The biggest oddballs ever made in the car world

Every so often, the cry goes up: "Cars all look the same nowadays."

This has been going on for decades, and it has never been true. Fashions come and go, of course, but even the largest manufacturers can’t resist throwing out an occasional oddball to keep the rest of us amused.

We could have listed hundreds of these, but to save your time we've restricted ourselves to 48, shown here in alphabetical order:

Alfa Romeo SZ

Alfa Romeo has a long tradition of building beautiful cars. One major exception was the SZ sports car, produced briefly between 1989 and 1991. Based on the rather angular 75 saloon, it had a uniquely brutish appearance, and was accordingly nicknamed il mostro, Italian for "the monster".

After Alfa stopped building it, it quickly returned to the theme with the almost equally arresting RZ convertible the following year.

AMC Pacer

It was almost unthinkable that one of Big Three US manufacturers could have come up with a car like AMC's Pacer in the 1970s. The Pacer was unusually short (though characteristically wide) for its time, and had so much glass area that it was very easy to see out of.

Unfortunately, it was also very heavy and uneconomical, and its appearance was, to say the least, not to everyone’s taste. Lack of popularity restricted its production to the 1975-1980 model years.

Aston Martin Cygnet

There has never been another Aston Martin like it, before or since. The Cygnet was simply a Toyota/Scion iQ with a fancy grille and many styling and equipment upgrades. Vastly more expensive than the regular iQ, it was meant to be a city car for people who could already afford a full-sized Aston.

The car did not come close to achieving its sales targets, and was dropped after just two years. It does have a small cult following today, and the low number produced has led to higher prices for used examples than when new.

(Aston Martin)
Audi A2

The aluminium-bodied A2 hatchback was cheap to run (due to its low weight and correspondingly impressive fuel economy) but very expensive to buy. A customer who chose enough options in 2001 could spend over £20,000, or around £30,000 in today's money.

Audi also made the A2 difficult to maintain. You could check the oil and refill the washer bottle, but that was about it. Changing the spark plugs was a dealer job. Other issues included high noise levels and poor visibility through the complicated two-part rear window. Sales were poor, and production lasted only from 2000 to 2005. Nevertheless, the A2 is increasingly thought of as a modern classic.

Austin-Healey Sprite

Known as the Frogeye in the UK and the Bugeye in the US, the first-generation Sprite acquired its nicknames due to the non-retractable headlights sprouting above the bonnet.

Sprites looked like this for only three years. From 1961 to 1971 (or 1979 in the case of the almost identical MG Midget), a completely different and far more elegant design was used. Yet it is the oddball Frogeye which remains closest to many enthusiasts' hearts.

Bentley Bentayga

The Bentayga was the first modern SUV brought to market in the 2010s by a luxury manufacturer new to the sector. This was enough to make it an oddball on its launch in 2015, though it has since been joined by the Aston Martin DBX, Lamborghini Urus, Maserati Levante and Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

Even in that company, the Bentayga is unusual due its controversial appearance, though this is muted compared to that of the EXP 9 F concept version, which was greeted with alarm when it was unveiled at the 2012 Geneva motor show.

BMW i3

The i3 supermini is one of the strangest-looking cars ever put on sale by BMW. Launched back in 2013, it still appears very distinctive even today. This is by no means its only qualification for being considered an oddball car. Its construction is also complex, involving extensive use of both aluminium and carbonfibre.

The i3 is also available either as a pure electric vehicle or with a small petrol engine acting as a range extender. Most EVs are available in one of these forms or the other, but not both.


Although it was by no means short of familiar BMW design cues, the Z1 of 1989-1991 was unusual enough to be a head-turner. Its most famous features were its downward-retractable doors, but there were other intriguing elements such as advanced aerodynamics and a multilink rear suspension which was later used on more conventional BMWs.

On top of all that, the plastic body panels were removable. In theory, you could therefore persuade your neighbours that you had bought a new Z1 by fitting a new set of a different colour.

