Do you have a Halloween costume this year? Maybe a coordinated effort with your friend, dog, or grandma, perhaps? How about your car? While many drivers are dedicated to maintaining the original showroom shine on their sheet metal, others see that smooth expanse as a blank canvas.
Bumper stickers? That’s the equivalent of slapping on a “My Name Is” sticker and calling it a day. With the sheer effort that goes into transforming the vehicles below, no one’s going to be asking “And who are you supposed to be?”
Captain America Corvette
Michael A Brink, @brinkofspeed / Instagram
There’s no superhero more American than Captain America and no American sports car more storied than the Chevrolet Corvette. For its eighth generation, the Corvette underwent a transformation, boasting an all-new mid-engine design and standard automate dual-clutch transmission – though unlike Steve Rogers, it was no slouch before. While car wraps are relatively commonplace, it takes an artistic eye to execute a design that complements the car's lines and curves.
Sweet Tooth – Twisted Metal
@ModernNotoriety / Twitter
For the uninitiated, this run-down food truck with a clown bobblehead might look unpleasant, but anyone who’s played the Twisted Metal series of games on Playstation consoles will know that the owner of this truck is downright unsavoury. If you should encounter this vehicle in the wild, know that while it may serve up some questionable fast-food fare, it’s mainly in the business of serving up some serious vehicular carnage.
We covered this particular beast in 2016, a Pontiac Fiero that had been fitted with a Lamborghini Diablo-inspired body kit. Take a look on the internet and you’ll find any number of replica cars – each representing the efforts of a dedicated owner who enjoys an exotic look, but also sensible operating costs. Look at the listings today and you may find another Fiero whose owner went in a different direction, though keep it mind it’s still an ’80s Pontiac Fiero under the fibreglass.
Oscar Meyer Wienermobile
Ermell / Wikimedia Commons
Compromised aerodynamics? Check. Absolute absence of anonymity? Check. Questionable aesthetics yet undeniable lizard-brain appeal? Check-checkity-check. Granted, driving down the road, you’d expect it to smell like hot dog water, but is that really a bad thing? (If you think about it, we could all be cooking hot dogs in our cars if hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ever catch on – they produce pure water vapour as exhaust!)
Perhaps you’re partial to the Planters NUTmobile? Or the No Frills #HaulerCart? They're featured in their own story: Top 10 Wacky Promo Cars and Automotive Mascots.
KITT – Knight Rider
Ah, the ’80s: when David Hasselhoff was popular outside of Germany, and a talking, autonomous car was considered futuristic and cool, not a real-life liability nightmare. With its line of flashing lights tucked under the hood, the Knight Industries Two Thousand was able to convey a greater emotional range than most of its human counterparts, whether scanning, thinking, or speculating. Today, if you see a line of LEDs sweeping back and forth on a car, it’s just an Audi driver trying to figure out where they’re going, but damn if it doesn’t look cool.
Batmobile – Batman
It can be a little difficult to pin down just what a Batmobile should look like. Between the movies alone, you’ve had the long, swoopy, jet-powered two-seater from 1989, or the lumpy tank of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Add to that the numerous attachments and transformations – like the flight, motorcycle, and submarine modules – and you’ve got a mind-boggling array of possibilities. At least you’re not the insurance adjuster who has to catalogue all the damage it wreaks around Gotham. But perhaps you could be like this OPP officer, who was able to stop the masked vigilante for a selfie.
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@need4bahia / Instagram
Here’s a car from the Stone Age with the crashworthiness of a vehicle from the days before the IIHS and NHTSA –captured by a camera of similar vintage, it seems. Details are scarce, but since this is a modification of a Smart ForTwo, it’s at least slightly faster than pedalling with your feet, though it’ll likely still tip over if you rest a rack of ribs on the window frame.
The cars in Cars are modelled after real-life cars, so you might think it’d be easy enough to achieve the same look with the original car – they even make cartoon eye sunshades you can stick in your windshield! To match the cartoony proportions from the movies, however, modders need to sculpt custom pieces from bumper to bumper, some going so far as to construct an entire body to place on top of a smaller frame.
Mach 5 – Speed Racer
Despite a big-budget Hollywood adaption in 2008, Speed Racer never got much, er, traction in the mainstream consciousness, which is a shame, because the car itself is iconic and the red “M” could easily be applied to any white car.
Mystery Machine – Scooby-Doo
The Mystery Machine is a perennial favourite, being relatively easy to execute provided you have the paint. Ironically, the most difficult part of this endeavour might be the van itself, since manufacturers are uniformly moving toward sleeker, more aerodynamic designs.
Dishonourable Mention: Mad Max Ubers – Fury Road
@xrowdy5x / Twitter
Call this one a wash (the paint will certainly come right off): to promote Fury Road, a number of Uber cars were tarted up with custom paintjobs and some cosmetic accessories and sent out to ferry folks around PAX Seattle in 2015. It’s a far cry from the extreme modifications the rigs in the movie actually got, but not a single one of those vehicles would have been road-legal.
