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What a Piece of Junk

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For a little old car, Herbie's got some 'oomph' left in him!

"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?

If The Alleged Car is unjustly accused of being a working vehicle, What A Piece of Junk is unjustly accused of being The Alleged Car. It looks like a clunker, but performs like a Cool Car, likely through much work turning into an Ace Custom. 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, if Took a Level in Badass, 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. It can also be a result of Technology Marches On.

This Trope, like The Alleged Car, seriously depends on how benevolent traffic laws are in the show's universe (to say nothing about Real Life): if the car looks too battered to be street-legal, then chances are you may get pulled over and have the car impounded or even ordered to be destroyed — to not mention that some modifications may give you legal trouble, from being fined up to an automatic prison sentence (if it's something like concealed weapons or classified tech). To get around this, some more realistic examples may look perfectly functional but just as ordinary until their hidden high-performance capabilities or other abilities are revealed.

If The Hero has a vehicle that stands out for its dated design (and possibly for its performance) it is the Hero's Classic Car.

Polar opposite of this trope is the Rice Burner. Compare Lethal Joke Character, Excalibur in the Rust, Older Is Better, and Sentimental Shabbiness. Not related to It's All Junk. An example of Artistic License – Cars.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • A sword example is the iconic Dragon Slayer in Berserk, described as looking more like a "heap of raw iron" than a sword — massive, overly heavy, unwieldy. It would indeed be a piece of junk in the hands of anyone but its current freakishly strong wielder — most blades shatter quickly from the levels of stress Guts subjects them to, but not the Dragon Slayer. Moreover, Guts has slaughtered so many demons with it that the weapon itself became demon-slaying.
  • Multiple examples in Girls und Panzer:
    • The class's collection of tanks — the Panzer IV, a Panzer 38(t) a StuG III, a M3 Lee, and a Type 89 — are recovered in less-than-operational condition. Every vehicle they've found up to that point were literally "leftovers". All the good tanks were sold after the Sensha-do club was disbanded.
    • The students' reactions when they open up the school old garage and find a rusty old Panzer IV. Miho, however, sees that the armor and moving parts are still intact, so it has a good chance of being restored.
    • This was why the Chi-Nu wasn't discovered until episode 10, despite the fact it was left in the middle of the school parking lot. The girls of Team Rabbit explain that since they saw the tank sitting out in the open like that, they thought it must have been really worthless.
    • In the Maginot spinoff, Eclair has a poor opinion of several of her teams' units. Given that they are Renault FT-17 and R-35 light tanks, whose speed, armor and weaponry are comparable (and not favourably) with the Type 89's, it's justified.
    • The BT-42 Finnish Assault Gun used by Continuation High School in Girls und Panzer der Film. Historically one of the most underwhelming tanks ever fielded in the second World War, it ran circles around the University Team's three M26 Pershings and took them all out with little effort.
  • Gunsmith Cats Burst has an interesting double subversion: 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.
  • Takumi Fujiwara's 1983 Toyota Sprinter 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. 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.
      • To further drive the point,The AE86 was extremely competitive in its class in touring car championship if not dominated it that it managed to earn enough to snatch the two consecutive BTCC championships in 1986 and 1987 with helm Chris Hodgetts at maximum attack at all times.
  • In a non-car example, in the sixth and seventh episodes of Inuyasha, Inuyasha himself calls Tessaiga/Tetsusaiga/...that sword he inherited from his father this several times, because it looks like an incredibly rusty old katana in its default form.
    "Huh? What? You mean this? What a piece of junk! Tetsusaiga-what? It wouldn't even cut paper, wet!"
    "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 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 (which are required for the sword to turn into a much-more-useful BFS).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Initial D's sequel, MF Ghost continues this tradition, but this time with AE86's successor car, Toyota 86 (pre-facelift version with the classic grill). Despite being considered antiquated compared to the tech-filled, sequential transmisson, >500 horsepower supercars it's going up against, Kanata is able to make most of his 197 horsepower thanks to 86's lightweight, nimble, and well-balanced chassis and his unique driving style.
  • Another non-car example is the Ryusei-Go from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, in short, an Ace Custom of an Ace Custom attached with Alaya-Vijnana system and painted in salmon-pink, the only way you can tell it used to be a mass-produced Graze is from the Ahab reactor signal.
    • The Gundam's themselves are initially seen as this. Of course they're anything but since they're actually incredibly powerful and possess technology that has mostly been lost making them far more powerful than the mass produced mobile suits of modern times, but the initial Gjallarhorn reaction to them was scoffing at what appeared to be poorly maintained 200 year old relics being fielded against their cutting edge Grazes. They quickly learn otherwise, especially once Barbatos gets cleaned up and restored to it's original loadout.
  • 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 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.
  • In the first episode of the Tenchi Muyo! OVA, Tenchi finds the sword his ancestor Yosho used to seal away the demon Ryoko and is disappointed at how rusted and unkempt it was. It still had power when Tenchi broke the blade over a rock and split it in half. The blade was also a disguised as the weapon was actually a Laser Blade. Which also still worked after 700 years.
