Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build

Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build

Over the years, companies like Honda, Lamborghini and Ford have become pretty good at making cars. They’ve built their names around this ability to put together a decent set of wheels. But sometimes, a company can get bored of making cars and might be tempted to try its hand at something else, like building electric bikes or stuffing sausages.

And this got us thinking about all the strange, non-car things that automakers have built over the years. It turns out that there are a lot more experimental product development ideas than you might think.

We rooted through the history books to uncover some of the most interesting product tangents your favourite car brands have taken over the years. So, sit back, relax and enjoy a whole heap of random stuff that car firms have made over the past 100 years.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP, Getty Images

After killing off its sweet robot child, Asimo, earlier this year, we’re now never talking about Honda’s robot-making again. Instead, let’s talk about the cool HondaJet.

Original concepts for this twin-jet plane date back to the late 90s, and it finally went into production in 2015. It features a novel over-wing engine layout, which the firm claims increases efficiency.

Inside, there’s space for up to four people to travel in style on a journey of around 1,200 nautical miles. The cost of all this, a cool $US5.4 ($7) million.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

But Honda isn’t the only automaker to dabble in aviation.

Henry Ford invested in American company Stout in the 1920, buying the plane maker and its designs and incorporating it into his engineering outfit. Amongst those designs were the plans for the Trimotor.

Ford built 199 Trimotor planes from 1926, with most of them ending up in military service here in the U.S. The original incarnation of the plane featured three air-cooled Wright radial engines. It carried a crew of three, and had space to seat up to nine passengers.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Alan Lebeda via Wikimedia Commons

Subaru might be known for its off-road capable sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs, but it also took a foray into a space even further off road – the sky. That’s right, Subaru has also dabbled with air travel in the past.

Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, was founded in 1915 and was previously known as “The Aircraft Research Laboratory.” And these close ties with the aerospace industry saw the Subaru name adorn light aircraft in years gone by.

Most notably, Subaru badges were slapped on the Fuji FA-200 Aero Subaru craft of the 1960s. This light aircraft is powered by a single-engine and can cover up to 800 miles.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to fly somewhere with no hope of return, then Chrysler is the firm you want to talk to.

This stalwart of American luxury has a past life developing missiles for the U.S. military. Dubbed Operation Paperclip, the project saw Chrysler work with Nazi scientists that had been brought to America following the end of the Second World War.

The project spawned missiles like the PGM-19 Jupiter, a nuclear weapon that could carry a warhead more than 2,414 km. What a productive way to burn a few billion dollars.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Chrysler wasn’t the only firm getting in on the sweet finances that come with getting pally with the U.S. military. GM stablemate Buick also got in on the action and made tanks!

During World War Two, Buick fired up its factories to produce ammunition for the U.S. military and eventually set about making tanks too. Most famously, it developed the M18 Hellcat – a vehicle that looks a lot like a tank, behaves a lot like a tank, but gets people in anoraks very irate if you call it a tank. It’s a tank destroyer, apparently, so it drives around on tracks shooting at tanks, rather than people.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: MarcelX42 via Wikimedia Commons

That’s enough expensive death machines for one day, here’s something a lot more useful – a Lamborghini tractor.

While the company’s ties to the famed Italian supercar maker may lie in the past, its tractors are still very 21st century.

The firm was originally founded by Ferruccio Lamborghini, who would go on to create the supercar company. Now, while Lamborghini is owned by the VW group, its tractor making arm is part of the Italian agricultural firm Same and still makes some impressive looking tractors to this day.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: John MacDougall/AFP, Getty Images

This is one of those facts that car nerds love to trot out every now and then and, as I’m a car nerd, here it is again: VW makes more sausages than cars.

At a plant in Germany, VW churns out more than 18,000 sausages every day. Made from pork, the VW currywurst has been in production since the 1970s. However, it’s sausage slinging antics were thrown into disarray in 2020 when then-CEO Herbert Deiss announced he wanted the VW cafeteria to go plant-based.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Junko Kimura, Getty Images

Looking for somewhere to cook up your last pack of VW sausages? Toyota can help you out as it has an arm that builds affordable housing in Japan.

Since 1975, Toyota has offered a portfolio of different housing options, each designed “to make Japanese homes better.” At its peak in 2006, Toyota Housing sold more than 5,000 prefabricated homes in a year.

Interestingly, Toyota isn’t the only Japanese car maker to dabble in construction. Honda and Mitsubishi also have homebuilding divisions in Japan.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Esther Horvath / Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Oh Saab, my favourite shuttered Swedish car company. But while the maker of the wonderful 900 Turbo might have been killed off by a host of different factors, its name lives on in a fleet of autonomous underwater reconnaissance robots.

Today, the Saab name can be found on a host of industrial equipment, including the exploration bots that helped uncover Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship at the bottom of the ocean.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Not content with creating beautiful road and race cars, Ettore Bugatti is also credited with building one of the first high speed trains.

The Bugatti Railcar was developed in France in 1933 as a modular alternative to steam trains. The Railcar comprised a carriage that packed in a a 12.7-litre gas engine, three of these cars could be linked together to form a train.

The fastest example tested was powered by four engines that produced more than 800hp. It could reach a top speed of more than 193 km/h.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP, Getty Images

Probably the only example here that I’ve got any personal experience with: Peugeot and its lovely bikes.

Founded in 1882, Peugeot Cycles created some of the best 20th century touring bikes out there. They’re lovely to ride and, if well maintained, will last a lifetime. More than you can say for most of Peugeots cars.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Porsche

A recent addition to the bike world is Porsche and its investigations into electric bikes.

Porsche has invested heavily in various electric bike companies, including swanky bike builder Greyp. Now, the company has its own e-bike division, which builds powerful electric motors for companies to use in their own bikes.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Getty Images

It’s not remotely a consumer product that you can pop out and buy, but BMW builds bobsleds as well as cars.

The car company has helped the German Olympic team with its bobsleds for decades, and even lent a hand to the Americans in the early 2000s when they were in need of a new steed.

In the quest for ultimate speed on the ice, BMW has also been joined by Nascar engineers that tried to build a new sled for American Olympians, and McLaren, which has worked with skeleton athletes in the UK.

Aston Martin

Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Aston Martin

What’s more luxurious than a bespoke Aston Martin sports car? A bespoke Aston Martin yacht, that’s what.

In 2016, Aston Martin partnered with naval architects at Mulder Design to create the AM37, a 11.28 m Aston Martin powerboat that could reach speeds up to 50 knots (about 92 km/h).

The boat could be ordered with either two 430hp Mercury engines that powered it to 45 knots (84 km/h), or the faster model that packed in two 520hp engines.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Choi Jae-ho/AFP, Getty Images

If you prefer your boats with a bit more leg room, then check out the offering from Hyundai.

Hyundai Heavy Industries has an entire fleet of enormous ships for you to choose from. As well as patrol and research vessels, Hyundai also churns out submarines and military ships.


Car Companies and the Other Weird Things They Build
Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP, Getty Images

And if there’s anything you want that isn’t on this list already, there’s a good chance that Mitsubishi makes it.

From TVs and monitors, to fridges, aircraft and chemicals, Mitsubishi makes it all.

This article has been updated since it was first published.

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