(Classic and Sports car)
Bugatti Royale

Bugatti took niche marketing to extremes by creating a super-luxury car which would be unaffordable to anyone short of European royalty. Unfortunately, most of the Royale's production took place during the Great Depression, when even European royalty was having to keep a close eye on the finances.

The Royale was therefore an oddball in its day because of its vast expense, and remains one today because of its rarity. However, the 12.7-litre engine (one of the largest ever fitted to a production car) was much less rare. It was still being used to power French trains in the 1950s.

Chevrolet SSR

The fashion for retro styled vehicles around the turn of the century gave rise to cars such as the Fiat 500, the MINI and the Volkswagen Beetle. One of the stranger examples was the Chevrolet SSR, a pickup with a retractable hardtop and a 5.3-litre (later 6.0-litre) V8 engine.

Its unusual styling combined modernity with a tribute to the Chevrolet Advance Design and GMC New Design trucks of the late 1940s to mid 1950s. Chevrolet produced the SSR from 2003 to 2006. It therefore overlapped with the 2005-2011 HHR, a retro crossover also available as a panel van.

Chrysler Crossfire

The nine-year union of Daimler and Chrysler produced the unusual Chrysler Crossfire, a two-seat sports car available as both a coupe and a convertible. The Crossfire can't have been particularly expensive to develop, since it was based on the platform of the outgoing first-generation Mercedes SLK and used a 3.2-litre Mercedes V6 engine, either supercharged or not.

Introduced in 2003, it did not survive the great Chrysler upheaval of 2007, in which Daimler sold off most of the brand to private equity firm Cerberus.

Chrysler PT Cruiser

Retro-styled cars were nothing new when the PT Cruiser made its debut at the turn of the century. What was new was that the Chrysler (based on the Neon saloon also marketed as a Dodge and a Plymouth) did not refer to any specific vehicle of the past, but simply to American cars of the 1930s in general.

It also had the air of a hot rod about it, but its Neon underpinnings condemned it to having a four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels rather than - except in the unique case of Paul Marston's wonderful PT Bruiser dragster - a thunderous V8 driving the rears.

Citroën C3 Pluriel

There are those who will defend the Pluriel to their dying breath, but even they have to admit that it was a particularly odd device. Based on the first-generation Citroën C3, it could be configured in various body styles. Notably, an owner could turn it from a hatchback into a convertible by removing the roof rails.

The problem was that there was then nowhere to put the rails, so you had to leave them at home and pray it wouldn't rain. In warmer southern European countries, this was acceptable. Further north, not so much.

Citroën C6

The French, so it is said, can not build good large cars. Except sometimes they can. The Citroën C6 was rather wonderful. It was very comfortable, the interior was astonishingly spacious, and the ride quality was phenomenal, as long as you picked a version with a petrol engine rather than the much heavier diesel.

For all its appeal, though, the C6 lacked one important thing: a German badge, upon which most buyers of this type of car insisted.

Citroën DS

The DS had a futuristic body shape, self-levelling suspension, high-level rear indicators, nearly as many hydraulically operated components as a modern Formula 1 car and, later, directional headlamps. Yet its 20-year production run ended way back in 1975.

It would be both correct and unfair to describe the DS as an oddball. A better description would be that it was in several respects a car the rest of the motor industry did not catch up with until years after it had gone.

Ferrari FF

Ferrari has never marketed anything that could accurately be described as an estate car, but it came very close with the FF of 2011-2016. Often referred to as a shooting brake, the FF combined surprising practicality (800 litres of luggage space when the rear seats were folded down) with the howl of a front-mounted 6.3-litre V12 engine, four-wheel drive and a top speed in excess of 200mph.

That was all well and good, but if elegance was what you were after, you'd have been well advised to look elsewhere.