  • 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 the larger 657cc engine (that was further re-bored to 700cc) from the 1990-on iterations of its generationnote , turbocharger system, 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 Paperinik stories, Paperinik's car: it's the same Alleged Car he uses as Donald Duck, only Gyro tricked her out, and now it not only works but is faster, tougher, has multiple gadgets, can change licence plates by pressing a button and colour by pointing the right item to it, and fly.
  • 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 Legend of Wonder Woman (2016): Tilly thinks the experimental modified B-17 looks "junky" and isn't exactly wrong. It works better than fine though and has an added unexpected stealth upgrade that turns it invisible.
  • 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.
  • Robin: The first Redbird looked like an old boxy poorly maintained beater until a button was pushed on the dash and it shifted panels and glass around to resemble an angular sports car, and in both modes it was bulletproof and plenty fast with great handling and many of the same gadgets as the Batmobile. The second one looks like a commercially available sports car in "civilian" mode and strongly resembles a Porsche.
  • 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?"
  • The Kerbal ships in The Next Frontier certainly qualify. Starfarer 1 is an old Asteroid Mining ship years obsolete, has a single gravity wheel instead of the two contra-rotating ones common on newer ships (meaning it has to de-spin to change course), has a frighteningly small crumple zone between the main airlock and the pilot's knees... But that single gravity wheel is simpler and more reliable, and once the ore processing equipment is stripped out there's a huge amount of internal volume for the FTL drive and enough food and other consumables to support a multi-year mission in another star system. The power trunking and structural reinforcement are also already in place to swap the cargo mass-driver out for a heavy cruiser-grade railgun.
  • Played with in Shattered Stars, a RWBY Space Opera/Space Western AU. While the Beacon is never stated to look worse than any other Freespace ship, and is shown to be quite well equipped for a Freespace ship, its Operating System is a mess. Even Weiss, who was trained to hack into and takeover ships OS' by one of the most powerful militaries in the setting, and is using a highly advanced Electronic Warfare ship to work on the OS, can barely understand it, and the only reason they haven't replaced it yet is because Jaune is a Technopath, and can just talk to the systems. Problem is, he needs to be inside the ship to do any of that, so when Yang accidentally causes all the doors and airlocks to seal, he and Pyrrha nearly suffocate, and they are only saved by Ruby's quick thinking. According to legend, the OS was written from scratch in a barn during the war with Trinon Empire.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Batman vs. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Robin isn't too impressed with the Turtles' Party Wagon, which looks like a beat-up van. Then the Turtles show off their vehicle's special features, such as a rocket engine and disc launcher (that fires manholes painted like pizzas), and Robin changes his tune.
  • There are several examples in 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.
    • 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 Cars 2, Mater is mistaken for a spy and equipped 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. And even after he gets most of the gear removed at the end of the film, he is allowed to keep the rocket boosters... which are fast enough for him to keep pace with McQueen.
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 48 Hrs. has Jack Cate's 1964 Cadillac Coupe deVille ragtop, in contrast to Reggie Hammond's Porsche 356 (replica) ragtop Cool Car.
  • Back to the Future's DeLorean Time Machine, while iconic and cool-looking to modern audiences, was based on a vehicle which was The Alleged Car when the film was made. To put it in context, it was so poorly built, so lacking in performance (88 miles per hour would have been a real accomplishment), and so poorly sold, that the company had gone bankrupt three years before the film's release. This is why Marty asks Doc, "Are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?" Doc admits that (a) the DeLorean's unique steel bodywork makes the time travel work better and (b) he wanted to build a time machine with style. The whole thing is seen as proof that Doc is a Mad Scientist in every sense of the term. And indeed, the DeLorean really does behave occasionally like a piece of junk; in the first film alone, it breaks down on three separate occasions, and in the second film, Doc dismisses Marty's suggestion to land on top of Biff's car because Biff's driving a 1940s Ford which would rip through the DeLorean like it were tinfoil.
  • The 2009 Russian superhero film Black Lightning (no relationship whatsoever with the DC Comics character of the same name) involves the protagonist getting a 1966 GAZ-21 Volga as a birthday present. Turns out that it's a prototype Flying Car made during the Cold War.
  • 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."
  • In Down Periscope, the USS Stingray is a barely-functional World War II-era diesel sub, taken out of retirement to be pitted against the modern US nuclear navy in a war game. Ironically, it's the rust bucket's old design that ends up helping the protagonists trick the USS Orlando (a nuclear sub) into thinking that the Stingray is just a fishing boat (the crew of the Orlando weren't told that their enemy is a diesel sub, and the bad weather at night makes the Stingray's profile seem like a surface vessel). During the climax, Dodge surfaces the Stingray to allow her to move faster, while the Orlando's temporary commander stupidly does the same, even though such an action would actually slow down a modern sub.
  • In The Fast and the Furious, Brian O'Conner pays back his debts to Dominic Toretto with a Toyota Supra that was probably impressive at one time, but now looks like it was dropped off a building. 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?
