Life is too short to drive boring cars. But when you drive a car that’s rare, old, bizarre, poorly designed or just downright atypical, your trips may not always go smoothly.
[Welcome back to Countersteer, where we ask you to tell us your greatest stories of success and failure, then we pull the very best of them to share with the rest of the world.]
Last week we asked you to tell us about the weirdest cars you’ve ever driven, and boy did you deliver. For more weirdness check out the comments on that story. Here are a few of the highlights.
Mike280Z is one of the increasingly rare souls who has sampled an old Saab, a road-going aircraft designed by crazy people who had a total disregard for convention.
When I first purchased my 1971 Saab Sonett. That car was the definition of “weird” but in a good way. V4 engine attached to FWD. fiberglass body. Pop up headlights(only one of which worked and it was dark). Last bust least the strange freewheel still left over from the 2 cycle motor that had recently been replaced. Gas was sloshing in the tank you could touch behind your head. I loved it though, it was like a go kart and was just simple fun. Wish I still had it. All 1500 lbs and 115hp(and that took some work and parts to get to)!
D-Rad has experience with a truck that’s about as far from a modern $80,000 leather-lined F-150 as you get:
My uncle has two Morris Minor Pickups, he got them free from the company he used to work for. I drove the running one when I was about 14 around the yard where all the trucks and what not were kept. It was really cool, but there was no synchro on first gear so you couldn’t downshift to first as you were coming to a stop, that took some getting used to. But neat little truck nonetheless. It’s identical to the one below, even down to the tonneau cover.
I love older Citroëns. Me and Algimantas would be friends in real life.
Citroen CX Limousine. The amount of comfort in the car is insane, for something made in the seventies. The interior design and the controls are certainly revolutionary. I wonder why none of that ever caught on. And the suspension, wow, that was smooth. You can barrel through anything, speed bumps become non-existent. The auto-centering steering wheel and non-cancelling turn signals on the dash take some getting used to, but when you do, it’s so ergonomic that you find it hard going back to a conventional car.
Hey abigwin, your dad is alright.
How about the weirdest on average? Cause my dad brought home something odd every chance he got. From the 71 Honda Z600 to the 60 Ford Ranchero to the 57 BMW Isetta, it was never boring.
Hell, his idea of a “normal” car was the 68 AMC Ambassador wagon we kept for years and years, replaced by a 70 AMC Rebel SST.
Probably why my revolving-garage-door has included 63 Karmann Ghia, 60 Valiant V200, 66 Type 34 Karmann Ghia, 79 Renault Le Car, 87 Jaguar XJS V12 and 81 Lancia Beta.
It’s pronounced “Deer-Tay” has a great story about an old British sports car and the great lengths it takes to keep one running.
Not necessarily all that weird, but a car I never knew existed until my father bought one. Jensen-Healey convertible. Apparently after Healey split up with Austin, he hooked up with Jensen to make some true British roadsters. Suspect electrics, lotus engine, leaked like a sieve in both soft and hard top configuration, but fun to drive. They didn’t sell well in US due to the oil crisis, and the most of those that did probably died in a junkyard years ago due to rust. One above was not my dad’s exact car, but he had the same color paint and wheels.
My dad daily drove this thing for a few years starting around 2005-2006. His was a 1974 with the 4 speed trans. It had it’s fair share of quirks, like a worn out ignition lock that let the key fall out while driving, tendency to diesel when turned off, disappearing floor pans, an alternator that didn’t like when you used the radio and lights, etc. It did handle amazingly well though, was tons of fun to drive around town, but left your butthole puckered on the highway. DOHC all-alloy 4 cylinder with dual Stromburg carbs. Since we live in NJ, and he DD’d it, it had to pass emissions. Not easy, but we managed to de-tune it enough to pass emissions, and then we definitely did not return the tune to where it was before for optimal driving. The best thing was, when I went to Rutgers, my dad was working there and had this car. So, when needed, I could call him up and borrow the car to run an errand or two while he was working. Best use of that was after I bought my first truck. I had a flat in the truck, so needed to put on the spare. The spare given to me by the previous owner didn’t fit, so I pulled the tire off the truck, left it sitting on a jack stand in the parking lot, stuffed the tire into the passenger seat of the Jensen, and drove it across town to get the tire plugged. Pops stopped driving the car sometime around 2009 when the floor pan finally disappeared completely and the seat dropped down to the pavement. My uncle bought it from my father a few years after that, and it sits in his driveway under a tarp to this day.