Fiat 500 TwinAir

Since so many other retro-styled vehicles had been introduced in the last decade or so, the 500 was not particularly considered an oddball when it made its debut in 2007. That changed when the TwinAir came along three years later. Its 875cc engine (the first designed from scratch to use Fiat's brilliant MultiAir valve lift and timing technology) was the first two-cylinder unit fitted to a mainstream European car since the demise of the Citroën LNA in the 1980s.

Perhaps just as importantly, when running at idle it made the 500 sound as if it was purring, which was simply too cute for words.

Fiat Multipla

The original Multipla, a six-seater version of Fiat's tiny 600, looked thoroughly bizarre. The modern equivalent introduced in 1998 did too, though it had the advantages of a more sociable seating arrangement (two rows of three seats) and a front-end crumple zone which the 1950s car entirely lacked.

The design was controversial, to say the least. Fiat stuck to its guns for a few years, but backed off in 2004, restyling the car to make it appear far more conventional, and frankly less memorable.

Ford Consul Classic

Not previously known as a manufacturer of daringly designed cars, Ford caused consternation when it introduced the Consul Classic to the UK market in 1961. Strongly influenced by US styling trends, the Consul Classic had quad headlights and a reverse-sloped rear window. The latter had been used for the Anglia since 1959, but it seemed far more outlandish on the larger model.

A coupe version called the Consul Capri had a more conventional rear window but still looked very strange. Like the Consul Classic, it was a sales failure - by Christmas 1964, both cars had been discontinued.

Ford Model T

The fact that the Model T held the record for world's best-selling car until 45 years after Ford stopped building it should not blind us to the fact that it was a most peculiar device. In particular, it required a very specific driving technique. All the major controls appeared conventional, but the only one that does what you think it should is the steering wheel. What appears to be the clutch pedal in fact allows you to select one of the two forward gears, the "brake" pedal selects reverse, and so on.

Still, sales of over 15 million between 1908 and 1927 demonstrate that people were able to get the hang of it eventually.

Ford Thunderbird

The classic Thunderbirds are arguably those produced before 1970. Ford kept the name going for ten generations until 1997, then brought it back for an eleventh in 2002. This was the only Thunderbird with retro styling, and the first since the 1957 model year with a two-seat convertible body.

The format which had worked before the formation of the Beach Boys was less successful after the hiatus of the Spice Girls. Although it was popular in its first year, 2002, sales of the new Thunderbird fell dramatically thereafter, and Ford canned it at the end of the 2005 model year.

Honda Insight

Hybrid cars are so common nowadays that it is becoming difficult to remember that they were once considered almost freakish. Even by 1990s hybrid standards, the first-generation Honda Insight was very peculiar. This was partly because Honda reckoned it needed all the aerodynamic help it could get. The body shape was particularly distinctive, while the rear wheel fairings helped the air pass by with minimal disturbance.

The slightly earlier Toyota Prius hybrid also looked unusual, but it was nothing like as much of an oddball as the Honda.

Hyundai Veloster

The Hyundai Coupe/Tiburon was an attractive but generally conventional sports car, except when Hyundai gave it a bizarre facelift during the first generation. It was indirectly replaced, after a three-year gap, by the Veloster, which wasn't conventional at all. The first-generation Veloster's most famous feature was the fact that it had three doors, two on one side and one on the other.

Unlike MINI with the 2007-2014 Clubman, Hyundai developed two bodyshells, so that the double doors were always on the pavement side of the vehicle in both left- and right-hand drive markets.

Isuzu VehiCROSS

Isuzu is not known for its oddball cars, but the VehiCROSS is a glorious exception. This compact SUV, closely related to the far more conventional Isuzu Trooper, appeared as a concept at the Tokyo Show in 1993, then went on sale four years later with hardly any changes.

It was produced from 1997 to 2001 and sold in small numbers, mostly in the US.

Lamborghini LM002

Today's Lamborghini Urus is one of several luxury high-performance SUVs to have gone on sale in the last decade. It is therefore far more part of a trend than the LM002, one of several very powerful off-road trucks built by Lamborghini in the past, and the only one to go into production.

