Automotive guilty pleasures: The cars we’re almost embarrassed we like

We're not afraid to admit there are some cars we genuinely love, even if they're vulgar or bad or both or may make you laugh.

William Stopford
William Stopford
Journalist
Published

If our love of cars was entirely rational and objective, the entire CarExpert team would probably be driving Toyota RAV4 hybrids.

As automotive journalists, we recognise the brilliance of certain cars and sometimes we buy these excellent cars ourselves, from the Mk7.5 Volkswagen Golf GTI all the way up to the Ferrari 458 Speciale.

But as car enthusiasts, we have our own penchants that can tend towards the eccentric.

You need only look at a typical car show to see just how diverse the wider car enthusiast community can be. For every 20 Skyline GT-Rs or first-generation Mustangs, there’s somebody with a pristine Datsun 120Y parked in the corner.

Whole car shows like Concours d’Lemons have been established to celebrate enthusiasts’ love of vehicles not typically perceived as worth commemorating.

In that spirit, here are some vehicles that we genuinely love, even if they’re a little embarrassing to admit.

Scott Collie

The BMW Z3.

BMW has a storied history of cars beloved by the motoring media and enthusiasts, but the Z3 convertible isn’t one of them.

The soft-top predecessor to the Z4 didn’t win all that many fans during its six-year life, but it made a big impression on a young Scott Collie. I loved the Z3 as a five-year old, and there’s still a part of me that wants one in 2022.

With its long bonnet, classic vents behind the front arches, and short rear deck, it still looks cool in a sort of late-1990s way.

I’m a sucker for cars with a luggage rack on the boot lid, and there’s still a few Z3s getting around with chrome racks that just make me smile.

The fact you can have it with a naturally-aspirated inline-six and manual transmission is a bonus. Anyone need a haircut?

Mike Costello

Volvo 240

As someone largely without shame, I have already bought and sold my guilty pleasure.

Okay, it might have some retro-cool factor today, but when I had one, it provided everyone with a license to mock.

My ’91 gold 240 sedan had 400,000km on the odo, with a T-bar auto and ribbed headrests. The works.

Aside from a tendency to run the wrong fuel/air mix on account of constantly dodgy sensors, it was utterly beyond reproach.

I would say I regret flogging it, but I believe the young fella I sold it to V8-swapped it, so honestly the world is a better place for that happening.

Anthony Crawford

BMW Isetta (1955-62)

I’ve always harboured a fascination for the BMW Isetta (Bubble Car), in large part due to the way you enter it: the entire front end of the car including instrument panel and steering wheel is hinged outwards.

In the event of an accident, the idea was for the driver and passenger to climb out through the canvas sunroof.

While the front bench was said to provide reasonable comfort for up to three, including a child, behind that was a parcel shelf under which sat a spare wheel.

BMW wasn’t the original creator, as that claim goes to Italian company Iso SpA who started out building refrigerators, scooters, and tiny three-wheeled trucks before making it big with its Iso Isetta.

When BMW completely re-engineered the car in 1955 around a one-cylinder, four-stroke 247cc motorcycle engine generating 9kW of power, it became the first car to achieve a fuel consumption of 3.0L/100km (94mpg).

Interestingly, there were no parts that were interchangeable between the Italian version and the BMW Isetta.

Alborz Fallah

Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Long ago, on an island far away (the Sunshine Coast), I went to the launch of the Range Rover Evoque… convertible. It was the day before Trump was elected president and there was a sense of uncertainty in the air, but most of it was about the ridiculous car we were about to drive.

You can imagine, a male-dominated industry of ‘tough’ blokes all standing around talking about how absurd an SUV without a roof was and which hairdresser would be first to put an order in.

Needless to say, it didn’t exactly have positive reviews (although if you Google it, you’ll find my original review of the Evoque convertible on another website named after a Golfing magazine).

Say what you will about the car but, secretly, I have always admired the most ludicrous Range Rover of all.

That’s not because I have a need to own a convertible that can go off-road, or because it looks like a bathtub on wheels, but because someone at Jaguar Land Rover must have had too much to drink one night and went “you know what…. let’s cut the roof and see if it sells”.

Well it didn’t, but I still love it because it’s just so obscure… though I don’t quite love it as much as the Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible or Mitsubishi Colt Convertible (hides under the table).

Derek Fung

Er, the Fiat 500L.

Yes, it’s ugly. Yes, its styling brings great shame to the 500 name. But context is everything. I’ve driven one here in the States, and it was not fun: too small, and too ugly.

