15 of the strangest special edition cars you've ever seen

By topgear, 17 February 2020

Abarth 695 Rivale

Riva, in case you’re not up on luxury powerboats, is pretty much the aquatic version of Ferrari or Lamborghini, with a generous dose of Touring of Milan or Ghia thrown into the mix for good measure. So you really have to wonder how a Fiat 500 fits into the same lexicon – even one with Abarth’s peppy engine and exhaust mods.

In reality, a new Abarth-bodykitted Fiat 500 is about as far from a classic Riva Aquarama as Ned Kelly is from Grace Kelly. And tarting the former up as the latter works about as well in either case.

Smart ForJeremy

Nope, it’s not for TG alumnus Clarkson that this monstrosity was created. It was the creation of fashion designer Jeremy Scott, who apparently has a propensity to affix wings that sweep back about as gracefully as Donald Trump’s hair to everything he designs. What an artist.

If a good idea can be said to be the brainchild of its inventor, then the wings on the Smart ForJeremy are orphans.

Ford Mustang McLaren M81

OK, the Ricky Bobby in us is abso-frigging-lutely on board with this, at least on the surface. A Fox-body Mustang, in McLaren orange, with full-on Mad Max vibes, fender flares big enough to bring back disco and a big ol’ lump of American V8 under the bonnet… er, hood.

Except the Mustang McLaren M81 didn’t have a V8. See, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ford America wasn’t entirely sure that the big V8 had much of a future. After the Oil Crisis (yep, it gets its own capital letters) of 1973, Ford looked to smaller turbocharged engines that could offer – at least during relaxed driving – fuel economy that buyers wouldn’t laugh at.

So the Mustang M81 got a McLaren-massaged 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder engine, which was good for about 175 to 190 horsepower. Considering the 4.2-litre V8 was only good for 120bhp, that’s a definite win. Or it would have been, had the Mustang McLaren M81 made it past a paltry run of 10 cars, including the prototype.

Photo Barrett Jackson

Polo (and Golf) Harlequin

Yes, it is pretty strange and no, we’re not sure if it works either. Apparently, it’s a throwback to a Volkswagen America ad from the 1960s – perhaps some of the cleverest (and almost certainly some of the most misogynistic) ads to ever feature a car.

The ad showed how, because Volkswagen kept the tooling for its Beetle the same, you could cheaply replace any dented or ruined panel on your love bug with anything from the late Fifties to the mid-Sixties.

It’s about the only explanation that makes any sense to us, to be honest. That and, well, it was the 1990s after all. As Buzzfeed is so fond of saying, Only Nineties Kids Will Get This!

Apart from the United-Colours-of-Benneton bodywork, the rest of your Polo or Golf was just the same as any other MkIII Polo or Golf. Which were pretty dowdy automobiles, to be honest. Look, we love the colour and boldness, but we think that it works much better on something that already has some style, flash, pizzazz…

BMW i8 Memphis Group

Call us hypocrites (God knows you wouldn’t be the first), but we actually think there is something a bit special about the homage-to-Memphis Group BMW i8. As ever, we’re reminded of the old Latin saying: de gustibus non est disputandum. Or, in English, in matters of taste, there can be no dispute.

And frankly, we dig Memphis Group styling. As much as we know we should be all about muted this, reserved that and lumbersexual the other, we like to break from the drudgery of the everyday with flights of fancy just like this. Why take yourself seriously all the time? Plenty of other people are already doing that – and look how miserable they are.

The Memphis Group’s style came from the decade of ScarfaceWall Street and Miami Vice – where altogether too much was never enough. We’re not saying it was always the right thing to do, but what a thing to stand back and appreciate. Kind of like these i8s.

AMC Gremlin Levi’s

The only thing Americans fear, it seems, is not fear itself. It’s the fear of leaving a stone unturned in the quest for the ultimate cross-brand promotional tie-in.

You might pour scorn on the Call of Duty Jeep (and we do, to the extent that the thought-free lump of cynical marketing doesn’t even make this list), but the fact of the matter is that car-and-random-company partnerships have been around about as long as the car has.

And so we turn to perhaps its magnum opus: trying to jump on the denim bandwagon as it truly arrived in the 1970s. Serious, almost Neil Young levels of denim were going on all the way through the Seventies, to the point where even the American Motor Company tried to weave itself into the weft.

Apparently, regular denim wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the punishment of derrieres sliding in and out of the seat, so Levi’s had to come up with an entirely new fabric. And, as the Top Gear office has worn through enough pairs of jeans to make up a DNA helix, we’d very much like to know why jeans weren’t made from this fabric from then on.

Nissan Juke R

Ever see those TV news bits where someone has amassed the world’s largest collection of used coke bottles, or has translated the entirety of Shakespeare’s oeuvre into Esperanto, or unicycled from one end of Britain to the other?

It engenders a pretty odd feeling, doesn’t it? You respect the effort involved, but wonder why it wasn’t put towards something with benefits beyond a sense of achievement.

And so it is with the Nissan Juke R, a car for the kind of person who wants the power, performance and precision of a GT-R… in the bodyshell of a soft-roader that looks like it has a case of the mumps.

Rover 200 BRM

BRM, in case you’re not of the leather-is-a-perfectly-fine-helmet-material vintage, was a British F1 team that ran in events from the Fifties until the late Seventies, most notably sending Graham Hill (and his gentlemanly moustache) to the driver’s championship in 1962.