Its notably angular body concealed a big V12 engine which drove all four wheels. To put it mildly, this was not exactly the kind of thing Land Rover was building at the time. If an off-road truck seems an odd thing for a sports car maker to have built, remember that Lamborghini originally built farm tractors.

Lincoln Blackwood

It seemed like a good idea at the time for Ford's luxury brand to build a pickup truck. The Lincoln Blackwood was related to the contemporary Ford F-Series, and was packed with luxury features. The American public barely gave it a second thought. The Blackwood was sold only during the 2002 model year in the US, and until 2003 in Mexico.

Somehow, GM succeeded where Ford had failed. The Cadillac Escalade EXT, similar in concept to the Blackwood, was built in two generations from 2002 to 2013 - really too successful, in fact, for it to ever be considered an oddball.

Lotus Europa

Lotus built its first mid-engined racing car in 1960, but did not get round to using the layout in a production vehicle until six years later. Even that was quite early for a sports car of this type, which would have made the Europa an oddball for its time even without the curious "breadvan" body shape.

At first, Lotus used the Renault Cléon-Alu engine (also used in the Renault 16 and the World Rally Championship winning Alpine A110), but the Ford Kent-based Lotus Twin Cam was added to the range in 1971.

Matra Djet

Originally known as the René Bonnet Djet, the Matra was more than just an oddball - it was epoch-making. Though built in fairly small numbers, it was nevertheless the first mid-engined road car ever put into production.

It first appeared in 1962 powered by the Renault Cléon-Fonte engine which Renault itself had only just made available in the 8 saloon, the Floride/Caravelle sports car and the Estafette van.

Matra Rancho

The Rancho was a crossover manufactured from 1977 to 1984, long before anyone had heard of the term. It was based on (and, from the front, closely resembled) the Simca 1100, but the main bodywork behind the two doors was made of fibreglass.

The rear section of the cabin had far more headroom than the front, and had extra windows to allow the light in. Luggage space was phenomenal, especially if you were prepared to stack upwards. The main criticism of the Rancho was that, with a 1.4-litre petrol engine driving only the front wheels, it was far less of an off-roader than it appeared to be.

Mercedes A-Class

The Mercedes A-Class manufactured built since 2013 bear no resemblance to previous versions. The older models were tall superminis with front-wheel drive, which already set them well apart from more conventional Mercedes products.

Even more impressively, there was a sandwich floor system. This meant that, in the event of a hefty front-end shunt, the engine and gearbox would be pushed underneath the driver and front passenger instead of into their legs. Despite that, the A-Class developed an unfortunate early reputation for poor safety after falling over in a Swedish test in 1997. Mercedes made the appropriate adjustments after a short period of saying it wasn't the car's fault.

Mercedes G 63 AMG 6x6

Any six-wheeled vehicle sold to the general public is surely an oddball by definition. One of the most spectacular examples was the 6x6 version of the Mercedes G-Class SUV. Its half-dozen wheels were driven by a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 AMG engine producing nearly 540bhp. Of all G-Class models to date, only the V12 AMG G 65 has been more powerful.

The 6x6 was produced briefly by Magna Steyr in Austria from 2013 to 2015, was very expensive (£380,000), and is accordingly very rare.

Mercedes Vaneo

Before we go any further, it's worth pointing out that the word “van” has a wider meaning in German than in English. English speakers could therefore assume that the Vaneo was a van converted into a car, as the name seemed to imply. In fact, it was a longer version of the A-Class, and was so roomy that Mercedes could claim around 70 percent of the total volume was devoted to passengers and luggage.

But it still looked a van, which may partly explain why production was brought to a halt after just three years.