  • 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.
  • Grease: The T-Birds' car, before they turn it into "Greased Lightning", is a "hunk o' junk".
  • 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.
  • High School U.S.A.: After the Firebird is wrecked, J.J. and his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits attempt to salvage the drag race by transforming J.J.'s crappy old car into something with a chance of winning. They do so by installing a bus engine in it, giving it a great power to weight ratio.
  • 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 
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action subverts this with DJ Drake's AMC Gremlin, though Daffy mistook it for this trope.
    Daffy: Alright, let's see what this baby can really do!
    (DJ turns on the ignition, and the entire car falls apart)
    Daffy: Well, that's an interesting feature.
  • 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 Crown Victoria LTD, a/k/a the "Ford POS," from Men in Black. Even moreso if you press the little red button. You can immediately tell it's just a LTD on the outside by the sound its engine makes, especially when it powers down. And when the little red button is pressed... it becomes a gravity-defying jet-propelled supercar.
  • A maritime version in Missing in Action. Chuck Norris's character isn't impressed with the smuggling boat his old war buddy uses, until he shows him the tarpaulin-wrapped M60 machine gun mount and the turbocharged engine hidden below decks.
  • Mystery Men: The Herkimer Battle Jitney is considered a scrap metal by the junkyard lady, but it is an armored car meant to withstand bombs. It is the finest non-lethal vehicle ever made.
  • Octopussy. While in India, Bond is traveling in an auto-rickshaw driven by local agent Vijay. On noting that they're being followed by The Dragon in another auto-rickshaw, Vijay replies, "No problem, this is a company car!" The (presumably Q Branch modified) auto rickshaw then does a wheelie and roars off at speed.
  • In Odds Against Tomorrow, the getaway car Burke arranges for the robbery is a beat-up old Chevy station wagon that won't draw a second glance from the police, but that has a souped-up engine that allows Slater to get it up to over 100 mph. The gas station attendant who gets a glimpse at it is very impressed.
  • In Star Trek Beyond we get introduced to the USS Franklin, an old Federation starship that's been perched on the top of a mountain for well over a hundred years (the Franklin is actually older than Jonathan Archer's Enterprise). Sulu compares it to a "horse and buggy" in contrast to the swarm of alien ships controlled by the villain of the film. Which makes it all the more impressive when it manages to wipe out said swarm with The Power of Rock. This is well after we see the iPod sleek Enterprise get trounced by the swarm at the beginning of the film.
  • Star Wars is the Trope Namer, from Luke's line about Han Solo's starship, 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.
    • During their escape from the First Order's attack on the market on Jakku in The Force Awakens, Finn asks Rey why they aren't running to a closer ship and she dismisses it as garbage. When the ship they're headed to is blown up, she says, "The garbage will do!" and they run over to the previous unseen Millennium Falcon, which is in even worse shape than usual. When Rey learns which ship it actually is, though, she practically squees.
    • In The Last Jedi, the Falcon gets called "that piece of junk" once again, by Kylo Ren this time around, during the battle of Crait as it shows up and wreaks havoc on the First Order's TIE fighters.
    • Solo reveals the Millennium Falcon did look like a top-of-the-line starship at first, until Han Solo's misadventures caused it to become the hunk of junk it is today.
  • 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.
  • In Tumbleweed, the eponymous horse is the equine equivalent. He looks a broken-down old cayuse who is part burro. However, he is the smartest, most surefooted horse around, and saves Jim's life more than once over the course of the film.
  • The Worlds Fastest Indian. Equally applied to the rebuilt motorcycle and its elderly, unathletic rider. Both perform (almost) flawlessly on race day.

  • 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".

  • In Addie Pray, the novel on which Paper Moon was based, Long Boy Pray had to swap his fancy ride for a beat-up old truck to escape pursuers who were looking for his car. He then had that truck modified and souped-up enough to outrun anything on the road, all the while keeping its decrepit outward appearance.
  • 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.
  • Borgel: Borgel's car is about seventy years old, the country that made it went out of business, it exudes clouds of smoke, and Borgel has to hotwire it in order to get it to start. But it travels through time-space-and-the-other, and goes up to two times the speed of light.
  • 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.
  • 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. In one novel Burke mentions that he uses the car for street racing for cash. The mechanic he's showing the car to is hugely impressed but thinks a trick like that would only work once as Schmuck Bait.
  • 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 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, book and film, Chitty started out as a literal piece of junk, a former race car that had gotten involved in a terrible crash. All the members of the Potts family saw potential in it, and Caractacus took it and turned it into something truly unique. And let's not even get started on the special modifications which the car performed on itself in the book...
  • 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.
  • In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Father Time, part of the Amnesia Arc, the Doctor, who by the 1980s has become a peculiarly Doctorish version of a yuppie, drives a Trabant, which looks very out of place parked next to conventional yupmobiles. Then, in an emergency, he floors the accelerator and easily overtakes a very surprised man in an Audi.
