What a Piece of Junk

Herbie's seen better days, but he can still make you eat his dust!

"She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
Han Solo, A New Hope, 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 overtake a Lamborghini?

What A Piece Of Junk is what happens when the 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. Not related to It's All Junk.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 AE86 chassis is indeed impressive - for a commuter's car; allied with the car's light weight and the high-revving fuel-injected 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 AE85 variant of the chassis (it lacks reinforced triangles, anti-roll bars, and a limited slip differential) powered by a single-cam carburated engine, Takumi remarks how dull and unreliable the car is. Later on, when he gets to drive a Subaru WRX STI 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 has a Fiat 500 in shows like 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.
  • Porco Rosso's Cool Plane is showing signs of severely deferred maintenance at the beginning of the film, which ultimately causes him to lose his first dogfight with Curtis. The trope is doubly true after Curtis literally shoots his plane to pieces, then ultimately averted after it's rebuilt by Piccolo aviation.
  • In the sixth and seventh episodes of InuYasha, Inuyasha himself calls Tessaiga AKA Tetsusaiga (In the English Dub) this one SEVERAL occasions.
    Inuyasha: Huh? What? You mean this? What a piece of junk! Tetsusaiga-what? It wouldn't even cut paper, wet!
    • Later in the episode when Sesshomaru is trying to claim in and Myoga tries to get Inuyasha to claim it first.
    "What entrusted? What inheritance? For all I care, he can keep the rusty piece of junk! *Growls* What I do mind, though, is all the other stuff! Good thing you're in a grave, cause you're gonna die!"
    • And finds other ways to insult the sword in a similar manner...
    "Where have you been? This thing's about as useful as a walking stick!"
    "In the meantime, what am I gonna do with this thing?"
    "You are nuts! This sword is good for nothing!"
    • After the Tessaiga transforms for the first time, Inuyasha is glad considering the battle that's taking place.
    *Chuckles* "I take it back. So the sword's not such a piece of junk."
    • Later...
    "Hmmm... *CLANG!* I spoke too soon. Now it's back to being a piece of junk!"
    • Eventually though it turns out that even in its inactive form, Tessaiga is not useless: it might not be able to cut anything, but that dull, beat-up looking blade is nearly indestructible and works fine as a club. Hence, if attacked while in human form Inuyasha can use it to hold out until sunrise and the return of his half-demon powers.
  • Gunsmith Cats Burst has an interesting variation: after Rally's beloved Shelby Cobra GT-500KR is blown up by some thugs she goes looking for a replacement car, finding a Ford Mustang II, which even if a Cool Car in its own way, she still thinks it's The Alleged Car. It takes the saleswoman mentioning that it's been modified with a top-of-the-line Mustang engine under the hood, adding light bulletproofing to the extras package deal and a car chase for Rally to change her mind.
  • Miyuki Kobayakawa's mini-patrol car from You're Under Arrest! Looks like a stock Honda Today with a police paint job, but under the hood it's got a turbocharged 660 cc DOHC engine (in Japan kei cars are legally limited to 500 cc engine displacement), nitrous oxide boost system, race brakes and four-point restraints. This leads to lots of very nasty surprises for would-be traffic violators.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 of Champignac's dilapidated 1934 Duesenberg runs on mushrooms and can outrun anything on the road.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The Monster XL in Misfiled Dreams. Unlike in Misfile, where every racer knows that how the car looks is immaterial to how it performs, Josh is openly disdainful of the car built to rule the road.
    Josh: "This? You think this bucket can take my baby? Merkur? Who the hell are they, anyway?"

    Films — Animated 
  • 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.
  • From Wreck-It Ralph, we got Vanellope's second race car. It has some very sloppy decorations and an overall odd-look thanks to Ralph accidentally breaking the car-baking minigame. Doesn't stop it from being as capable of a race car as the rest of the roster.