MINI Clubvan

MINI has occasionally ventured into new market sectors, found fewer customers than it was expecting and quickly withdrawn - hence the short lifespans of the Coupe, Roadster and Paceman. Another example is the Clubvan, the brand's only commercial vehicle to date. Essentially a first-generation Clubman with no rear side windows and just two seats, it wasn't very roomy for a van and had an inconveniently high load sill.

All the same, BMW expected it to appeal to caterers, event planners, photographers and others who needed to carry a lot of small objects. Unfortunately, but not enough of them bought the Clubvan to make the project worthwhile.

Nash Metropolitan

Nothing could contradict the stereotype of 1950s American cars more effectively than the Nash Metropolitan. Designed by Nash-Kelvinator but built in England by Austin, the Metropolitan was tiny. It was less than 13 feet long, and was never offered with an engine larger than 1.5 litres.

The car did not exactly make a big impact either in the US or in any other market in which it was sold, but it was popular enough to survive for eight years.

Nissan Cube

The Cube was not even slightly an oddball car in its home country of Japan, where buyers like that sort of thing. The third-generation version did achieve that status, though, when it went on sale in Europe and North America.

Its appeal did not transfer over to western markets in the way that Nissan had hoped, and was optimistically priced. It was discontinued there very quickly, while continuing to sell well in Japan for years afterwards.

Peugeot 1007

At first sight, Peugeot's tiny MPV with the sliding side doors appeared to be very clever, if a bit odd-looking. Unfortunately, it was heavy and fearfully expensive (you could spend more than £15,000 on one back in 2006), and the front seatbelts were mounted so far back that even tall drivers could have difficulty reaching them.

The fact that Velcro-attached pieces of trim could easily be replaced by similar items of different colours was not enough to compensate for these and other problems. Sales were low (Peugeot customers generally went for the company's more conventional small hatchbacks instead), and the 1007 was abandoned after five years in 2009.

Pontiac Aztek

The Aztek was a crossover SUV, and in many ways rather a good one. People who bought it generally liked it. The problem was that hardly anyone bought it. The reason for not buying it was that it looked very strange. It is frequently referred to as one of the ugliest cars ever sold by a major manufacturer, and is still regarded as one of the oddest of all oddballs even though it was discontinued in 2005.

Notably, the Buick Rendezvous, which was more or less the same vehicle but with more conventional styling, outsold the Aztek by virtually three-to-one: 316,000 were sold against the Aztek’s 120,000.

Renault Avantime

Developed and manufactured by Matra, the Avantime was one of the strangest vehicles marketed by Renault during its excitable period in the early 21st century (when it also marketed the Vel Satis and the weirdest-looking of all its various Meganes).

Marketed, almost incomprehensibly, as a coupe, the Avantime was in fact based on the Espace MPV, a fact you couldn't help being aware of while driving it. Non-Espace features included arrow-like styling and heavy, double-hinged side doors. No one could doubt that it was an adventurous vehicle, and perhaps the greatest oddball Renault ever produced. But this did not translate into popularity - sales were so bad that Renault pulled the plug after just two years.

Renault Twingo

Nearly every small Renault introduced in the two decades after the Second World War had its engine mounted in the rear. The front-wheel drive Renault 4 was the oddball. Today, that title is held by the third-generation Twingo. Developed alongside the current smart fortwo and forfour, it's the only Renault built in the 21st century with the engine behind the passengers.

It's also the first such car the company has put on sale since the Spider of the mid to late 1990s, and the first volume production model since the discontinuation of the 8 and 10 saloons in the early 1970s.

Renault Twizy

Of the cars on this list, the Twizy shares a feature with the BMW i3 and Bentley Bentayga: you can still buy one today, nearly a decade after Renault first put it on sale. It's not really a car, but an electric quadricycle, and one of the strangest-looking ever put into production.

Despite being absolutely tiny, it has enough room for two adults measuring well over six feet each sitting one behind the other, though there is an uncomfortable impression that the one behind is giving birth to the one in front.

