8 of the oddest oddballs crossing the block this month
With two big auction events going on this month (Mecum Indy and Amelia Island), we’re keeping an eye on the most significant, expensive, and downright cool cars crossing the block in May 2021. We also keep an eye out for the rare, the unusual, and the weird. Both Indy and Amelia have plenty of quirky rides to choose from, and here are eight of the oddest.
1938 American Bantam Boulevard Delivery
Estimate: $60,000 – $70,000
Founded in Pennsylvania at the end of the 1920s, American Austin aimed to produce and sell Britain’s popular little Austin 7 on our side of the pond. Like many carmakers in the 1930s, though, American Austin was beaten down by the Great Depression to the point of bankruptcy. Fortunately, a man named Roy Evans bought out and reorganized American Austin into “American Bantam.”
History nerds mostly know American Bantam for its pivotal role in designing the original World War II jeep, but the company continued to sell tiny Austin-derived cars throughout the ’30s. Body styles ranged from roadsters to pickups, and one of the rarest models is this “Boulevard Delivery,” which period ads called “a jewel box on wheels.” Only a few dozen were ever built, and according to RM only five are known to exist. This one sold at auction six years ago for $42,350. There are cheaper ways to promote your bakery or flower shop, but not many are this charming.
1940 Bombardier B-7 Snowmobile
Estimate: $30,000 – $40,000
Do you like to go snowmobiling but also want to take six of your friends along? Do you also want to keep the wind out of your face and sit comfortably, surrounded by a whole hunting lodge worth of wood? Do you like V-8s, too? Believe it or not, there’s a vehicle just for you!
Bombardier is a Canadian company that builds fancy private jets, but way back in 1934 it got its start after a blizzard shut down the roads and all means of transport around Joseph-Armand Bombardier, leaving him stranded and unable to reach the hospital in time to save his sick young son’s life. Inspired, he designed and built what are credited as the very first snowmobiles. His enclosed “snow coaches” became a popular way to get around and haul goods in Quebec winters. Then, as recreational snowmobiling started to become popular in the 1950s, Bombardier introduced the popular Ski-Doo.
This early seven-passenger Bombardier snow coach had been used at a ski resort prior to entering a private museum collection. It has been restored, and powering the tracks is a Ford flathead V-8. A “snow coach” might be a tough sell at a collector car auction on an island in Florida, but it sure looks like fun.
1928 “Ex” Series Phantom Replica
Estimate: $125,000 – $175,000
Rolls-Royce briefly tried its hand at building sporty cars in the 1920s, developing several Phantom-based chassis designated “EX.” Three of those chassis—15-EX, 16-EX, and 17-EX—went to different coachbuilders. This car was inspired by 17-EX (which RM sold in 2009 for £429,000), but the builder took things to the extreme.
The car’s party piece is the gargantuan hunk of metal, valve covers, and Weber carburetors stretched out in front of the driver’s seat. Powering this recreation isn’t a car engine but a Rolls-Royce Meteor V-12, originally meant for an Australian Army Churchill tank. The Meteor is a less powerful, non-supercharged version of the Merlin used in airplanes like the Supermarine Spitfire, but in an automobile a Meteor is pretty, uh, out of this world. We’re talking about a 27-liter engine, after all, and Bonhams claims 850 hp.
1982 Phillips Berlina
One of the strangest automotive fads was “neoclassics.” Rolling caricatures that became popular in the 1970s–80s, neoclassics used contemporary chassis from cars like Mustangs or Lincoln Town Cars and aped grand designs of the 1930s like the Mercedes 540K. But they usually did so in fiberglass, added a few more embellishments, and sometimes even threw in some gold trim. Love them or hate them (and there are plenty of people in both camps), neoclassics are some of the most over-the-top cars ever put on the road. No wonder Liberace owned one.
Excalibur, Zimmer, Clenet, and Tiffany are just a few of the companies that cashed in on this trend. The Phillips Motorcar Company of Pompano Beach, Florida is one of the lesser known neoclassic makers, but Phillips sold about 200 of these “Berlinas” during the 1980s. Underneath the Mercedes-ish body is the chassis and L48 V-8 of a late C3 Corvette, and when new a Phillips cost $66,000 (over $182,000 in today’s dollars). That was Ferrari money back then, but don’t expect those kinds of numbers when this car crosses the block in Indy.
1960 Vespa 400
We’ve all seen pastel-colored Vespas buzzing around the city, but far fewer people have seen a Vespa 400, the scooter brand’s one attempt at building a car. A tiny two-seater with a retractable roof and rear-hinged doors, the Vespa 400 was built by a company in France following a design by Vespa’s parent company Piaggio. The engine is a tiny 393-cc (or 24-cubic-inch) air-cooled two-stroke twin, and a British magazine measured the four-wheel Vespa’s 0-40 mph time at 23 seconds. The 0-60 time: never.
The cute factor of a Vespa 400 by itself is high enough, but this one comes with the extra-adorable attached trailer and matching Vespa scooter. What having a few hundred extra pounds hitched to the back does to a Vespa’s performance isn’t exactly clear, but pray this car never sees any hills.
1915 Ford Model T C-Cab Calliope Truck
Estimate: $25,000 – $35,000
There isn’t anything unusual about a Ford Model T. The “Tin Lizzie” is still among the best-selling cars of all time with about 16.5 million built, and at one time half of all cars in the world were Fords. Given how popular and practical the Model T platform was, people used them for all sorts of things, but this has got to be one of the most unusual. If you thought the subwoofers in your friend’s Civic were crazy, get a load of the pipes (literally) on the Ford above.
In the earlier days of both motoring and music records, playing your favorite song on your morning drive was a lot more complicated than it is in the infotainment age. Fitted to the back of this Model T along with a C-Cab truck body is something called a calliope, a system that plays music through pipes/whistles either via a keyboard or using pre-recorded music on punched paper scrolls or pinned metal cylinders. According to Bonhams, this one had its “calliaphone” fitted by the Tangley Manufacturing Company of Iowa, and it is “offered with various tracks to play.” If you know how to tickle the ivories, the keyboard and bench are around the back.
1957 Heinkel Kabinenroller
Estimate: $30,000 – $35,000
The BMW Isetta isn’t the only bubbly German microcar with a door for a nose out there. There is also the Heinkel Kabine, built in Germany from 1956–58 and under license in Britain, Ireland, and Argentina during the 1960s.
Heinkel was, like Messerschmitt, an aircraft company that found itself prohibited from building anything with wings and an engine in the years after World War II. Also like Messerschmitt, Heinkel stayed in business by building something a whole lot less intimidating than a fighter plane: microcars. They’re cute novelties today, but microcars were popular in postwar Europe thanks to strong demand from people who wanted something more practical than a motorcycle but couldn’t quite afford a fully sized automobile.
Powering the single rear wheel in this light blue over plaid 1957 example is a 198-cc four-stroke single that makes almost 10 hp (9.9 to be exact).
1966 Ford Mustang Limousine
Maybe the ultimate wedding car for a Ford fanatic, this limo was built by stitching two 1966 Mustangs together, using a convertible for the rear section. Mecum describes it as “the only Mustang Limousine in existence.” While a quick Google image search demonstrates that’s stretching the truth a bit, this extra-long pony car’s soft top rear is definitely very unusual and very cool. It looks to be in somewhat rough shape, however, and doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention since it sold for $14,300 at Mecum Chicago two years ago.