What a Piece of Junk!

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"You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought."
"She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
Han Solo, Star Wars, on the Millennium Falcon.

This is your car? This is a pathetic rusted-out bucket of bolts! I'm sorry, what exactly makes you think this thing will get us three blocks before collapsing in a big puff of blue smoke? I've seen cars crushed into cubes that were still more impressive-looking than yours... did we just pass a Lamborghini?

What A Piece Of Junk is what happens when the alleged Alleged Car performs like a Cool Car. This is a vehicle that looks like it will fall apart if you go faster than twenty miles an hour. Your friends won't ride in it for fear of it spontaneously combusting. Well, your eyes are deceiving you: get into it and watch it blast past the competition. It is much, much better than it looks.

It is not limited to cars, or even vehicles—sometimes what looks like The Alleged Steed may actually be a Cool Horse in disguise.

Of course, as many of the examples will demonstrate, the vehicle will probably still be prone to breakdowns at inopportune moments.

Polar opposite of this trope is the Rice Burner. Compare Lethal Joke Character and Excalibur in the Rust. See also The Alleged Car for when it is just as bad as it looks.

Examples of What a Piece of Junk! include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Takumi Fujiwara's 1986 Toyota Corolla GT-S (a.k.a. the Trueno GT-Apex) in Initial D. None of the other racers in the series take his car seriously, because "it's just a silly little Trueno". What they don't know is that A) the car is owned, maintained, and tuned by Bunta Fujiwara who used to be one of the top street racers in Gunma Prefecture and B) Takumi's a lot more skilled than his opponents give him credit for. In fact, when his buddy Itsuki gets a Levin SR, he and Takumi take it for a spin up Mount Akina, where they run into some second-string racers from a rival racing team known as the Night Kids - and though Itsuki's Levin SR is a lot less powerful than the Trueno GT-Apex, the Night Kids wind up sucking the Levin's exhaust!
    • It was in fact the Initial D franchise that pushed the RWD 80-series Corolla coupes from "cheap old beater" to "sought-after classic" status.
    • To be perfectly fair, the AE 86 chassis is indeed impressive - for a commuter's car; allied with the car's light weight and the APEX twin cam engine, Takumi's specific version of the Trueno is a little marvel to drive on mountain roads - and is not the only "el cheapo" car to win the favors of drivers: the Peugeot 106 GTI, the "sporty" version of your typical French women car, was voted second best handling car in the world (because they couldn't justify a cheap FW hatchback beating the Ferrari 355) by the crazy dudes at Top Gear (see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK-hprvTNf8). When he drives Itsuki's Levin, which has the AE 85 variant of the chassis (it lacks reinforced triangles, rollbars, and limited sliding differential) and a single cam standard engine, Takumi remarks how dull and unreliable the car is. Later on, when he gets to drive a Subaru WRT Impreza, he is forced to acknowledge the difference between his souped up Trueno and a real race car.
  • There is a reason that Justy Ueki Tylor was sent to the Soyokaze... even if it does for some reason rack up an enormous kill count after he arrives.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, everyone scoffs at the idea of Shishio trying to invade Tokyo Harbor in a wooden boat, until he reveals it's really an ironclad battleship covered with wood as a disguise.
  • Lupin III's Fiat 500 in The Castle of Cagliostro. It seems to be a wimpy little subcompact car, but it's actually a heavily modified vehicle that can go seriously fast, run up near-vertical cliff faces and survive grenade blasts.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In The Question, Vic Sage used to drive a beat-up VW Bug. With a Porsche engine. It would effortlessly outrun police cars.
    • It is worth noting that Ferdinand Porsche himself was the founding engineer of VW - combinations of parts from both companies are frequent in Real Life.
  • In Iron Man Noir, Pepper is surprised to find that the infamous Captain Namor's legendary ship, the Lady Dorma, is a real beater. Stark assures her it's got more kick than you'd think. As it turns out, the rust-bucket is actually a cover for the real Lady Dorma, a small submarine stored in the cargo hold.
  • The Count's of Champignac delapitated 1934 Duesenberg runs on mushrooms and can outrun anything on the road.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Star Wars is the Trope Namer, from Luke's line about the Millennium Falcon.
    • Leia's line when she first sets eyes on it also qualifies: "You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought."
    • What makes this brilliant is that the audience has never really seen a Cool Starship before this movie: seriously everything sci-fi (except for Star Trek) was all rockets and spinning discs. The characters are mocking a ship that for most viewers looks like the coolest ship ever.
  • Jake Blues in The Blues Brothers is not initially impressed with the beat-up used police car Elwood arrives in, but... well, let's say that the car proves its worth throughout the rest of the film.