Everest (2002): In Book 2, the expedition briefly travels in a The Korean War surplus helicopter with visible duct tape repairs. Contrary to Tilt's snide prediction, it does actually manage to lift off and take them to their destination.
  • 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 that has top of the line modifications.
  • The UNSC Pillar of Autumn from Halo: The Fall of Reach looks like nothing more than a slightly large cruiser in a war in which it takes more than 3:1 odds in their favor for the UNSC to win a space battle. She's actually a reactivated derelict that the UNSC tricked out, with concealed weapons, reinforced armor, a prototype heavy magnetic cannon, quarters for all active SPARTANS, experimental reactors, and multiple combat AI. The Autumn, like all Halcyon-class cruisers, was retired before the Human-Covenant war because they were too over-engineered to be worth their operating costs. If this was the premise of a science fiction show prop, it would have been almost too formulaic to run, but because the Autumn is Doomed by Canon, it's more a case of What Could Have Been.
  • 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 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 Magic School Bus has, on multiple occasions, been described as old and ragged, and has failed to start or broken down multiple times. However, this is the same bus that can reach the edge of our solar system within a span of a few hours.
  • 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.
  • Private Eye Mike Hammer has his "heap", but at one stage it's mentioned that there's a Cadillac engine under the hood.
  • Nickel from Nickel Plated has a $5,000 mountain bike that he fine-tuned to look cheap and run-down.
  • In The Oregon Files of the Dirk Pitt Adventures 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 The Outfit, Parker visits a mechanic who specialises in supplying cars to the underworld. One of the vehicles he shows Parker is a Volkswagen Bug that he has been modifying into a getaway car, with a souped-up engine, reinforced chassis, ballast to allow it to corner properly, etc. The one problem he is having is that he cannot make it sound like a VW. Later in the novel, the reader gets to see the car in action, and he has solved the sound problem, at least at low speed.
  • 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 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.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • 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 Battlestations!, Piper is aghast when she sees Banana Republic, the ugly, misshapen tug Scanner's procured for them, but it proves its worth by pulling off a tractor beam stunt that actually cripples Enterprise at a critical moment.
  • 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?
    • The Millennium Falcon's status as a POJ has been lampshaded a number of times within the old Star Wars EU. In The Corellian Trilogy, Lando points out that the Falcon is actually 110% safe because Han isn't going to let his wife and children travel in anything less than that, and that some of the apparent damage is faked like painted-on rust. The real reason Han has been dodging the ship's yearly inspections is that he doesn't want the authorities to find out that he never removed the ship's illegal weaponry and various other illegal smuggling gear, like fake ID transponders.
    • This was common among smuggling vessels in general. The last thing you want out of your ultra-high-performance blockade runner is for it to look like an ultra-high-performance blockade runner and draw immediate attention from every Imperial ship who sees it. Though some smugglers (like Lando) went in the opposite direction by flying fancy luxury yachts in order to give the impression that they're too rich to be hauling cargo at all, let alone illegal cargo.
    • The Falcon's POJ status is further weaponized in the X-Wing Series. In Wraith Squadron, two Wraiths and a pair of A-Wings flying close together (and performing some amateur radio theater) are able to lure an Imperial attack force away from a Rebel base - since the Imperials have three distinct sensor profiles of the Falcon recorded over a four-year period, they can't be certain an anomalous reading isn't the most famous freighter in the galaxy. Then in Solo Command, Wedge Antilles and Han Solo himself run with the idea and get their hands on another YT-1300 light freighter, and use this Millennium Falsehood as bait to attract Warlord Zsing's attention. (Han took one look at the ship and dismissed it as a piece of junk that looked nothing like the Falcon; Wedge, who can barely tell the difference, is bemused).
    • Successful Ugly builds can easily fall into this. "Uglies" are mix-and-match starfighters, usually kludged together by poor and desperate pirates. (Usually very poor and desperate, as in most cases it's not that hard to acquire secondhand TIE Fighters.) Most of them are slow, underpowered and fall apart when someone stares at them too hard (often combining the worst traits of their parts donors rather than the best), but occasionally one of them manages to rise above its origin. The most successful Ugly build is probably the Twi'lek Chir'daki, which marries a TIE Fighter cockpit and fuselage to the wing assembly of an X-wing. Its weaponry and shields are on par with the X-wing and it has a slight edge in both speed and maneuverability, at the price of not having a cockpit atmosphere (in the event of having to eject, wearing a TIE pilot's full spacesuit actually adds several hours of survival time, so it's a trade-off), being slightly more fragile hull-wise and being a logistics nightmare (since it needs spares from two different manufacturers in two warring states).
  • Bella's truck in the Twilight series could count as this. At first, she's apprehensive when her dad says he bought her a truck since it was old (fifties or sixties) and she was afraid it would always be needing repairs. But she ends up loving it at first sight, it never gives her trouble, and it's strongly implied that it only died in the end due to her control-freak fiancé's sabotage. Having a "Bella truck" became somewhat of a geeky status symbol with fans of the series.
