You can’t deny it, even if you’re not a car enthusiast the sight of a beautiful car from either the modern era or years gone by will make your eyes widen with adoration and your heart sing with joy. Whether it’s a low-slung sports car, a gigantic luxury limousine or a smooth and sophisticated drop-top roadster, cars have a huge effect on the human psyche as either a symbol of affluence and influence or just a crafted thing of beauty.
We’ve all been in that situation before where our eyes have been bigger than our stomachs and if we had the chance we’d buy it at a moment’s notice regardless of the consequences.
However, as to everything in this world; there’s a ying to every yang. A car’s beauty is no guarantee that it won’t be a badly performing, poorly built, ill-conceived or simply underwhelming machine that will make your life miserable and probably run you into debt faster than you can say “That was a bad idea.”
So, without further ado, these are the top 10 cars that we’d want to own simply by their looks but would be hell to live with:
10. Ferrari Testarossa
The Ferrari Testarossa is truly the living embodiment of the 1980’s, brash styling mixed with over-the-top performance, power and price. Even to this day, the mighty Testarossa has held its value so well that you’d be hard pressed to find an example that costs less than £100,000.
From it’s appearance in Miami Vice to the cultural significance it still holds today as the must-have motor of the decade of decadence, the Testarossa is a living legend.
However, even legends have their problems.
The issues with the Testarossa are those endemic to all supercars in that they’re expensive to buy, maintain and use on a day-to-day basis. These things are weekend cars, pure and simple, thus the investment of over £100,000 into the car that teenage boys dreamt of owning in the mid-1980’s are only relegated to sunny Saturdays when there’s nothing else left to do.
9. Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
In truth, any Rolls-Royce from the Silver Cloud of 1955 to the Silver Seraph of 1998 should be a contender due to the installation of the hydraulic self-levelling suspension, but since the Silver Shadow was and still is the most numerous Rolls-Royce model ever built it’s more likely prone to potential issues.
I’ll fully admit, catastrophic failures regarding the Rolls-Royce mechanics are fairly rare, especially if you give the car some real love and take it for a checkup at the mechanics every 6-months (as prescribed by Rolls-Royce). However, if something does go wrong with your Roller, chances are it will be both incredibly serious and incredibly expensive to repair.
Endearing for the time, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow had most of its mechanics operated by hydraulics, including the suspension, power-steering and brakes. The hydraulic self-levelling suspension was truly the party piece of this car as it successfully ironed out every bump no matter how severe. The problem is if something happened to go wrong with this rather vital part of the car’s mechanics, the entire machine is rendered unusable and undriveable (so you’d better hope it doesn’t fail while you’re doing 70mph down the M6 Motorway!)
Other problems include replacement parts and panels. While mechanical parts can be replicated fairly easily due to the almost inexhaustible number of spares, body panels are another matter. Since every Rolls-Royce model was hand built pretty much every panel on the car’s body is unique to that car alone, so any replacement panels will not completely fit. The only way to solve this is to have the panel amended to fit your car, which is both costly and long-winded given the delicate nature of the task.
Perhaps the biggest issue though is finding a reliable Silver Shadow without having to fork over too much cash. As the most numerous Rolls-Royce ever built, these once £275,000 cars saturated the market, depreciating like a rock. Today, some go for as little as £7,000; cheaper than a modern day compact.
It sounds too good to be true, right? A pedigree luxury saloon that’s half the price of a middling Ford Fiesta, and usually it is too good to be true.
In reality, even if the car is cosmetically impeccable, there may be underlying problems that could’ve written off the car several times over. The most notable issue is rust on the chassis as well as a myriad of other mechanical problems. It may have cost £7,000 to buy, but it’ll cost you several times that to get such a rot box anywhere near roadworthy. Chances are you couldn’t even sell it for scrap without making a huge loss.
8. Jaguar XJS
The XJS polarised customers upon its launch in 1975, due largely to the fact that it replaced the legendary E-Type as Jaguar’s flagship. However, while the car’s styling is still a bone of contention even to this day, you can’t deny the fact that the XJS was among the most well-appointed Grand Tourers you could buy in the late 70’s and early 80’s; with a carefully crafted V12 up front, some sleek looks and full of all the wood and leather you’d find in a car of such size and prestige.
However, let’s not forget that the XJS was built in the 1970’s and early 80’s by British Leyland, a company renowned for its biblical unreliability. The XJS was among the saddest victims of this nationalised car-builder’s catastrophic legacy, with early models rusting to dust in weeks. However, that was entirely dependant on the car living that long before it was crippled by a major breakdown and was rendered useless.
