30 Most Obscure Cool Cars Ever!
How many of these do you remember, and can you add more to this list?
By Shahzad Sheikh
Listed alphabetically, here are 30 Most Obscure Cool Cars Ever! I mostly compiled this list from my own personal memories, so there may be… in fact there are certainly cars that are missing –
I’ve already thought of several more myself, but 30 is a tidy number to go with, so I’ll leave it here and turn the rest over to you.
It would be great to hear what cars you think should be added – let me know in the comments!
1. Autozam AZ-1
Rarest of the tiny Kei car craze of Japan in the 90s (alongside the far more successful Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino).
This was also designed and built by Suzuki, but sold by Mazda as an ‘Autozam’. The wacky little bug-eyed sports car with the amazing gullwing doors and frantic 657cc turbo motor put out 64bhp. An even rarer version was the Suzuki Cara
2. Bond bug
Another, even tinier car – they one from the early 70s. This time with only three wheels and the canopy top instead of doors. Built by Bond cars – it had absolutely nothing to do with James Bond! Apart from the fact that Robbie William did have on in his video for Millennium – which had a 007 theme to it.
Can you imagine the superspy in this though? ‘Mini Nellie’? Priced at £629 the fun two-seater only had a 29bhp motor, but was capable of just over 120kph.
3. Bricklin SV-1
This crazy wedge-shaped sports car with DeLorean-style gullwing doors was built in Canada in the mid-70s. But they managed less than 3000 before going bust, owing the government $21m. More parallels with DeLorean?
Believe it or not, ‘SV’ stood for ‘Safety Vehicle’ so it had an integrated roll cage, impact absorbing bumpers, and side impact protection. All of which made it heavy and slow! Kinda cool, but not much loved. Makes you wonder though, what if this car had also had a starring role in a major blockbuster?
4. Iacocca Silver 45th Anniv Edition Ford Mustang
In 2009, 45 years after legendary car industry boss, Lee Iacocca, introduced the original Ford Mustang, this limited edition special was created to honour him. All 45 cars painted in ‘Iacocca Silver’ were designed by coachbuilder Michael Leone and got a Ford Racing Handling pack.
5. Isuzu Piazza
A rear-wheel drive beauty designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (the master who penned the Lotus Esprit, DeLorean and the… Hyundai Pony!). the 1981-90 Piazza frankly came out of nowhere as Isuzu (owned by GM at the time) was not known for cars like these at all.
Pretty and great to drive thanks to handling by Lotus (also under the GM umbrella then) it proved highly desirable. However, the least said about the second gen version the better.
6. Italdesign Aztec
Another car by Giorgetto Giugiaro was the Italdesign Aztec, a concept car from 1988. Surprisingly for such a radical concept car this space-age looking vehicle, which featured two individual and separate cockpits did actually go into limited production.
It used proven mechanicals including a 200bhp five-cylinder Audi Turbo engine, mated to the four-wheel drive mechanics of the legendary Lancia Delta Integrale. It even appeared in the 1990 sci-fi horror movie, Frankenstein Unbound, in which it time travels!
7. Jaguar XJ12-C Broadspeed
I love this thing. One of the first motors to really get me hooked, this was a one-off custom built 1976 Jaguar XJC12 Broadspeed built for the John Steed character in the cult British TV series – The New Avengers. It was derived from the Broadspeed racing car.
Apparently it was horrible to drive because of all the modifications they’d had to make to a regular XJC to turn into it into a Broadspeed replica.
Didn’t matter, it looked like a boss! I’d have one, but it would have to be a replica – the original car was found, tatty and unrestored, over a year ago but still sold at auction for nearly $100,000!
8. James Garner 72 Cutlass Banshee
Hollywood star James Garner, was one cool cat; he was not only a neighbour and friend of Steve McQueen, but equally as car mad. So much so that he even built a couple of unique specials, including this crazy Cutlass Banshee.
Designed for Garner to race in the wild Baja races, it had a fibreglass shell, over an Oldsmobile Cutlass shortened 14-inches by famed Hollywood car customiser, George Barris. Commissioned and designed by Baja legend Vic Hickey, he got 11-inches of suspension travel out of the leaf springs. With 480bhp this was a winner with Garner behind the wheel. Jay Leno recently featured this car.
9. James Garner Special Indycar
As if the Banshee wasn’t enough to satiate Garner’s octane thirst – he even had this special four-seater racecar made so that the star of Grand Prix, the movie, could take out his Hollywood mates and scare the hell out of them on track!
Not much is known about it, but Jalopnik dug up some info. It was built on an enlarged Indycar chassis with a small block Chevy V8 and apparently a real high-quality construction to the bodywork. Those headlights make you wonder if it was meant to be road-legal. What a thing though! Sadly its whereabouts is unknown.
