Say it with me: Weird cars are life

There’s no automotive mainstream (not now, not ever)

Car culture is much more diverse than people realize—“normal” cars from manufacturers are rarely that.

First, I could list all of the sub genres people participate in and the purpose-built vehicles that result—hot rods, ‘tuner’ cars, Itasha, coal rollers, Carolina squatters, street drifters, slat flat racers, and so on—but this sentence would run on forever.

Those groups and pimped rides are ingrained in Western culture, but consider the vehicle modifications from regions in South America, Africa, throughout Asia, and in the far North—for instance, I was watching a video the other day where an old Russian truck had its underbody lined with tarpaulin, windshield doubled (to prevent fogging), and plexiglass installed over its side windows (same reason) to simply function in Yakutia, Siberia.

People will never stop modifying vehicles to suit their actual or superfluous needs—not now, not ever—no matter how hard governments crack down on internal combustion-this or EV-that.

This isn’t the only truck’d Cadillac from an American coachbuilder—it’s not strictly ‘factory’ but the conversion was available to buy as a new car :: via

For connoisseurs of queer machines, eccentric conveyances, and weird cars (I wrote a book on them), there is literally no end.

The well is deep, getting deeper, and bottomless for all but the most willing to pretend everything on the road is white bread boring.

Note: I’ve illustrated this piece with a handful of my favourite weird, factory-built machines. See the captions for more detail on each.

When I was sending out my Car of the Day email newsletter years ago, finding cars was never the issue. I was.

Sourcing all the information, laying out each email, and sending each (more than 450) stories to subscribers, my main concern was never running out of vehicles—it was that I’d be forever destined to be “that weird car guy,” knowing full well I don’t have the patience or desire to memorize every permutation of Voisin sleeve valve engine, UK Austin Mini variant, or to wade through pages of debates on obscure car owner forums.

I’d go looking for information about one strange vehicle, and end up finding five more—that’s a problem nobody’s equipped to solve.

Consider trims of mainstream models, factory-made special editions, and regional variances—weird is only a matter of how far from current-day trends you’re willing to go.

What I want to express today is the oddness with which humans have designed, built, marketed, and sold cars intended to be successes. Educated guesses, all of them, but no vehicle design is a sure thing.

Like, try and put yourself in Henry Ford II’s fine leather loafers as he told former Ford Motor Company employee Lee Iacocca and a design team that their ‘Carousel’ (minivan) prototype would never be built…at Ford, that is.

More recently, two out of three (promising?) startups who’d pledged solar-charged EVs are folding into nothingness…with hundreds of people now looking for work.

Or, take more recent failed brands like General Motors’ Saturn (plastic bodywork and “the price is the price” sales) or the gods’ Saab (smart cars for self-diagnosed smart people). Both are as dead as Duesenberg and duPont—but each nevertheless actually built hundreds of thousands of vehicles still kicking around our roads in 2023.

Importantly, Saturns and Saabs are now as weird as DAFs and De Dion-Boutons. Even those solar prototypes will find homes, I’m sure of it.

Chassis and engine from France, bodywork and assembly in both Argentina & Chile. Made until 1973, this wildly popular variant of the Citroën 2CV was, yeah, a miniature truck. :: source

Think of it like this: if every vehicle ever made from a legitimate manufacturer is part of an iceberg, the millions of 2020-2023 mainstream models built are the only ones bobbing above the water.

“Michael, this is ridiculous, a 1996 BMW 3 Series isn’t weird—nor is a 2015 Chevrolet Camaro, or the once-common Volkswagen Beetle…” and I’d stop you there.

Those products are simply no longer being made, and eventually, mainstream goods become mysterious to the masses. Mass-produced products always flow down that iceberg, feeding into the weird beneath the surface. They may be familiar, sure, but once the official parts supply dries up and its manufacturer loses interest (or dies), keeping each discontinued product alive is closer to living as a vet at an animal sanctuary of one specimen than it is to being a car “collector”.

Consider trims of mainstream models, factory-made special editions, and regional variances—weird is only a matter of how far from current-day trends you’re willing to go.

I’d argue collectors with hundreds of machines like Jeff Lane and Jay Leno (or even dozens, like Ralph Lauren or Myron Vernis) are revered not because their personal taste in cars is particularly good, but because of their dedication to finding compelling vehicles worth saving.

And saving ’em.

I’m most in my element when I’m trying to place “weird cars” within the context of today’s traffic.

Thank you for reading may I drive your car! This post is public so feel free to share it!

For you and I—the regular people into cars of any size, style, and type—we’re all on the same team, doing what we can to ensure automobiles from the past still regularly mix with traffic in the present.

I know your struggles in sourcing oddly-threaded bolts, rare oil filters, and period-correct bulbs—and I thank you for your efforts.

Take the well-loved YouTube personalities Doug DeMuro and the creators behind Regular Cars (Brian and Nick), who have shown over hundreds of uploads the reality is that—if you’re paying attention—there are no “regular cars”.

Normalcy is a myth. Eccentricity is everything.

I started May I Drive Your Car because, well, even after driving machines as diverse as the 2022 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 (review coming soon), Tatra T700 sedan, the world’s smallest car—a Peel P50—the Subaru 360, and Messerschmitt K200, I’m most in my element when I’m trying to place “weird cars” within the context of today’s traffic.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed about chip shortages affecting available new vehicles, sad you’re not getting a Nikola for every Tesla you see, frustrated that manufacturers have all but forsaken manual transmissions, or yearning for a body style that doesn’t end in -over, remember what I’ve said here.

The well is deep, and the iceberg is unfathomable: but by saving even one cube for yourself, you’re actually saving it for all of us—and for all who will come after us.

Weird. Cars. Are. Life.

(And if you’re going to leave a comment, riddle me this: which ‘weird cars’ should I try to drive in 2023?)