Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Douchiest Cars of All Time

People love theirs cars, but some love showing them off even more. Jamie Lincoln Kitman breaks down the loudest, glitziest, and most pointless rides to ever vulgarize the road
Cars can tell us a lot about the people who own and drive them, though in all fairness, it's not always clear what someone's car is saying. Few cars will mean the same thing to all who clap eyes on them. But some do, and in this select group are the ones that unmistakably, incontrovertibly cry douchebag.

Pardon our French, but the D-word is only the latest overused, off-color term to describe the phenomena of universal hate-ability that accompanies some people, and, as it happens, some cars. Not long ago, "asshole" was one such all-purpose term. The sad historical fact is that D-bags, assholes, jackasses, et al have always been loose amongst us, walking the planet since homo became erectus. For the last hundred years or so, they've been driving on it, too, often like jerks. Hence the phrase "douchebag car": It's a concept as old as motoring itself.

Mind you, not every douchebag drives a douchebag car. Time marches on, too. One era's douchebag car may be today's treasured classic. And, a la different strokes for different folks, there are different types of douchebag cars for different types of douchebags. But before going further, it is critical to draw the distinction between douchebag cars as a group and other unique categories of automotive derision, like clown cars, (AMC Pacer, Suzuki X90) loser-mobiles (Austin Marina, Yugo, Ford Tempo), and other such serial misadventures in ironic motoring as I've known in my life (too numerous to list.) Such cars and their owners are to be pitied, not hated.

The hate-able hallmarks of the classical D-bag ride may include excessive aggression, vulgarity in all its forms, over-the-top profligacy, and supercharged pretense. To make our list, a car needs these, plus, crucially, it must reflect its owners' oblivion to his or her own bad taste, and consequent celebration of it. The fact that he found this car, and that it found him and others like him, says it all.

Touché? No, sir, Douché!

The Pick-up Douche
Lincoln Blackwood

Sorry, folks, not the African-American porn star, but Lincoln's first truck: The Blackwood was a cynical attempt by the then-extra un-green Ford Motor Company to grow the oxymoronical (and highly profitable) luxury truck category to include not just SUVs, like its seminally vulgar Navigator, but large pickups, too. Replete with designer plastic, fake wood, and stainless steel real and imagined, the four-door Blackwood came one way, finished in black and ridiculous all over, with sales hobbled by a weensy, almost vestigial cargo bed. Largely useless by real truck standards, the Lincoln's eye-popping price tag was just a bonus. All of which explains why they pulled the plug on it in 2002, just one year after they started (trying) to sell it. Even today, it takes a special kind drive one.

Honorable Mention: Cadillac Escalade EXT

The Depression-Era Douche
Auburn Boat-Tail Speedster

An undeniably handsome car, with a vast, upright prow and cute little speedboat butt, the rakish Auburn was a mid-1930s American machine of technical interest and iconic impact. A brash attempt to save Indiana's Auburn from its imminent demise along with the rest of E.L. Cord's empire (which also included the Cord and Duesenberg brands), there was something about a racy, hideously expensive two-seater the size of an H1 Hummer that couldn't sustain the company. But it sure could appeal strongly to the thirties' douchebag contingent. The speedster's sort of showy flamboyance didn't always play well in Depression-era America—but that never stops people from trying.

Honorable Mention: 1971 Duesenberg SSJ replica
The SUV Douche, Part 1
Hummer H2

General Motors lost billions thanks to its impulsive decision to dive into the Hummer business, acquiring rights to sell civilians the famous military vehicles just in time for 9/11 and the Iraq War. While the former was used as an opportunity to sell even more hulking SUVs, the latter wound up hurting Hummer's business big time, thanks to the depressing combat stint of the H2's siblings. Turns out that getting blown up on TV didn't help Hummer's reputation for imperviousness, instead making them seem like big fat targets. Along with steeply rising fuel prices and way-in-your-face looks, the war quickly helped the brand wear out its welcome. But before the bottom fell out, Hummers sold well to a self-selecting set, those self-appointed kings of the road whose particular brand of douchiness requires them to ride so high and mighty that it appears they are out to make a political point. Hummers still ply our thoroughfares, big fat targets for the rhetorical sharpshooters and hipster haters, though you see less of them than even a year ago. The Hummer's moment may be passing, but its douchiness is alive in our hearts.

