“What IS that?”, onlookers will ask about your Simca 1000 or your Volkswagen 411. It’s a blessing and a curse, that’s what. Look, we’re all car people here, but some of us have long gone down the rabbit hole of wanting obscure, hard to fix, or downright questionable vehicles. This list is for the desperate person in your life who doesn’t benefit from Honda Civic levels of parts support.
Whether it’s an ultra-rare amphibious Hobbycar, something like a Toyota Century that was never sold in America, a strange one-off, a bizarre kit car or a car that simply never sold in enough numbers to enjoy any continued support whatsoever, keeping some obscure weirdo on the road can be a thankless job. Here’s how to nail the Obligatory Consumerism Part and actually spread some holiday cheer.
Bonus points if your giftee has to switch between multiple cars’ books because of an engine swap.
Car-Specific Tools, Manuals, and Parts
The quickest way to a total weirdo’s heart is by finding that one, agonizing part or tool that’s eluded them for quite some time. Why not skip the silly gadgets they won’t use for an out-of-print set of factory service manuals, or an OEM-specific, job-specific part that’s just a little too pricey to pick up on a whim? Some of those tools—looking at you, specialized timing belt adjustment tool—can make some of the worst jobs significantly easier. Auction sites like eBay are a great place to start.
It doesn’t have to be all expensive stuff, though. This is an opportunity to be thoughtful about the thing your friend or family member really cares about. Listen up for the next project they’re talking about, and if you know they’re not going to buy those parts right away, get some of the parts to help that along. Just taking the time to find bushings or other simple items for a weird car can be a big help.
Absolutely Anything That Features Their Car
Get a car that’s weird enough, and it can be a chore just to find a toy version of it. That’s where the internet comes in, with places selling vintage ads, crafts and all manner of car-related kitsch on places like eBay, Etsy, RedBubble and the like.
Cobi carries an impressive selection of Lego-style Eastern Bloc cars and there’s even a book about Volkswagen Type 4s now, so don’t give up faith too easily here. I’ve had solid luck finding hidden gems like that with my rare VW on the “Shopping” tab on Google search, which brings up a little bit of everything from everywhere. If it’s a diecast or toy you’re looking for in particular, check the local brands from the countries where the car was made or sold. In my car’s case, I still can’t find a Matchbox/Hot Wheels VW 411 to save my life, but I did buy a little German toy of it made by Wiking.
The mega-mega-mega-store that is Etsy is one of the easiest places to find custom and vintage obscure-car goods—provided they exist—or at least locate someone who’s willing to paint a Great Wall Voleex C20 on something. There’s admittedly lot of crap to sift through, but a surprising amount of good stuff, too. Honda City Turbo and vintage Lada pins! Messerschmitt KR200 and Nash Metropolitan earrings! Nissan Pao and Figaro patches! Microcar mugs and prints! Soviet-made GAZ Chaika diecasts! Personalized Lada Niva keychains! It’s also a good place to go broke.
Most small creators’ goods will be limited-run and some of the more custom items will need a bit more lead time to arrive, so you may want to look up some local crafters to support with your oddball Shelby Lancer woodcut requests. Shopping local is always ideal this time of year, even if we can’t easily fit your town craft bazaar into an online gift guide. If their car is rare and unique, their gifts might as well be, too.
We Mean Anything, Even (Especially?) Those Weird Algorithmic T-Shirts
Nothing says “solidarity with your parts search, comrade” quite like the one t-shirt almost any weird car owner can find: an algorithm-baiting text shirt about how you’re not single, you’re not taken, but you’re in the garage working on your Auto Union 1000.
Here is a small
selection of the algorithm’s
finest. Google “Car name” + “t-shirt” and one of these will inevitably come up on your Shopping tab. Remember: “It’s not ‘just’ a car, It’s an Alexander Dennis Enviro400.” (Which is technically correct given that the Enviro400 is a double-decker bus.)
Weird Car Merch
When your giftee’s SEAB Flipper or whatever is too obscure for even the t-shirt algorithms to pick up, search around for some web stores that focus on the automotive world’s stranger and/or slightly more masochistic side.
One of my favorite stores lately is One Hell of a Town, a small webstore devoted to “keeping cars weird.” There, you’ll find stickers, license plate frames, key chains and all sorts of other stuff (blankets or sunglasses, anyone?) that either embrace the odd car life or feature some truly oddball, questionable and beloved vehicles.
