Today’s cars come with features galore, most of which are tried and true, positive additions to any motor vehicle. Navigation systems, smartphone compatibility, remote start, heated seats – the list goes on and on. But over the century-plus history of the automobile, not every new feature has hit the mark.
Whether strangely obscure, especially useless or astonishingly bizarre, here are some of the strangest car features ever offered.
Chrysler Highway Hi-Fi Record Player
In a major milestone in the evolution of car audio systems, Chrysler unveiled a custom record player in several of its 1956 models. The intention was pure, the execution muddled. Despite working well in high-end models, poor suspension systems in lower-tier vehicles caused records to skip. Additionally, Highway Hi-Fi could play only proprietary 7-inch records, forcing owners to go out and repurchase albums just to play in their car.
Toyota Van Ice Maker
It’s fair to say that this vehicle was not the most thought-out model Toyota ever produced. The company did, after all, name it “the van.” Then, there was the optional feature available in the LE trim: a shoebox-size freezer. The compartment was cooled by air-conditioning lines and came equipped with ice trays. This strange feature was surely a hit at tailgate parties, but otherwise, we’re not entirely clear on why anyone would need it.
Subaru BRAT Jump Seats
This strange car feature doesn’t even pass the eye test. One look at these rear-facing, open-air seats in the vehicle’s cargo bed seem to have “safety hazard” written all over them. And, indeed, passengers did get injured while riding in the back of the BRAT. Making matters worse, the seats were added only to save Subaru money. During the years the BRAT was being manufactured, the U.S. “chicken tax” imposed a 25% tariff on any trucks being imported into the country. By adding the ill-fated jump seats, Subaru could classify the BRAT as a passenger vehicle and save millions of dollars in taxes.
The Motocompo holds the distinction of being the smallest scooter Honda has ever built. So small, in fact, it could fit into the trunk of the automaker’s subcompact cars, which is precisely what it was designed to do. The handlebars and seat folded into the toy-sized bike’s body to form a roughly 4-by-2-foot rectangle.
Some pose that the Motocompo was Honda’s attempt to promote itself as a manufacturer of both two- and four-wheeled vehicles. Unfortunately, no one could seem to rationalize why you would need a secondary mode of transportation within your primary mode of transportation. Introduced in 1981, the Motocompo was out of commission by 1983.
Fiat 500L Espresso Machine
In an attempt to make the morning commute less chaotic and more caffeinated, Fiat offered an optional espresso coffee machine in its 2013 500L model. The machine, developed in tandem with Italy’s Lavazza coffee company, was fully integrated into the passenger’s dashboard. It even came with accessories, including spoons and sugar holders. For safety and practical reasons, the machine worked only when the car was off. For safety and practical reason, the machine is no longer available. In fact, the 500L was discontinued itself several years back.
Water balloon bumper sounds like something out of a Moe, Larry and Curly skit. But believe it or not, these safety devices were real and nearly made their way onto commercially available vehicles.
The idea behind Hi-Dro Cushion cells, as they were known, was simple: the water could absorb the force of a collision, then redirect that energy by shooting through vinyl water chambers behind the bumper’s metal facing. In the end, the two colliding bodies would be cushioned, significantly reducing the chance of damage and injury.
Water bumpers never reached mass-produced vehicles, but they were constructed onto taxicabs in New York, San Francisco and other cities, where the most interesting thing about them came to light: they worked. Initial testing on taxis found accident repair costs and accident claim payments decreased more than 50%. But alas, between the extra weight, water turning into ice during the winter, and rather comical site of water balloons popping after a collision, water bumpers never caught on.
Cadillac Eldorade Brougham Drink Tumblers
At more than $120,000 in modern money, the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was the most expensive production car in the world at the time it rolled off the assembly line. Although they paid handsomely for it, owners certainly got a lot for their money. The Cadillac came equipped with power seats, power windows, automatic locks, electronic trunk opener and air suspension, all premium midcentury amenities that have become commonplace today. But the Brougham’s most unique feature, and one you certainly won’t find in your next car, was in the glove box – six stainless steel drinking glasses held down by magnets.
Rolls-Royce Vignale Champagne Cooler
When American businessman Joseph Maschuch commissioned renowned Italian car designer Alfredo Vignale to customize a 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, he had several requirements. Everything under the hood was painted green, all visible pipes were chrome-plated, air conditioning was installed and a full bar was added to the rear compartment. The most distinctive feature however, was out of plain sight. Underneath the right rear passenger seat was a toilet complete with a gold seat. The receptacle came with a mechanism allowing you to dump the contents onto the ground below. Before your imagination runs amok, know that the owner claimed the feature was used only as a champagne cooler.
Head to our auto history page to learn more about cars of the past.
What do you think of the strangest car features on this list? Which is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below.