Cars have been an integral part of our lives for long enough that we know what’s more or less normal looking and what’s not. Sometimes, in the pursuit of a specific design goal, the cars get really weird. Today, for a little fun, I’m going to count down my personal picks for the ten strangest cars ever built. Some of these are ideas that came before their time, and others never had a time. And if I missed one, be sure to drop it in the comments. I love a good weird car as much as anyone!
10. 1935 Stout Scarab
We’re starting the list with something relatively tame. Designed by engineer and journalist William B. Stout, the Scarab was known for its roomy interior and deceptively light chassis, and looked like an art deco beetle. The protype was completed in 1932, and the manufacturing model in 1935, which makes this vehicle famous as the first minivan. Sadly, it didn’t catch on, and was discontinued in the ‘40s.
9. 1964 Peel Trident
It’s hard to know what to make of the Peel Trident, other than it looks like something Cousin Itt might drive on the moon. Built by the Peel Engineering Company on the Isle of Man, the Trident actually featured two seats, under the misguided impression that someone driving one would ever have a date. (Incidentally, the one-seat model, the P50, was a finalist for this list, but I picked the Trident specifically to make that joke.) The Trident had three wheels and was seriously tiny, barely over six feet long and three feet wide, and weighed only 330 pounds. This final fact is unlikely to shock anyone: it was never actually sold in the U.S.
8. 1932 Helicron
The Helicron is a one-of-a-kind beast, and for that, the world is a much poorer place. This thing was found in (the year) 2000, rotting away in a barn and was promptly restored to its proper and bizarre glory. Essentially a wooden roadster driven by a massive front-mounted propeller, the Helicron is the perfect car whether you love speed or just hate birds. Unsurprisingly, the steering was at the rear wheels, and instead of a gas pedal, it featured a throttle lever. After its restoration, Jason Torchinsky of Jalopnik reviewed it, and demonstrated its effect on pedestrians by hurling sausages through the propeller. Okay, maybe there’s a reason this design never caught on.
7. 1970 Ferrari 512S Modulo
Maybe it’s because I love ‘70s and ‘80s sci fi, but I’m kind of in love with this entry. The Ferrari Modulo was a concept sports car, and it looks like it could have driven off the set of 2001 or Logan’s Run. The car was so low to the ground that you had to get into it from the canopy on the roof. Unsurprisingly for a Ferrari, this thing had a top speed of around 220 mph and could go zero to 60 in 3 seconds flat. Sadly, it never made it past the concept stage.
6. 1953 GM Firebird I XP-21
In the ‘50s, America was going through a love affair with jets. It was inevitable that an engineer would combine that with our first love—cars. While there are several jet/car hybrids out there, the GM Firebird is my pick because it looks like a jet fuselage with some wheels attached to it. That’s more or less what it was, but it also packed a gas-powered jet turbine with 370 horses. Unfortunately, it also shot a cone of jet exhaust behind it that reached temperatures of 1250 degrees Fahrenheit. That wasn’t going to work in traffic.
5. 1942 Oeuf Electrique
This entry was designed by eccentric French engineer Paul Arzens. I’m pretty sure roughly half of that sentence was completely unnecessary because you figured it out. If you recall what was happening in France in 1942, it won’t be surprising you gasoline wasn’t easy to come by, especially for civilians. The Oeuf Electrique—that’s “Electric Egg”—was intended as an alternate way to get around. While it looks as light as previous entry the Peel Trident, once batteries and motor were added in, the Electric Egg tipped the scales at around 770 pounds. For its time, it had decent power, with a range of 63 miles and a top speed of 44mph (37mph if you had a passenger), and had it caught on, we might be light years ahead on electric vehicle technology.
4. ETV Electric Supercar
Extra Terrestrial Electric Super Car – The ETV
Like the Helicron, the ETV Electric Supercar is a custom job. Built by pro-customizer Mike Vetter off a stripped Chevy Aveo frame, this car looks like it’s ready to run the Death Star trench. You can only get one of them by special-ordering it from Vetter himself, and I’m seriously tempted. I’ve always wanted someone to mistake me for an alien, and driving one of these, it would happen on the regular.
3. 1987 GM Sunraycer
The World Solar Challenge is a race put on with the intent of driving and perfecting solar powered vehicles. Number three on my list was the winner of the inaugural incarnation of the race. Designed in collaboration with General Motors, AeroVironment, and Hughes Aircraft, the Sunraycer is powered by 8800 solar cells installed along its teardrop-shaped chassis. This thing is lighter than the Electric Egg, with its frame weighing in at a feather-like 14 pounds, and at only 585 pounds with everything installed. Because of that, and its aerodynamic shape, the Sunraycer could hit nearly 70 mph.
2. 1961 Amphicar Model 770
Have you ever gone into a dealership, but not known if you wanted a car or a boat? Of course not. Literally no one has. It hasn’t stopped engineers from trying to solve that non-problem. Owners usually praise the Amphicar with lines like “it’s the fastest car on the water and the fastest boat on the land,” which astute readers will note means absolutely nothing. It’s a bit better vehicle than that, but the consensus is that it’s a far better car than a boat, and it’s not really a great car. Still, in 1965, a pair of them crossed the English Channel, so if your commute includes the English Channel, you’re all set.
1. 1949 Taylor Aerocar I
We finish this list in the only place we can, with the Taylor Aerocar. Flying cars has been shorthand for the future for a long time, but the irony is we’ve technically had flying cars since the ‘40s. The problem is the same as the problem for the Amphicar: you end up with a vehicle that instead of doing one thing well, does two things passably. For a car, the Aerocar was cramped, noisy and slow. For a plane, it was heavy and also slow. It was expensive to move too, getting 15 mpg on the road and 8 gallons per hour in the sky. The Aerocar, like other flying car designs (yes, there were multiple) was a modular design, with the idea being that a traveler would store wings and tail at an airport to be attached only when intending to fly. The Aerocar was no exception, but its wings and tail could be folded into a trailer that could then be towed behind the car. Conversion from one form to another took between five to ten minutes, but an untold amount of dignity.
Some of these cars were failures. Others worked or work exactly as they’re supposed to. The one thing they all have in common were creators willing to take risks. At DealerOn, we’re doing the same thing with our new products. We’re using scientific data to give you the best websites out there, and we’re innovating all the time. No matter where you are on your dealership’s journey, we can help you get to the next step. We love cars, just like you, and sometimes we have to take our hats off to the strangest designs that ever saw road. Or water. Or air.