  • In Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, shabby clothes, beat-up armor, and The Alleged Steed are must-have items for filling certain roles in fairy tales. Since the world runs on fairy tales, there are a number of savvy characters who can get items that look useless but are actually quite functional. For example, in One Good Knight, a troupe of kidnapped women get dwarf-forged armor that looks like rusty junk so they can stage a scenario where a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits return the stolen princess to the throne.

    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?
  • The Book of Boba Fett. Din Djarin is not happy when Peli Motto sells him a secondhand Naboo N-1 Starfighter to replace his destroyed Razor Crest, given that it's still in pieces and has small alien critters nesting inside. They spend all night doing a Hard-Work Montage and roll it out for flight testing the next day. Once Din flies it however, he's very impressed: it is quite responsive on the controls even for its status as a small agile snub-fighter, and Peli had an aftermarket sublight booster engine installed on it that can accelerate so fast that it fools a rookie New Republic X-Wing patrolman into thinking Din jumped to hyperspace to escape a space traffic stop when Din lights it up. Much of it looks cobbled together or stripped down in stark contrast to the sleek organic lines of the original N1, with a greeblie on top of the front fuselage vaguely resembling a carburetor intake.
  • In the Flash Forward opening of the Season 5 premiere of Breaking Bad, Walter White buys a 1977 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. With its worn-out paintjob and ratty interior, it hardly looks like the kind of car a drug kingpin would drive, but in the Grand Finale he installs a jerry-rigged turret gun in the trunk, which he uses to mow down the Neo-Nazi gang at the climax.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • In the Family Matters episode "Hot Wheels," the car that Carl picked up at a police auction for Eddie ends up being this. When he first drags it home, it's a stereotypical boxy police car (either a '77 or '78 Plymouth Fury, not exactly the chick magnet Eddie was looking for) with peeling paint and shot-out windows. By the time it's done being restored and painted, it's a Cool Car.
  • Serenity from Firefly is very much this. It's outdated, but it'll run forever with maintenance.
    • “Out of Gas”
    Zoe: You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?
    • “Serenity”
    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 "it's got no flash", but the boss thinks it's 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.
  • 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.
  • On The Red Green Show, Red calls this type of car a "Sleeper" in one "North of 40" segment.
  • Saturday Night Live had a fake commercial for the "Chameleon XLE", 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."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • To thwart a coup d'état against her government, Kira has to rely on a decade-old raider in "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.
    • Sisko's own starship is the USS Defiant, an experimental prototype warship. It never went into full production because its designers overloaded its small, maneuverable hull note  with too much weaponry and overpowered engines, meaning the ship would lose integrity at full throttle; the Borg threat it was designed to combat dissipated before its design flaws could be fixed, so the project was abandoned. The DS9 crew is skeptical about flying a defective model, but its firepower is what they need at this point in the war. (It helps that Sisko and Chief O'Brien manage to fix most of its egregious defects, resulting in Starfleet putting the Defiant class back into production for use in the Dominion War.)
    • The titular station itself becomes this after a major overhaul of defenses was conducted at the beginning of Season 4.
  • 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, and even then Hammond was able to get him running again in one night.
    • To expand briefly on the trophy Hilux, the presenters drove it like yobs (slamming it into random bits of Bristol), left it on a boat launch while the tide was coming in (and then having it accidentally wash out to sea when the straps broke), dropped a caravan on it, hit it with a wrecking ball, lit it on fire, and eventually dropped a building on it, via parking it on top of a condemned tower block. Even after the 23-storey drop, with a significant chunk of building landing on top of it, it still ran. And throughout the entire effort, they only replaced one part — the windshield, so that they could continue driving it into things without endangering the driver after the original one was smashed in by a wave. And if that wasn't impressive enough, it should be noted that said Hilux was an ex-farm vehicle with a half rusted-through body and enough miles on the clock to have gone to the moon before they even started trying to kill it.
    • 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 Ford Transit van driven by Hammond shot past like a rocket. Turned out that they'd got hold of a prototype made by Jaguar back in the 90s that was outfitted with the twin-turbocharged engine from the XJ 220 (the fastest road car in the world at the time). It's still a van!
    • 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 (where the presenters won back the money they spent on their cars from the producers), while the other two cars had numerous problems; May not only got his money back, but he also made a £20 profit, allowing him to win the challenge.


    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 
  • 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.
  • Invoked in Shadowrun by some enterprising players, who will take that beat-up old van and turn it into a mobile fortress, usually without bothering to give it a paint job. The rules specifically encourage getting a rigger to add enough equipment to make Maxwell Smart jealous, from spike strips to a shock security system.
  • 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 that improves the efficiency far beyond what should reasonably be expected of it.