Today, early XJS models are near impossible to find though later versions built under the ownership of Ford following a facelift in 1988 are comparatively common among classic motors. However, while the Ford examples can be fairly cheap to buy, much like the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, even a car that looks cosmetically impeccable may be hiding some serious mechanical gremlins that will drain your cash and your sanity in no time. Couple that with the hulking great V12 up front and the XJS may not be a sound investment if you want to go on the cheap.
If you’ve got the cash, find a car that’s going for upwards of £20,000 and is a late-model Ford variant. If you don’t have the cash, for the love of God don’t try and push for a cheap one because what you save on buying it you’ll end up paying to fix it!
7. Range Rover Classic
Another British Leyland product; this time the mighty Range Rover.
The Range Rover was truly the first car to marry go anywhere, do anything 4×4 technology with the luxuries of a contemporary executive saloon; though earlier models had a more utilitarian feel about them. Essentially, between its launch in 1970 and around 1981, when the five-door version came out, the Range Rover filled the role of what the Discovery does now, just a Defender but with more refinements; not a difficult task when you consider how basic the Defender is.
However, while the Range Rover began its production life strongly as the answer to America’s pioneering role in the development of the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), let us not forget this was a British Leyland product. As we all know, British Leyland was where innovative ideas were born but promptly died when they hit the shop floor; the Range Rover being no exception.
The car was noted as being the most unreliable car ever built, constantly breaking down or falling apart; not the thing you want when traversing a sodden Yorkshire grouse moor in the dead of winter. Worse still was the rust, which was ironic considering these cars were built to ford rivers. It’s not very good when your rough n’ tumble SUV decides to go into holes while you’re attempting to wade across the River Severn!
Even today, while most of the older Range Rovers of the 70’s have long since rusted away or exploded through their own mechanical faults, even later models from the 80’s and early 90’s have their fair share of mechanical gremlins which will amount to some serious problems.
The best Range Rovers of the line were models built between 1990 and 1995, by which time the then privatised Rover Group had started building the cars with a touch more integrity, as well as being fitted with all the mod-cons and comforts of home that were to be expected of the most expensive SUV on the market at the time.
6. Lamborghini Countach
The Countach was the pinup car of every teenage boy in the 1970’s and 80’s, the true definition of road-going speed and a car which would bag you every willing, if not shallow, female from here to Azerbaijan. With crisp looks, oodles of power and a top speed that was completely out of this world, the Countach was, and still is, an icon of motoring technology.
However, life with the Countach is far from the dream. If you want a car that delivers all the issues that arise with owning one of these incredibly specialist and very difficult machines, the Countach encompasses them all.
For starters, the car, like most supercars, devours fuel at a rate which would leave most people bankrupt in a day; it has steering so heavy it’s as if it were set in concrete; it has uncomfortable seats while the cabin is tight and claustrophobic; there is absolutely zero, and I do mean zero, rear visibility which makes reversing impossible; it’s both surprisingly wide and surprisingly long so the avoidance of narrow streets is a must; and its highly complicated V12 engine will leave most mechanics stumped when you regularly visit them to have it fixed.
Let’s not forget also that the Countach, even today, still costs in excess of £100,000; so it’s not exactly an ideal buy for anyone who earns less than a six-digit figure.
Basically, if you want the Countach experience, it’d be better to rent one from a specialist car provider for a weekend rather than actually owning one.
5. Lancia Beta Montecarlo
Lancia was once the epitome of flawed beauty; incredible styling mixed with cars that were so mechanically unstable you’d spend most of your time viewing their beauty from the inside of your local garage.
However, while I could’ve chosen the infamous Beta and its rust-prone ways or the Gamma for exploding at any given opportunity, the Beta Montecarlo I feel is both the most beautiful and the most flawed of them all.
The Beta Montecarlo I feel embodies everything that is good and everything that is bad when it comes to Lancia. It has a low-slung, Italian styled body which makes men fall to their needs and drool while their hands slip silently into their pockets to write whatever numbers are necessary in their chequebooks. However, underneath, the Montecarlo was a very poorly designed sports car that Lancia never seemed to get right.
The main issue on the car were those oh so important bits of driving mechanics known as the brakes. On early models, if you so much as looked at the brake pedal the car would lock up and you’d end up either skidding off the road into a ditch or have the large HGV behind crush you and your lightweight sports car to mush. After these initial complaints, Lancia removed the Montecarlo from production and toiled for two years trying to determine a way in which the situation regarding overbraking could be resolved.
The solution they came to was to simply remove the brake servos. This meant that there was no assisted braking and thus the car was difficult to stop even in good conditions. Therefore, you’d better have attended those classes on how to improve the muscular strength of your legs and feet because without the assistance of the brake servos you’d likely be finding yourself abruptly acquainted with the rear bumper of the car in front or a solid brick wall.
So, when it comes to this magnificent but flawed machine, one must ask themselves this: “Do you prefer too much braking and being crashed into from behind or not enough braking and crashing into the car in front?”
