Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Pontiac Aztek: No Good Between The Tackles

Business Week's Web site has a feature on the 50 ugliest cars of all time. What business Business Week has dabbling in ugly cars is anyone's guess; it's a bit like Michael Jordan playing baseball or Linda Ronstadt singing opera. Go back to yammering about Goldman Sachs and leave the ugly cars to the experts, willya? Anyway, while many of their ugly-car choices were debatable (is a Bangle-era BMW 7-series really uglier than, say, a Geo Metro convertible, or merely more disappointing to Business Week readers?), they totally nailed the Pontiac Aztek. Then again, how could they miss? The Aztek is to ugly cars what acne wash is to Jessica Simpson -- something so indisputably obvious that it beggars mention. It was the only car to take its styling cues from Civil War gun emplacements. It looked rugged but had the toughness of a schaum torte, though in its defense it drove like a WWI tank -- quite capable at a walking pace, but watch out for the cordite fumes. It was only really suitable for two things: serving as a mobile geometry lab, and camping in places where a tent was too compact and a tow-behind camper too practical.

Talking about the Aztek and other ugly cars with autotrader.com's John Seals got me thinking: What was the Pontiac Aztek of modern running backs -- the running back that was simultaneously ugly as an elementary-school Kardashian and as poor-performing? The answer came to me in less time than it takes an Aztek to go from 0 to 0.3: Franco Harris with the Seattle Seahawks. The bird on the helmet? Quasi-Aztec, with a pointy grille. The physique? Angular and imposing. The performance? Capable at a walking pace, but watch out for the cordite fumes.

The 1984-model Franco Harris was perhaps the most pitiful great running back ever. He ran at a shallow angle between his position in the backfield and the sidelines and shied from tacklers as adroitly as the Dukes of Hazzard running a police blockade. His running position was still as upright as a UPS truck, but the V-8 under the hood had been replaced by a four-banger lifted from a Chevette. He was in it for the numbers, and it showed, and it was sorry.

But Franco Harris was just the first-gen Aztek. There were other Azteks to come, Infiniti FXs and Dodge Calibers. Harris was followed by the remains of Curt Warner, which were followed by the pantomime Chris Warren, who was succeeded by the former Edgerrin James. The Seahawks attracted blown-out running backs the way junkyards attract Tauruses, and they all ran the same way -- like a cartoon Wile B. Coyote in midair, futilely postponing gravity.

Of course, post-Aztek Pontiac was the pitiful one, and even an inspired G8 couldn't save it. The Greek chorus of Seahawk runners could have told you Pontiac was done for. They had already pointed the way to the underworld.

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