Advances in the science of making cars in recent decades has made it much easier for car firms to offer an increasingly baffling array of options.
They offer the car buyer to add a degree of personalisation to their new ride, but can come with a hefty price tag. Having recently investigated the world of extravagant options, this time we're taking a look at the ones that are just downright weird – and we’ve thrown in a few strange ones from the past too. Join us on the journey:
Philips Auto Mignon (1959)
Chrysler was the first to offer an in-car record player, but competition between rival record labels meant you had a limited choice of discs to listen to. Philips caught the wave of popularity in pop music with the launch of its Auto Mignon in 1959 that allowed drivers to listen to their favourite 45rpm records on the move.
It mounted under the centre of the dash, used the radio if fitted as an amplifier and the record was fed into the front in a manner that set the template for cassettes and CDs for decades to come. The desirability of these players was sealed when all of the Beatles had them installed in their cars, including George Harrison’s Jaguar E-type.
Vauxhall’s star ceiling
Lighting up the headlining of your car like a starry night has been a familiar option for Rolls-Royce owners for over a decade now. It does create a certain wow factor, but the Starlight Headliner, fuelled by around 1300 tiny fibre-optic lights, does not come cheap – indeed it costs a somewhat intergalactic £9000.
So I suppose we should be pleased that at the opposite end of the car world Vauxhall will sell you a version of its own for the Adam model, called ‘Stars Illuminated Headliner.’ The price? A rather-more down-to-earth £400 or so. Indeed, for the price of the feature on a Roller you could buy a nearly-new Adam in its entirety.
Bentley Bentayga: Mulliner Tourbillon by Breitling clock
The super-luxury car makers of the world offer limitless ways to part the world’s super-rich from their money, but Bentley seems to have gone the extra mile with this particular option. Prospective owners of the Bentayga SUV can spend around £117,000 on what is the most expensive in-car clock you can buy, and one of the most expensive options of any sort on any car.
Adorned with diamonds, mother-of-pearl and gold, Bentley claims the clock is very accurate, which we would certainly hope for at this price.
Bentley Bentayga: Fly Fishing by Mulliner set
After its posh clock, I suppose we can almost regard this £80,000 fishing set as a bargain. Four rods are stored in special tubes trimmed in leather, stashed on the underside of the parcel shelf. A pair of landing nets in matching leather bags are stored in a bespoke, carpet-trimmed hard pocket built into the side of the boot.
There are various other storage and refreshment facilities, and the whole thing can be removed when you want your bootspace back.
Alfa Romeo 90 in-dash briefcase
Legend has it the idea for the 90’s in-dash briefcase came about when a senior Alfa Romeo executive was clumped on the back of the head when his case flew off the rear parcel shelf during heavy braking. True or not, it was another unusual feature in a car that came with diagonally rising speedo and rev counters, and a self-adjusting front spoiler.
The briefcase stashed in the glovebox compartment, which meant forsaking that space, but the case was better built than the rest of the car. The 90 was built in 1984-1987.
Range Rover: Event Seating
Conscious perhaps that the entry of Bentley and Rolls-Royce into its SUV world makes its cars look cheap, Range Rovers have moved upmarket in recent years and it’s now possible to spend £170,000 on one without too much effort with the options list. Event Seating is one that can help you on the journey; they hang out of the back and are presumably perfect for watching showjumping and the like.
The £1789 seats come in either black or tan leather, and neatly stow away underneath the boot’s floor when no longer needed.
Honda Element Dog Package
Dogs and SUVs go together like salt and vinegar so we’re not surprised that Honda catered directly to the market. It showed off its Dog Friendly for the boxy Element at the 2009 New York Auto Show and, to many canine lovers’ delight, added it to the options list in 2010. The pack consists of a detachable ramp to help pooches into the boot area, which is lined with a padded, water-resistant crate.
It also comes with an electric cooling fan in the boot to blow fresh air on to your hound. You also got a special bag to hold collar, lead and poop bags. In the main cabin, unique dog bone pattern mats and seat covers were supplied and there were even exterior dog’s paw badges included in the £750 price.
Fiat 500L: Lavazza 500 Espresso Machine
The Fiat 500 is Italian (well Polish, strictly speaking, but not let’s split hairs here), so it obviously makes perfect sense for you to be able to tick a box installing an Italian coffee machine onboard.