A Russian joke: Two men are in hospital. Both have suffered an automobile accident. The younger asks the older: "Why are you here"? The older, an elderly war veteran answers: "I have had a Messerschmitt fighter engine as war booty. I decided to install it on my Lada. Everything went fine, and then I went to motorway to test it. Unfortunately I lost the control at 300 kph speed, and crashed. Why are you here?" The younger answers: "I was driving the motorway on my Ferrari, when I saw a Lada passing me at high speed. I thought my car had stalled, and I opened the door and stepped out. Turns out I was doing steady 100 kph".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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."
    • The Falcon's original owner Lando Calrissian is also well aware that it looks like garbage. He lovingly (and accurately) refers to it as "the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy!" According to the Expanded Universe he did this on purpose.
    • 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.
  • In The Fast and the Furious, Brian O'Conner pays back his debts to Dominic Toretto with a wrecked Toyota Supra. Toretto and crew scoff, but underneath its damaged exterior turns out to be one amazing interior.
    Dominic: I said a ten second' car, not a ten minute car.
    • Tokyo Drift has Sean Boswell putting his primer-only, "all go and no show" Monte Carlo against a flashy, spankin' new Viper. The Monte Carlo wins so hard, losing only because his opponent unfairly had a friend help him block. And then the police have the car crushed after arresting Sean for the destruction caused during the race.
      Clay: My grandma's Buick could smoke that piece of shit!
      Sean: What about your daddy's Viper?
  • 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".
  • 48 Hours has Jack Cate's 1964 Cadillac Coupe deVille ragtop, in contrast to Reggie Hammond's Porsche 356 (replica) ragtop Cool Car.
  • Hidalgo's pinto coat and feral mustang bloodline invites derision from competitors, who assume only pure-bred Arabian horses can possibly survive the endurance race. Having been "bred" for hardiness by the unforgiving conditions of America's own arid wilderness, the wild-born Hidalgo beats both the desert and his rivals.
  • The used car that Ray parks in front of the Ghostbusters' headquarters... complete with a list of repairs that it needed: "suspension work and shocks, brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear end... new rings, mufflers, a little wiring..." Eventually, it gets pimped out into Ecto-1.
  • The Creeper's BEATNGU in Jeepers Creepers. It's probably 50 years old note  yet it can go up to 100 mph, has one creepy horn and can swerve back and forth note  without rolling over. The Creeper obviously has impressive mechanical knowledge! note 
  • In Back to the Future, Marty McFly seemed to be more surprised by Doc Brown's choice of car when he asked "Are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?
    Doc: The way I see it, if you're gonna built a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style!