    • A lot of Imperial stuff behaves like this as well. The workhorse of the Imperial Guard, the boxy, primitive-looking Leman Russ, doesn't look like much, but one of them probably could take out an entire column of real-life MBTs, despite the implication that it's actually based off of an ancient agricultural tractor design. Space Marine tanks tend to be more sophisticated, as they are used in far fewer numbers by elite forces.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Burnout Paradise gives us the Hunter Reliable, Carson Fastback, and Carson Grand Sicilian. The Reliable has a busted headlight cover (the light beneath works just fine), and paint that consists mostly of rust and scratches, but will serve you well in the early-mid game as a brawler. The Fastback is in even worse shape; its headlight is actually busted. The headlight, and one taillight, don't work even after getting the thing repaired, and there are pieces of rusty sheet metal visibly bolted to the hood, trunk lid and doors to finish the body. It also has a Speed-type boost system, and is reasonably heavy, making it a sleeper of a Lightning Bruiser. The Grand Sicilian is a slick, old-school limo resembling a 1920s Duesenberg. It's also completely riddled on all sides in bullet holes, but it's a bruiser in a fight and quick in a straight line.
  • 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 affects anything.
  • The Crew 2
    • The performance tuning is greatly simplified, as in, you win a race, you gain performance parts that can be applied to another vehicles in the same class. It's just happens that Dodge Challenger and Skyline GT-R in the game belongs to the same class as cars like VW Kombi and VW Beetle...
    • For a specific example, we have the Street Race event "The Sleeper". While Latrell and Hiro look over the player's competition, Latrell says the main threat is a plain-looking Abarth 500.
  • In Cyberpunk 2077, V's starter car, an Archer Hella EC-D i360 (which resembles a futurized 1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria), has clearly seen better days and bears makeshift repairs including the whole rear bumper being replaced by a welded pipe. The Hella also boasts one of the best overall performance of the game, being slightly slower than average but turning very well and being able to take some punishment before giving up the ghost.
  • 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.
  • The Chrysalis Highwayman of Fallout 2 starts out as a Zeerust (emphasis on "rust") alleged car that sits on 4 cinderblocks in a junkyard in the Den and won't go anywhere until you find the necessary spare parts and cough up the money to repair it. When you do, you get an amazing machine that can take on New California and carry your party around the map much faster. It's powered by Energy Weapons ammo and you can find upgrades for fuel consumption, speed and trunk space. No matter what, it still looks like a bucket of rust. Its theme is impossibly cool too.
  • 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 FTL: Faster Than Light, Engi ships resemble, in the game's own words, piles of junk loosely held together, but are actually well-designed and finely-constructed machines whose creators simply prioritize efficiency over aesthetics.
  • Sweet's Greenwood in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (based on the M-body Chrysler Fifth Avenue). 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 (based on late '60s Buick muscle cars). 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 and full of rusty spots that don't come out even if you respray its paint job. 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 for even better performance, 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 M715, meaning Trevor's riding around in a decommissioned military vehicle.
  • Half-Life 2 isn't lacking in these:
    • The airboat. 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, the only option is to ditch it in the following chapter.
    • And then you have to use the scout car, another rust-painted diamond. It's just as barebones 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 and has a crazy turbo function, and if you somehow knock it off its wheels, it's light enough to be turned back upright by the gravity gun. It also has a Tau cannon that doesn't overheat or require ammo mounted in the front, and a bottomless ammo crate allowing you to be very liberal with the SMG when you have to make an on-foot excursion. The downside is that it takes a bit of self-control on the driver's part because if you're too liberal with the accelerator and the turbo, the already fast scout car can indeed be Too Fast to Stop. And just like the airboat, you don't spend too much time with it before you have to leave it behind.
    • The speedster you use in 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. It's fast without being too fast, very stable and easy to control even when the turbo boost is activated, and unlike the base game's two vehicles, you keep it for practically the whole game. Its only problem is that unlike the airboat and the scout car, it doesn't have any weapons outside of its ramming potential.
  • Halo: The Banished vehicles in Halo Wars 2 and Halo Infinite may look, compared to their sleek Covenant predecessors, like they were put together from scrap (and several probably are), but they can more than hold their own against anything their enemies can throw at them.
  • Depending on player choices (and how lucky they get on the procedurally-generated roads of the game) this trope is possible to achieve on the game Jalopy with the Laika (an Expy of the Trabant) that gives the game its name. Sure, it still will be a pre-Fall-Of-Berlin-Wall Eastern Europe car with a two-stroke engine that will see its fair share of maintenance, but items like additional trunk space, tougher suspension, bigger fuel tank, and upgraded carburetors will make it a much better car to ride around in, regardless of external looks.
  • In Kerbal Space Program, both Pieces of Junk and Alleged Ships are par for the course.
  • 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.
  • In League of Legends Rumble's Mini-Mecha looks like it was made by digging through a scrapyard ( 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.
  • Everything in Mad Max (2015) revolves around turning Magnun Opus from an alleged car into this trope. You may place an arsenal of weapons, gadgets, menacing decals and ornaments, even give it a paint job... it will never be a Gigahorse. It's always small, rusty, lacking glasses or a back hatch. The last one being vital to host your humble Chumbucket.
  • In Mass Effect, Shepard has to defend the Normandy from an inspecting Alliance Admiral who believes 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.
