The CAR Top 10: car makers with a nice line in...

Published: 27 February 2015

You can brag about your Lamborghini without mentioning that it's in fact a Lamborghini air-conditioning system...

1 Alpina typewriters

Alpina typewriter

Originally a typewriter maker, Alpina turned to making BMWs better. Those engine mods and cool cotton-reel wheels don’t come cheap, but Alpina also sells wine to provide Dutch, or Bavarian, courage for ’fessing to the wife how much you spent.

2 Google car

Google car

Not content with helping us search for our next car, showing us where to drive it and finding out who we’re illicitly meeting in it, Google decided to build it for us too. No steering wheel or pedals? Resembling a keyboard mouse? Maybe they should stick to search engineering.

3 BMW aero engines

BMW aero engine

Snapped timing chains, duff Vanos, premature cylinder-liner wear, ingested swirl flaps: BMW’s patchy reputation for engine reliability wouldn’t calm nervous flyers if they started supplying Boeing. BMW actually has a long history of producing aero engines, although the idea that the blue-and-white badge represents propellers came later.

4 AC invalid carriage

AC invalid car

A real man’s car, the AC Cobra’s steering could be cripplingly heavy in town. Fortunately AC also had the DHSS contract to build the iconic blue invalid carriage, with a choice of steering wheel, handlebars or tiller. And if you weren’t up to one of those, you could always take an AC train.

5 Bristol planes

Bristol plane

Former Bristol boss Toby Silverton would never let us into the factory because of the ‘sensitive MoD work’ he claimed the one-time aero company was still carrying out. Truth was he desperately didn’t want us to see that they weren’t building any cars and the staff were dusty skeletons like something out of an Indiana Jones crypt.

6 Honda anything

Honda robot

Cars, boats, planes, mowers, quad bikes, generators, robots – it’s hard to think of something Honda doesn’t build. When we can eventually teleport, turn invisible and banish that abhorrent ex-Apprentice rent-a-gob Katie Hopkins to the far side of the universe, rest assured it’ll be a Honda making it happen.

7 KTM motorbikes

KTM bike

A relative newcomer to the car fan’s world, Austria’s KTM was big in bikes for years before giving us the X-Bow. Its Atom nemesis is built by Ariel, which originally shared nothing but a name with a long defunct motorbike maker, but is now launching a bike of its own. Don’t expect a Goldwing-style cruiser.

8 Alfa Romeo bus

Alfa Romeo bus

Besides making sexy sports cars, inventing the modern sports saloon and racking up motorsport wins, Alfa also had a line in 36-seaters. Presumably rampant terminal body rot created holes big enough to allow passengers to board and alight as they chose, a bit like an Italian Routemaster.

9 Rolls-Royce armoured car

Rolls-Royce armoured car

Already built like a tank in civvy guise, a Silver Ghost made the ideal basis for a military personnel carrier that saw action in WWs I and II. The pen is mightier than the sword though, and VW’s biro wrote a cheque to make Rolls German-owned in 1998.

10 Lamborghini heating stuff

Lamborghini boilers

Everybody knows Ferruccio Lamborghini made tractors, but he also made wine, golf buggies and a fortune from his air-conditioning business. Appropriately, when we visited the museum at the Lamborghini Calor factory on a 30deg day, the coolers had packed up. Probably a yellow warning light on there somewhere, too.

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker