We’re diving into the world of 24 weird and wonderful classic cars that dared to be different. From the sleek Alfa Romeo Disco Volante to the unique Zündapp Janus, each of these vehicles broke the mold in their own eccentric way. Let’s explore these four-wheeled oddballs that made the car world a whole lot more interesting!
Alfa Romeo Disco Volante
The Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, or “flying saucer,” was a marvel in the early 1950s. At a time when aerodynamics wasn’t a primary focus in car design, the Disco Volante broke the mold. Its design allowed it to glide through the air with ease, a rarity among its contemporaries. This model was a significant departure from the norm, showcasing Alfa Romeo’s willingness to experiment and innovate. Although a modern interpretation appeared in 2012, it couldn’t replicate the original’s groundbreaking impact.
Aston Martin Lagonda
The Aston Martin Lagonda was a conversation starter from the get-go. Unusual for being a sedan from a brand known for sports cars, the Lagonda’s claim to fame was its body shape and digital instrument panel – a novelty in the mid-1970s. Designed by William Towns, the car featured flat panels and sharp edges, making it a polarizing figure in automotive design. Despite its divisive appearance, the Lagonda had a surprisingly long production life, spanning a decade and a half, a testament to its unique appeal.
The first-generation Austin-Healey Sprite, introduced in 1958, was more than just another British sports car. It was groundbreaking for its unibody construction, especially considering its affordability. However, what truly set it apart was its front-end design, affectionately nicknamed ‘Frogeye’ in the UK and ‘Bugeye’ in the US. This distinctive look made the Sprite a standout oddball in the automotive world, a design so unique that it hasn’t been replicated in mainstream vehicles since.
The BMW Z1 was a head-turner for an unusual reason – its retractable doors. Unlike conventional car doors, the Z1’s doors retracted downwards, a feature that was innovative and distinct. This design choice alone secures the Z1’s spot among automotive oddballs. The car was groundbreaking in other aspects too, but it’s the doors that most people remember and associate with this unique BMW model.
The Citroën 2CV is an iconic car in its own right. Designed with the needs of low-income motorists in mind, it emphasized practicality and economy over luxury and performance. What Citroën didn’t anticipate was the 2CV becoming a cult classic, admired for its simplicity and even transformed into a racing car by enthusiasts. Its long production life, from before World War II until 1990, is a testament to its enduring appeal and significance.
The Citroën DS, introduced in 1955, was a vehicle that seemed to come from the future. With its unique shape, high-level indicators, reliance on hydraulics, and later addition of cornering headlights, the DS was years ahead of its time. Its innovative features and futuristic design set it apart from any other car on the market, making it a standout model in Citroën’s history of producing distinctive and groundbreaking vehicles.
Fiat 600 Multipla
The Fiat 600 Multipla was a solution to a specific problem: how to fit six people in a car when you only have the space for four. This quirky vehicle added a third row of seats in front of the first two, eliminating the hood and presenting the windshield and front panel directly to oncoming traffic. The design was so unique that it’s unthinkable in today’s car market, making the Multipla a memorable example of automotive ingenuity.
Ford Consul Classic
The Ford Consul Classic was an example of British cars drawing inspiration from American designs. However, the Consul Classic took this a bit too far, resulting in its dramatic appearance being a major factor in its poor sales. Its overly bold styling led to its replacement by the more conventional Corsair after just two years. The even wilder Consul Capri coupe version suffered a similar fate, highlighting the risks of stepping too far outside design norms.
The Isuzu VehiCROSS stood out for its adventurous looks and considerable off-road capability. Launched as a concept in 1993 and brought to production with minimal changes in 1997, the VehiCROSS was an unusual move for the typically conservative Isuzu. Its almost cartoonish styling and powerful V6 engine made it a capable and distinctive SUV that garnered praise for both its design and performance.
The Lohner-Porsche, designed by Ferdinand Porsche during his time at the Austrian manufacturer Lohner, was a groundbreaking vehicle for 1901. As an electric car powered by a generator with a gasoline engine, it was ahead of its time, pioneering a concept that is common today. This early example of hybrid technology marks an important milestone in the history of automotive innovation.
Introduced in 1966, the Lotus Europa was notable not just for its mid-engined layout but also for its unique ‘breadvan’ styling. Designed by Ron Hickman, the Europa’s distinct look set it apart from other Lotus models. Initially powered by a Renault engine before switching to Lotus’s own Twin Cam engine, the Europa was an eccentric yet impactful addition to the sports car market of its time.
