For most people with modest salaries, cars function more as practical tools than as highly-stylized artistic creations. However, the history of auto manufacturing is chock full of oddities, ranging from the ambitious to the beautiful to the mind-bogglingly impractical. Especially in the early days of the automotive industry, many famous and obscure car designers took inspiration from airplanes, submarines, and even James Bond films to craft cars that defied the imagination.
Many of the vehicles were merely concepts that never became mass-produced and accessible to the general public. Yet, even the vehicles that were unrealistic and scantly produced introduced revolutionary concepts that became staple design elements of future cars. Features such as back-up cameras, T-Roofs, and electric power were all present in niche car models years before they became widespread.
Here are 25 of the strangest cars ever invented, each with their own unique story.
1. Messerschmitt KR200
Designed by famed aeronautical engineer Fritz Fend, the Messerschmitt KR200 is one of the most prominent oddities in the history of the automobile. German airplane manufacturer Messerschmitt produced roughly 40,000 of the bubble-shaped vehicle from 1955-1964. The bite-size car was notable for only having three wheels and a huge bar for steering instead of a wheel.
2. Stout Scarab
Before Honda Odysseys and Kia Sedonas dominated the minivan market, there was the Stout Scarab. Initially created in the 1930s, the innovative vehicle is possibly the first minivan ever conceived. The Stout Engineering Laboratories designed the Scarab with multiple features that eventually became commonplace in future vans such as a card table that could be outfitted in the backseat.
3. Oeuf Electrique
Paul Arzens was a maverick in the field of locomotives before he became interested in the design of automobiles. He developed numerous quirky cars, perhaps none so notable as the Oeuf Electrique (translated as the “electric egg). The miniature oddity proved to be an early experiment in electric cars due to its electric motor that boasted a modest range from 44 to 63 miles per hour.
4. GM La Sabre
At the time of its unveiling in 1951, the GM La Sabre dominated car shows all around the country with its innovative design flourishes. General Motors’ concept vehicle incorporated elements from airplanes such as tail fins that went on to become a standard design feature on other vehicles in the ’50s. Influential auto designer Harley Earl dreamed up the sleek La Sabre, and it even became his personal car for a number of years. While the vehicle never reached the general public, it integrated numerous design features including the aluminum 215 V8 engine and a rear-mounted transmission.
5. 1929 Ford Model A Speedster
Even though the 1929 Ford Model A Speedster maxed out at 60 miles per hour, the stylish car was a technical marvel for its time. The Speedster sported an elongated hood, three-speed gear transmission, two plush seats, and, interestingly, no top at all. While the concept car wasn’t exactly practical, it exuded style and class. It was rumored that Edsel Ford himself enjoyed driving the Speedster to work.
6. 1956 Buick Centurion
Even today, backup cameras are still considered a luxury for most vehicles — although they will become standard by 2018. Most people don’t realize that the first automobile backup camera dates back to 1956, when Buick placed a non-functional backup camera on its Centurion concept car. The ambitious vehicle featured a striking glass bubble-top roof, which car fans can view in person in Flint, Michigan at the Sloan Museum.
7. 1936 Bugatti Type 57S
Italian car designers Ettore Bugatti and his son Jean Bugatti were not known for their subtlety. The pair chased luxury to its excess, producing some of the most decadent and hotly coveted cars of their era. The Type 57S was an indulgence in almost every aspect, from its 3.3 engine that attained a max speed of 90 miles per hour, to its split front axle, which gave it the ability to function independently.
8. Sunswift eVe
While electric and self-driving cars may seem like the future of cars, the solar car industry is one of the most niche and innovative automobile vectors out there. The Sydney, Australia-based University of South Wales Solar Racing Team, known as Sunswift for short, have created an array of high-tech, solar-powered vehicles. The Sunswift eVe is their most recent creation, outfitted with an array of solar panels on top and designed with the sleekness of a sports car. Not only does the vehicle run entirely off of the sun, but it can travel up to 310 miles on only one charge.