10. Light Car Company Rocket
Believe it or not, this little thing that looks like a race car form a bygone era, was new in 1992 and road legal! It was designed by the car master Gordan Murray – yes the guy who did the McLaren F1 road car.
It only weighed 380kg so its Yamaha bike engine only needed 170bhp to get it to 100kph in under 4 seconds. Most unusual of all – it was a two-seater with tandem seating. Cosy, huh? Driving surely doesn’t get purer than this.
11. Lincoln Futura
Yes this is the car that became the 1966 Batmobile (and you’re thinking, hang on, that’s not sooo obscure). It became the Caped Crusader’s ride after famed Hollywood car customiser, George Barris, remembered he’d bought it for $1.00 and left it in the back of his yard several years earlier. It’s now an icon of the hit 60’s TV series. And you can now even buy remarkably accurate replicas of this Batmobile for yourself.
But even before that, this classy concept was a star, not just of the 1955 auto show circuit, having been designed by Ford stylists Bill Schmidt and John Najjar and built in Italy by Ghia, but also when it appeared in a movie, It Started with a Kiss.
That was in 1959 and it had been repainted red, but otherwise unchanged from the concept car. Barris did quite a bit of work to it including reprofiling the fenders and cutting in wheelarches for the Batmobile. But he kept the twin canopies for the cockpit. Bob Butts, using the Batmobile replica moulds, has created another clone of the Futura but exactly as it appeared in the movie!
12. Lister Storm
Here’s what you need to know – this car has the V12 from Jaguar XJR Sportscars that raced in Le Mans. A 7.0-litre that was allegedly the largest V12 fitted to a production car since WWII. It was capable of 0-97kph in just 4.1 and 335kph – back in 1993! Believe it or not this front-engined rear-wheel drive car was actually a 2+2, making it the fastest four-seater in the world at the time.
13. Lotus Esprit Convertible
I had to have this in because the Lotus Esprit is my most favouritest car in the world ever, and these were convertible versions of it from the early 80s. Well not officially though. There were actually two companies that did this conversion.
The PBB (Paul Baron Bailey) version was called Saint Tropez (blue car) and Autohaus Kollinger GMBH models were known as Esprit Roadsters (white car). There’s a third, a more 70s retro-futuristic very Star Wars, red and white version also in existence, probably a one-off. In each case though, what a sleek projectile it was!
14. Manta Mirage
Hardcastle and McCormick was an early 80s action TV series in which a judge let a racer and car thief off the hook in return for helping him closing cases that had never been resolved. Obviously the race car driver had a McLaren M6BGT as his daily driver.
Although not really. Because whilst it may look like the Macca it’s meant to ape, it is actually a Coyote X, which had a body moulded to imitate the McLaren, but featured a Volkswagen Beetle and a Porsche 914 engine. Funnily enough, they made an entirely new Coyote based on a DeLorean to make it easier for Brian Keith to get in and out of in a later series.
However YOU could also buy one of these as a McLaren replica from Manta cars. The Manta Mirage was road-legal, based on the McLaren M8 Can-Am car and featured a space frame chassis and a small block Chevy V8. Confused yet? So am I! But I want one regardless.
A great British sports car company that ran from 1959 to 2007 – they did some fun oddball stuff like the Mini Marcos, but it’s the larger meatier sportscars such as the Mantula and Mantara etc from when the company was reborn in 1981 that appealed to me. By that time had the venerable Rover V8 – a beloved motor for a lot of British boutique sportscar makers.
The cars had classic styling, a big phallic bonnet, fighter-plane-like cockpit and proper racing lineage. And the newer cars were now proper factory-built rather than kit cars as they had been previously. But despite all that, as well as several attempts to keep the brand going, it finally folded in 2007. It would be great to see these revived again.
16. Mazda Cosmo
This extremely elegant and glamorous coupe with its rounded fuselage-style body, could easily have been a fusion of the best bits of European and American car design of the 60s. In fact it hailed from the land of the Rising Sun, and was built by Mazda. The Cosmo name was chosen for its obvious link to the fascination with space exploration at the time.
All the cars in this series were cool, especially the 89-91 car, which in the Middle East we knew as the 929 Coupe – wedge shape, big glass, pop-up headlights and truly remarkable.
But it’s the rotary-engined first-gen 67-72 car that remains the true sensation. 1500 cars were handbuilt at a rate of one a day, and it even starred in The Return of Ultraman, a Japanese Sci-Fi TV show.
17. MG XPower SV
A short-lived and very oddball car, designed by Peter Stevens but nothing like the Lotus Elan M100 and revised Esprit the British designer is better known for.