    • The Admiral is proven tragically right in the Downer Beginning of Mass Effect 2…but the Normandy's Cerberus-built successor, despite being only 50% larger than the original, eats cruisers for breakfast (especially if she's given all the required modifications to survive the assault on the Collector base).
      • It should also be noted that the Normandy's destruction was not exactly something that could have been prevented in the first place; the enemy that had destroyed it was a Collector Cruiser that no one, not even Commander Shepard, had ever even heard about. It also got the drop on them, had super-advanced sensors that rendered the stealth drive useless, and it outclassed practically every modern ship in the Alliance Navy at the time. For all it mattered, Shepard could have been at the helm of a dreadnought and the outcome would likely have been the same.
  • In Need for Speed games where ricing up your ride doesn't confer bonuses and only serves to decrease police heat by disguising the vehicle, like in Most Wanted and Carbon, nothing stops you from driving a sleeper (and even if you do have to change the car's appearance due to the heat, a simple and boring paint job does the trick). It's even more pronounced in Most Wanted, where car tiers don't exist and you can just customize your initial Punto, Lexus or Cobalt's performance parts until it can compete with (and win against) heavily-customized sportscars like Lamborghinis, McLarens and the BMW M3 GTR Razor stole from you.
  • No Man's Sky: Can be deliberately invoked by the player by upgrading a Shuttle, which have very rusty, geometric and hap-hazard designs but can be upgraded with serious firepower and long-distance Hyperdrives.
  • StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty:
    • ex-Marshal Jim Raynor and Chief Mechanic Swann have a discussion 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. It was also an Ace Custom to begin with back in the original game.
  • In Star Trek Online, when the Romulan Republic character and their friend Tovan Kiev board and take over an old T'Liss Warbird, a later Reman ally mentions just how old and fallen apart the ship is, with her wanting to keep the Singularity Core from falling apart. However, the ship battles some of the toughest modern-day Romulan ships captained by the Tal Shiar and ships manned by their Elachi allies and defeats them with gusto.
  • Stellaris gives us the Super Clanker destroyer class ship. Sold to you by the Racket Industrial Enterprises for the low, low price of 200 minerals (and certainly not because it is riddled with design flaws), that old beat up destroyer has a mix of Tier 2 and Tier 3 components, which include sensors. If you luck into this trade early enough, it does qualify as a legitimate Disc-One Nuke making exploration much easier.
  • Sunless Sea: Invoked by the Wreckships in the Zubmariner expansion; they are supposed to look like actual shipwrecks, because that way they lure unsuspecting captains who loot regular shipwrecks. That, and they're made from sunken ships, so not much you can do there to make them look like anything other than the product of a half-assed salvage effort. But they are definitely powerful ships, with a frontal cannon stronger than even those carried by the dreadnoughts of the Iron Republic and excellent maneuverability that ensures you will always be in their sights.
  • 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.
  • All the cars in the Twisted Metal series look fairly beat up, although there is a good reason...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Web Comics 
  • In Ghosts Among The Wild Flowers, when Julia shows Victoria the airship she just purchased, Victoria initially lambasts it as an old junkheap.
    Julia: Haunted? Ha-ha very funny...
    Victoria: I'm serious, dang ol' rickety run-down boat must be chock full of ghosts... and I can't imagine it being worth more than the dirt it stands on.
    Victoria: When do you suppose we set off?
    Julia: Once you're done insulting it...
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • Project Binky: an ongoing project to stuff the engine and drivetrain from a Toyota Celica (not to mention a whole lot of other goodies) into the body of an Austin Mini.
  • The main setting of Insane Cafe 3, is the Inglorious Hotel, an extremely decrepit looking hotel that looks like it should be condemned. Inside is the best restaurant in the state as well as furnishings that are hundreds of years old and worth thousands of dollars. And of course, the rooms have prices to match.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10 has Grandpa Max's beat-up old clunker of an RV, "affectionately" known as the Rustbucket. Of course, Grandpa is actually a retired member of the setting's MIB-equivalent, so the Rustbucket is secretly tricked out with all kinds of alien weaponry and gadgets.
  • Gravity Falls: Grunkle Stan's 1965 El Diablo, the Stanmobile, has seen better days (mostly because he's a cheapskate and a reckless driver), but it's shown to have quite a turn of speed on the road.
  • 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 its 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.
  • Edward the Blue Engine from Thomas & Friends was built in the 1890s and obviously has seen better days, to the point where Gordon and James think he belongs in a museum. But several episodes, most notably "Old Iron," "Edward's Exploit," and "Edward the Really Useful Engine" prove that he is still very reliable, no matter how battered and weary he may get.
  • Wonder Wheels appears to be a broken down piece of junk motorcycle at first. but whenever Willie Wheeler says the magic words it and Willie transform into Wonder Wheels, a superhero daredevil riding a high-tech living motorcycle. His girlfriend, Dooley, is unaware of his secret identity and a Running Gag is that she often implores him to get rid of what she thinks is a piece of junk.