Food for thought.
4. Aston Martin Lagonda
What was Aston Martin thinking when they launched this?
The Aston Martin Lagonda couldn’t have come at a worse time for the company, yet it still persevered and would go on to have a 15 year production run in spite of all the criticism and the odds stacked against it like mountains.
The Lagonda came about when Aston Martin chose to create a sporty luxury saloon in a similar vein to that of the Maserati Quattroporte and the De Tomaso Deauville; combining all the latest internal refinements with some getup and go power. However, not contented with just a high-performance luxury car, Aston Martin chose to make it one of the most mechanically and electronically complicated machines ever built while married to a gas-guzzling V12 engine and quite possibly the most controversial styling ever fitted to a car of this type.
To summarise, the Lagonda ended up being one of the most polarising automotive designs in history and one that was riddled with unreliability thanks to its extremely complex LED display and the electronics behind it. The styling split motoring critics straight down the middle; receiving either heartfelt acclaim for its innovation or crushing criticism for its repugnance. Most of all though was the adoption of an incredibly thirsty V12 engine immediately after the Fuel Crisis of 1973.
However, the worst thing by a mile were the car’s interior gimmicks, Aston Martin attempting to garner a unique selling point by replacing the conventional black-on-white dials and switches with an LED display and push-buttons. The cost of fitting the electrics alone was several times more than constructing the rest of the car, which meant that Aston was forced to sell the car at an extortionately high price of which not a single unit made its money back.
Today, however, the Lagonda has found love among motoring fans as they appreciate the brash and uncompromising face of this magnificent machine. The car is truly a beautiful mess; an endearing combination of all the best things about 70’s car building (the style, profile and technology) and all the worst things (the price-tag, the fuel costs and the biblical unreliability).
Owning the Lagonda will certainly make you a man about town and the internal refinements are truly second-to-none. However, the electronics and mechanics of these car were woefully bad when new and after 40 years they’re likely to be even worse; so unreliability will likely keep your local mechanic busy for a long-time as they attempt to put right the car’s many glaring issues. Also, don’t expect to find a Lagonda this side of £50,000.
You have been warned…
3. Triumph Stag
Oh the Stag, such promise botched!
You just have to look at the Triumph Stag to see what’s right about it, from the Italian styling to the comfortable seats to the rather innovative T-Bar roof rails that provided the occupants safety like in no other convertible; the car was endearing and designed to be a serious California cruiser.
However, Triumph’s hopes of this machine becoming the successor to the E-Type and lining the streets of Monaco and Beverley Hills were quickly dashed when the various parts of its parent company, British Leyland, decided not to communicate.
The Stag came at completely the wrong time. Triumph, as part of the Leyland Group, had been merged with British Motor Holdings (BMH) in 1968 to form the gargantuan British Leyland; during which time the car was in development.
Logic would dictate that the Stag should’ve been fitted with the tried and tested Rover 3.5L V8 engine, a design derived from Buick of America and perhaps the greatest automotive powerplant ever put into production. The Rover V8 became the epitome of sturdy reliability and was endlessly tuneable; being fitted to such legendary machines as the Rover P5, the P6, the SD1, the Range Rover, the TVR Chimaera and the Morgan Plus 8.
In order for the V8 to fit though, Rover needed Triumph to undertake the simple task of redesigning the engine bay in order to accommodate this magnificent engine; thereby cementing the Stag as one of the greatest sports cars of the 1970’s.
Sadly, Triumph had other ideas.
Still convinced they were in rivalry with Rover, Triumph chose not to redesign the engine bay but instead created their own V8 by welding together two Inline-4 engines from the Triumph Dolomite. However, this rushed design failed to account for a proper cooling system which meant it would overheat all the time; resulting in the cylinder heads warping. In engineering terms it was utterly useless, but Triumph persisted and fitted it to the Stag regardless of its flaws.
The result was the Stag being laughed off stage due to its heroically bad reliability; eventually being removed from the U.S. market in 1973 after only a few hundred units were sold before being killed off in the UK in 1977.
Today, the Stag has been appreciated for its looks and style but the engine menace still remains an issue. Most enthusiasts, being aware of the proposed use of the Rover V8, have retrofitted Stags with these engines after some not too extensive or expensive modifications to the engine bay. The ease at which these cars can be converted from Triumph trash V8’s to reliable Rover V8’s means that Stag’s are among the most common classic cars you’ll find on the roads. This is also helped by an active fanbase and their comparatively cheap purchase cost due to brand depreciation.
However, even Stag’s with Rover V8’s are known for trouble, especially one’s converted either in a rush or on a shoestring budget. Some of these V8’s have literally just been slapped inside with no care or attention; meaning that a serious breakdown could be only just around the corner. There are also many Stags which, somehow, have survived into the 21st Century with their original Triumph V8’s, meaning they too require frequent maintenance and restoration in order to avoid the aforementioned overheating problems.