"It's got a little pick-up."

  • The Crown Victoria LTD, a/k/a the "Ford POS," from Men in Black. Just don't press the little red button.
  • Herbie, The Love Bug! A VW Beetle with an ugly paint job and the saddest horn you've ever heard, but fitted with a sports car engine for the racing scenes.
    • In Herbie: Fully Loaded, someone notes that the speedometer goes past 200 mph, and comments that someone was very optimistic.
    • In Herbie Goes Bananas, he spends most of the movie very rusty and covered in child-made graffiti. He doesn't get restored until the epilogue.
  • The World's Fastest Indian. Equally applied to the rebuilt motorcycle and it's elderly, unathletic rider. Both perform (almost) flawlessly on race day.
  • The Herkimer Battle Jitney from Mystery Men.
  • There are several examples on Cars:
    • All the other pit crews laugh at little Guido, but the laughing stops when he changes all of McQueen's tires in under five seconds.
    • Mater, a rusted-up tow truck with a missing hood, fluid build-up, not much in the brains department... and the world's best backwards driver.
      • In the sequel, Mater is mistaken for a spy and equiped with holographic disguises, rocket boosters and hidden weapons. He also shows remarkable knowledge of lemons, which comes in handy as the bad guys are Gremlins, Pacers and the like. He even figures out the identity of the Big Bad all by himself, and pulls a Batman Gambit on him.
    • Doc Hudson is sort of an example. In real life, the Hudson Hornet was specifically built as a racing car, but to modern eyes it just looks like an "old grandpa car", as McQueen puts it in the movie.
  • In The Fast and the Furious, Paul Walker pays back his debts to Vin Diesel with a wrecked sports car. Diesel's crew scoffs, but underneath its damaged exterior turns out to be one amazing interior.
    • Tokyo Drift has the protagonist putting his old, rusted Monte Carlo against a flashy, spankin' new Viper. The Monte Carlo wins so hard.
  • In the 2007 Transformers film, Bumblebee at first transforms into a seen-better-days '76 Camaro that belches clouds of smoke when started and breaks down at convenient make out spots. 'Bee is actually a giant robot from outer space and considerably tougher than he looks. He later turns into a much snazzier 2008 Camaro when Megan Fox comments on his shabby appearance.
  • Grease: The T-Birds' car, before they turn it into "Greased Lightning" is a "hunk o' junk".


Literature[edit | hide]