The Matra Rancho, launched in 1977, can be considered an early example of a crossover SUV. Based on the Simca 1100, it featured a largely non-metal body, offering ample space and light for passengers and luggage. An early design flaw concerning the rear-side windows was quickly rectified, but the Rancho’s concept as a crossover SUV was revolutionary for its time, paving the way for a now-popular vehicle category.
The Nash Metropolitan, a tiny car built by Austin in the UK for the American market, is a unique case in automotive history. Launched in 1954, it was significantly smaller than the cars Americans were accustomed to. Marketed under various brand names, the Metropolitan’s eight-year production run proved there was a market for smaller, more compact cars in the U.S. during that era.
The NSU Ro80, despite its initial reliability issues, was an innovative and well-designed car. Launched in 1967, it featured a smooth-running rotary engine, all-independent suspension, and a semi-automatic transmission. Unfortunately, early engine failures tarnished its reputation, leading to the demise not only of the Ro80 but also of the NSU brand. The Ro80 is remembered today for its advanced design that was ahead of its time.
Renault Sport Spider
The Renault Sport Spider, introduced in the 1990s, was a surprising and radical departure for Renault. Known for producing practical vehicles, Renault’s creation of the Sport Spider – a high-performance, aluminum chassis car with a composite body – was almost unbelievable. Its concept was similar to the Lotus Elise, making the Sport Spider a remarkable and unexpected addition to Renault’s lineup.
The Rolls-Royce Twenty, introduced in 1922, caused quite a stir with its features and design choices. Criticisms ranged from its overhead valve engine and lack of front brakes to its gearlever placement. Rolls-Royce responded to feedback by adding front brakes and a fourth gear, but the initial controversy around the Twenty highlights the challenges of innovating in the luxury car market.
The Saab 92, the first car produced by the Swedish Airplane Company Limited, showcased the company’s aerospace expertise through its aerodynamic design. The car’s structure was made stiff by design choices like small rear windows and no trunk lid. The 92’s design, with many updates and name changes, remained Saab’s sole production model until the launch of the 99 in 1968, highlighting its success and uniqueness.
The Stout Scarab, influenced by airplane technology, was a pioneering aerodynamic car designed in the early 1930s. Its unique shape, flush glass, and lack of exterior door handles set it apart from contemporary designs. The Scarab is sometimes referred to as the world’s first minivan due to its spacious interior, but sadly, only a few prototypes were built, making it one of the automotive world’s most intriguing might-have-beens.
The Studebaker Avanti, introduced in 1962, can be seen as the last creative effort from a company on the brink of closure. Its advanced fiberglass body, designed by Raymond Loewy, and features like front disc brakes set the Avanti apart. However, the closure of its production factory in 1963 and Studebaker’s eventual demise in 1967 marked the end of an innovative yet short-lived model.
The Tatra T77, designed by Paul Jaray, was an aerodynamic and luxurious model launched in 1934. With its futuristic body shape and rear-mounted air-cooled V8 engine, the T77 was a standout in automotive design. It was soon updated to the T77a and later replaced by the T87, but the T77 began Tatra’s tradition of producing distinctive and unconventional cars.
The Trojan, launched in the late 1920s, was an economical and reliable vehicle, thanks to its unique engineering choices like a flat under-seat engine and solid rubber tires. Despite its eccentricities, the Trojan proved to be a durable car. The Trojan company’s subsequent ventures, including the building of McLaren racing cars, highlight its diverse and unconventional approach to the automotive industry.
The Trossi Monaco, designed for Grand Prix racing, was an extraordinary creation with its front-wheel-drive layout and 16-cylinder radial engine. Built in 1935, the Trossi Monaco was a radical departure from contemporary racing car designs. However, its impracticality led to its abandonment after testing, marking it as a unique but unsuccessful experiment in racing car design.
Voisin C25 Aérodyne
The Voisin C25 Aérodyne, introduced in the early- to mid-1930s, was another example of aerodynamic car design from that era. It stood out with its blend of modern and traditional elements, featuring gracefully curving lines alongside large, exposed headlights. The Aérodyne represented a fusion of past and future in automotive design, characteristic of Gabriel Voisin’s visionary approach.
The Zündapp Janus, a microcar built in 1958, was unique for its symmetrical design and unconventional seating arrangement with passengers facing opposite directions. Developed by the Dornier airplane company, the Janus featured front and rear doors instead of side doors. Despite its ingenuity, the Janus was not a commercial success, and production ceased after just one year.