In Italy for a family holiday, it was perfect. At 4.15m long, it had so much space for two 40-somethings, a three-year old, an 80-year old, and all our luggage.

Its compact size and reasonable handling made it perfect for throwing about on windy Tuscan roads without any passengers throwing up their prosciutto or pasta.

And, as is often said, you can’t see an ugly car when you’re sitting inside it.

I looked back at photos from that last pre-pandemic holiday the other night, and almost shed a tear for that 500L. Ugly, yes, but (almost) perfect for that part of the world.

Paul Maric

Humvee

I’ve gone modest with mine.

I grew up enjoying Arnold Schwarzenegger films and have the same taste in cars he has.

My guilty pleasure is the Humvee – a purpose-built military dual-cab ute. It’s designed to work on foreign battlefields and also as a runabout for collecting groceries or doomsday supplies.

I actually like it enough that I’ve bought one and it’s en route from the US. What do I have planned for it? Absolutely no idea. Why do I want it? Absolutely no idea.

All I know is I want it. You never know when it’ll come in handy.

Jack Quick

For me there isn’t any choice other than the Suzuki X-90.

I understand it makes completely no sense to have an extremely capable off-roader wrapped up with the body of a T-top convertible, but I love it so much.

Growing up I always thought these looked so cool and I loved the idea of being able to remove the targa top for some more airflow.

I’ve not actually had the opportunity to drive one yet, but I imagine it’s extremely similar to the Sierras and Vitaras from the 1990s.

My personal car I drive right now is a 2020 Suzuki Jimny with the five-speed manual, and my family still has a 1992 Suzuki Sierra soft top and a 1985 Holden Drover ute on our farm.

Suzuki is definitely in my blood and the X-90 is 100 per cent my most guilty pleasure.

William Stopford

Ford Taurus Ghia

You’d know by now I love an underdog. I drive a Hyundai Genesis, and at various times I’ve considered vehicles like the Infiniti Q70 and Chrysler Crossfire and the final Honda Legend and Cadillac Seville. But I also love a good “loser car”, the type of car that was largely unloved new and yet never went on to gain any kind of cult following.

I seem especially drawn to models that came after much more successful models and failed to replicate their success: the 1974 Buick Riviera, the 1975 Dodge Charger, the 1986 Cadillac Seville.

It might surprise you, though, that someone who likes muscularly styled, rear-wheel drive sedans like the Holden VE/VF Commodore and Cadillac CTS and STS would be so enamoured with a blobby, front-wheel drive family sedan like the Ford Taurus Ghia.

The first Ford Taurus in 1986 was a big deal, with aerodynamic, Audi-inspired styling breathing fresh air into the mid-sized sedan segment in North America. There was pressure for the 1996 Taurus to shake up the game again, and this is detailed in a fascinating book called Car by Mary Walton that’s worth a read.

Shake it up Ford did, but though Taurus sales remained strong in the US it lost ground to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. And though Ford Australia had successfully lobbied for a new Falcon in the controversial AU – a design that’s arguably aged better – head office still decided to sell the Taurus here as some kind of quasi-premium Nissan Maxima rival. The interestingly styled wagon and Yamaha V8-powered SHO (yes, really) didn’t come here, though.

In high school I was adamant this was going to be my first car, until I later realised I wanted a manual, rear-wheel drive sedan, and eventually ended up with a much more desirable BA Falcon XR6.

I still occasionally trawl the classifieds for a Taurus, but if it helps me get my enthusiast card reinstated, there are two other 1990s sedans I regularly scour the classifieds for: the 1991-96 Mazda 929 and the Infiniti Q45.

James Wong

Abarth 595

Quite possibly the most ridiculous vehicle on sale today, the Abarth 595 shoehorns a boosty 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine into Fiat’s ageing Cinquecento micro hatch for big fun factor.

It’s typically Italian in that it’s loud aurally and visually and has ergonomics that might have you screaming “Mamma Mia”, while it has a price tag that’s much larger than the vehicle itself.

But what the 595 lacks in size, it makes up for in character, soul, and passion. Get a Competizione with that quad-tipped Monza exhaust and slick aluminium manual shifter and you’ll grin from ear to ear.

Vorrei un’ Abarth 595 Competizione in Verde Adrenalina, per favore…

MORE: What the CarExpert team would buy for the price of a new Toyota RAV4 hybrid

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William Stopford

William Stopford is an automotive journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. William is a Business/Journalism graduate from the Queensland University of Technology who loves to travel (remember that?), briefly lived in the US, and has a particular interest in the American car industry.

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