  • A series of Polish novels from the 1980s features Pan Samochodzik ("Mr Buggy"), a museum expert chasing after hidden treasures, nicknamed so for his car, which is shaped like a metal boat of wheels and seems to have been shaped using mostly a hammer. The reason it looks so is that it has been actually scratch-built by the man's wacky inventor uncle, using the engine from a crashed ferrari among other things. Also, it is shaped like a boat because it is actually amphibious.
  • Burke, the ex-con Private Detective from the novels by Andrew Vachss, has the "ultimate New York taxicab". It's Gadgeteer Genius designer committed suicide and left Burke the car in payment of an unpaid debt.
  • Private Eye Mike Hammer has his "heap", but at one stage it's mentioned that there's a Cadillac engine under the hood.
  • In The Oregon Files of the NUMA Series the titular freighter looks like a giant piece of junk. However it is outfitted with some of the best boating equipment you can imagine. For example that rust you see is really a special paint that keeps the ship off of radar. It has enough firepower to go toe to toe with a Libyan warship. The only thing that stopped the Oregon from sinking said warship was because it would have caused an international incident.
  • In Banjo Paterson's poem The Man From Snowy River, the title character rides an apparent Alleged Steed described as "a small and weedy beast", but it turns out to be the only non-feral horse in the area that doesn't balk at mountains and keeps its footing in the scrubland.
    • Parodied with "Snowy", the pony in The Last Continent, who is actually a Trickster God in disguise, and at one point climbs up a vertical cliff, and then upside down across the overhang.
  • In William Gibson's Bridge Trilogy (and primarily Virtual Light) Chevette's bicycle is this: a cutting-edge paper-wrapped carbon-fiber frame with a rather serious security system, but carefully painted to look like a beat-up old junker.
  • The Nostalgia For Infinity in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series. It's a slower-than-light 4 kilometer ship, with huge swathes of the interior exposed to the vacuum and radiation of space, parts of the ship corrupted by viruses, and a corrupted cyborg for a captain. The Infinity carries "Hell-class" weapons which it found in a booby trapped asteroid; the weapons bend physics, and could presumably easily raze the surface of a planet - when the Infinity threatens a colony, they are terrified of the ship's firepower even without knowing about the hell-class weapons.
  • The U.S.S. Lovell from the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and Star Trek: Vanguard series. It's an old Daedalus-class starship that had been decommissioned for a half-century or so before the S.C.E. claimed it for their own. It has mismatched hull plates, welds and patches all over, and rattles like it's about to explode when it first accelerates to warp speed. But because it's a ship full of engineers who have nothing better to do than tinker, repair, or rebuild things it can keep up with (or outrun) any ship in the fleet.
  • In Blade of the Poisoner and Master of Fiends, Scythe's horse Hob is scruffy, rawboned, and generally described in a manner reminiscent of Gunpowder from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He's a Cool Horse.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Serenity! Oh, Serenity from Firefly is very much this. It's outdated, but it'll run forever with maintenance.

Kaylee: You're gonna come with us.
Book: Excuse me?
Kaylee: You like ships. You don't seem to be lookin' at the destinations. What you care about is the ships, and mine's the nicest.
Book: She don't look like much.
Kaylee: Oh, she'll fool ya'.

  • Doctor Who: The Time Lords (and other sufficiently advanced individuals) have called the Doctor's TARDIS junk, and for good reason: It's an outdated Type 40 model, barely working and requiring all manner of jury-rigs, hasty repairs, and the occasional hammer on the control panel to keep going. It doesn't change the fact that this little police box can travel anywhere and anywhen in the universe, is at least the size of an office building inside, and can tow planets.
    • Eleven's incarnation of the TARDIS is an extreme example, having apparently repaired itself with old alarm clocks, car parts, and a vintage Victrola.
    • The Third Doctor's "Bessie" is an Edwardian roadster. Very nice to drive, but not exactly powerful. The Doctor has made some improvements, though, and not only does Bessie have an inertialess hyperdrive, but also a remote control and anti-theft force fields.
      • Ace has this very reaction to her first sight of "Bessie"... and then Seven hits the accelerator.
  • Every now and again on Top Gear. Two examples are the trophy Toyota Hilux pickup truck, which looks like a tragic wreck because the presenters tried to kill it and failed, and "Oliver," Richard Hammond's tiny but plucky 1963 Opel Kadett. Oliver managed to complete the African challenge without any modifications, while Clarkson and May had to strip off the doors, seats, etc. from their cars to cross the salt flats. The only problems Oliver had were when Hammond tried to ford a river and sank him.
  • During the Ashes challenge, they used a Van with the Chassis and Engine of a Jaguar.
  • Christine's unseen 1958 Buick Roadmaster from Night Court. Stuck with it after her father sold her beloved compact to buy this one (because it was supposedly safer), the thing turns out to be a Nigh Invulnerable pinball that survived a crash that would've destroyed her old car (and her along with it) without a scratch (On the car: Christine broke a nail.)