Honorable Mention: The Simpsons' Canyonero
The Pony Car Douche, Part I
Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, with Screaming Chicken Kit

The connection between the muscle car and the douche population runs deep, so we expected to struggle to isolate one from the pack. But then it came to us: the Trans Am Firebirds with the giant bird decals on their hoods. They may be amusingly ironic now, but they spelled douche ten ways to Sunday for decades. Meant to be a firebird or a phoenix, the outsized avian on the bonnet soon became known, to friend and foe alike, as the Screaming Chicken, and somehow around this particular GM F-bird coalesced all the bad vibes and dumb love due crappy Detroit pony cars over decades. Douchebags dove in where others feared to tread.

Large and heavy with steamship levels of understeer, the basic Firebird (along with the Camaro, its Chevrolet clone) still managed to be cramped inside despite its considerable girth. At the top of the Firebird heap, however, was the Trans Am. Thirstier than attendees of an Olde English 800 convention, its big V8 made a big V8 noise and boasted a shaker hood scoop that was, of course, usually non-functional. With that angry vinyl cock slapped out front, the shaker scoop was meant to conjure the surging surfeit of horsepower and torque below. But while earlier models were quite rapid, in later smog-strangled, low-performance times, all the glitz only served to set off douche-o-meters from 100 paces.

The Pony Car Douche, Part II
Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z

The IROC Camaro may have been quite successful in racing in the '80s, but what really paid the bills was the heavy Chevy's blue-collar douche appeal. The Jersey Shore's ride of choice long before the Situation left his mama's basement, the IROC Z with its 350 cubic inch V8 was graced with fair straight-line power and plenty of pointless menace, the kind you'd use to scare young hippies and old ladies. Meanwhile the only transmission choice, an automatic, offered lots of opportunities to hang a Camel Light out the driver's window. Today's Camaro, an all-new design, is a far better car all-around than the IROC, which was, like all Camaros of yore, a near as identical sister to Pontiac's Trans Am. Pontiac is gone, but we're not ready to rule out the modern Camaro's douchiness just yet.
The Near-Limousine Douche
Maybach 57S

Many douches like to celebrate their automotive ignorance when they go car-shopping, but the incredibly small handful of buyers who found irresistible the luxury sedan marketed by Mercedes-Benz did just that and more. Because they paid wa-a-a-y too much, making them not just premium douches, but world-class chumpsteins as well. Based on a long-obsolete Mercedes platform, the 57 cost twice as much as a fully loaded S-Class, which was both better and better-looking. Unveiled in 2003, the style of Maybach's first and only offering recalled some mid-'90s Korean home market sedan so forgettable that, er, we can't remember. Of course, the colossal waste of money inherent in a Maybach purchase was kind of the point, as if to say, "I can afford the world's best and most expensive cars, and I'm so rich I don't even care that the crappy one I bought cost more than any of them." The equally cynical and still pricier Maybach 62 might have served such misguided show-offs as well, but it was more of a true limousine-sized limousine, and hence it made a modicum of practical sense. But of course, it didn't sell either, which is one of the reasons Mercedes has quietly announced it's put Maybach out of its misery six months ahead of schedule.

