From the number of widebody, lowered, lifted, and souped-up vehicles on the road today, it's clear that humanity has a problem. Blame it on the internet, perhaps, but it seems like no one is happy with the way their cars leave the factory anymore. Maybe the fault lies on the wide world of automotive manufacturers who have transformed a marketplace that used to offer a wide range of different products that stood out from each other into a car lot where different brands, much less individual models from the same brand, are hard to tell apart.
Honestly, from 50 feet away, even gearheads are going to struggle to tell an Infiniti, a Kia, and a BMW apart. Swoopy lines, LED headlights, and mesh grilles on the outside are paired with touchscreens, perforated fake leather, and plastic that somewhat resembles brushed aluminum on the inside. There's no mystery why so many drivers feel the urge to customize their cars; who wants to look the same as everyone else poking their way through the rat race?
But then there are the car owners out there who are so fed up with the current automotive landscape—and who have the knowledge, time, and skill to feed their needs. These lucky few occasionally turn to a home project to create the car of their dreams. Of course, just like the rest of mankind's undertakings, it ain't always pretty. Some home builds are so impressive they could actually end up affecting the car industry as a whole, while some are so pug-ugly they end up worse than another bland, economical commuter fresh off the dealer floor.
20 Have Hope: Tumbler
If this thing rolled down the highway during the day or night, just about every driver would slam on the brakes thinking that Batman was about to make a cameo in their lives. The Tumbler showed up in Christopher Nolan's trilogy of films but as much as this looks like a movie prop, this bad boy was actually build by a couple of amateurs in a backyard. Their ingenuity is readily apparent, but a close-up inspection reveals a couple of ways that this Tumbler differs from the real thing. Regardless, the build is impressive as it stands and is definitely an inspiring project.
19 Have Mercy: Starsky and Hutch Reliant Robin
The Reliant Robin should never be the base for a home build. That much should be clear just from the strange little city car's three-wheeled design. And to customize a Robin so that it resembles the iconic Starsky and Hutch Gran Torino is just hilarious; there's no hope it'll even be able to come close to performing any serious stunts, much less cruise around a corner without popping a wheel off the ground like this one has. Even stopping and starting can be difficult for this model—though it's a safe bet the builder of this car was hoping to demonstrate a sense of humor rather than a knowledge of engineering.
18 Have Hope: The Deora
Pictured here is one of the most iconic concept cars ever built. But it wasn't built by an established brand; rather, it was built by Mike and Larry Alexander on the bare bones of a Dodge A100 pickup truck from 1965. Switching the layout to more of a cab-over-engine form, the smooth lines and distinctive windshield took the world by storm when it debuted at the 1967 Detroit Autorama. And yet, as much as it influenced car design in the years to come, it may have had an even more significant impact on the development of Hot Wheels as a brand, and was part of the original lineup in 1968.
17 Have Mercy: Post-Art Deco Mad Max
The Pinterest page for this hot rod calls it many things, including Roth-style, Rat Fink, and Frankenstein. Frankly, though, this little monster looks more like an evil robotic insect than anything else—maybe a villain for Samurai Jack to battle in the techno-future. It probably hauls down the road pretty radically, though anyone bold enough to take the steering wheel in hand will probably get a crick in their neck from leaning so far to each side just hoping to get a view of the road ahead of them. Or maybe the shifter is that high in the air so they can set a high-chair in there and hope to see up and over the massive motor and its accouterments.
16 Have Hope: Metropolis
This swooping pickup looks like it could be a better way for Cruella de Vil to transport all the puppies she's always trying to nab. In fact, it's based on 1939 Peugeot 202 pickup truck and has been named Metropolis. That smooth bodywork is partially inspired by the underlying vehicle, while the windshield was inspired by a comic book ray gun and the seats even have six fossils embedded within them. There's no denying it's a beautiful truck, and it lends hope to the future by hearkening back to a past when cars still retained the flair that's so missing from today's bland crossover market.