Joshy Robots is another indie webshop I love that’s heavily Porsche-centric, but everything has a send-it attitude that’s a good match for left-side-key-havers and owners of old, drippy aircooleds regardless of the era or badge. The limited-run (but periodically restocked) handcrafted 917-style knobs made out of old skateboard decks are always on my “if I ever want to buy my Type 4 something nice” list, and who doesn’t want a donut as a grille badge? Big bonus if your deeply strange giftee has a Laser 917 Beetle-based kit car or a truly period-correct ’80s tuner Porsche, of course.
Reader Archduke Maxyenko’s RedBubble shop includes some delightful oddballs, too, like the Peugeot 806 Procar race-van, the AMC Marlin, Donut King Countach and even my less-rare race car, all available as shirts, posters, mugs and more. There are definitely others out there, so drop your favorite indie shops in the comments for all to see.
Weird, Old or Interesting Car Books
More general-interest books on automotive oddballs and history are always a good pick, provided they’re still literate after trying to comprehend a twice-translated manual for the half-rotting Dacia sitting in their yard.
Ex-Top Gear writer Richard Porter’s Crap Cars is a classic I will stew over and argue with endlessly given that I love…crap. If they’re longing to finally hit the open road, why not go for this cool coffee table book on American rest stops? Hit up vintage bookstores and antique shops, too. Wanna cook with that overheating engine? Manifold Destiny is a classic.
One of the coolest finds I’ve scored from a general-purpose antique mall was a 1914 copy of Dyke’s Automobile Encyclopedia, which is a deeply fascinating look back at a whole ‘nother level of now-ultra-rare cars. So, don’t be afraid to look behind the ’70s sofas and vintage kitsch in antique shops, either.
Catastrophe-tested! This is the little box I keep in my car.
Portable Toolbox for Breakdowns
You know this person’s car is going to break. You also know that the nice tools from their house shouldn’t disappear on the side of the road, in various AutoZone parking lots and/or from behind iffy 1950s lock tech. We’ve covered tools for home mechanics in another gift guide, but a stash-and-forget set is a special problem all its own. If your giftee doesn’t have one already, they probably need a set of cheap tools that live in the car.
A basic mechanic’s toolset covers most of the basics without breaking the bank and generally includes a case or box with designated places for each tool. Most sets include both SAE and Metric tools, which is great if you have a car that mixes both, but is kind of annoying for the rest of us.
I have this 130-piece $39.99 Harbor Freight set in the frunk of my VW 411, and it’s good insofar as it’s compact enough to sit on the top shallow shelf of the VW’s frunk and includes an adjustable wrench to make up for the wrench sizes it doesn’t carry. Yet it’s annoying as it skipped over most of the larger wrench sizes my VW uses, so I still end up with more wrenches and other specialized tools stashed in another bin in the frunk. Larger toolsets
are available for $100ish all day long lately, but many also suffer from The Wrench Problem.
So, maybe it’s best to get a cheap box and kit it out as needed, tossing together a mix of commonly used inexpensive tools that you wouldn’t mind walking away. If a set sounds like the place to start anyway, this $89 Craftsman set comes in a more substantial metal box that (importantly!) looks cool and appears to have room for any extra tools you’d like to add.
Covertly measure the storage area of the questionable car that needs it first, though, just to be sure whatever box you pick will fit. A taller box is probably fine for a big luxury sedan, but you’ll probably have to get creative for any microcar owners out there.
The Biggest Container of Oil Absorbent You Can Find
Is your long-suffering giftee currently under an air-cooled V8 Tatra? Worse yet, are they an air-cooled person, like, in general, with multiple hopeless vehicles to their name? Here you go. For just $382.50, you can send your loved one an entire frickin’ pallet of Oil-Dri for whatever mini-Exxon Valdez spill happens in their driveway. Forty-five 32-quart bags might cover it, anyway.
Alternately, for smaller-time weird vehicle hoarders, just go to any home repair store and buy a single bag of the stuff to send home your solidarity with weird car life, but that’s nowhere near as funny. Here’s a 1-cubic-foot bag of Eco-Absorb from Home Depot. Good luck, and don’t track it in the house.
The one in the foreground. FOREGROUND. WHITE CAR. FOREGROUND (but I can’t lie—I want the lifted Camaro, too).
Left to our own devices, we’ll probably bring home a Volkswagen Phaeton W12 or something. Some of us are beyond help, which is a problem if we live in less-than-walkable towns.
I know it’s not the ideal time to buy a car, but screw it, maybe just consider dropping off a nice, practical Honda Civic with a bow on it for your hopeless gift recipient. They’ve got a reputation for being reliable (although do check for recall work on those mid-’00s R-series blocks), they’re plenty of fun with a manual and you might even get a newer one with a warranty.
Your ride-giving nightmare is over. You’re welcome.
Got a great story about weird cars? Email the author: [email protected]
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