Designing vehicles is clearly a science -- well, lots of sciences, really. Especially if you consider the engineering, physics, metallurgy, chemistry, computer science and other "hard" disciplines required to make a machine that's air-, road-, or sea-worthy.
Designing vehicles also happens to be an art.
Alas, as with any category of art -- or attempt at art -- vehicle inventors, designers and manufacturers have come up with some pretty perplexing prototypes over the years. In this article, we'll take a look at the 5 strangest vehicles, as determined by HowStuffWorks.com's proprietary "Strange-O-Meter" ranking technology. Not familiar with that methodology? Well then, here's the way we ranked this collection of motorized madness.
The sheer volume of odd, alien, and often ill-advised vehicles out there is too staggering to account for them all in one top-5 ranking. So the Strange-O-Meter ranking algorithm, while too technologically advanced to explain here, works based on a few simple rules to narrow down the choices:
- To fit the "unfamiliar" definition, we only considered "newer" vehicles made within the last decade (give or take a couple years).
- Vehicles must actually work, although they need not work well -- which would certainly qualify them as "erratic," per Merriam-Webster.
- They must possess one or more key characteristics that make them peculiar, eccentric or outlandish enough to remain out of reach (or safely beyond the desire) of the general public. In this contest, impracticality is good!
While we may not see these quizzical and often comical contraptions every day, we do generally benefit from their legacy. By pushing the boundaries of what's imaginable, they've allowed us to keep expanding the limits of what's possible, in making vehicles that are more aesthetically adventurous, more versatile, more efficient and, of course, more fun.
If you've been herded onto a commercial airliner in the past few years, you'd be in good company in asking, "Whatever happened to flying the friendly skies?" As airline passengers, we're considered guilty until proven innocent by invasive searches; once we become airborne, we're nickel-and-dimed for every minor convenience such as food, drink and headphones. Oh yeah, and don't forget the checked luggage fee.
And then there's getting to the airport in the first place. If you can't rope a friend or relative into driving you there, and if public transit isn't an option, then you've got to drive. And pay for parking.
The people at Terrafugia, a Boston-based light aircraft company, are working on a possible answer to these indignities.
The Terrafugia Transition is what the company calls a "roadable aircraft." That is, it functions as a street-legal automobile in driving to the airport. When it's time for takeoff, the driver activates controls that deploy a set of stubby, fold-down wings. The craft's rear-mounted pusher propeller then launches the Transition down the runway and skyward.
The Transition makes our list for its unconventional dual function. It's an attempt to solve several growing problems for civil aviation and transportation in general; and well, just look at it!
Warning: You might not be sure whether to take a ride or take a bite with our next vehicle, so we'll tell you now -- doing the latter will only get you a chipped tooth. That said, it's really a sight to behold.
Do the cookie-cutter vehicles rolling off automaker assembly lines ever strike you as bland? The Cupcake Car, designed by artist Lisa Pongrace, could add the spice (and sugar) for which you've been yearning. While it may look yum-yum, don't expect the Cupcake Car to offer much in the zoom-zoom department -- its electric motor only propels it to around 7 miles per hour (11.3 kilometers per hour).
The Cupcake Car was originally conceived as a rolling art installation for the bohemian-themed Burning Man event held annually in Black Rock Desert, Nev.
But for those with an incurable sweet tooth for paying extravagant sums for the privilege of being different, Neiman Marcus has a sweet treat for you. You can putter around in your very own Cupcake Car, in your choice of customized, (non-edible) exterior icing styles. One can be yours for just $25,000 [source: Squatriglia].
We do suggest picking up an item of matching headwear (as shown). After all, not to do so would just be tasteless.
If the safe, mass-market designs of the auto industry have ever left you feeling catatonic, then you'll want to pounce on your mouse button and click to our next strange vehicle.
And now, from a cupcake to a real cool cat. Make that a cool cat-egory. If you thought there were an awful lot of versions of the Batmobile over the years, you'd better brace yourself: we found a claw-full of Catmobiles in our search for strange steeds.
Cars shaped like Cheshire cats, cat convertibles, a cat-shaped bus -- the Strange-O-Meter placed this litter of kitty cars in a statistical dead heat in terms of strange factor.
Perhaps not surprisingly, more than a few cat coaches are attendees of Burning Man, the annual festival of creative self-expression held each year in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.