  • 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 on 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.
  • The Pillar of Autumn from Halo: The Fall of Reach looks like nothing more than a large frigate, but actually carries concealed weapons, reinforced armour, and a prototype MAC (Magnetic, Accelerator Cannon).
    • To emphasize, she's of the Halcyon class: long overdue for retirement, and the Pillar is more beat-up than most, but then again Halcyons are Built To Last. You really couldn't ask for a better platform for your top-class reactors and new weapons. Plus its junky appearance makes it the perfect cover for a squad of Super Soldiers.
  • Burke, the ex-con Private Detective from the novels by Andrew Vachss, has the "ultimate New York taxicab". Its 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.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe has the Errant Venture, the only Imperial II-class Star Destroyer in private hands, owned by the smuggler Booster Terrik. Errant Venture dances around the trope: she's a seriously awesome ship for a single man to own, were it not horribly expensive and impractical (and illegal!) to keep her completely armed and operational. There are times when, with fully half of her systems on the fritz, she comes close to being the Alleged Starship- Booster puts out the rumor that he not only restored her weapons to full running condition, but also installed a small-scale superlaser capable of vaporizing other starships in a single hit. Really it got commandeered and refit with standard weaponry, but before that it was kind of falling apart. Did we also mention that Venture is painted bright red?
  • In Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead, our heroes have to buy a ship from an Honest John's Dealership. The dealer wants them to get a shiny new-looking one, but Zak is enamored by the Shroud, a battered-looking starship which has top of the line modifications.
  • Pops up in the Honor Harrington books from time to time, in the form of "Q-ships" - slow, unarmored cargo-ships modified into stealth warships, designed either to surprise enemy commerce-raiders, or to trick pirates. They'll still LOOK big, heavy, clumsy and harmless - but their abundant cargo-space means that they can carry enough missiles and heavy energy-weapons to match a Heavy Cruiser, not to mention fitting them with military-grade engines and shielding. (They still, however, tend to be MUCH more delicate than a dedicated warship of their size, and thus have to rely on deception to get in a jaw-shattering sucker-punch.) The finest example, however, show up in War of Honor - a pair of smallish merchantmen named 'Pirate's Bane' and 'Ambushcade', often mocked for how little they resemble their names due to being old and beat-up, covered in flaky paint, and just generally sad-looking even compared to ORDINARY cargo-ships. But in truth, they more than live up to their names - seeing as they are the only two privately-owned Q-ships in the lawless reaches of Silesia, commanded by a Manticoran admiral-in-exile, and crewed by a dangerously disciplined Ragtag Band of Misfits who consider the money they make on high-priority shipping secondary to the opportunity to blast a few overconfident pirates out of the sky. Even their flaky paint is part of a deliberate deception - it's actually military-grade nanite paint, enabling them to change the appearance of their ship regularly in order to keep the pirates from getting wise. In an offscreen Crowning Moment of Awesome, Pirate's Bane manages to destroy a Havenite Destroyer - FAR above the weight-class of the undisciplined, lightly-armed pirates they usually tangle with - though not without serious damage and loss of life.
  • In Lensman, when Kimball Kinnison goes undercover as an Asteroid Miner, his equipment (especially his space armor]] is carefully made this way; looking old and used but carefully-maintained and highly functional. It's mentioned that this is exactly what one would expect from a real miner's gear.
  • The ponies in Chalice are pretty alleged by Damarian standards (the Master's older brother certainly seemed to think so), until you realize that while they may be slow and fat, Ponty is very calm around dangerous things (read: bees and fire), and Gallant and Ironfoot have impressive amounts of endurance, and that this is exactly what the protagonists need them to be.
  • In the Alan Dean Foster short story "Banzai Runner", the title character drives one. Banzai runners are people who have extremely high speed street races in 'stock' Ferraris and Porsches. The Wisp, as the titular Runner is known, drives a four-door sedan...with the engine from a racing plane built into the trunk.
  • In the first Albert Campion novel, ''The Crime at Black Dudley", a professional criminal posing as a harmless eccentric has what appears to be an ancient early-1900s car, but actually has a modern sports car engine and chassis.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel: Gunn's pickup truck. "Don't you be dissin' my girl!"
    Fred: Oh, Charles. Your soul wasn't worth air conditioning?
  • 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'.
    • Also pointed out by some pirate salvagers when the Serenity comes their way. One is disappointed because its parts are nothing special and "its got no flash", but the boss thinks its still a good catch because it's very easy to maintain and extremely resilient, which more than a few spacers would no doubt find attractive.
  • Doctor Who: Sometimes, the TARDIS gets called this too, especially by the Time Lords, since the Doctor's TARDIS is an outdated Type 40 model, a model that was obsolete even when he was young.
    • Well, justified as the TARDIS is barely working and requires all manner of jury rigs and hasty repairs to keep going (along with the occasional hammer on the control panel). However, you can't forget 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. Compared to the pinnacle of Galifreyan tech, the Doctor's TARDIS may indeed be obsolete, but it is still far beyond the technology of any non-Timelord race, including the Daleks.
      • Eleven's incarnation of the TARDIS is an extreme example, having apparently repaired itself from the damage of his last regeneration with bits from old alarm clocks, car parts, and a vintage Victrola. Some of the controls are actually taps from a sink!
    • The Third Doctor's "Bessie" is an Edwardian roadster. Very nice to drive, but not exactly powerful. The Doctor has made some improvements, though: 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.
    • Top Gear also took some bloke's Lada and had it tuned by Lotus
    • During the Ashes challenge, the Australians had a major jaw-drop moment when the van driven by Hammond shot passed like a rocket. Turned out that that they'd custom-modified it with a super-charged Jaguar engine in the back. It's still a van!
      • Actually Top Gear hadn't modified it, it was modified by Jaguar back in the nineties to test the engine and running gear for the XJ 220, which makes it even cooler if you ask me.
    • James May's Austin Princess from the British Leyland challenge was mocked by the other two presenters claiming it was a poor choice for proving that BL actually made some good cars. The Princess excelled in most of the challenges while the other two cars had numerous problems and won the challenge.
  • 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."
  • To thwart a coup d'état against her government, Kira has to rely on a decade-old raider in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "The Siege". Navigation is out, the targeting system doesn't work, the plasma conduit is held together with duct tape and prayer, and when a fire breaks out in the cabin, Dax grabs a nearby extinguisher... which fizzles out after a few squirts.
    Kira: You Starfleet types are too dependent on gadgets and gizmos! You lose your natural instincts for survival!
    Dax: My "natural instincts for survival" told me not to climb aboard this thing. I'd say they were functioning pretty well.
    • Surprisingly, Sisko's own starship, the USS Defiant, which was a prototype-design warship abandoned by Starfleet as a failed experiment. Specifically, the original design was extremely ambitious, cramming enough firepower to give a Romulan warbird pause into one of the smallest hulls in Starfleet servicenote  and an equally overpowered propulsion system to give her enough speed and agility to do a pretty good impression of a Space Fighter. Unfortunately, this overpowered design meant the ship couldn't hold its integrity at full throttle, and with the Borg threat she was designed to counter apparently waning, Starfleet pulled the plug. The DS9 crew is skeptical about this aborted failure of a ship, but Sisko points out that its firepower is what they need at this point in the war. (Fortunately, Sisko was also on the development team and had worked out how to fix most of her more egregious defects before the project was mothballed, and between him and Chief O'Brien they bring her to full readiness.)
    • The titular station itself becomes this after a major overhaul of defenses was conducted in the beginning of Season 4.