This is why the Miata caught on. Same experience, except it starts every time.
The Amphicar was a car that doubled as a boat. It was good at neither of those things, but it is still absolutely incredible. I want one incredibly hard. Zziro sums it up well:
My dad had one for some years when I was a teenager. It was an awesome car for the lake house. Just drive to any of the public access boat launches and drive right in. Everyone’s jaws hit the floor when we did that, every time, without fail. Especially any guest passengers we took, because when you enter the water the whole hood of the car submerges until the car is all the way in, then it pops up like a breaching submarine. Then you pull the separate shifter that switches from driving the wheels to driving the two props in back. The weirdest part of the car is that in boat mode it still steers with the front wheels - they’re so narrow they act as rudders in the water. The car also rocked that 50s beachy look so well. Just imagine the design aspirations of the West Germans who created it. On the road this thing could be a bit scary. It was tall, narrow, and light, with skinny wheels. At 50 mph the thing wandered all over the road and felt very taxed.
It was a shit car, a shit boat, but an awesome Amphicar. I loved it, and it was always the star of the 4th of July boat parade.
I swear, the Japanese get the best vans. Datsun73 will tell you.
Honda Acty Van
When I was stationed in Japan, a good percentage of the GOVs on base were “tadpole” trucks or van variations like the one above. Anyway, end of fiscal year funding was coming to close and it’s a “use it or lose it” system—so many wasted taxpayer dollars! So, we got the green light to update the Court Room with a ton of massive televisions. I was instructed to go pick them up, so I borrowed that little white Acty van. Holy shit, what a blast. Super squishy suspension, 4 speed manuel, and no rev limited—go ahead… ask me how I found out!
It was more entertaining to drive than any vehicle I had the pleasure of wheeling while there, to include Skyline, Silvia, ITR, and more. It was the ultimate utility version of driving a slow car fast. If I ever open a business in the states, I’d import one for a shop truck just to hoon in.
Buck Turgidson’s job in college was cooler than yours. Cooler than mine, at any rate. I worked at a bowling alley.
When I was a student at UC Davis, I worked for UNITRANS as a bus driver and occasional conductor and I regularly drove a 1950 Leyland PD2 double-decker bus - including this exact one (among several others):
This was far and away the best job you could have at UCD. The fleet also included Gillig Phantoms and GM New Look buses. So.Much.Fun.
Also, since UCD is an Ag college, they also offered a class known colloquially as “tractor driving”, where I learned to operate tracked vehicles such as this one - a Caterpillar D4.
He took cooler classes too.
Dr. Strangegun owned and autocrossed a Daewoo Leganza for a while. Give this person a medal!
Borrowed a Subaru Justy once. Stick shift. Would have been fine except for an alignment problem that pulled left every time the car jounced.
Oh, and I owned/DD’d/autocrossed a 2001 Daewoo Leganza. Not per se wierd, but it was a stick shift, which made it extremely unusual (and much, much faster than the automatics). Slightly unusual looking. To be honest, it was a moderate-to-fantastic car... Smallish, but could swallow 4 people and a week’s luggage in comfort, handled well, reasonable power (mid 8 second 0-60), great sound system, had the right bells and whistles in the no-frills package and nothing gimmicky or untowards. Only needed a trip to the dealer for repair once in 90,000 miles, and then I totalled it :(
I do miss the odd little thing. It’d be next to impossible to repair anything other than the most basic stuff nowadays though...
8695Beaters throws water on the idea that old automatically equals better. That doesn’t stop this Morgan from being incredible.
Has to be my dad’s Morgan. It’s a 1953 +4 and in 2016 is still unrestored. First gear is non-synchro. Brakes are four-wheel drums and non power assisted. The only concession for power steering is giving you a wheel the size of a helicopter rotor. The engine only makes 50-ish horsepower but it is torquey as hell: you can actually get it moving in second gear and there are only 4 gears total. The body creaks and you can feel it moving under your feet and butt because the suspension is pretty much useless. The car is so low that you can actually reach out the door and touch the ground. Being hit by anything larger than a squirrel will result in immediate and horrific death. Whenever anyone opines about “the good old days” of cars from the 50s, I just point to the Morgan and tell them they have no goddamn idea what they’re talking about. Driving it is a challenge, not only because of all of its mechanical quirks, but because at any given time those mechanical quirks will all stop working at the same time. Luckily the car weighs something like 1,700 lbs wet so pushing it isn’t hard (and I’ve had to do that more than once).