Honorable Mention: Lincoln Versailles

The Personal Luxury Douche
Lincoln Continental Mark IV Givenchy Edition

A genus whose hideousness was explored but not truly plumbed until the 1970s, nothing spells douche like a personal luxury coupe. From their nauseating half-vinyl roofs to their opera windows and tacky bordello interiors, the crop of coupes unleashed on America starting early in the Me decade paid tribute, appropriately, to selfishness, being gargantuan wastes of space and natural resources and, to look at, as repulsive as they'd come and more. That is, until they started further "personalizing" luxury coupes with this new thing called "designer brands." Today, we salute Lincoln's Mark IV Givenchy edition of 1976, but we could as easily have chosen the co-branding that resulted in the Cartier, Pucci, or Bill Blass edition Contis. Jimmy Carter was president, few things were as gross as the Mark IV and that was before they started designer-izing it. True, TV detective Frank Cannon drove one. That was cool, but not cool enough.

Frankly, we might have used this space to slam any other designer edition anything. With the cost constraints and inflexibility of mass-market manufacturing, the scope for invention is always going to be limited. Any fashion designer invited to dress up rolling sheet metal will never get a chance to really say or do anything. They will, however, give a special someone the chance to announce to the world: s"ad, status-driven, arms-grade douchebag, present and accounted for."

Honorable Mention: Fiat 500 Gucci edition.
The Sports Douche, Boulevardier Class
Ferrari California

Some deride the California as a chick's Ferrari (apparently it was made with female and other first-time Ferrari buyers in mind), but the more humbling truth is that it's the un-Ferrari, being largely Maserati bits underneath, sacrificed to the gods of the prancing horse to help make the "cheap" Ferrari the world was clamoring for. You know it's a Ferrari because big badges on the car tell you so, but your senses say otherwise. Not uncoincidentally, it costs about 40 percent more to buy than the car on which it is based, the Maserati GranTurismo, a handsome, but terminally unresolved machine. The California started the "paddle-shift only" trend at Ferrari, and it's got an ass like Roseanne Barr. But unlike her, it doesn't tell jokes. In short, not what we want in an Italian exotic. But, then, we're not douches.

Honorable Mention: Maserati 3200GT

The SUV Douche, Part II
Mercedes G55 AMG

To celebrate the utterly pointless modern endeavor of stuffing a giant V8 engine into a vehicle with the aerodynamics of a cinder block, we nominate the Mercedes G55 AMG. It's crowded, the overpowered ultra-luxury SUV field, with many douche-worthy possible entries, but it takes a top-heavy platform that's originally military and really old—the civilian edition Gelandewagen debuted in 1979—to truly bring out the inanity of the undertaking.

Speaking of wild and crazy guys, the Shah of Iran, a one-time Mercedes shareholder and a severe douche himself, is credited with having come up with the original idea for the G-wagen (as it was known until 1994) in its initial military guise, as a faintly civilized troop carrier to race around the desert. Thing is, the Gelandewagen was perfectly suited to such tasks, doing most of the things a decent old-school jeep could do well, so no foul there. It's was when Mercedes deigned to make it absurdly fast and hit it with 22-inchers and a stratospheric price tag, that the concept spun out and over a cliff. A car that's never going off-road, except when its coked out drivers' hallucinations become too vivid, a G55 is bought solely for its triple-digit price tag and the ludicrously oversized, three-pointed star on its grille, fueling a braggadocio so shrill that only other douchebags can hear it.

Honorable Mention: Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

The Neo-Classical Douche
Zimmer Golden Spirit

The neo-classical movement was a curious development in 1960s low-production autos that metastasized as so many vile automotive trends did in the '70s and '80s, with a spate of limited-production Rococo monstrosities like the Zimmer. Based on mundane American sedans, through the wonder of fiberglass body panels and simple welding skills, the Zimmer and its ilk were somehow able to set new low standards for execrable design. Golden Spirits stopped and went, but did neither very well, so what you saw was what you got. Just in case you ever worried of a douchebag shortage, more than 1,500 stepped up for this one between 1978 and 1988, when the madness stopped with the firm's bankruptcy. More recently, some guy named Zimmer has bought the remainder of the company founded by some other, unrelated Zimmer, and has reopened for production. Bad taste is eternal.

Honorable Mention: Stutz Bearcat II, 1970-1995.

