Telling the truth is not something that car dealers do particularly well. But Rosenthal Nissan-Honda-Jaguar of Tysons Corner has embarked on an ad campaign that's as truthful as truthful gets. Rosenthal's used car department is trying to sell used cars by boasting about how ugly they are.

It wouldn't be easy to miss the Rosenthal newspaper ads. "UGLY CARS!", the headlines shout, in a gob of thick, bold-face capitals. "These cars are all ugly, but they run well and all cost under $1,995," the copy says.

If you smell just another gimmick to lure buyers into the showroom, you're right. But as gimmicks go, this one is a smile-producer rather than an ulcer-inducer. So I've been hoping that it's working. And it is.

George O'Connor, assistant manager at Rosenthal, said the company "ran the ad for a week to see what the response would be, and so far it's been pretty good. People will stop by and ask, 'So where are the ugly cars?' "

Whose idea was this? George blames Jeff Forcino, Rosenthal's general manager. "He laughed for days thinking of this ad," George reports.

Jeff, in turn, gives the credit/blame to his father, Mick Forcino, general manager at Cavalier Volkswagen.

"It was my father's idea," said Jeff. "Some cars are just hard to sell. Rather than describe them in superlatives -- sometimes you get tired of the phony-baloney -- I figured I'd tell the truth about the cars. They have bad colors, they're scratched, but they're basically in good shape."

Now, I hope you're not one of those people who thinks that cars have feelings. Because here comes a list of the cars Rosenthal has declared ugly. In that category are a 1976 Datsun ("Lots of rust!" the ad gloats), a 1970 Chevy 4X4 van ("Very nasty!"), a 1982 Ford Escort ("Truly ugly!") and a 1981 AMC Spirit ("Not nice when new, worse now!").

Of course, you and I could jaw forever about which car is uglier than which, and whether a certain make and model deserves to be kissed with the ugliness label. But the experts never lie. So I decided to consult some of them.

Ladies and gentlemen, here are the nominations to The Ugliness Hall of Fame of some of the most experienced car salesmen in Washington. You will notice that not one of them names a car that he sells. But what do you expect? Self-immolation?

Jimmy Gordon, general manager of Herb Gordon's Auto World in Silver Spring: "The Yugo."

John Gilmer, manager of Midtown Motors in Northwest: "The BMW. It looks like a potato. There's not much flair and it's sort of stumpy-looking."

John Callahan, salesman for Jerry's Ford in Annandale: "The AMC Pacer. It looks like a bubble. Hey, are there any Fords on this list?"

John Van Ness, salesman for Cherner Lincoln Mercury in McLean: "The Saab 900. It's not an attractive body design."

Terry Lawton, salesman for Metropolitan Motorcars in Marlow Heights: "The Yugo and the Saab. The Yugo looks like a smashed-up little box. And the Saab looks like a frog."

Guy Williams, salesman for Capitol Nissan in Northeast: "The Citroen. It looks like a rolling teardrop. You're not going to quote me, are you? They probably said bad things about our cars."

Actually, Guy, they haven't -- yet. But give those Nissans a few years of being left out in the rain. When Rosenthal gets hold of them, and starts bragging about all that rust, your Nissans will be the ugliest cars since the 1978 Toyota Celica. And that, my friend, is ugly.

Speaking of automotive excess, John Davenport of Silver Spring is front and center with some we could do without.

Yes, again, some Beltway drivers are paying attention to other things than the road. But the Beltwayist John saw the other day takes the cake.

This guy had a drumstick in each hand.

No, not two pieces of chicken. Two wooden musical drumming implements.

As he careened along past the Central Avenue exit, he was beating a staccato rhythm on the steering wheel -- BOOMpoppaBOOMkapoppaBOOMpoppaBOP.

Of course, one drumstick in his left mitt and another in his right left our hero exactly no mitts with which to steer the car. Perhaps the jerk was steering with his knees, and perhaps not. Either way, it wasn't a method he learned in driver's ed.

Who was this fellow? "He was a young guy," John reports. I salute his choice of verb tenses. The guy is cutting down his chances of remaining an "is" with each passing mile.

Back-to-school observation by Bob Orben:

Most educational institutions offer food for thought.

Most students are on a diet.