And yet whenever he offers the keys, I never turn them down. Just because it’s terrifying doesn’t mean it isn’t fun as hell. Everyone should drive a Mog just once in their life, if only to appreciate how their ancestors survived long enough to birth us.
Okay tony2x, I’m legit jealous here.
I drove a Tatra T613/5 in full “UK” spec. I was intrigued by the concept of a 4 door Porsche 911 and the brave chap who was importing it was a vehicle engineer for Saab and had worked on the 9000 chassis design and tuning, one of my favourite cars at the time. So I called him up and he invited me to his house in Northampton to drive the car.
He had two demonstrators as I recall, I drove the red L-registration example shown above. The cars were quite heavily modified from their Czech cousins with the interiors re-trimmed in nicer leather, a programmable heater added and a lot of tweaking to the ride and handling (once a chassis engineer, always a chassis engineer) and the end result was quite amazing.
He took me out in the car first and proceeded to hoon around these Northamptonshire B-roads like it was a special rally stage before letting a slightly terrified me take over. The car handled like a much smaller car and the fact it had a rear engine like a 911 didn’t seem to be an achilles heel. I debated buying this actual car as the price was pretty reasonable but it was too much of a gamble and as the enterprise never really got off the ground I’m glad I wasn’t saddled with a unicorn that you can’t get the parts for.
DrJohannVegas regales us with a long-but-worth-it story about a challenging and genuinely weird car.
I am going to use the term “drive” loosely, as you’ll learn. My car history has largely been a regression to the vanilla mean. I cannot believe that I remembered this story, but here it is:
The year is 1990 or 1991. Doc is but a wee lad, spending time with his dad and granddad at the family house in not-suburban-hell NJ. Both dad and granddad had a bad case of the hoard. It’s probably part of what doomed my parents’ marriage, but that’s another story...
Anyway, it’s a cool fall afternoon on the weekend, and some indifferent degree of house cleanup is going on. My grandma had passed recently, and it was clear that granddad was going to need some help getting things in order. Who better to help a hoarder than a hoarder, right?
Even at this young age, I was a gearhead. I learned to read off the bottom of Matchbox cars, matching cars by brand before I could even talk. As soon as I was old enough to spend time in the garage, I was peeking over the hood and keeping dad company while he worked on this and that. So, cleaning out the garage (which was stuffed with dad’s old MGs - yes, he had two, and they were both crap) was an exciting prospect. I milled about the yard while the adults did the heavy lifting. After a few hours, I noticed they were hauling something rather odd (or, at least odd to me at the time) out of the garage: a child-sized car. This was my first meeting with a King Midget.
(See, in addition to being a tinkerer and an outstanding welder, granddad had that kind of obsession with mail-order crap that you get from being a dirt-poor Midwesterner who finally scraped a few dollars together. The King Midget was designed for people like my granddad.)
If you aren’t familiar with the King Midget, it’s a micro car from the late 50s, which was inexplicably built until 1970. Granddad had a Model II, which to my young eyes looked like a pretty neat ride. With the wisdom of hindsight and myopia, it was a frightful pile of shit. (Doubly so after being hidden away in a damp garage for God knows how long.)
The King Midget Model II is powered by a 7.5-horse 25ci single-cylinder engine. It has a centrifugal clutch, but otherwise is largely similar to a car. It has brakes, suspension, lights, etc. Some even argue that it’s a decent vehicle. Anything without reverse gear (or the option to start the engine backwards) is not a proper road car. There, I said it. It’s about 9 feet long and rides on tiny, tiny wheels. Basically, it’s the perfect car for children of any age. Granddad’s King Midget hadn’t run in some years, and under the slime and dirt on the off-white paint, the car had a heart of pure rheumatism. (This is when I learned not to judge vehicles by their cover.)
With the desire to keep cleaning waning, the old men decided it was time for “the boy” (with granddad, I was always “the boy”, or my initials, he never used my name) to learn how to drive. My life was about to change.