Hot Wheels Darth Vader Car – Star Wars
While there have been many official Star Wars-licenced vehicles from Nissan, and many fan-made modifications besides (including one with R2-D2 in the back!), there’s nothing quite as ostentatious as Hot Wheels’ Darth Vader car, of which they actually made a full-size version that’s been touring auto shows and comic book conventions.
Jeep Wrangler – Jurassic Park
If you’re trying this at home, you could just slap the park logo on the door of any Jeep, but this Wrangler also has the salmon-coloured stripe with the vehicle number – cue strings and Brachiosaurus. If you prefer a hardtop on your SUV, the later tour around the park grounds is conducted in a convoy of Ford Explorers modified to include, crucially, panoramic glass roofs – no expense spared, eh, Mr. Hammond?
Family Truckster – National Lampoon’s Vacation
Speedycop / Facebook
Sure, there must still be wood-panelled wagons roaming the highways somewhere, just as there must be people (maybe you?) who wear leg warmers and hoop earrings. If you’re determined to join their ranks, well, get thee to a car wrap print shop and order up their finest vinyl, because that’s all they were toward the end of the ’80s.
Ecto-1 – Ghostbusters
With all the hardware strapped onto the roof, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Google Street View van or an autonomous car prototype, if you saw the Ecto-1 in the flesh. Of course, this underlying being a hearse, it’s not a project for the faint of spirit, or of wallet.
Audi R8 Star of Lucis – Final Fantasy XV
This Audi R8 V10 comes to us via another world – well, its $580,000 price tag is certainly not of this reality. It’s a one-off vehicle with numerous luxury appointments and design elements that mirror those found in the movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV – of course, this being an official vehicle of the royal family of Insomnia, you’d expect a little panache and exclusivity.
While it affords many creature comforts, passenger and driver alike may nevertheless be mentally plagued by questions such as “Wait, if Beats Audio exists in Insomnia, does that mean they also have some form of Dr. Dre?”
Warthog – Halo
The Warthog has captured the heart of many a car modifier, being at once sophisticated and rugged, with an end product that is (hopefully) built to survive the harshest terrain. Who wouldn’t feel like a real-life Spartan behind the wheel of such a rig? Even more impressive: this one's street-legal!
Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo – Gran Turismo
The Vision GT program invites automakers to come up with a concept free of the usual constraints of a production vehicle – material costs, durability, fuel consumption, passenger safety – and focus instead on sheer performance and captivating design. These creations are then added to the Gran Turismo video game, where players can virtually pilot these vehicles – some as alien as the Chevrolet Chaparral 2X – on a variety of tracks to see how they stack up against more conventional offerings.
While some are restricted due to legislation, others are inaccessible for other reasons – such as the price tag, in the case of the Bugatti Vision GT, which cost its owner anywhere between $5 million and $18 million.
MariCAR Akihabara – Mario Kart
Unlike the other entries in this list where the car takes centre stage, the MariCAR experience in Tokyo allowed drivers to dress like their favourite Nintendo character – by which I mean, similar but legally distinct mascots, possibly named Macaroni, Linguini, and Lady Apricot. The company’s legal woes finally caught up with it at the end of 2020, with operations having ceased earlier in the year. Local drivers are no doubt be celebrating the end of these traffic-disrupting go-kart squadrons on the streets of Akihabara.
Nintendo, for its part, has launched a Mario Kart attraction at Super Nintendo World in Universal Studios Japan, using augmented reality and technical wizardry to deliver a compelling ride experience – presumably without the exhaust fumes of actual vehicular traffic.
Toyota Sienna – Spongebob Squarepants
Toyota is generally not known for its weirdness, at least outside of Japan (where they put Elijah Wood and Peter Rabbit in a commercial for a hybrid minivan). But every now and then they come up with something truly bonkers. Like this Spongebob-inspired Sienna, which looks like it crawled out of a sugar-fuelled nightmare.
Honourable Mention: Itasha
Some people simply like to wear their heart on their sleeve, and their allegiance to a particular anime/cartoon character on their car. Literally translated, itasha means “pain car”, though it’s unclear whether that’s referring to the owner loving the character so much it hurts – or the searing effect it has on the retinas of anyone who lays eyes on it. Regardless of their effect on passersby, there's no denying that these cars are bespoke works of art.
Truly Spooky: Mitsuoka Orochi – Neon Genesis Evangelion
While Neon Genesis Evangelion was never created with mainstream appeal in mind, the special edition Mitsuoka Orochi is brutally bizarre, and that’s an understatement. Judged purely on its merits, however, it’s an absolutely brilliant pairing, with the Mitsuoka Orochi – which is to sports cars what Mike Myers is to Mariah Carey – donning the guise of the bestial EVA Unit 01 – it even has teeth!