The Supercar Douche
Lamborghini Countach LP 5000QV

More emblematic of the '80s douchebag problem than any dozen cars you could shake a platinum coke spoon at, the second mid-engine Lamborghini was the ride for the man with gold chains, white shoes, and Teflon nostril liners. Embodying at once the absurd post-oil-crisis optimism of late-'70s Europe, the wretched Miami-style '80s excess of blow, junk bonds, and polyester, and the devil-may-care Lamborghini enterprise that brought the world the splendid Miura, the Countach stood out in any crowd. Meaning it quickly became an icon and, just as quickly, a douchebag standard. As time went on, things got worse. And no Countach offended more than the U.S.-homologated LP5000QV that appeared as Ronald Reagan was beginning his second term. The car that adorned the walls of teenaged boys for generations, the LP5000QV was the least elegant of all the Countaches, though arguably the most outrageous, a rolling wank-fest of dubious aerodynamic aids with awful federalized bumpers to round out the show. You couldn't see out of it, but it did go very fast. Feel free to draw your own conclusions, but douchebags of all ages agreed that their chariot had arrived.
 The Excessive Luxury Douche
Cadillac Eldorado

From its somewhat stylish rebirth as a vaguely avant-garde luxury coupe in 1967, the front-drive Eldorado achieved its highest destiny and truly became a rolling monument to excess when launched as a convertible for the 1976 model year, at a time when most convertibles were going away for fear of government rollover standards that never materialized. The last of the truly full-sized General Motors land yachts, the Eldo was enthusiastically sold as the last of its kind, an investment even, which caused the D-bag community to perk up its ears. No less than 14,000 of the blubbery Eldorado convertibles were built in 1976. So, while it was true the Eldo was historic and so spectacularly gross that nothing like it would ever be built again, their plentitude assured they weren't much of an investment.

Yet when GM reintroduced convertibles to their lineup in 1983, former Eldo owners sued, saying GM's new drop-tops had suddenly destroyed the value of their crappy investments from seven years ago, which raises a couple of issues in our minds. First off, grow up. You can't complain to Cadillac for pulling that old trick any more than you complain to all the bands that got back together for their first, second, or hundredth farewell tour. Sinatra did farewell tours as often as he took out kneecaps. Secondly, buying a douchey car and then being pissed off because you didn't get rich? That's double douchey.

The Sports Douche, Too Fast for Your Own Good class
Dodge Viper

The Viper was supposed to be a modern Shelby Cobra, a powerful totem aimed at boosting Chrysler's low self-esteem, but this cartoonish styling exploit turned out to be the exotic of choice for "self-made" douchebags who owned nightclubs, and others whose mid-life crises extended well into old age. The Viper has been massively successful in international motorsports, but most owners couldn't drive their way out of a parking lot. Which is thankful, because the long-nosed, V10-powered two-seater was an awful lot of hot, heavy, smelly car to handle, especially for those with limited skills and a propensity for driving under the influence of bad taste.

Honorable Mention: Chrysler-Maserati TC

The Economy Douche
Toyota Prius C

Sanctimony, thy name is Prius. Forget all the controversies over the rare earth metals needed to make the batteries, or "cradle to grave" costs that compete with Hummers. Like its sibling, the Prius, the Prius C is an outspoken congregant at the Church of Green. The big Prius may not be much fun, but it's a smooth and clever machine and an automotive landmark, albeit one fated to be driven by the most self-righteous one percent of Americans. The new, smaller C may be a hybrid, too, but it is by comparison an unassisted embarrassment, an ill-handling crap-can which bears little relation to its bigger brother and for which there is no case to be made, except to the "I want to seem green but aren't clever enough to know that there are greener, cheaper cars out there, all of which are better" audience.

