Adding new features to a vehicle is a constant game of one-upmanship automakers play with each other year after year as they seek to differentiate themselves on a very competitive market. Sometimes, however, the ideas and decisions that sounded so good in smoky boardrooms end up being a bit of a head-scratcher in actual practice.
Check out this list we put together of some of the weirdest car features that we’ve ever come across – and let us know in the comments about any other strange ones we might have missed.
1. Mercedes-Benz Perfume Dispenser
Mercedes-Benz isn’t the only car company to have experimented with introducing fragrances into a vehicle’s cabin, but they’re the ones who have truly gone off of the deep end in terms of embracing the idea. Mercedes-Benz even has a ‘special secret hidden room’ at its Technology Centre in Sindelfingen where a futurologist (their term) has ‘analyze(d) zeitgeist and long-term social trends’ to develop this perfume system, and now, in the glovebox of most C-Class, S-Class, and E-Class models – as well as several SUVs – sits an optional dispenser that accepts a glass cartridge filled with perfume that flows through the vehicle’s heating vents.
What’s most amazing about this feature is the terminology Benz has adopted to describe the scents, which are called MOODS (caps are intentional). There’s PACIFIC MOOD (lemon and orange top notes), DAYBREAK MOOD (slightly fruity, spicy), DOWNTOWN MOOD (floriental, musky, fruit, undertones of ambergris and cashmere), NIGHTLIFE MOOD (cardamom and pink pepper), and of course SPORTS MOOD (light-green leaves with a hint of moss). No ROADKILL MOOD, which would smell like rodent feces and 90-weight.
2. Toyota Van Ice Maker
How many times have you been driving down the road and been struck by a sudden craving for ice – or, at the very least, for the ability to keep your room-temperature soda cool and frosty? Forget chilled cup holders or refrigerated glove compartments: what you really needed was a center console that doubled as an ice maker.
At least, that’s what Toyota thought you needed back in 1984 when it introduced the Van, a 90-horsepower futuristic people mover that offered the option of a mobile ice dispenser that you didn’t even have to leave the driver’s seat to access. It’s prime position made perfect sense (as the chiller was fed by the vehicle’s AC lines), but when the Van was replaced by the Previa in 1990 only the European market was gifted with a revamped ice machine to go with it.
3. Volvo Anti-Kidnapping Heartbeat Sensor
We’re not sure if kidnappings and car-jackings were an epidemic in Sweden in the early 2000s, but Volvo‘s weirdest safety system of all time certainly suggests they might have been. The Personal Car Communicator was a key fob that could be ordered with the brand’s top-of-the-line S80 sedan, and it told drivers whether their car was locked or unlocked, or if it had been tampered with, as long as they were within broadcast range of the vehicle. So far, so good, right? Well the PCC went one step further by ALSO telling the driver as they walked towards the car whether there was A HUMAN HEART BEATING IN THE BACK SEAT.
That’s right. The PCC didn’t rely on a mere motion detector, or heat sensor, but rather an electronic system that could LISTEN INSIDE OF A HUMAN BODY and then tell you whether you were about to hijacked by a drifter with a hook for a hand, or assassinated by some kind of super-spy. No word on how close you had to get to the vehicle before the terror completely set in.
4. Subaru Brat’s Bolt-In Bed Seats
Many decades ago the United States and Germany fought a trade war over, of all things, chicken prices. As a result of this disagreement, the U.S. imposed a hefty 25% tariff on imported small trucks called the ‘chicken tax’ in a retaliatory effort to hurt its rival’s export industry, a move that has shaped the automotive market to this day and forced companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz to build many of their SUVs stateside.
