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Terrible Cars We Love To Make Our Own

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

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Terrible Cars We Love To Make Our Own

Geoff Maxted
August 9, 2013

BMW Isetta
There are different cars that suit different kinds of people. BMW’s are for serious business people who own many gadgets whereas ageing VW camper vans are ideal for people who love organic food and know how to assemble a yurt. Classic car owners are, however, a more discerning lot. They do not, as popular opinion has it, spend all their time embracing oily bits or soaking engine parts in the bath much to the consternation of spouses. They also have an aesthetic side. They love the form and design of automotive beauty. Which is why it comes as a shock to learn that there are some classics that are so awful that they have become collectible.

It is a known fact that in the flowering post-war years of the 1950’s, Americans were not noted for their taste in motors. Although it is a nice gesture to name a car after a deceased person, the Ford Edsel was so over the top that even the Yanks baulked at buying a car that looked like a sultan’s river barge. If that is so, why do we really want to own one now?

The same goes for the Germans. Dornier, for example, should have stuck to making aircraft because the Zunndapp Janus - a 14hp precursor to the city car - was so wrong on so many levels. It had a door at each end, looked like it was going in two directions at once and, to cap it all, the rear seat faced backwards. This gave passengers a terrific bit of advanced notice of their impending doom. Yet this car was featured in the Pixar film Cars 2 and would have collectors reaching for their wallets like a shot.

There’s the still good looking NSU Ro80 - a great car if you don’t mind a full Wankel engine rebuild every 30k miles. The astonishing and deeply flawed Aston Martin Lagonda, the De Lorean, the Trabant and any Cadillac you care to mention; all in various ways bad cars, yet these days all are desirable candidates for classic car ownership and restoration.

The one thing you can say about historic vehicle fans is that they are not snobs. They are open to the idea of odd cars as a matter of historical interest and the fact that the cars are interesting despite their many flaws.

These cars are fun. They give owners a driving experience that cannot be replicated by today’s sophisticated offerings. It isn’t a case of ‘showing off’. These cars do attract attention but for the right reasons. People like to stop and wonder.

There is pleasure in seeking out these cars: finding and restoring them, showing them and selling them on. Trends come and go but there is always a market, even for the ugly ducklings. Any car can be a collector’s car, if you collect it. It doesn’t have to be in concours condition. It helps if it is a driver but, at least initially, it doesn’t even have to go to enable enthusiasts to have fun with this hobby. There are plenty of clubs and factors who can help when problems arise. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there is always a place for weird cars. Even if it’s under a tarpaulin.

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