The Pope’s signature vehicle, affectionately known as the Popemobile, has undergone many iterations to keep pace with his strict safety standards. The bulletproof plexiglass bubble that many associate with the Popemobile is a relatively recent addition — added after the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. Ford, Fiat, Leyland, and countless more have crafted different vehicles tailored to the Pope’s needs. Pope Benedict XVI often favored a Mercedes-Benz M-Class that had the glass bubble in the back of the vehicle. Pope Francis still has that model, but often travels more modestly in his 1984 Renault 4.
10. BMW Isetta
The BMW Isetta was one of the most popular bubble cars of its era, first premiering in 1953. That car features a fascinating (and seemingly unsafe) design where the front of the car doubles as a door that opens up to the steering wheel. The driver and passenger’s only backup plan in case of emergency was to exit through the sunroof. The Isetta garnered international acclaim when BMW revealed that it attained a fuel efficiency rate of 94 miles per gallon — a first for any mass-produced vehicle.
11. 2001 BMW GINA Concept
BMW’s GINA vehicle is the ideal concept car — brilliantly ambitious and incredibly idealistic. It’s covered in a stretchy layer of translucent Spandex, designed to withstand extreme temperatures and maintain its form. Underneath, the frame is manufactured to alter its shape to match the will of the driver, in addition to outside factors such as speed. Its name is actually a convoluted acronym for “Geometry and functions In ‘N’ Adaptations.”
12. 1947 Norman Timbs Special
Like the name implies, the 1947 Norman Timbs Special was the brainchild of one man. Timbs was a mechanical and automotive engineer who went on to design Indy Racing vehicles. The Norman Timbs Special’s dramatic exterior design hinges on a wavelike motion, resembling the dips and peaks of a roller coaster. However, its extravagant aluminum body didn’t hinder the vehicle’s speed. The 1948 Buck Straight engine powered this unique vehicle, allowing it to reach a top speed of 120 miles per hour.
13. 1953 General Motors Firebird I
Many car manufacturers looked to airplanes for design inspiration, but the Firebird I took that influence to its extreme. The vehicle’s design falls somewhere between the awesome and the absurd, bearing more resemblance to a child’s daydream than a serious attempt at automotive innovation. Simply put, the Firebird I is basically an airplane outfitted with wheels. Despite its impracticality, the concept car pioneered the use of gas-powered turbines and laid the groundwork for other, more successful Firebird models.
14. 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt
Though Chrysler never mass-produced it, the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt introduced a number of important design elements that went onto to influence a generation of automotive engineers. Chrysler manufacturers engineered the vehicle’s impressive aerodynamic aluminum body to hide its wheels. The Thunderbolt’s retractable roof, hydraulic-powered windows, and button-operated doors anticipated design innovations that were decades away. In addition, the interior featured lush leather seating to add comfort to its revolutionary design.
15. 1959 Cadillac Cyclone
It’s obvious from its shimmering metallic frame that the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone was a car from the rocket age. However, the concept vehicle innovated in more ways than just its striking body. The Cyclone featured a safety function designed to avoid deadly collisions. Radars outfitted in the cones jutting from the front of the vehicle were designed to anticipate any potential accidents. Like other concept cars of its era, the Cycle sported an iconic bubble-top roof that could be removed.
16. 1955 Chrysler Streamline X
Built for a showcase at the 1955 Turin Motor Show, Chrysler designed the Streamline X as an exercise in creative engineering. The vehicle’s slim and sleek body was the result of research from numerous aerodynamics tests that influenced design for years after the Streamline X. This unique style not only made the car look powerful and futuristic, but helped the vehicle achieve a top speed that maxed out at 140 miles per hour.