15 Have Mercy: Corvette Hatchback
For some strange reason, the automotive world seems to actually want monstrosities like a hatchback Camaro, a crossover Mustang, and a station wagon Corvette. With any luck, Detroit will have the smarts not to pander to the lowest common denominator (though, honestly, that'll take a lot of luck). In the meantime, gearheads with no taste can satisfy themselves with botched surgeries like this C3 Corvette that's received what looks to be a 90% Bondo facelift. Is that rear window going to open or will getting anything off the parcel shelf require climbing in through the low-slung doors? Either way seems less than brilliant!
14 Have Hope: Electric Porsche 914
Porsche's 914 is slowly moving up in the world, having once been reviled as yet another bland combination of Porsche design and Volkswagen engineering. But even though Porsche-philes are starting to discover that the 914 is a solid basis for a cheap driver's car, the model left the factory—simply put—drastically underpowered. Luckily, the 914 is definitely lightweight so dropping in an electric drivetrain still keeps the overall poundage low despite the addition of batteries. Plenty of electric 914 conversions have been completed to great success and just about any enthusiast has to smile at the pull of their wonderful low-end torque.
13 Have Mercy: Steamed Lacquer
The joys of camping in a vehicle—as opposed to on the cold, hard ground next to it—are hard to beat, which explains how many post-college 22-year-olds go out and buy a VW Bus with daddy's money and travel this country looking for a few pics worthy of their social media fanbase. This home build, though, limits travel to only a few months a year; the design runs counter to the whole point of the freedom of the open road. On hot days, the cabin is just going to fill up with lacquer outgassing and on cold nights, there's definitely not enough insulation to keep a body or two warm without running the truck the whole time.
12 Have Hope: Frogman's Rocket 3
Randy Grubb has made a name for himself as one of this country's most unusual custom automotive designers. One glance at Frogman' Rocket 3 tells you there's some kind of genius lurking behind that mustache, and though it straddles the line between car and motorcycle simply because the driver straddles it, any gearhead should want to hop on for a spin. Try to imagine the roar of a 6.2-liter Corvette V8 pumping out 430 horsepower despite a wheelbase of only 120 inches. Grubb also built Jay Leno's famous Tank Car and estimates that Frogman's Rocket 3 could have a top speed of over 200 miles per hour.
11 Have Mercy: Transforming
Plenty of car owners wish that their vehicle was just a little bit more special. Stuck in traffic, the urge to look around and count just how many other drivers are plodding along in the exact same year, make, and model can be overwhelming—luckily, the internet is here to save the day with a ton of aftermarket mods. However this car started out, though, the final vision clearly got lost along the road because there's a mix of Camaro, Audi A5, and maybe even Dodge Charger thrown into the mix. The end result is an unfortunate amalgamation of all the worst parts of each.
10 Have Hope: Deep Orange 9
This custom Civic wasn't technically built in a garage, but since college students tend to live on campus, let's call it only a slight stretch to say it's a home build. The CU-ICAR Deep Orange was developed by students at Clemson University's two-year master's degree program for automotive engineering in partnership with Honda. Built as a concept for the future of rallycross, the highly modified Civic looks radical enough on the outside, but under the skin is where the real inspiration lies. A mid-mounted, 2.0-liter Honda engine has been swapped in, while the engine bay now houses electric motors powering the front wheels. The total is over 600 horses routed to all four wheels—of a Honda.
9 Have Mercy: Satin in a Coffin
Lotus has long been cranking out lightweight, powerful sports cars that have collectively earned the nickname "Coventry Coffin" because there's little hope of a crumple zone to save passengers in the event of a mistake on the track. The builder of this custom, though, took that nickname to a whole new level. The car was built on a 1970 Karmann-Ghia platform, so it's almost more like a Meyers Manx that's decked out for Halloween than anything else. It could be fun to drive—and in the off chance that rear end spins out and ends up in a ditch, the driver can either take this ride into the afterlife or call a few pallbearers to pick it up by the handles.
8 Have Hope: Toyota V12-Powered F1 Racer
Formula One is so intense that the field had to choose a governing body to place limits on how radical their own cars could get. That's not quite so for home builders, though, and some radical genius decided to build a blast from the past race car in their garage in Minnesota. All that metalwork isn't quite a finished product but a twin-turbocharged Toyota V12 should provide more than enough power to shred those rear tires to bits in about three seconds of burning out. If anyone actually straps on a helmet and gets behind the wheel of this thing, they've got more courage than an actual Formula One driver, that's for sure.