It was a big bullish bruiser based on another oddball rarity – the Qvale Mangusta (also known as De Tomaso Mangusta). Front-engined, rear-drive with a Ford 4.6 V8, that car was meant to have been an Italian TVR, but it had a troubled short life.
MG Rover bought Qvale in the early 2000s and relaunched the Mangusta as the XPower SVin 2003. With 320bhp from essentially a Mustang engine it was capable of 0-97kph in 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 265kph – they even offered a factory-fit nitrous injection pack! Later it got a 5.0 with 385bhp and became even quicker.
But it was expensive and difficult to make due to carbon fibre body panels, and in the end even less of these (only about 80) were made than the Mangusta (284). They must have had some engines left over, as they even put them in the MG ZT 260 saloon – converted to rear-wheel drive!
Remember when there was no limitation on building unique cars for films and TV shows? Here’s another amazing example from the late 60s. This was for The Monkees – a semi-fictional teen-pop music band loosely based on the Beetles but very Americanised, as is evidenced by the based model used for this elaborate looking car.
No regular dress-up chopped-off-roof car would do, no Sir, the Monkeemobile started out as an actual Pontiac GTO! All its shapes and proportions have been grossly exaggerated, there’s a bizarre full-length canopy pram-top, and a rear parachute. No kidding, the supercharged 389 made it so fast and difficult to drive the supercharger was replaced by a dummy to make it more manageable!
They even made a toy kit of the car, of which seven million examples were sold. As for the car itself, two originals were made, both still in existence, and a third replica was made for the 45th Anniversary, under the guidance of Dean Jeffries himself who created the Monkeemobile.
19. Panther Solo
A forgotten British junior supercar from the late 80s that looked and drove well ahead of its time. Mid-engine and rear-wheel drive – it even came with a 2+2 option. Looking like a mini-spaceship it had a fibre glass body and relied on Ford mechanicals.
The revised Solo 2 borrowed the Sierra RS engine and also had that XR4x4’s all-wheel drive. An ingenuous car using proven hardware, the Solo didn’t survive though – despite the company being bought up by Ssangyong, with only about two dozen Solos ever made.
It’s the Pink Panther Car – you remember? A little boy was a chauffeur and ferried Inspector Clouseau to the theatre at the beginning of the cartoons! It as a limo, with a large cabin to luxuriate in, yet looked like a super-sleek race car.
The driver wore a helmet and sat ahead of the front wheels, the engine was sort of front mid-mounted and it was definitely not road legal. But it was very pink and very fabulous. Can you imagine they built an entirely custom car just for the opening credits sequence of a cartoon show that aired 1969-70?
Designed by Ed ‘Newt’ Newton, it started off as a 60s Oldsmobile Tornado chassis, but this thing is about 7m long and nearly 2m wide. The 7.0 V8 drove the front wheels and even had a reversing camera!
21. Piranha Coupe from Man from UNCLE
A limited production car designed by Gene Winfield, the Piranha Coupe was aimed at demonstrating how ABS plastics could be used in automotive production. Underneath this futuristic and sleek looking machine with the gullwing doors was a Chevrolet Corvair, and indeed this car was rear-engined and rear-wheel drive. You could actually buy these cars.
It looks like it belonged in Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, but this car was real, so ended up in the fantasy spy-action TV series from the mid-60s, The Man from UNCLE, starring Robert Vaughn as the sauve Napoleon Solo.
The car cost about $40,000 to build, high for the day, but the show was a hit. It had Bond-like gadgets which made it cool (and a foot longer than the production car), but in real life the actors found it hard to jump in and out of during action scenes and the headroom a little tight, so it only appeared in a few episodes.
22. Probe 16
The Probe 16 was a car by the Adams Brothers (Dennis and Peter – formerly Marcos engineers) in 1969 and was an ‘investigation into extreme styling’. It was incredibly low at only 34-inches high – 6-inches lower than the legendary Ford GT40 named after its low height! It had a mid-mounted Austin 1800 engine four-cylinder bored out to 1900.
It’s famous for having appeared in the cult dystopian 1971 movie, A Clockwork Orange in which four rode in the tiny two-seater! It was given a different name too, the Durango 95. There were just three cars ever made – one of which was from the movie.
23. Reactor Mach II
This crazy looking contraption looked like it should have been in Barberalla, it wasn’t, but this amazing car from 1965 appeared in not one, not two, not even three but four separate TV shows!
Built in 1965 by customiser Gene Winfield and designed by Ben Delphia, the Reactor Mach II was remarkable not just for its looks, but its underpinnings too. It had independent self-levelling suspension from a 1956 Citroen DS, but the flat-six engine of a Chevrolet Corvair up front.
The astonishing hand-built car had electronically controlled doors and roof, and was painted like a hot rod in green and gold Metalflake.