Renault Vel Satis

Once it was safely out of production, Renault admitted that the Safrane executive saloon had flopped badly outside France and Germany. According to then-company boss Louis Schweitzer, "We learned our lesson and in future we will emphasise our originality, putting forward distinctive designs that stand out from conventional saloons."

This was the philosophy behind the Vel Satis, which was aimed at customers interested in the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class. It didn't work. The Vel Satis was no more of a rival to the Germans than the Safrane had been. Midway through the 2001-2009 production run, Renault gave up building right-hand drive versions because Brits simply weren't interested.

smart fortwo

The smart car (not known as the fortwo in its earliest years) is the most outlandish vehicle in the Daimler-owned brand's history, yet also by far its most successful. smart attempted to break into non-city car segments with the roadster and roadster-coupe, the Mitsubishi Colt-based forfour and the stillborn formore SUV, but these projects led to financial disaster.

Now in its third generation, the fortwo (and its long-wheelbase forfour derivative, which has nothing to do with the earlier car) retains the basic concept of the original model. Almost uniquely among car manufacturers, smart got it absolutely right first time.

SsangYong Rodius

No matter how much sense it may have made in its home market of South Korea, the design of the first-generation SsangYong Rodius MPV caused consternation when it arrived in Europe.

Everyone agreed that it was most peculiar - not quite Pontiac Aztek peculiar, but not far off.

In fact, the Rodius was quite a sensible buy, since it had a startling amount of interior space and cost very little. But it is remembered principally because it looked weird.

Suzuki Jimny

The third-generation Jimny already seemed archaic well before its 20-year production run came to an end in 2018. It had an old-fashioned body-on-frame construction, it was terribly cramped inside and you wouldn't want to drive one any further on a motorway than you absolutely had to.

At the same time, though, it was very cheap, easy to get in and out of and perfectly suited to town driving. As a bonus, it was remarkably effective off-road. It may have been an oddball, but it suited its buyers perfectly.

Toyota Previa

The first-generation Previa looked exactly like what it essentially was: an enormous amount of empty space mounted on four wheels. This made it a very practical MPV. It was also mechanically adventurous, with a heavily canted engine mounted underneath the front seats and driving either only the rear wheels or all of them, according to customer choice.

It was sold throughout the final decade of the 20th century. Later Previas have arguably looked more attractive, but in comparison with their predecessor they are almost disappointingly conventional.

Toyota Yaris Verso

In creating a mini-MPV based on the floorpan of the first-generation Yaris supermini, Toyota was limited to extending it in only one direction: up. It was therefore impossible for the Yaris Verso to have any elegance in its design (though, in fairness, no other manufacturer could have done this either) which may partly explain why it remained in production for only six years.

However, despite a certain awkwardness about the design, the car provided a lot of interior space within a small footprint, and enough people wanted that for the project to be worthwhile.

Volkswagen Phaeton

Volkswagen is the German word for "people's car", a term which seemed ironic when VW produced the Phaeton. Although its design was very restrained, the Phaeton was a notably effective luxury car. Its problem was that people who can afford luxury cars don't necessarily want them to have a Volkswagen badge, and in any case the company owned Audi to better address that market.

The Phaeton had a long production life, from 2002 to 2016, but sales were always disappointing. Ironically, the Bentley Continental GT, which was based on the same platform, had the option (as the Phaeton did) of a 6.0-litre W12 engine and cost far more, was considerably more successful.

Volkswagen Polo Harlequin

There was nothing remotely oddball about the mid 1990s Polo Harlequin until it came off the production line. At that point, Volkswagen took selected examples painted in red, yellow, green and blue and swapped their panels around, thereby creating an oddball car with relatively little effort.

If you're interested, the original colour of a Polo Harlequin is the one which appears on the roof, C pillars and door sills, as those were the only body parts which could not easily be changed.


The biggest oddballs ever made in the car world Join us to celebrate all the cars that dared to be different - and didn't always succeed