Honorable Mention: Smart ForTwo

The Pre-War Douche
Stutz Bearcat

Raccoon coats and bathtub gin may have been constant companions, but the Bearcat was the upper-crust douchebag's mount of choice leading up to the Roaring Twenties, bought often as not by wealthy families for their young sons to go tearing about the city streets, disobeying road rules and keeping the hoi-polloi up at night. Built on a shortened Stutz sedan chassis, the Bearcat was a good car for its day and a pretty fair concept. You can probably even draw a straight line from it to the first pony cars of the 1960s. But all that awesome fun, and all that historical significance must stand besides the fact: Nobody liked the Bearcat more, and nobody knew better what to do with them, than that long-gone era's biggest douchebags.

Honorable Mention: Plymouth Road Runner

The Heavy-duty Douche
Ford F-350 SuperDuty

Virtually no one who buys Ford's mightiest pick-up actually needs it. A Ford marketing guy once confidentially told me that the typical buyer of their largest SuperDuty biggest pick-ups was basically a lonely saddo, someone who wanted more friends and figured the way to achieve that exalted state was by becoming the "go-to" guy in their community, the fellow on your block you call when you have, say, two side-by-side refrigerators, a diesel generator, and a pallet of cinderblocks to move. Such a call rarely comes, of course, but they want to be prepared anyway. They don't need a SuperDuty pickup, my source explained, they need a pricey, SuperDuty confidence boost, and Ford was happy to sell it to them. Yeah, come to think of it, why do they call the engines "Power Strokes" anyway? I asked my host. "What do you think?" the Ford man replied, in full smirk, as he made a demonstrative and rather vulgar hand gesture.

The vast majority of buyers would do just as well with one of Ford's plenty-beefy F-150 or -250 pickups, but they just like being able to tell the guys down at the volunteer fire department, or (if they're lucky) some not-so-bright lady at the bar, that they can do it all thanks to their big, big truck.

Honorable Mention: Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

The Teutonic Douche
Porsche Panamera

Over the course of 63 glorious years, Porsche has built some of the world's finest cars. On the other hand, it's also a past master in the douchebag arts, having tailored cars to satisfy its creepiest customers for decades. Not long after the late 1970s 911 Turbo became itself a seminal douchebag ride, Porsche began catering to that crowd. Now you could buy a factory-supplied whale-tail Porsche for a non-turbo car at an extortionate price, giving your down-market Porsche the menacing looks of the Turbo with none of the go. Then came the slant-nosed 911s, another backward moment in Porsche history, where the company started offering punters this race-inspired yet strangely irrelevant body kit, for a price that even in today's dollars would seem hard to justify. Crucially, the basic 911 remains too great a machine to call a pure douchebag car. Yet, Porsche has identified some great ways to separate douchebags from their money using it as a base, and what's followed from that realization has not been pretty.

Consider, for instance, the Panamera, the four-door four-seater. Following on the heels of the high-volume and douche-positive Cayenne SUV, it cements Porsche's new image as a maker of tall, incredibly heavy vehicles that corner well and go very fast for how tall and heavy they are. For all those who wish to bask in the the Porsche name but didn't want to go for the real thing, the Panamera has opened the floodgates.

Honorable Mention: Porsche Cayenne GTS Turbo

The Sport Utility Apparition Douche

Since no one really takes their silly BMW X5 off-road, either, we shouldn't view the basic X6 BMW too harshly. Sure, the X6 weighs just as much and costs even more; it has less cargo capacity, reduced headroom, and even less likelihood of ever setting a wheel off the tarmac, but it's basically the same thing as the X5 it's based on. But now there's an X6M, a pointless spin-off on the ridiculous X6, with its armored-car silhouette, substantial weight, and sky-high ride height already pounding up against the ceiling of douchebag-dom.

Remember when BMW's M cars were lightweight, hand-built masters of understatement? BMW needs reminding fast, as they hurriedly endeavor to offer "M" packages as profit-laden add-ons to every line they sell. The M-brigade's initial mission is long-since forgotten, and the result is abhorrences like the X6M.

Honorable Mention: Acura ZDX