I suppose it made sense at the time. My mom was not around, they knew I was a car nut, and it was better than working. (Also, folding my 6'2" 270lb dad into the King Midget probably gave my much-smaller granddad a good laugh.) The King Midget was practically a golf cart, and certainly not too much for my child brain to handle. There were some practical hurdles to be cleared (getting the engine running, for one, and getting enough pads so I could reach the pedals, for another), but the idea of getting the little car running seemed to buoy my granddad’s spirits.
After wiping down the seat, putting down some booster material (probably phone books, I forget) and pushing the car onto a dirt side street, my dad pulled the cable to get the engine started. That single-cylinder Wisconsin rattled into life, and I rattled with fear. But, it was too late to back out. The die was cast. To shirk now would be to disappoint the two most important men in my life, and I wasn’t going to have any of that.
All I remember is an overwhelming sense of noise, but not speed. At that young age, I had experienced the pure terror of a proper go-kart (dad had the gift of the blarney, and was particularly adept at getting the already-lax safety rules of the 80s loosened even further), and the King Midget offered no such thrill. But, it was a real car on a real road. We puttered around that road for a good hour or so, stopping to check things as they made awful noise. Poor dad was folded over under the rotten cloth roof, but he loved every minute of it. As we bounced over the ruts in the road, I could tell why he loved cars so much. It was a lot of freedom for a young boy. When we finally pulled back to the garage, there were promises of another visit and another drive, perhaps after the winter. Sadly, those would never come again. I got one shot at the King, but that was probably enough.
The King Midget is, by every metric I can devise, a hateful machine. But, it was my gateway to the road. Weird and crappy though it was, I’ll always think of it fondly.
That was my first, and my weirdest, drive ever. My mom never found out about it. (Hi mom!) The next time I drove a proper car, it was my mom’s XT6. I crashed into a pine sapling, deftly avoiding a low-speed crash through a neighbor’s glass patio door. (She did find out about that one.) But, again, that’s a story for another time...
Reader Jonee is basically Jason Torchinsky’s spirit brother, so when I saw his comment I knew he’d deliver the weird car goods.
I love weird cars, so I’ve driven a bunch and it’s hard to come up with the weirdest. I’ve driven a fabric-bodied Velorex which kind of feels like you’re in a powered garment bag; and a friend had an old Continental convertible that would toot the horn whenever you touched the rear view mirror and would only run the wipers if the radio was on. But, maybe my favorite is the Scootacar, which is like a port-a-potty with an engine, and was built by a Locomotive company. It looks like the stupidest, most top-heavy design ever except the body is fiberglass and the engine, transmission, battery, and everything else with weight are all underneath you, so, despite how scary you anticipate cornering to be, it just goes blip around the turn and keeps going. On the 1st. gen. ones, it has this weird seat thing you kind of straddle, and handlebars, so it’s impossible to find the proper sitting position because there isn’t one. Also, if you punch the brakes too hard it’ll try and do a somersault. 8 1/2 horsepower, but it only weighs 580 pounds, so it’ll get up to 50 which feels like a million. It’s also loud as hell and gives you the impression it’s going to rattle itself to pieces. A totally odd, but thrilling in its own way car and driving experience.
Berang is no stranger to weird cars either, and the story of this captive import Colt is a good one.
Having owned a few weird cars, I think the weirdest was one that started out about as orthodox as could be, but became weird through the actions of its owner.
When I lived in Denver there was an old (Mitsubishi built) Dodge Colt sedan sitting next to a house with a for sale sign on it. $300 Who could pass on that? Apparently a lot of people because it kept sitting for a while before I finally rang the doorbell, cash in hand.
It had been metallic blue, but the hood had been painted flat black. The seller was a former Marine and the rear window had a sticker of Calvin peeing on Osama Bin Laden, and another very faded sticker of the American flag and the words “These colors don’t run”. The rear suspension had been lifted a couple inches. According to the seller, this was because the rear wheel would rub the fenders when people were riding in the back. About half of the interior was missing. The front seats were those old fiberglass racing buckets, and the passenger seat wasn’t bolted in, so if you sat in it, you’d just sort of flop around. The shift knob was a chrome cobra head with jewel eyes.
In the end it sat parked in my backyard for a few months before I put it on craigslist and sold it for $400.
I have a good story about my Le Car and its demise, but it’ll have to wait for another time.
What the hell are you talking about, StingrayJake?
I drove a manual once. It was super weird.