Being distinctive is one thing-but car makers need to be careful they don’t stray into ‘weird’ territory…yet many have.
So we thought we’d list some of the weirdest cars that have made it all the way through to production. Some have a real ‘different’ purpose, but some don’t, they just look as though they were meant to be weird, and you just have to shake your head and ask “why?”.
Cars that can double up as boats have long been on the wish list, and some have been quite successful-of sorts. The best known is the Amphicar of German origin with a Triumph Herald engine.
It was produced between 1962 and 1967 with some 4500 being made in total, with the USA being by far the biggest market. It could travel at up to 115kph on the road and 6 knots on water. Apparently it was not a great success and production ceased in 1967 due to falling demand, which was blamed on a price that was too high and (of course) a propensity to rust. If this whets your appetite enough to want to buy one, they are still on the second hand market, but be prepared to pay up to $100,000 for a good one -and a bad one doesn’t make much sense as you’ll be taken for a bath (groan)
Or, you can buy a new amphibious car. We can only find one current manufacturer of complete road and water ready vehicles, they are in the USA and produce a couple of good looking cars/boats. These two are from the current range, one that looks very practical, and one that looksrather sleek. But sadly, they are not licensed for Australia, and if you wanted to park (moor?) them overseas they would cost around $200,000 each
Flying cars are still a dream, though some are coming closer to reality. Probably the most developed example is from the Terrafugia company which has built the car/plane which is pictured here, with the help of a substantial US Govt. grant. To our eyes it looks OK as a plane, but pretty cumbersome in its roadworthy format (pic left). But it works, and the company promises that it will be in full production in the near future. I guess we can say “only in America!”.
You can see a fairly lengthy, though fascinating video clip of it driving and flying here.
OK, let’s now come back down to Earth again and look at some weird cars that have graced our roads- however briefly, over the years. We’ve listed our eight favourite production ‘weirdos’ below. See if you agree.
Promising to knock the socks off the opposition, The Lightburn Manufactiring Company from Adelaide (better known for making washing machines and cement mixers) launched the Zeta amongst a fanfare of nationalistic pride in 1963 at a price of $1190. This small car was powered by a miniscule 324cc Villiers engine. The sedan didn’t have a rear hatch, so if you wanted to access the rear cargo area you had to remove the front seats. To select reverse the engine had to be switched off, then started backwards, but – gee whiz – that then provided you with four reverse gears, letting you go backwards as fast as you could go forwards! The Zeta was launched to compete with the Morris Mini, but that was only about $100 dearer. So, guess what? It didn’t sell. Well, apparently it did find a remarkable 363 customers whilst in production (until 1966) but that included a couple of very supportive (foolhardy?) city councils
Post war Europe demanded cheap transport, the cheapest of which were called ‘bubble cars’ (egg-shaped and bubble-like windows). The Isetta two seater bubble car was designed in Italy, further developed by BMW in Germany and manufactured under licence in Britain for local and export sales, including Australia. It was hugely popular-and fashionable, in Europe with over 136,000 made. But they were not embraced by the Australian motorist who travelled longer distances and didn’t have the urban congestion (well, not then, anyway). The two passengers sat in front with the door and steering gear opening up in front of them. So much for frontal impact absorption protection!
It seems Toyota wanted to find out how ‘unusual’ designs would appeal to the public, so the strangely named WiLL Vi was an attempt to find out in 2000. Production ceased in 2001 so we can presume they found out.
Well, you can’t blame a man for trying. Sir Clive Sinclair was an eccentric English inventor and entrepreneur (pocket calculators, computers, folding bicycles etc). He developed a battery assisted tricycle, steered by a handlebar beneath the driver’s knees (now work that out…). It doesn’t require a drivers licence to use it so it was expected (by him at any rate) to sell in the tens of thousands, particularly around busy city centres. But instead, although selling a respectable 17,000 units, it became an object of media and political ridicule. Funnily enough though, it claimed a World record as the ‘best selling electric vehicle’ until November 2011 when the Nissan Leaf surpassed its sales figures.
In the midst of ‘large barges’ it takes courage to launch a Detroit American Compact. But that’s what AMC did in 1975. Unkindly it was said that their design department took an early mark and forgot to work on the last half of the car that went missing. A bit too unkind, perhaps, but it did seem to come to a rather abrupt end at the back. Whilst it was wider than a Rolls Royce, it was considerably shorter that a Holden Kingswood. It also lacked cargo space, as well as performance from its 6 cylinder motor, although it did claim some unique features, one of which was a passenger door that was longer than the driver’s.This was to aid rear seat access for the two door saloon, but they kept the same configuration when they exported to right hand drive markets, including Australia. Didn’t go down well and production ceased in 1980
The smallest car in the World was the Peel, first made in 1962. It failed as a commercial venture, but was resurrected a few years ago in the UK and is known as the Peel P50. It’s just 137cm. long and 104cm. wide, still making it the smallest car in the world. It can be powered by a small petrol engine or by battery power. It claimed to house a driver and his briefcase,and featured in Top Gear a couple of years ago, when the programme presenter, Jeremy Clarkson drove it through central London to a meeting at his office- precisely! He went into his building, into the lift and up to the meeting room – whilst still in the car. One problem, though, it doesn’t have a reverse gear, so if you want to go backwards you have to get out of the car lift it up, turn it around and get back into the car again!
Here’s another on our list that is from the UK, aren’t we being unfair to feature them so much?.But we were in a bit of a dilemma here, as we couldn’t decide between the Bond Bug and the Reliant Regal. Both are rather weird three wheelers (they have a tax and licence advantage in the UK). We finally plumped for the Bond Bug for two reasons. Firstly the Reliant was reasonably popular and served a purpose for economical motoring, even if it didn’t want to stay upright. Secondly the Bond Bug was made as a “performance alternative”!!! OK, it did claim a top speed of over 125kph, but is that enough to be a motoring icon? (and we wouldn’t want to be in one at that speed).
We are told that the design brief for the Ssangyong Stavic people mover was “to capture the essence of a luxury yacht”. Well, to look at it from the side it clearly wasn’t all plain sailing… I guess we’ve all seen them on the road and wondered “What was that?”. In fact it’s a very clever use of space, being a full seven seater people mover. It’s from Korea and very competitively priced. Yes, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but for us the most favourable comment we can make is that we don’t think it has saluted to the design brief too well…..
Let’s add one more curiosity to our list, and that’s our own office runabout. No, don’t laugh! It has a real cult following, though we don’t get many volunteers to drive it around town. But, really it does have some street cred, and if you don’t believe us check it out here
That’s our short list and there will be plenty more- what do you think is the weirdest production car? Click here to comment on the blog page.