7 Have Mercy: Rat on the Beach
Rat rods as a specific sub-class of hot rods are becoming more and more popular these days. Whether that's attributable to Mad Max: Fury Road and its stellar combination of beauty and destruction or just because Burning Man has become a commodified music festival more than an expression of freedom and whimsical freedom is a matter for debate; what's not up for discussion is this build, which is just polished enough to be rejected by rat-rodders and too scruffy for the hot-rodders. The worst part is the beach-blanket interior—though for getting stuck on the Playa with a bunch of hipsters who are convinced they're Hunter S. Thompson, you could do worse.
6 Have Hope: Ultima Evolution
For home builders looking to get themselves some real power without having to spend a lifetime learning the ins and outs of every potential donor car and radical material they'd need to manipulate in order to create a supercar, there are plenty of companies selling kit cars to satisfy any and every need. Case in point is Ultima Sports, who offers this kit for their Evolution model, which they claim "requires neither a great degree of engineering ability, nor any specialized equipment to complete. The cars are designed by the factory to be assembled by a builder who has only basic automotive knowledge and an elementary tool kit." Just bolt in a Chevy small-block and mash that gas pedal.
5 Have Mercy: Lincoln Rickshaw
This mysterious home build looks like a combination between a rickshaw, a go-kart, and a Lincoln. Seriously, whoever built this thing must have had a sense of humor to mount a rattan sofa on the rear and a Lincoln badge on the front. There's certainly some ingenuity going on here, though little hope of ever achieving street legality in a country with any kind of governing body could possibly have been part of the plan. On a crowded thoroughfare or touring the vineyards on a lovely country day, this peculiar creation will undoubtedly feel out of place just about anywhere.
4 Have Hope: 1930 Model A
Everyone has their own tastes and some people get their kicks transforming pieces of the past into modern-day marvels. Yes, that's a Ford Model A. No, it doesn't ever get passed by actual horses while creaking down the road on wood wheels. Running high-eight-second quarter miles, as reported by Hot Rod Network, this homebuilt project is truly steel-bodied and has even been driven over 5,000 miles on the street—so it's definitely street legal! With a Ford small-block paired with a duo of Garrett turbochargers and an air-to-air intercooler, this Model A is Henry Ford's dream come to life, or maybe his nightmare.
3 Have Mercy: Hot Wheels
Few cars pair a design and a drivetrain that can together scream, "Extreme!" as well as the Dodge Viper. Early Vipers had a 500-horsepower V10, a six-speed manual transmission, no ABS, no traction control, and not even external door handles. Bless the hearts of Dodge's engineers and the solitary executive who, no doubt, had to implore his colleagues to just keep it going for another year or two. No one bought the Viper unless they were out of their mind but even that crowd would look the other way when this example drives by. Sure, the internet puts wheels, spoilers, and body kits at the distance of only a few clicks but that doesn't mean they're a good idea.
2 Have Hope: Factory Five 818C
Factory Five has made a name for themselves creating reproduction Shelby Cobras but they also make more modern sports cars in kits for the right customers. Above is the 818C (for 818-kg Coupe) and it's a closed-top version of their 818R racecar. Kits start in the $12,000 range, though a donor source for a Subaru Boxer-four engine to mount amidship is also necessary. Still, with a curb weight around 1,800 pounds, the 818C offers borderline-supercar performance without the heft and fuel consumption of the larger V8s (and more) that modern-day track monsters tend to utilize. Included instructions include the option to build one around a WRX or an STI's donated powertrain—guess which one sounds better for the sake of the future.
1 Have Mercy: Austin-Healey
Austin-Healeys are making a comeback these days, as collectors and builders have come back around to prizing their tiny, lightweight bodies and relatively powerful underpinnings. Plus, the style of both the 3000 and the Sprite just turns heads wherever they drive—especially with a bit of performance modifications and engine enhancements helping with the overall look, drive, and exhaust note. But this heavily-customized Austin-Healey 3000 has lost touch with the simple form that originally made it so great. Those wheels look out of place, the hood is now too high, and the rest of the car looks like a bulbous banana that no one wants to pick up, much less eat.
Sources: Engine Swap Depot, Daily Turismo, and Wikipedia.