performance cars to have the appearance of airflow. Their wheezing, underpowered engines will never impress anyone without hood scoops, brake vents and other various holes and bulges in the car body that generally don’t lead anywhere. These fake air intakes have shown up on brands ranging from Ford to Buick to Mercedes-Benz. The delightful irony of it all is that vents and hood scoops tend to take away from the general aerodynamic efficiency of any vehicle, so if they’re not catching air with the intention of actually using it for performance reasons, they’re just slowing you down.
Sam Foley is a Connecticut-based automotive journalist who has written for GQ, Forbes, USA Today, the New York Post and various other publications.
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The worst thing has to be the "spinner" rims, like others have posted, it gives the illusion that the car is coming right thru the intersection.....
Worst-case scenario....I've seen the d^mn things on an18 wheel SEMI !
Now, truck drivers as a whole aren't noted for their sense of style, but that one took 1st prize in the Tacky Contest ! The CEO of J.C.Whitney would be proud !