Christine: It's better! When I hit the bus the clock started working.

  • Saturday Night Live had a fake commercial for the "Chameleon LX", a high-end luxury car with a powerful engine and fine leather interiors disguised to look like a piece of crap junker from two decades prior. Features to pull off this illusion included three mismatched hubcaps and a schoolbus-yellow painted rim, driver-side door that seemed to have been recycled from a different model car and a false transmission fluid leak to tell thieves "Hey, not worth the trouble."

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Warhammer 40,000 Orks embrace this trope as their take on The Aesthetics of Technology. This also works because they project a psychic field around them where things work simply because an Ork thinks it should. Many times non Orks will try to use Ork weaponry only to discover them missing basic parts necessary for it to function. In those cases they are using junk that happens to work because of their innate psychic abilities.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The speedster you use in Half-Life 2 Episode 2, known affectionately as "The Muscle Car". Alyx is impressed with it from the start, presumably because pre-apocalypse cars that work at all are rare and this one does sort of look like it was a classic car once.
    • The airboat counts as well. Beneath the exposed frame and rusty appearance lies a monster that maneuvers in water like nobody's business (not so much on land, but that's not where it was intended to run on anyway), can bowl over anything that isn't made of metal, and is light enough to glide during leaps. It also supports the eventual installation of a devastatingly powerful helicopter-based machinegun. Unfortunately, later on, the only option is to ditch it. And then you have to use the scout car...
    • ... which is another dirt-covered diamond. It's just as bony bare, and shabby-looking as the airboat, but it's a reliable, and fast, little vehicle that is more than enough to get past the coastal highways. It can make roadkill out of any enemy you find while you have it, it's fast, responsive, and has a crazy turbo function. Plus, if you somehow knock it off its wheels, it's light enough to be turned back up by the gravity gun. Oh, and did I mention it has a Tau cannon in the front? Or that it's really fast?
  • All the cars in the Twisted Metal series look fairly beat up, although there is a good reason...
  • The hovercraft from Beyond Good and Evil. It's a homemade, custom contraption that's old-fashioned in a futuristic age (most "hovercrafts" actually hover several feet above the ground), beat-up, and likely to break down within about a minute of the first time you get into it. It's also capable of going faster than the futuristic hovercrafts in races, it's resilient, and you can fit it with all manner of military hardware.
  • About 3/4ths of the Minmatar ships in EVE Online could qualify for this.
  • Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty features a discussion between ex-Marshal Jim Raynor and Chief Mechanic Swann over the virtues and drawbacks of Vulture hover-bikes. Swann thinks the model is a deathtrap. Raynor, having iconically owned one himself, is not amused.
  • Sweet's Greenwood in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. At first glance, it appears to be an unremarkable, boxy, and dated sedan (even by 1992 standards), but turns out to be dependable enough that it's the definitive car driven during specific drive-by shootings and car chases in missions. Even after the car survives a Helicopter Blender, ends up in a spectacular crash with a tanker trailer, and Sweet's stint in prison, Sweet remained insistent reacquiring the same car, having the player driving it in late in the storyline and the final mission.

Carl: "Can't believe you bought that same bucket ass car, man!"
Sweet: "Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