Rover, in case you’re of the “Baby, pull me closer in the back seat of your Rover” vintage, is not just short for Range Rover. It was, in fact, a whole, often-rubbish car brand that existed years before that entirely rubbish song was ever dreamt up in the studio at Cash-Grab records.

But BRM was related to Rover in much the same way that democracy relates to current society – there was a brief fling, but it was ever so long ago.

See, Rover and BRM had a mind to take a gas-turbine to Le Mans in the mid-1960s, where it performed remarkably well, considering its experimental nature, placing 10th in 1965.

So, there’s the historical link, and now for the corporate tie-in: a Rover 200 with red quilted leather and aluminium accents on the inside, as well as shorter gear ratios, a torsen diff and stiffer dampers. It was actually a pretty bright point in Rover’s fairly dim history – we’re looking at you, Rover 800 and CityRover – that still wasn’t enough to save the brand from its long decline.

Skoda Felicia Fun

The launch for the Skoda Felicia Fun was pretty much everything you’d expect from the good/bad old days of car companies throwing beaucoup money at the launch of their new car – powerboating, helicopter rides, a cycling tour, and god knows what else.

And it was all to support… the fact that Skoda (having just been consumed by the rapidly engorging Volkswagen behemoth) had called their newest creation… wait for it: the Felicia Fun. Genius.

Skoda promised 300 to the UK, all in canary yellow and all with jump seats in the tray, a la the Subaru Brat in the US of A. Except with a bit of a twist – rather than actual, rear-facing jump seats fixed in the tray back, the Felicia Fun’s back window slid backwards to allow a second row of seats with a modicum of legroom and about 10 miles of headroom. Yep, if you were a backseat passenger in a Felicia Fun, you were out in the elements. In the UK. Where it always rains.

Look, we say a lot about how Skoda is too safe and Volkswagen-y these days, but we’re just happy that the off-kilter attitude to cars, so very present in the Felicia Fun, yielded us the Yeti before it was stamped out entirely by the Volkswagen uberlords.

Volkswagen Beetle Fender edition

Look, we love guitars – especially Fender guitars. And very especially a 1959 Jazzmaster with a sunburst finish and an anodised pickguard if you were, y’know, keen to send one over as a thank you for all that we do to enrich your lives.

And we also love big, banging stereos for our tunes. Not like Max Power stereos – like Linn, Focal, and all of that “I know good sound, you peasant” kind of stuff.

So we should absolutely love a Volkswagen with a 400-watt, 9-speaker stereo and the same colour scheme on its dashboard as the sunburst gorgeousness of… you guessed it, the 1959 Jazzmaster. Except that this wondrousness was attached to a Beetle.

Case closed.

Citroen Saxo Bic edition

So, imagine you’re the head of corporate partnerships at a car company. Whiten your teeth, sell your soul and cheat on your significant other if it helps you get into character.

Anywhos, you’re in your office, wondering which company to partner up with and if Brian in accounts has a better business card than you do. Then it hits you – he absolutely does. Also, that the very best partnership idea in the world is to align the reputation of the brand with the reputation of… the manufacturer of disposable ballpoint pens. Yep.

Frank Sinatra Edition Chrysler Imperial

So, we’re going to try to get through this without referring to Sinatra as ‘Old Blue Eyes’. Oh, damnit. Anywhos, the velvet-voiced crooner did lend his name to this American luxo-barge. But, as the late-night ads say, that’s not all. Even the Imperial’s colour was picked to match the hue of Frank’s Eyes. Not in this black and white pic, of course.

Anyway, better his eyes than ours, we suppose. Unless you’re a particular fan of brownish green… which, um, it appears the Army very much is. So there you go.

Dacia Sandero Black edition

In possibly the most Ronseal moment ever, Dacia thoroughly prepped its Black edition by… painting everything… black. Ah. We see. Yes, well done Dacia.

Hyundai Tucson Walking Dead

American car companies never seem to be above a flimsy marketing tie-in with a TV Show or movie – Nissan Rogue One Star Wars, anyone? – but this one rankles us more than usual. And it’s not so much because of the car’s existence per se as its existence IN The Walking Dead.

Is it because, among the destruction and detritus of apocalyptic America, the survivors just happened to find a mint-condition Tucson?

Is it our waning suspension of disbelief after, in a brilliant pilot episode, it’s established that petrol stations are out of fuel and Rick is forced to commute by horse, Red Dead Redemption-style?

Or is it that, in among the death, squalor, zombies and run-ins with truly sociopathic villains, they manage to give the ol’ girl a wash before heading out on the road for supplies?

Car companies and marketers of the world, read this: we do not want to have your piles of commuter-spec drudgery shilled in our TV shows. Leave well enough alone.

Subaru Forester Ultimate Customised Kit Special

There’s an old lawyerly technique where you ask a defendant if they acted in accordance with the law; generally, they’ll answer in the affirmative.

You then hit them with all the evidence you have to the contrary, then ask a very simple binary question: do you consider such behaviour to be lawful, or were you lying?

Basically, this technique forces them to concede that their actions were not lawful and that they were lying to you and the jury, or admit to being a complete idiot with no grip on reality.

We mention this only because we’d very much like to employ this technique on whomever decided that the best way to get a bit of traction for a Subaru Forester was to name it something whose acronym we can’t mention on a family website.

STORY Craig Jamieson

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