August 12, 2008 at 1:00 am

Nightmare cruisin': 8 cars top non-classics list

Part of the fun of car-watching on Woodward Avenue this time of year is to see the unusual cars people pull out of their garages. Beyond the standard cruise icons -- the '57 Chevrolet Bel-Air, the late-'60s Pontiac GTO -- are little runabouts your grandma might have driven, such as the Ford Falcon or the Nash Rambler. But those cars had dash, and even glamour.

There are limits to cute and weird. Some auto designs were either so ugly or so utilitarian and boring (not utilitarian and cool, like an old Jeep) that they're taking up valuable space on Woodward Avenue that a Pontiac Aztek could be occupying.

Time will never give these eight vehicles the sheen of glamor -- they'll still look dorky and lame when they're of a vintage to cruise on Woodward:

1. Dad's old station wagon. The Station Wagon Owners of America, great guys, will be mad at me for this, but keep the Ford Country Squires, Buick Roadmasters, Chrysler Town and Country wagons, Subaru Foresters and other lame kid-and-mulch haulers off Woodward. Even the red-and-white '57 Plymouth Belvedere station wagon I was carted around in as a child -- highly collectible yes; cool, no.

2. AMC Pacer. When the Pacer came out in 1977, it looked like a big disco ball rolling down the highway. This pleased a few deluded trendsetters; the rest of us laughed ourselves silly. But time has made its ridiculous design iconic of the '70s; witness the car's appearance in the movie "Wayne's World" as Garth's "Mirthmobile."

3. AMC Gremlin. Not to pick on AMC (hey, we won't mention the Coronet), but you have to love an era in which "Gremlin" seems like a good name for a car. The Gremlin came out in 1970 and helped give the public the mistaken notion that subcompact cars had to be ugly, nerdy and clunky to drive. But it's so incredibly funny-looking that, yes, we might line up to see a parade of them motor down Woodward. To laugh.

4. Ford Pinto. OK, so there are engine fire issues; I could say the same about my '64 MG Midget. Safety isn't a deal-breaker when it comes to classic cars, but the Pinto's "I can't afford a Mustang II" lines and garish '70s colors, is.

5. Chevrolet Vega. All the dazzle of a Pinto, but with a GM nameplate. Without the rococo design cues of the AMC subcompacts, these are simply aging boxes that should never cruise. Somewhere in a landfill, there are a fleet of mashed Vegas waiting to be saved.

6. Yugo. Leave it to Yugoslavia to outdo us with the smallest, cheapest subcompact. Imported into the U.S. in the mid-'80s, this is a car that a stiff breeze would blow off a bridge. Extra points deducted for the soul-deadening, Soviet-bloc style design. Na zdravie!

7. Toyota Scion . Take all the sensuousness out of car design and you have ... the Scion! One could argue that it looked fresh and youthful a few years ago, but it's hard to believe that this box will ever prompt anything but hysterical laughter out on the strip.

8. Honda Accord. Could anything ever be done to sex up this workaday, Joe Six Pack sedan enough for cruising? No and no: Old Accords look like decommissioned washing machines with rust issues.

You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or">