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Weird Cars - A Century of the World's Strangest Cars.


Stephen Vokins.
ISBN-13: 978 0 85733 237 0
Published 2012. (Paperback, 286 pages).
Review date July 2012.
Cover view of the Weird Cars book from Haynes

UK RRP 12.99.

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At first glance I wasn't sure that there'd be a great deal of interest for a vintage or classic car fan in this updated edition of Weird Cars (the first edition was published in 2004), despite the presence of a Peel Trident and propeller-driven Leyat on its cover. However, within this book's 286 pages there are plenty of vehicles from the "vintage" and "classic" eras to satisfy the curiosity of vintagents, as well as followers of more recent productions.
The starring machines in this publication are loosely grouped into eleven chapters, with Chapter One (titled "In the beginning") serving up an assortment of sepia-toned delights within its modest sixteen pages. The author has done well to find images of the cars and other vehicles featured in this book. Some entries are accompanied by in-period shots of the cars, while others present restored examples of the weird, and in some cases wonderful, assortment of cars featured. Some of the cars in Chapter One I'd heard of before, such as the wicker-bodied Hanomag, and the Leyat, while most were new to me - the Mauser Einspur-Auto being particularly weird, a two-wheeler whilst on the move that transformed into a four-wheeler when stationary, thanks to side wheels that would lower, one on either side, acting as stabilisers not unlike those found on a child's first bicycle.
There are over 250 different vehicles featured, so only a brief summary of each design could be included within this smaller-format book (it measures approximately 6" x 8"). This is enough though to summarise the vehicle being presented, and serve as an introduction that could be expanded upon via further research should the need arise. As a book to dip in and out of - not normally a type of book I'd particularly hunt out myself - it has a lot going for it.
Happily, vehicles of an age likely to appeal to visitors on this site are spread through every chapter, ensuring that there is plenty of interest amongst the more recent creations also described. Chapter Two takes a look at small cars, with examples from Britain, France, Germany and other countries all featuring. The Spanish-built Triver, a car produced in 1952, is one of many eye-catching bubble cars to be found in this section, its styling reminiscent perhaps of a Tempo Matador van that has reversed into a sidecar, the two becoming one in the impact. Described as being "ugly" by the author, it joins many other vehicles of questionable styling within this book, all no doubt the apple of their respective designers' eyes, but not always that commercially appealing.
Chapter Three caters for those with an interest in off-road and amphibious vehicles, with a sprinkling of cars that also double-up as aircraft for the truly brave/masochistic motorist-cum-aviators out there. These are followed by a selection of three-wheelers (and the Purves Dynasphere monowheel for good measure), and then cars that were futuristic in their styling, for instance the Chrysler Airflow (a production car that sold in reasonable numbers) and the curious Gatso (which didn't), the latter being a design by rally driver Maurice Gatsonides, better known today for his roadside speed cameras.
For many people, their buying judgement is based solely on price, and suggested methods of personal transportation for this market make up Chapter Six. Tiny, penny-pinching gems such as the Rodley and the Fairthorpe Atom are perhaps the best known cars to feature in this section, joined by oddballs such as the Briggs & Stratton, which resembled a child's soap-box racer, albeit with a small petrol engine in the rear, and fewer creature comforts.
Not all weird cars though are the products of inventive minds squirrelled away in sheds, pencil behind ear, working to a tiny budget. Mainstream car manufacturers are equally capable of producing strange automobiles, cocking a snoot at traditional approaches to motor manufacture, in the hope of stealing a march on their competitors. More often than not though these daring designs tend to end in disappointment, poor sales, and usually a sizeable serving of "egg on face". The wedge-shaped Aston Martin Lagonda, the Citroen Bijou, and the Renault Avantime - while being interesting because of their novelty - failed to set the automotive world alight in terms of sales. While many floundered, other oddball creations did in fact sell well, and several of these - such as the Bond Bug, and the Nash Metropolitan - add balance to the list of failures.
Fibreglass, being relatively cheap to work with, often finds a home with the builder of the more unusual motor-cars, and plenty receive coverage here, as do cars that are powered other than by petrol.
As an inexpensive overview of cars rarely encountered, either on the road or in print, I found this an eye-opening and worthy little book.
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