Yes we agree the thought is simultaneously frightening and enthralling, but the reality is that this particular £300 device is not quite that clever. You pop in a coffee pod and some water, and it makes you a coffee, powered via the cigarette lighter. We reckon it’s probably easier to do all this at home or at a petrol station, but there you go.
MINI Convertible: Rain warning device
When it comes to personalisation, Mini regards itself as something of an expert, and their models have a large array of options to satisfy every whim, if you can afford it of course. With its open-top models, it likes to emphasise the fun factor and wants you to have your roof open as much as possible (more on this in a moment), which is when this device comes in.
If you plan a journey with the roof down, it consults the cloud (as opposed to the clouds) and warns you if rain is likely on the way. It comes as part of the £1620 navigation system pack, and if you’re away from your car, the app will warn you too.
Mercedes S-Class: Heated armrests
Most of us are grateful for heated seats on a cold morning, and they’re reasonably common now. But how about heated armrests as well. A relatively new innovation, the option became available on the 2014 S-Class and you can now get them on other high-end Mercedes’, and also the Rolls-Royce range.
In the Mercedes S-Class, they come as part of the £2295 Winter package which also give you a head-up display, heated steering wheel and heated windscreen.
Citroën C4 air freshener
Citroëns may have got more staid in recent decades, but they still have their moments. When the company launched its C4 model one highlight was its fixed-hub steering wheel, while another was a range of perfumes you could install to give the owner the odour of their choice.
There was a range of replaceable cartridges on offer, including ‘Pacific sea breeze’.
Jaguar & Land Rover: Activity Key
We would put this very much in the wonderful category. If you’re out on your own on the coast say swimming, sailing or surfing, the last thing you want to do is to take your car key with you. On the other hand, leaving it on land might see it getting pinched. Jaguar’s Activity Key is an RFID-enable wristband that operates your car, but is waterproof and weatherproof.
It’s available for around £300 on much of the JLR product range including the Jaguar F-Pace and E-Pace, and all the Land Rovers apart from the Discovery Sport.
MINI Convertible Mk2: 'Openometer'
From the sublime to the somewhat ridiculous. As mentioned, Mini really want you to have the roof down as much as possible, so its optional Openometer comes in handy. Situated next to the rev counter, it counts up your total roof-down hours. It arrived with the Mk2 Mini convertible, in 2009.
Mini owners gently compete with each other on online forums to get the highest number. Which is fun, probably. Its cost was £115 when first launched.
Porsche 911: Leather-covered air vent slats
German manufacturers are well known for allowing car purchasers to go wild with the amount of customisation options. If too much visible plastic is anathema to you in your new Porsche, then you can choose leather-trimmed air vents as well, for around £800.
Volvo S80 & V70: heartbeat sensor
We can’t work out if this one is wild, weird or wonderful, but here goes. As an option on Volvos between 2006 and 2015, you could get a special key that flashed red if it detected the presence of a heartbeat in the car. This is to counter the thankfully-rare phenomenon whereby a would-be assailant could jump into the car unseen after you’ve unlocked it but before you reached it yourself. It was part of the £750 security pack which also offered keyless operation.
Other companies try to combat this scenario by allowing your central locking system to only unlock the driver’s door, which seems a lot simpler. Volvo seems to have since retired the system.
Honda CR-V: power shower
When Honda first introduced the CR-V in 1997, it was keen to emphasise the lifestyle aspect of its compact SUV. Accordingly, apart from a fridge, one available accessory was this shower attachment, powered by a 12-volt socket in the boot.
Designed mainly for hosing down muddy boots, we suspect more than one family on a camping trip tried to get a bit of home luxury from it as well, though a big barrel of warm water would have been needed.
Tesla Bioweapon Defense Mode
If you’re actively scared about the likelihood of nuclear or biological attack or simply have a distaste for the polluted air from those conventionally-powered cars, Tesla’s Bioweapons defence mode option is the option for you. It will filter out nearly all pollutants and Tesla claims that “You can literally survive a military grade bio attack by sitting in your car.” It’s available on the Model S and Model X for around £2500.
And even if there isn’t a bioweapon attack it still comes in handy; Californian Tesla owners found it very useful to keep out smoky air during the 2018 wildfires in part of the state. The feature comes part of the Premium Upgrades Package – and Mr Musk presented the data to back Tesla’s promises up (pictured).