17. 1935 Voisin Aerodyne
Before he broke out as a luxury automobile manufacturer, Avions Voisin specialized in aviation. Voisin’s experience in the airplane industry is easily apparent when you look at the dizzying array of switches, buttons, gauges, and dials laid out on the control panel of the Voisin Aerodyne. The overstuffed panel bears a striking resemblance to the interior of a cockpit. The car didn’t excel at practicality with a lackluster brake system and a top speed of 80 miles per hour, but Voision’s extravagant design elements made this car stand out from other luxury vehicles of its era.
18. DeLorean DMC-12
John DeLorean’s DeLorean Motor Company only produced one car in its ill-fated existence, but that one model transformed into a cultural icon. Most notably known for its role as the time traveling car in Back to the Future, the DeLorean DMC-12 and its unique gullwing doors made it stand out in the over-saturated auto market. Its stainless steel exterior exuded cool, but the DeLorean’s iconic design wasn’t enough to save the company. The DeLorean Motor Company want bankrupt under the pressure of a failing auto market and a public scandal when DeLorean himself was accused of trafficking drugs.
19. 1970 Lancis Stratos HF Zero
Some vehicles function better as a display of creative prowess rather than practical functionality. Created in part by the illustrious Italian car designer Marcello Gandini, the Lancis Stratos HF Zero looked like a smooth sheet of metal concealing a car. The HF Zero had a striking front windshield that extended to become a sunroof as well. Its proximity to the ground was perhaps its most notable design element as the body nearly scrapes the pavement.
20. The Devel 16
When you first see the specs for The Devel 16, it’s hard to believe the supercharged vehicle is anything more than a fantasy. The Devel 16 made its debut at the 2013 Dubai Motor Show with baffling claims that it reached 5000 horsepower and maxed out at 350 miles per hour. The mythical vehicle still has yet to be proven independently, and many are skeptical given the vague details offered on the company’s homepage. However, if The Devel 16 turns out to be the stuff of reality, it could end up being one of the most impressive cars ever.
21. Porsche 918 Spyder
In 2010, Porsche dazzled the electric and hybrid market with the unveiling of its 918 Spyder, a gorgeous sports car that combined efficiency with breakneck speed. The chiseled vehicle looks like a silver bullet with its decadent body work. On the inside, the Spyder houses a lithium-ion battery that can power the car by itself for up to 12 miles. The Spyder’s greatest asset was its speed that maxed out at a whopping 210 miles per hour.
22. 1948 Tasco
One of the early Corvettes most notable features was its T-Top roof where the sunroof was split into two sections. Yet a sorely forgotten vehicle, the 1948 Tasco, first pioneered the iconic T-Top roof. This curious car only existed as an early prototype, but its fiberglass fenders and unique roof design ensure the Tasco retains its place in automotive history.
23. Davis Divan
In the late ’40s, The Davis Motor Company lured in investors with promises of revolutionizing the auto market with three-wheeled vehicles. The company lasted only one year, manufacturing a total of 13 cars. The Davis Divan remains one of the most unique of Davis’ creations. The vehicle looks like a submarine was chopped off due to its elongated hood that conceals the front wheel. There were only two Divans ever produced before owner Glen Davis was sued by investors.
24. Heinkel Kabine
Designed by German airplane manufacturers Heinkel Flugzeugwerke, the Heinkel Kabine was another experiment in the field of microcars. Like the Isetta before it, The Kabine could be entered by using the front of the car as a door, with the sunroof being the only other route of entry. It also featured the iconic bubble canopy used by other microcars. A reverse gear proved to be the Kabine’s main quirk, as it was rarely found in other cars of a similar model.
25. Rinspeed sQuba
Outlandishly designed and ridiculously powerful cars are central to the cool aura of James Bond films. The Spy Who Loved Me featured one of the most notable spy vehicles that could be driven underwater. Swiss auto company Rinspeed turned this fantastical vehicle into a reality with the development of the Rinspeed sQuba. Outfitted with the body of a Lotus Elise, the sQuba is able to submerge itself underwater at a maximum depth of 33 feet. At that point, passengers breathe oxygen through diving regulators common in scuba diving.