Beauty, people say, is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not sure I buy into that, as some styling trends are just so damn ugly that you can’t help but wonder what the hell someone was thinking when the stuck that eyesore on or in their car. Automotive style has always been a topic of some debate, but the five accessories below never did a thing to improve the appearance or functionality of the cars they were installed on. Fortunately, most have died a slow, painful death over the years, and you’d be hard pressed to find a modern car that sports more than one.
Why anyone would add weight, parasitic drag and increased maintenance to their car is beyond me. Manufacturers stopped cranking out factory-produced vinyl roofs in the last decade, but that hasn’t stopped customizers from keeping the style alive. Today, they can still be found on customized Buicks and Mercury Grand Marquis’, typically driven by blue-haired old ladies. If you see one on the road, be afraid: be very afraid.
‘Wire Wheel’ Wheel Covers
Let me clarify one thing: authentic, factory original wire wheels are cool. Sure, they’re also heavy (by modern standards) and high maintenance, but they give a vintage car an authentic look that you just can’t achieve with other wheel styles.
Wire wheel hubcaps, on the other hand, are an abomination. They really don’t look like wire wheels, since they lack dimensionality. Most don’t even sit flush against a car’s steel wheel, which gives them a bizarre, oscillating effect as you drive down the road. Even the factory wire wheel covers pegged the cheese-ometer, and you could generally hear them rattling, squeaking and popping from blocks away. Aside from rusting hulks by the side of the road, I haven’t seen a set on a car in years, and I say that’s a good thing.
Originally offered as a functional accessory, continental kits moved the spare tire from inside the trunk to the rear bumper. Cars that came with these from the factory (some Nash sedans, the Nash Metropolitan, T-Birds, Lincolns, etc.) are cool. Cars that added a fiberglass or plastic replica continental kit, purchased from the back of a J.C. Whitney catalog, are not.
This trend was kept on life support for years, as automakers shaped trunk decklids to give the appearance of a continental kit. Take the Lincoln Mark VIII for example; the designers insisted on carrying over this bizarre styling relic. I’m just happy that Cadillac didn’t feel compelled to work a continental kit look into the CTS-V.
White Wall Tires
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, white wall tires were like Lady Gaga is today: try though you might, you just couldn’t avoid them. They looked horrible on most cars, unless you were going for the whole polyester-slack-wearing-retiree look. Worse, a lot of cars left the assembly line with fake wire wheel covers and whitewall tires, something I still have nightmares about. Thankfully, automakers came to their senses in the past 20 years, and I can’t think of a single car that rolls on whitewalls from the factory anymore.
This doesn’t apply to the wide whitewalls favored by cruisers and hot rodders. On the right car, wide whitewall tires look damn good, but only if the car was built prior to 1960.
Plastic Seat Covers
I can’t remember the last time I saw this staple of 1960s suburbia, and I say good riddance. Why anyone would think it was a good idea to put toxic-fume-leaching plastic across cloth seats was always beyond me. In the summertime, it trapped heat until the seat was about the temperature of the sun’s surface. When you tried to slide across it, you often left bits of flesh behind, as they’d fused to the plastic. In the winter time, it was like sitting on a block of ice, and the total absence of friction ensured a workout as you tried to stay in place behind the wheel. On the plus side, it did keep the upholstery from getting worn out.