It’s probably most famous as ‘Captain Kirk’s car’ simply because of this picture of him perched on it – it appeared in Star Trek as ‘Jupiter 8’ a sportscar on planet 892-IV. But its first TV outing was in an episode of Bewitched in 1967. It was also in Mission Impossible and was Catwoman’s car in Batman driven by Eartha Kitt!
24. Stratos Zero
Built as a concept car for what would eventually become the rally-winning Lancia Stratos, the Stratos Zero concept from 1970 debuted at the Turin Motor Show and took everyone’s breath away. It was designed by Marcello Gandini – who of course also did the Lamborghini Miura and Countach.
It featured Lancia running gear including a 1.6 Fulvia V4 engine. It was less than 4m long and just 33in (84cm) high – which is absolutely astonishing. You got into through the massive one-piece flip-up windscreen. Inside the instruments are arranged in a rectangular pad. It was very far-fetched but did actually drive. It’s worth about $1m now, so a replica appeared in Michael Jackson’s 1988 film – Moonwalker.
25. Subaru XT
The wedgy 1985 Subaru XT was a shocker when it came out, especially from a rather dowdy Subaru – known for worthy saloons and estates popular with farmers for the four-wheel drive (the rally-winning Impreza not yet a thing).
The flat-four engine allowed for a very low bonnet line and this thing had a drag coefficient of just 0.29Cd. Inside it was just as crazy with an aircraft-inspired cockpit featuring liquid-crystal display for the instrument panel and the oddest steering wheel this side of a Citroen – two spoke at right-angles!
26. The Car from The Car
Forget Christine, the 57 Plymouth Fury was a pushover compared to The Car, from the cult classic horror movie, The Car (funnily enough). This thing was pure evil and absolutely merciless. It looked satanic and indestructible.
In fact it as based on a customised 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III and designed by Hollywood car specialist, George Barris. Four cars were built in just six weeks, three for stunts – all of which were destroyed – and the fourth for close-ups. This one still lives in a private collection. Be afraid, very afraid.
27. Toyota Sera
The coolest dull car ever? The 1990 Toyota Sera was remarkable for its butterfly doors and huge wrap-around glass area above all else. It is compact and sleek looking too, but underneath it was really just a Toyota Paseo (itself essentially a Corolla coupe) with bits of Starlet in there too. The engine was just a 1.5 four-cylinder. Hardly exciting to drive, but definitely something to easily get seen in.
Amazingly though, no less than Gordon Murray himself noticed the Sera and revealed that the Toyota’s butterfly doors were the inspiration for those on the legendary McLaren F1 supercar – how about that!
28. Treser Quattro Roadster
A bit like the unusual Esprit convertible mentioned above, this is a car that was never officially offered by Audi, but should have been. The iconic Audi Ur-Quattro rally legend with a roof that folds into a completely flat rear deck? C’mon, it looks sensational!
And to be fair, Walter Treser, was in fact involved in the Ur-Quattro as ‘Director of Pre-Development’ at Audi. So he saw to it that the body of the 1983 Treser Quattro Roadster was strengthened to ensure it was as good, if not better than the original in terms of handling, despite a massive hole in the back where the entire hard top roof would disappear into. Plus you could get it with 50 more horsepower!
The wannabe Ferrari of France in the 1980s, Venturi produced a sleek looking mid-engined supercar, that was more a Lotus rival than legitimate Fezza-challenger. It used the PRV (Peugeot, Renault, Volvo) V6 – which also sat in the back of the DeLorean – with a Renault gearbox. It was available in various power outputs from 160bhp to 260bhp and came as a roadster too.
The last car in the series, Venturi Atlantique, ran from 1991-2000 and the turbo V6 gave it a 0-97kph time of 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 269kph. The Atlantique 300 saw power upped to 310bhp bringing the acceleration run time to just 4.9 seconds and raising the top speed to 275kph. The company folded in 2001, but was revived in 2009 and is now involved in Formula E and making funny looking little electric cars.
W is for Whacky, so I simply had to end this with the Whomobile – you guess it, this was Doctor Who’s car from the early 1970s. This was a hovercraft-type vehicle also capable of flying, used by the Third Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee). The car was officially known as the Alien, but the Doctor simply called it ‘my car’, of course it was popularly dubbed The Whomobile.
Amazingly the car was not originally built for the Doctor Who TV series, but was commissioned by Jon Pertwee himself. He asked Hot Rod designer, Pete Farries to build the car for him. It was actually road registered as an ‘Invalid Tricycle’. It was capable of nearly 170kph though and Pertwee would even use it for personal appearances as the Doctor. He retained ownership of it, but it was sold in 1980 and is now in a private collection.
Agree? Disagree? Want to add more obscure cool cars to the list? Put it in the comments below!