    Newspaper Comics 
  • Dick Tracy villain Joe Period drove a beat-up junker with a fuel-injected engine that could go over 110 mph and burn off any police car on the road.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
    • A lot of Imperial stuff behaves like this as well. The boxy, primitive-looking Land Raider doesn't look like much, but one of them probably could take out an entire column of real life MB Ts.
  • BattleTech has the Chameleon, a training 'Mech which can be easily modified to resemble other 'Mechs. It is explicitly stated to be able to look like almost any other 'Mech, from a light 'Mech all the way up to an assault model, and its weapons are of the kind that is quite common on lighter 'Mechs. Cue pilots (in the canon) making their 50-ton Chameleons look like dinky and often heavily weathered 20-ton Wasps, rudely surprising their enemies with far more firepower than should be available to lightweight 'Mechs.

    Video Games 
  • 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? Or that it has a bottomless ammo crate allowing you to be very liberal with the SMG?
  • All the cars in the Twisted Metal series look fairly beat up, although there is a good reason...
  • The hovercraft from Beyond Good & 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.
  • Most of the Minmatar ships in EVE Online could qualify for this. Only a tiny minority look as good as they fly, whether for bad or for good.
  • 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.
    • Their battlecruiser flagship, the Hyperion, has been in service since the first game and it shows. Some of the Raiders make jabs at the Hyperion's shabby appearance occasionally. Nonetheless, the Hyperion performs even better than the latest fancy Battlecruisers because the Protoss Crystal growing in the ship's lab is borderline sentient and helps the ship by providing it with extra power.
  • 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.
  • Trevor's Bodhi in Grand Theft Auto V is an old rusty truck that looks like it's well past its prime. However, it's pretty speedy for its size, accelerates to maximum velocity very quickly, can take a lot of punishment, and breaks through police barriers with the best of them. Furthermore, it can be tuned up at the chop shops, and it'll always respawn with every change made to it intact.
    • Justified by the fact that it's largely based on the real-life Kaiser Jeep M175, meaning Trevor's riding around in a decommissioned military vehicle.
  • 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-Universe series tend toward this trope; in particular, their 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.
  • The Albion Skunk of X Rebirth has seen better days, with it being salvaged from a junkyard with numerous important bits missing. The ship is actually a Super Prototype and shows it once refurbished - the only reason it never entered production by the time of X3: Albion Prelude was due to the outrageous per-unit cost. No ship can keep up with the Skunk once it engages its afterburners and it carries shielding and firepower far in excess of normal Space Fighters
  • In Mass Effect, Shepard has to defend the Normandy from an inspecting Alliance Admiral who invokes this trope, believing it to be an overdesigned, overfunded, waste of Alliance resources that could have been used to build a proper ship. Shepard has to point out that the Normandy's stealth-drive allows them to drop infiltration teams, perform reconnaissance and it can run faster than any other ship in the fleet. Basically... every reason why it's a Cool Starship! This is actually justified in the conversation; the Admiral is thinking in terms of a stand-up fight, and the Normandy cost as much as a Heavy Cruiser (complete with fighter escort) while having only a tiny fraction of the firepower and survivability.
  • Just about everything sporting the Olive Green drab of the Soviet Army in World of Tanks is this, with fully visible rivets, welding seams and paint chipping on most vehicles. It makes sense with some vehicles, particularly ones that made it into production (in particular, the T-34 and its kin, as well as the KV-1 and IS-2), but with the ones that never left the drawing board, not so much. It belies the fact that the Soviet tanks are generally excellent brawlers, compared to the clean German, almost fashionable French, and freakishly huge American tanks.
    • German Grey doesn't fare any better. Taking more than a casual look at a number of the Wehrmacht's armor reveals an amount of rust that makes you question the judgement of the Commander in Question. It doesn't help that the lack of paint makes grime and decay all the more obvious.
  • Forza Motorsport 4 includes many historical Joke Characters such as the Ford Pinto, VW Beetle, AMC Gremlin, all of which are slow, clumsy cars often maligned for their styling (exploding Pinto, "cutesy" Beetle, "where's the other half of your car" Gremlin). The first two are slow as molasses when stock, but the Gremlin comes with a low-revving, torquey V8 allowing it to laugh off hills and out-accelerate most other cars in its class. The game's extensive customization system can turn even the slowest, most horrible car (i.e. Toyota Prius) into a 400+ horsepower monster; in fact, a well-tuned Ford Pinto is a Leaderboard Car that dominates almost any track
  • In a Shout-Out to the Millennium Falcon, the Ebon Hawk from Knights of the Old Republic has this—nothing to look at, but it was the only ship able to break the Sith blockade on Taris. The sequel magnifies it by starting the game with the Hawk just barely spaceworthy, scraped all to hell, and under repair by two of your party members throughout the game. In both games, the Player Character has the option of getting defensive about their ship, a la Han Solo.