According to the rules of Burning Man, motorized vehicles that are used primarily for hauling people around are mostly forbidden -- they go against the spirit of the event; and besides, they cause too many accidents. But slow-moving art cars, also called "mutant vehicles," are allowed upon receiving official approval from Burning Man brass (specifically, its Department of Mutant Vehicles, or DMV) [source: Burning Man].
We're glad for the speed and design restrictions placed on these vehicular critters. From the looks of some of them, these are fragile felines, and to have one involved in an accident would be simply catastrophic.
Our next strange vehicle also turns heads wherever it goes. And while it does float, it's certainly no parade float. Learn more on the next page.
Southern California-based WaterCar is far from the first outfit to make a road-going vehicle that also handles competently in water. But the firm can make a credible claim to being the most exciting.
With the tagline of "World's Fastest Amphibious Vehicles," WaterCar has made a big splash on the presumably small market of individuals who'd rather drive their boat to its next date on the waves than tow it -- and are willing to fork over $200,000 for the privilege.
WaterCar initially drew attention with its Chevy Camaro-esque body, built to smoothly switch modes from car to powerboat as soon as it left the launch ramp.
More recently, WaterCar turned to a few custom designs to carry on its brand.
The sportiest version, the Python, combines a custom fiberglass truck body with the buoyancy of a boat. You can drive it right into the water and transition directly to powerboat mode. WaterCar claims the Python can do 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour, or 52.1 knots) in the water with its LS1 Corvette engine, and more than 125 miles per hour (201.2 kilometers per hour) on land.
With our next and final top-ranked strange vehicle, if "Strange" were its first name, its middle name would definitely be "Danger." If you dare, go to the next page and ask yourself, "Would I really get on this thing?"
The Dodge Tomahawk, a concept motorcycle-like conveyance possessing more than 500 horsepower, makes our list for its wanton and brazen dismissal of even a nod to practicality. On this one, clearly the designers beat the bean counters. Upon its release in 2003, a Dodge official called the Tomahawk "a bold-faced slap against mediocrity."
Yes, that's a V-10 engine, the same one used in the Dodge Viper sports car, bulging out from beneath the fuel tank.
With its long profile and stubby handlebars, you won't be out-cornering much on a Tomahawk, except maybe semi-tractor trailers. But with a 0 to 60 mph (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) time of just 2.6 seconds, who needs to corner? That is, if you could even ride one -- which you can't. They've all been sold (at somewhere north of $500,000 each) and none of them are street legal.
We're inclined to agree with Forbes automotive journalist Dan Lienert, who wrote of the Tomahawk: "According to Dodge representatives it is meant to show how the company is capable of 'thinking outside the box.' We just hope it's not a pine box" [source: Lienert].
For its bold (or baffling) design, depending on your point of view, the Dodge Tomahawk makes the cut on our list of strangest vehicles.
With that, it's time for us to return the hard-working HowStuffWorks "Strange-O-Meter" back to its recharging dock and wrap up this article. But if you're looking for more information about strange or unusual vehicles and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Burning Man. "Vehicles at Burning Man." (Jan. 15, 2010) http://www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/playa_vehicles/index.html
- Commuter Cars. "The Tango." (Jan. 12, 2010) http://www.commutercars.com/
- Lienert, Dan. "Dodge's New Axe." Forbes.com. Oct. 14, 2003. (Jan. 12, 2010) http://www.forbes.com/2003/10/14/cx_dl_1014vow.html
- Merriam-Webster. "Definition: Strange." (Jan. 12, 2010) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/strange
- Schwartz, Ariel. "Cupcake Car Is the Tastiest Electric Vehicle Around." Inhabitat. Oct. 8, 2009. (Jan. 18, 2010) http://www.inhabitat.com/2009/10/08/cupcake-car-is-the-tastiest-electric-vehicle-around
- Squatriglia, Chuck. "The Cupcake Car Is One Sweet EV." Wired. Oct. 7, 2009. (Jan. 13, 2010) http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/10/cupcake-car/
- Terrafugia. "Terrafugia Transition: The Roadable Light Sport Aircraft." (Jan. 11, 2010) http://www.terrafugia.com/
- WaterCar. (Jan. 13, 2010) http://www.watercar.com