When automotive designers and engineers get together and put forward the best they have to offer, cult followings and icon statuses just come naturally. For era-defining cars, influences from highway safety rules and crash protection regulations play just as big of a part in the final product as culture and societal trends.
If global warming wasn’t a thing and if fossil fuels weren’t going the way of, well, the dinosaurs, the Tesla Model S might not have even been a scribble on a napkin, let alone the seismic shock to the auto industry it’s become. Had it not been for the flash and excess of the ’80s, we might never have seen the V12 Ferrari Testarossa or Lamborghini Countach 5000 QV. But what these cars make us feel and think of when we hear them wailing their way towards their redline or simply sitting quietly in a parking lot is a product of all the little things that make up the big picture.
Some of the best automotive details come from form following function or vice versa, from exercises in excess and/or minimalism. Some serve no purpose whatsoever, but the car wouldn’t be the same without. Regardless of their initial intention, these are our 32 favorite car quirks of all.
Ferrari Testarossa Side Intakes
As big as they were, the Testarossa’s gills were completely functional. The massive intakes and long strakes served to organize turbulent air and use it to cool radiators and channel hot air through vents in the engine lid, creating downforce, and thus negating the use of a massive spoiler. Form and function, hand in hand.
Spyker C8 Exposed Gear Lever
Seeing the mechanical linkage of the shifter exposed is like looking into a grandfather clock. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to see that sort of precise engineering at work.
Porsche 930 ‘Slantnose’ Whale Tale
It might have been more of a necessity on Porsche’s part to keep drivers from consistently coming out of turns the wrong way forward, but damn it if it doesn’t suit the 930’s powerful personality to a T.
F50 Transparent Rear End
It’s almost a forbidden feeling catching a glimpse of the F50’s mesh rear end — like you weren’t supposed to see that glorious V12, but you can’t look away.
Pagani Zonda R Exhaust + Exhaust Note
A Mercedes-AMG hand-built V12 mated to Pagani’s even-length exhaust headers and stacked quad pipes would put the current F1 grid to shame in a sound comparison.
Koenigsegg CCX Dihedral Doors
The CCX dihedral doors only serve to highlight Christian von Koenigsegg’s delightfully mad way of going about simple functions.
The only way Lexus could get the tachometer to keep pace with the speed with which its V10 could rev was to go digital.
Volkswagen Phaeton Trunk Hinges
There’s something to be said for beautifully milled and wonderfully complex trunk hinges on a Volkswagen.
Bentley Bentayga Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon
The world’s most expensive in-car clock ($160,000) in the world’s most expensive SUV ($250,000) creates a wonderful exercise in excess.
Original Mini Exterior Weld Seams
Putting the weld seams on the outside meant Mini didn’t have to fit the welding machine in the car during assembly, meaning they could build the Mini even smaller. Brilliant.
Jaguar XJ220 Hidden Headlights
When pop-up headlights were regrettably being phased out, the drop-down shields of the XJ220 made for a worthy continuation of the concept.
Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic Suicide Doors
Picking one aspect to highlight from the Bugatti Type 57 is a herculean task, but the way the suicide doors open up — as if they are welcoming you into its warm embrace — may be the most beautiful detail of all.
Jaguar D-Type Speed Hump
The spiritual connection to Jag’s storied Le Mans racer just oozes legendary performance and panache.
Alfa Romeo Grille
Most cars on the road today have some sort of rectangular cop-out for a grille, but that’s because few cars have the style and elegance required to sport one like Alfa Romeo’s signature fascia.
Porsche 918 Top Exit Twin Exhaust
It had to be done to make sure the engine and hybrid system could fit in the 918 and still be low enough not to compromise the handling or design. But when fire starts spitting out of the the twin exhausts, you can’t help but applaud Porsche for “going green.”
Bugatti Chiron Side Intake
Very rarely do a concept car’s lines make it to the production model; when the side intake mimics the company founder’s signature, it deserves recognition.
BMW i8 Laser Headlights (EU only)
The design alone makes every other headlight on the road look like a gaslight lantern.
Porsche Targa Top
Simply put, it’s the better way to do a convertible.
Aston Martin Vulcan Tail Lights
Like nothing else on the road. In fact, you’d have to be aboard the Millennium Falcon at light speed with stars streaming by to see anything similar.
Mercedes 6×6 Third Axle
The only way to describe it: necessarily unnecessary.
2016 Ford GT Rear Quarter
Between the separated intakes, massive flying buttress and the tail light doubling as a hot air extractor, the GT’s butt comes together as one fantastic piece of design.
Alfa Romeo TZ3 Zagato Cam Tail
One of Zagato’s signature design elements incorporated into one of the most beautiful cars of the modern era.
BMW M4 GTS Roll Cage
Roll cages in road cars usually seem out of place, no matter the performance or intentions of the vehicle. But the M4 GTS’s copper webbing of high-strength protection looks like a work of art.
Audi A4 Clamshell Hood
Hood shut lines can make or break a car’s design, so for a mass-production car like the new A4 to receive the extra attention and engineering to hide the necessary surface break is commendable by all accounts.
Porsche GT3 RS Fender Vents
Usually when vents are put on cars for performance gains, they stick out like the dorsal fin on a sailfish. But the new GT3 RS fender vents sit just below the body panel surface as a subtle call to performance rather than an obnoxious aerodynamic catcall.
Lamborghini Aventador Ignition
Unleashing 700+ horsepower with the flip of a switch that looks at home on an F-22 Raptor just makes sense.
Citroen DS Steering Wheel
Absurd. Ridiculous. Unbelievably stylish. All the reasons we love Citroen.
Shelby Cobra 427 Side Pipes
When there’s a 7.0-liter engine shoehorned into a car barely big enough for two people, anything other than side-mounted exhausts would be doing it a disservice.
Porsche Carrera Beechwood Shifter
It’s an homage to the Porsche 917 race car, which is fitting for the Carrera GT considering its V10 may have started life as F1 engine development project.
Audi Virtual Cockpit
In an age where infotainment systems stick out of otherwise well-designed dashboards like technological afterthoughts, Audi’s virtual cockpit gets the job done and with a stunning, customizable display.
Tesla Model 3’s Front End
With Tesla’s “skateboard” battery pack, Elon Musk could have made the Tesla Model 3 look any way he wanted. By completely removing the grille from a car that will undoubtedly sell well, Tesla is deliberately challenging the status quo of car design.
Ferrari 599 Gated Shifter
As it’s the last analog manual V12 Ferrari ever built, we’re glad Maranello decided not to cover up its beautiful simplicity with a leather boot.