    Web Original 
  • 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 
  • Ben 10 had an RV along these lines, called the Rust Bucket. Which turns out to be filled with all kinds of advanced alien technology.
  • 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.
  • At the end of One Cab's Family by Tex Avery, the cab father lets his son choose whether he wants to be a cab or a hot rod. To his astonishment and joy, his son chooses to be a cab...but he kept the hot rod engine.

    Real Life 
  • In Real Life these are known as "sleeper cars" or "sleepers" ("Q-cars" if you live in the UK). Some owners go all-out in making their high-powered, tuned street racer or drag car look like The Alleged Car. Old, American Muscle cars are popular due to their base performance, ready availability of performance parts, and tendency to be stereotyped as slow, heavy, rusted-out redneck rockets only driven by hillbillies and old geezers trying to emulate the Good Old Ways, though cars from all nations and all walks of life have been given the sleeper treatment. There's even an entire subculture devoted to them. You can read more about them with a quick Google search and The Other Wiki has an article about them here. The sleeper Subculture is so vast that two distinct sub-subcultures have emerged.
  • 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 and steel frame chassis behind it are 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.
    • Thanks to size standardizations in computers, there are some people who enjoy taking an old looking beige box from the mid-late 90s and putting modern, high-end components just to mess with people when they show up at a gathering.
  • There are stories circulating in the automotive industry about some Volkswagen engineers in Germany who took a Volkswagen Bus (a minivan with an anemic 48hp 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. Gearbox mountings on the VW Beetle / Bus / Karmann-Ghia are identical to those on the 1964-1969 Porsche 911 and the engine bay can easily take the air-cooled Porsche engine.
    • Years ago, the German police souped upo Volkswagen beetles with Porsche motors. Quite a nasty surprise for 'stoplight racers'.
    • The VW Bus T3 (1979-1991) got a similar high-performance version from Oettinger, with a purposely-built 3.7 liter / 180hp engine and an automatic gearbox. From the outside it is not distinguishable from a stock T3.
    • Similarly, this manky-looking old Ford Transit has a 542bhp Jaguar XJ220 engine and goes like stink. It was used by Jaguar as a development testbed for the XJ220 running gear.
  • Aside from the badging, and maybe special colors or performance bodykits, BMW's M-series cars, Mercedes-Benz' AMG and Black Series cars, Cadillac's V-series, and Lexus' F-series look just like their normal luxury sedan counterparts.
  • 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. The US Army got rid of them at the turn of the century after almost 40 years of continuous use, but thousands bought on the surplus market still survive in private hands because they're the ultimate un-killable work/farm truck. There's nothing you could subject one to as a private citizen that would ever stop them for very long.
    • Interstingly, Kia still produces them under license for the South Korean government, as well as the Kaiser-Jeep M715.
  • 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
  • Applies to real-life spacecraft too. In some cases literally. In on case, the generator from a failed NASA launch (the Nimbus B-1 weather satellite in 1968) was hauled out of the ocean and used on a later spacecraft. In other cases more metaphorically. The Shuttle orbiters may look relatively sleek, but consider the Apollo Lunar Modules. During construction and mission planning, it was variously nicknamed 'the bug' and 'the bat'. And yet one flew the Apollo 13 crew around the Moon and back, when it was designed just for the landing.
  • This thing's a piece of crap, but it's a fast piece of crap.
  • Guillaume Seznec's WWI-era Cadillac zigzags between being this and The Alleged Car. While it was a true piece of junk, having spent almost fifteen years in a garage with little to no maintenance, it held up during a whole Morlaix-Paris two-way trip (about 900 km, or 560 miles). True, it was irritatingly slow, but the fact that it held during the whole distance is a feat in itself considering the less-than optimal state of certain regional roads at the time.
  • The term 'sleeper' used in reference to this type of equipment has also gained popularity among astronomers and bird-watchers for telescopes that are cheap and (in their stock condition) sometimes mediocre performers at best, but which, after investing a few more dollars in materials and some sweat, skill and patience in improving them, turns them into a scope that gives performance close to similarly sized telescopes that cost a dozen times as much. With recent technological improvements and economies of scale, such finds have grown increasingly frequent in the consumer telescope market.

You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought.