While it is true that the car industry is ruled now by accountants rather than engineers, the guys and gals with the slide rules in their pockets sometimes still manage to get one over the bean counters.
And while some of the results are purely practical, others are just put there to bring a smile to your face. Here are some of my favourites.
The Germanic sense of humour
The VW Golf’s ‘golf ball’ gearknob topped a poll of 2,000 UK drivers by CitNOW as the nation’s favourite hidden car features. Put there as a nod to the car’s name, it’s been a staple on the Golf range for decades now, proving that the company’s engineers have a decent, if predictable, sense of humour.
Less predictable is the VW Beetle’s dash-mounted vase, which first made an appearance in the 1960s. Originally made of porcelain, the ‘blumenvasen’ made a comeback in 1998 in the new Beetle, albeit made of acrylic.
Sadly, it is no more; the marketing team culled it in 2011 in an attempt to increase the car’s appeal to men, which I think is a bit of a shame.
Some models of the Vauxhall Corsa have a hidden bike rack built into them. The FlexFit system of the late noughties could be pulled out of a space behind the rear number plate of the car to give you a sturdy platform to carry your bike on.
The Brits still tend to under-rate Skoda, which is a huge mistake as its cars are as brilliantly engineered as the rest of the Audi/VW/SEAT range and often much cheaper. Also, the Czechoslovakians seem to invest a lot of time and money to gain a detailed understanding of what drivers actually need from their cars. Exhibit A is the Skoda Superb, which features umbrellas hidden in the door trims, a la Rolls-Royce.
Exhibit B is the Skoda Octavia, Fabia and Kodiaq, all of which have an ice scraper secreted inside the fuel filler cap.
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Speaking of fuel filler caps, the Jeep Renegade has a cute spider - saying “ciao baby”, no less - sitting inside the fuel filler cap. The idea is to highlight the car’s fuel efficiency, the implication being that owners will need to open the fuel filler cap so infrequently that they’ll find cobwebs in there.
Volvo adopted the spider theme in its XC90 too. Instead of using a boring geometric strengthening pattern on the underside of a cubbybox lid like everyone else, the Swedes used a spider’s web instead, complete with a smiling spider lurking on one side.
While it might not have a spider, the Vauxhall Corsa does have a shark hidden in the glovebox. Rumour has it that it made its way there as a bet early in the car’s design life and remained there undetected, eventually making it into production in 2006 where it remained for the next eight years.
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MINI in name only
The MINI has a couple of interesting hidden features. The first is its ambient lighting, the colour of which can be changed to suit your mood. The second is the awkwardly named “Openometer”, which is a gauge that displays the amount of time you’ve spent with the roof folded down. Pointless, but kind of charming.
Making your escape
The Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor doesn’t only have the best car name in the world it also has the best toys, number one of which is its anti-kidnapping handle.
Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having been bundled into the boot, never fear; Ford has you covered because it installed a fluorescent pull handle that unlocks the boot from the inside. It even punched out a pictorial design to show you what it’s for, just in case you get confused (see image above).
The same car also has anti-stab kevlar plates in the back of the front seats, heavy-duty suspension taken from the Ford F-150 pickup, a mesh screen between the front and back seats, and a one-piece wipe-clean moulded rear seat. And yes, you can find used examples on eBay…
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The infamous curry hook
Almost every car has one now but I think the first car to have a hook to hang your takeaway from was the Nissan Almera of 1996. Unless you know better, of course?
Car manufacturers love putting hidden messages in their cars. McLaren, for example, uses the outlines of various race circuits as the camouflage on its still-secret cars when it’s out testing them on the road.
On a less exotic note, the Fiat Panda has the individual letters of its name embossed hundreds of times on the door cards, while Jeep hides the outline of its iconic Willys Jeep all over its other models - and the Renegade also has a miniature Bigfoot on its rear window.
But, best of all, the Jaguar E-PACE has two cute little cubs on it to emphasise its role as the ‘baby’ in the Jaguar range. One is hidden at the top of the windscreen and another is projected onto the floor on each side of the car when you open the front doors.
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But the award for the greatest hidden car gags goes to…
Tesla. Like him or loathe him, no-one can deny that Elon Musk has a pretty good sense of humour. Take the Model S’s volume control, for example, which goes all the way to 11 in a nod to the film Spinal Tap.
Too niche for you? How about a sub-menu on the Model S which, after you’ve entered the password ‘007’ changes the display on the screen to the Lotus Esprit submarine car from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s utterly brilliant:
Does your car have a hidden feature you’d like to share with us? If so, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org!