    • A better in-game example (as the Greenwood is average at best in all areas) is the Clover. It looks like your typical redneck ride, corroded paint and parts of different colors included. However, it has a very nice acceleration rate, brakes nicely and turns like a dream. It's not on par with the sportscars you can find in richer areas, but it's a dependable ride that's very common everywhere.
  • The Toyota AE86 (aforementioned in Anime) in any racing game.
    • Most egregious in its home ground Initial D Arcade Stage, where it is consistently the best car of them all, beating sport models like the Mazda RX-series, and the Honda S2000 and NSX. The consistently second-best (the first generation Mazda MX-5) is also not much of a looker even though it is a proper sports car.
  • Can be invoked in any Choro Q game if you use a garbage truck, noodle car, or any non racing car body, since your car can be tuned up for the fastest, and the body barely effects anything.
  • In League of Legends Rumble's Mini-Mecha looks like it was made by digging through a scrap yard ( which it was), but it's the mecha that makes the anthropomorphic hamster one of the fiercest bullies in the game. The fact that it's composed of junk is actually a part of his gameplay mechanics, as using abilities generates heat and getting too much heat results in him being unable to use his abilities until the mecha cools down. In addition his idle animations and joke show the mecha seizing up in some way or another, but it's certainly up to snuff in battle.
  • Teladi Ships in the X series tend toward this trope. In particular the capital ships, which appear to have been put together almost entirely from spare parts. However they tend to be extremely heavy on the defense. A number of Pirate variants of normal ships also fit.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Project 0 Aatu prides himself on his buggy, even though Owen is quick to make fun of it.
    • Still it manages to keep up with a magical flying boy so it probably applies.
  • The MES AH.com. It looks pretty broken down thanks to years of ramshackle repairs by a skeleton crew, but with an AI to even up the balance, it can still kick arse.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Ben 10 had an RV along these lines, called The Rust Bucket.
  • Storm Hawks has The Condor, their airship, which is constantly breaking down and yet still holds the record for fastest air speed in the Atmos. What's more, it broke it's OWN record, made over 100 years ago.
  • The 1970s show Hot Wheels had an episode in which "Fake-Out" was the police slang term for a car of this sort used by armed robbers as a getaway vehicle.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The original (pre-BMW) Mini might have qualified. It looked and felt cheap—it was cheap, under £500 in 1959 for a basic model, half the price of a 2001 BMW Mini after inflation—but it was so light and sharp that it could corner with the sports cars of the day. As a result, it got fitted with more powerful motors and entered in races, most famously winning the Monte Carlo Rally 4 years in a row (1964-1967, although they were unfairly disqualified in 1966).
  • Secondhand reports indicate that no less a vehicle than the Alleged Car, the infamous Trabant, could be upgraded to take a modern lightweight engine. Because the Trabbi's duraplast bodywork is so lightweight, its cornering and power-to-weight ratios would thus be good enough to take on some modern sports cars--and win. From The Other Wiki:

"Some say that the perplexing effect caused by a postmodern Trabi that can overtake modern cars as described above 150 km/h (93 mph) is worth all the effort."

  • This trope, as applied to gaming PCs circa 2011: Imagine a quad-core processor, many gigs of ram, solid-state hard drive, powerful graphics card, power supply, and cooling system...housed inside a mid-90s boxy beige Compaq Presario case with "Pentium II" and "Designed for Windows 95" case badges.
  • There are stories circulating in the automotive industry about some Volkswagen engineers in Germany who took a Volkswagen Bus (a minivan with an anemic 48 hp engine), outfitted it with the best Porsche engine on the market, and went blasting down the Autobahn at speeds upwards of 150 miles per hour.
  • The Toyota FJ40, also sold as Toyota Bandeirante in Brazil, manufactured until 2001. Rather plain on the outside, but still beats many newer pick-up trucks.
  • The M35A2 Truck, Cargo, 2 1/2 ton. A K A the Deuce-and-a-Half, or Deuce. No power steering, wimpy brakes, underpowered engine, iffy choice of gears (Big step between 3rd and 4th), and less than half of them actually had heaters that could keep the windshield clear on really cold days.
    • I'll still take one over a Hummer any day. More cargo capacity by weight and cubic footage, better view (higher seating position and larger windows) fewer reliability issues despite being of circa 1965 to 1975 build dates. Though they've been almost if not entirely phased out of active military service.
  • This $500 BMW held its own against state-of-the-art cars at a World Rally Championship race.
  • The Farm Truck Looks like a beat up old Chevy, but runs 12.3s quarter miles