Subaru didn’t have the resources to raise a factory in America just so it could unload a few extra Brat pickups, so it did the next best thing: bolted a set of plastic jump-seats in the cargo bed and labeled the Brat a ‘passenger car,’ thus doing an end-run around the tariff while also demonstrating a clear disregard for the value of human life. Just how dangerous were the Subaru Brat’s seats? They had ski-pole handles attached to them so you could grip with all of your might and hopefully not be thrown in to traffic every time the truck hit a pothole, turned a corner, or accelerated. #safetyfirst
5. Chrysler’s Highway Hi-Fi
Have you ever been at a hipster dance party when the record started to skip because you were all pogoing a little too hard? Flash-back to 1956 when Chrysler had so much confidence in the floaty comfort of its suspension systems that it began offering an under-dash vinyl music system of its own. The factory-installed feature worked by using a special high-density groove, long-playing, low-rotational speed (16.66 RPM) proprietary record developed by a man named Peter Goldmark. Sadly, Chrysler’s system was limited exclusively to playing discs manufactured by CBS, which meant people couldn’t bring their own records along with them. Within three years this spelled a quick death for Highway Hi-Fi.
6. Mitsubishi Twin Stick
What’s better than a single reverse gear? Obviously, two reverse gears! At least that was the philosophy behind Mitsubishi’s Twin Stick transmission, which split each of its four forward ratios (as well as the reverse gear) in two. Also called Super Shift, this was accomplished by positioning the transmission directly below the engine and then using two idle shafts to create a ‘Power’ and ‘Economy’ set of gearing for the car, accessible via a pair of floor-mounted shift leavers. Or rather, it was a by-product of that drivetrain design, as engineers quickly realized they wouldn’t be able to get the engine to spin in the same direction as the transmission without the second idle shaft.
In the real world, with human beings only possessing two hands and passengers notoriously difficult to train, most drivers simply left the car in ‘Power’ mode most of the time and accessed ‘Economy’ at highway speeds. This made the eight forward gears more of a novelty than anything else on the late-70s Dodge Colts and Mitsubishi Mirages where it was most commonly found.
7. Rolls-Royce Umbrellas-In-The-Fenders
Rolls-Royce owners expect the utmost luxury and refinement from their vehicles, and they certainly don’t want to be troubled by something as pedestrian as rain drops, which is why most modern Rollers come with a set of umbrellas spring-mounted inside the front fenders. Since Rolls-Royce doors tend to be rear-hinged, this makes it simple to pop the parasols out as needed – but the jutting handles also facilitate very, very expensive mistakes should a door be closed on an umbrella before it’s been properly secured. It’s a nice idea that is simply too nerve-wracking for mere mortals to contemplate as a simple lapse in attention could lead to a six-figure body shop bill.
8. Honda City Scooter
We think all cars should come with a minibike. The Honda City was a tiny micro hatchback marketed on the merits of being ultra-easy to park in a crowded metropolis. Strangely, Honda felt that City owners wouldn’t be satisfied with just how miniaturized the car actually was, and so it offered an even SMALLER form of transportation to go with the vehicle as an option. The Honda Motocompo (which Marty and Moog from Mighty Car Mods also love because they love good things) scooter was a 2.5 horsepower folding scooter that took all of the hatch space offered by the City, and was presumably designed to be used when owners became so frustrated with traffic that they abandoned their car in the middle of the road and simply scootered the rest of the way home.
9. Rim Blow Steering Wheel
Sometimes it feels like you can never find the horn when you need to, even though it’s usually located somewhere near the middle of the steering wheel in button form. In the late 60s Detroit decided to take advantage of the natural human impulse to squeeze something when frightened or frustrated by designing the ‘rim blow’ wheel. The rim blow incorporated a band that ran around the entire inside of the steering wheel that would sound the horn when gripped tightly, meaning drivers wouldn’t have to lift a finger to unleash their road rage. Unfortunately, manufacturing quality in that era was spotty at best, which lead to rim blow wheels that either hardened up to the point where the horn couldn’t be used, or, even worse, suffered from shrinking plastics that activated the blaring sound at all times. Within five years, rim blow had vanished from the market.
10. Honda CR-V Shower
Showering outside your SUV is the best way to stick it to the #vanlife craze, but the only automaker willing to make that fantasy a reality was Honda. Back in the early 2000s, the Honda CR-V’s options catalog contained a listing for a ‘shower attachment,’ which took the form of a water jug, plastic hose, showerhead, and 12-volt pump. Attached to the open tailgate, the unit was intended to ‘hose down muddy boots,’ but clearly it could also offer the kind of whole-body experience any Honda enthusiast dreams about.
What have you got to add to this list?