Basically, don’t let the comparatively cheap cost of the Stag, as well as its gorgeous looks, deceive you because behind that pretty face lies the gateway to hell. What you save on buying an inexpensive example you’ll pay for trying to fix it. The best advice I can give is to thoroughly check the car before buying, including the service history and any information as to whether the car was converted in the past. Upon your purchase, book it in immediately with a mechanic so that they can give you expert advice and fix any potential issues before they’re exacerbated by further use.
Overall, the Stag is a lucky-dip machine when it comes to finding reliable examples. Usually the more they cost the better they’ll be, but that’s no guarantee as to whether you’ll be driving home in a hail of beauty and glamour or ending up broken down in a cloud of steam miles from the nearest garage.
2. Rover SD1
The Rover SD1 was arguably one of the most trend-setting machines of the 1970’s, combining the sleek looks of an Italian sports car with the comfort and luxury of even the most top-of-the-range executive saloon. However, behind the Ferrari Daytona derived styling there are lots of problems as one must never forget this machine was built by our old friends British Leyland.
The Rover SD1 is an incredibly rare car nowadays for a good reason, the earliest models simply rusted away before you’d even got it home from the showroom. As such, even by the end of the 1980’s the SD1 was on its way out due to pervading rust issues. However, the biggest bugbear with the SD1 are its mechanics. The car, like most other British Leyland products, worked about as well as a skyscraper built out of Lego; it simply didn’t. If you were someone who cherished your SD1 and worked tirelessly to keep the demon rust at bay with polish and rustproofing, you sadly couldn’t help but watch as the car’s many gremlins reared their ugly heads over the course of only a few years. From loose panels to faulty electrics to mechanical issues, the SD1 would disintegrate before your eyes and you’d soon be out of pocket trying to fix these problems.
Small wonder then that most people ditched the car and went straight for the Ford Granada!
Anyway, most SD1’s that were lucky enough to survive into the 21st Century have done so thanks to the care and attention of enthusiasts, and due to the depreciation of the Rover marque they are incredibly cheap compared to other cars of this type and of this time period. However, there are still plenty of bangers on the go and some of their more glaring problems are not as obvious as you might think.
Regardless of whether the car has been given a fresh coat of polish and the velour seats have been steam cleaned to a factory fresh condition, check every inch of your prospective SD1 for rust, specifically the chassis. If you find that any cross-members or structurally integral parts show even the slightest hint of rust, you could be in for some massive bills very shortly, probably several times what the car is worth.
Furthermore, SD1’s are still rampant for reliability issues and will gladly breakdown at a moment’s notice for even the smallest of reasons. Upkeep of these machines is like trying to brush water uphill, a running battle that can keep you well out of pocket. Sometimes you may get lucky if you buy an ex-enthusiasts car, but only go for one that has been absolutely cosseted; anything less simply will not do.
1. Alfa Romeo GTV 6
They often say that you’re never truly a petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo.
While Alfa’s of the past, and even some of the present, have been the pure mixture of speed, performance and looks, they’ve also been the pinnacle of poor engineering and shoddy workmanship.
Being a true petrolhead isn’t just about driving the Alfa and ripping up the tarmac with finely tuned, Italian-built V6 engines, but it’s also about cutting your hands to shreds, tearing out your fingernails and covering yourself head-to-toe in oil as you spend more of your time in the engine bay rather than the driving seat. The unreliability of Alfa Romeos really is the stuff of legends; so much so it’s a wonder how James Bond ever got to that USAF base in time to stop a nuclear explosion when he commandeered a GTV6 in 1983’s Octopussy.
You certainly know it’s a work of fiction when Bond is able to arrive in a working Alfa Romeo and not in the cab of a lowloader with a disabled GTV6 on the back!
The GTV6 is probably the biggest sinner for this sentiment as it is the true culmination of everything good and bad about owning an Alfa. Crisp styling, incredible speed, blinding performance and one of the best badges in the business are enough to secure anyone’s cash.
However, these cars were built by a malcontent, unionised workforce in the 1970’s with the care and attention of an elephant trying to restore a priceless Monet while in the midst of an alcoholic binge. The GTV6, like most Alfas of the time, have been noted for some incredibly spectacular breakdowns, most of which occur while doing 70mph on the motorway. These have included the engine disintegrating, the clutch disassembling, the brakes failing, the prop-shaft falling off, the exhaust falling off, the seat collapsing and the steering column detaching.
Personally, if you’re someone who wants to buy the Alfa Romeo GTV6 and experience the true life of a petrolhead, I recommend taking a short-course in mechanical engineering and upgrading the policy on your life insurance!