The automotive world thrives on innovation, but sometimes that quest for uniqueness veers into the downright bizarre. These are the cars that break all the rules, sporting designs so outlandish they make a Lamborghini Aventador look like a Toyota Camry.
From bubble tops to gull-wing doors and wheels that seem to defy gravity, these automotive eccentricities often challenge our inherent views of what cars should be – and by definition give them value among collectors, says Creative Rides Classic & Collectibles Auctions CEO Kevin Derrick.
“Make no mistake, being in a position as we have in recent months to give new homes to incredible cars like classic Series 1 E-Type Jags, 1963 Corvette C2 Split Window coupes or matching numbers BMW 325iS Evo2s, is a feeling like no other.
“That said, there’s something undeniably fascinating about the mad scientist designers of the automotive world, and I’d be over the moon to see some of their creations on the Creative Rides auction floor this year.
“The factors that make car designs ‘weird’ are, or course, subjective, but since some elements are repeatedly highlighted by automotive fundis around the world, there are a few areas of general consensus.”
What Wiggles the Weird-o-Meter
Derrick says peculiar design features include:
- Utterly unconventional silhouettes – Forget sleek curves and aerodynamic lines; these cars are all about sharp angles, bulbous protrusions or proportions that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dr Seuss illustration.
- Functionality? What functionality? – While some “weird” cars boast impressive performance, others prioritise (possibly questionable) aesthetics over aerodynamics or practicality. Think bubble windows with limited visibility or doors that require contortion skills to enter or exit.
- Unusual proportions – An unconventional sense of scale is one of the standout features of wackier car designs. From absolutely tiny to post-apocalyptic-style monsters, bizarre comes in all sizes. Proportions sometimes also go hinky with cars that are, for instance, ¾ bonnet or barely have ground clearance.
- A complete disregard for trends (and sometimes taste!) – Forget following the herd. Some cars are proudly, defiantly themselves and carve their own often garish niche in the automotive landscape.
Weird Wheels Wishlist
Derrick says there are dozens of curious cars in the world, but among them are 10 contenders he’d most like to see coming to auction at Creative Rides this year.
“If you have one of these tucked away in the back of a barn, now would be the time to haul it out and give us a call!”
- Peel P50 (1962-1965): This pint-sized peculiarity has held the Guinness World Record for the Smallest Production Car since 1962. The P50 sports three wheels, only one headlight, one door and one windscreen wiper, and reversing in the early models meant climbing out of the car and pulling it backwards by a handy handle fitted at the rear. Reverse gear was, apparently, only for sissies. While P50s may look like wobbly eggs on wheels, with only 47 produced they’re big news in collector circles and reach prices in excess of R1m at auction.
- Reliant Robin (1973-1981): This British three-wheeler achieved (unintended) global notoriety for its propensity to tip over on sharp corners. Oddly, this hasn’t deterred collectors; it’s actually made the car more endearing. The Robin’s canvas roof flap “door” (the only way in or out) also adds to its oddball charm. Over 600 000 Robins were sold, and their quirky appeal continues with average auction prices hovering around R100 000.
- BMW Isetta (1955-1962): This bubble-car micro marvel from Germany featured a front-hinged “door” that doubled as the steering wheel and instrument panel. Its egg-shaped body and single window maximised interior space, making it surprisingly practical for its size. Over 300 000 Isettas were produced, and their cult following endures. Hagerty notes the highest sale price achieved for this micro-Beemer to be R1.72m, while models in good condition fetch around R800 000.
- The Cyclops of cars is the Tucker 48 (for its model year of 1948) – otherwise known as the Tucker Torpedo. This futuristic car wouldn’t have looked out of place on The Thunderbirds movie set two decades after it was produced, but that’s not its weirdest design element. The most head-turning feature of the 51 that rolled off the Chicago production line was three headlights – two where you’d expect, and a third front and centre between the bonnet midline and the low-slung grille. According to Hagerty, the most recent sale price for a Tucker 48 was around R38.15m.
- DeLorean DMC-12 (1981-1983): Immortalised forever on the silver screen as Back to the Future’s time travelling chariot, this angular ‘80s gull-wing was produced with a novel stainless-steel finish. The movie created a cult following for the strangely boxy car, which has resulted in substantial collector appetite for the DeLoreans still on the road today from a production run of fewer than 9 000. One of the seven original Back to the Future cars was sold for an eye-watering R44.2m, but in general DMC-12s in good condition fetch upwards of R2.3m at auction.
- Stutz Blackhawk (1971-1981): This flashy luxury car had an elongated bonnet, a pert boot and a shiny chrome grille that collectively screamed “all eyes on me!” Only 2 500 were built, but the most sought-after by serious collectors are the approximately 16 remaining examples of the 25 hand-crafted, split-windscreen Series 1 Blackhawks from 1971. Elvis Presley was the first buyer when the car launched at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and he eventually bought several. In November 2022, an Elvis fan felt such a Burning Love for one of the King’s Series 1 Blackhawks that he paid a record-breaking R5.55m for it at a Las Vegas sale.
- An absolute must for a list like this is the only amphibious passenger car ever manufactured for the civilian market. But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the German makers of the Amphicar Model 770, with fewer than 3 900 sold during the seven-year production run that started in 1961. Now, though, these convertible cars-cum-boats are prized for their novelty value. On the road the Amphicar looks like most other European sports cars of the period. The significant difference is in water, normal convertibles sink like proverbial stones, but propellers and rudders pop out to transform Amphicars from road cruisers to water babies. Just under R3.1m was the highest auction price set for an Amphicar in the past five years, but good Amphicars sell for around R2m, according to Hagerty.
- If you can recall childhood memories of Noddy’s car, you’ll instantly recognise a Nissan Figaro – even if you’ve never seen one up close before. Some 20 000 of these little round retro convertibles were produced exclusively for the Japanese market in 1991. In recent years, however, these small soft tops that resemble cartoon cars are finding favour worldwide as a younger generation of collectors look to Far East markets. According to Hagerty, a Figaro in great condition easily fetches around R700 000 at auction.
- Was this the world’s first minivan? The 1935 Stout Scarab sported an unflattering elongated scarab beetle design, and since each one was individually built to order, unsurprisingly only nine were ever made. Those that remain are scarce and very, very collectable.
- 2013 Mercedes-Benz AMG G3 6×6. When you picture a 6×6 vehicle you immediately think military, which is what the Mercedes AMG G63 6×6 originally was. Based on a model for the Australian Army, the 6×6 is nearly 6m long and weighs just over 4 tons. Precision design aside for a second, what makes this Mad Max-looking monster even more special is that it’s actually a road-legal truck that (despite its weight) tops out at slightly over 160km/h. Apparently 10 of the just more than 100 produced are floating around South Africa. If you want one of these exclusive beasts, though, be prepared to fork out well in excess of R15m.
Derrick says international market appetite for weird wheels is large.
“Do your homework when you’re considering buying an oddball vehicle and also speak to collector car industry professionals, but by and large, bizarre cars are unequivocally excellent investment options.
“We need to see more of them coming to market in South Africa, and expect some to make an appearance at Creative Rides’ mega annual auction at Montecasino in the third quarter of the year. Weird wheels are great fun and they deliver great investment returns – it’s a win-win.”