  • In Star Trek: Lower Decks, we have the U.S.S. Cerritos. It is a California-class starship, which is used for utility work and less-than-prodigious work like "second contact" (making sure the planets that Starfleet initiates first contact with are all set up). Its identification number suggests that it has been active as long as the U.S.S. Voyager. The ship has fallen apart, ignited plasma fires, the works. Despite all of this, the Cerritos is very resilient, surviving various attacks that have destroyed others in their class.

    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.
    • A "Q-car" is itself a reference to the "Q-ship" concept of World War I, by which a seemingly harmless merchant ship was itself a heavily armed warship, with the intention of luring unsuspecting German warships.
    • The "rat rod" subculture mainly deals with cars from the '50s or older which have been turned into hot rods, but externally left unrestored in the condition they were found (no Hot Paint Jobs or car-spoiling spoilers here). This is the larger, more popular, and more well-known of the two sleeper "sub-subcultures."
      • To clarify, though, the term "rat rod" originally referred to a "blue-collar hot rod" concept, though has morphed somewhat from the idea of a hot rod built by the common man rather than the mainstream hot rod scene which costs far more money, apparently through misunderstandings over their frequent appearance as primer-and-rust-covered project cars, and associations with the term "rat bike" (a bike that looks rusty and is never washed, covered in bits of refuse found on the road, and known as the kind of bike least likely to be stolen) into the idea of a hot rod made out of bits the builders find, said builders believing rust to be a finish. Some have been known to create the look deliberately for no really good reason, even resorting to painting battery acid on the body to encourage rust. A tell-tale sign is the owner/builders' use of the word "patina" in a sentence.
    • On the opposite end of the scale, there's the "rat look" subculture. This is the more obscure of the two (most likely because it lacks the connections to the hot rod scene that helped the rat rod subculture grow). The rat look subculture takes more modern, better maintained cars (generally from 80s or newer) and makes them look as though they've been abused and neglected for several decades. Flaking Nose Art, ironic hot rod flames, and pointless duct tape are popular additions.
  • 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, thanks to Germanic Efficiency, 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 'Beige Box' Compaq Presario case with "Pentium II" and "Designed for Windows 95" case badges; behold, the Sleeper PC!
    • 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. Some PC gamers also build sleeper PCs to deter thieves.
    • There are stories of PC gamers using practically anything they can fit the components into as a PC case. Rumors abound of gamers who build up their high-performance PCs in cases made out of random household junk such as VCRs, cardboard boxes, and even milk crates.
  • 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-up 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. 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.
    • Interestingly, Kia still produces them under license for the South Korean government, as well as the Kaiser-Jeep M715.
    • Tens of thousands of American trucks (mostly Studebaker US 6 models) were provided for the Soviet Union during WW2. These were far better than home-produced vehicles and enabled the Soviets to focus their industry on making tanks and things. While the supply ended after August 1945, it is a known fact that the supply and transport train behind any Russian invasion of western Europe, even well into the 1970s, would have largely been running on American largesse. One can even occasionally find a working Studebaker now in many parts of the former USSR.
  • 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
  • The UAZ 452, also known as the "Loaf", is a Soviet/Russian 4x4 van that is used as a minibus, sports/utility vehicle, ambulance, military medevac, small cargo hauler and a dozen of other roles. Its design changed little since its inception in 1965, and it is still in production. The reliability of Russian motors is notoriously cantankerous even when they are new, and the Loaf is often encountered 20+ years old, rusty and battered. However, it has excellent off-road capability, none of its many malfunctions require expensive parts to fix, it runs on the cheapest gas available and it's really spacious inside (also, warm in winter). Hence, a used Loaf, usually bought for $1000 from some farmer, is a very desirable purchase for many Russians.
  • Applies to real-life spacecraft too. In some cases literally. In one 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.
  • In the supercar fandom, the older supercars, especially anything before Turn of the Millennium, have become this example of this. Most newer supercars (like Bugatti Veyron) blew them into the dust in terms of performance or technology, but older supercars can have sort of Unkempt Beauty of potential that most people didn't see through. These are downplayed or a double subversion, though, most people see them as Cool Cars, older supercars have flawed technology and power compared to newer ones, but they can have comparable performance if you examine through.
  • The Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear" strategic bomber was introduced in 1956. Because it was a propeller plane, it was considered to be outdated and slow by the west. However, it turned out to be incredibly fast for a propeller plane, as well as ludicrous endurance and a very large bomb load. As such it remains in frontline service sixty years later. More information here.
    • Similarly, the B-52 Stratofortress has been in service for well over 60 years, with plans to continue fielding the bombers until 2040, almost a hundred years after its first introduction. It's still the U.S' primary heavy bomber because it is far less mechanically sophisticated than the B1 Lancer, while at the same time far, far cheaper than the B2 Spirit.
  • While we're on the subject of aircraft, the Fairey Swordfish looks like something out of WW1, but actually served with the Royal Navy throughout WW2. During that time, it managed to score some major successes, the most famous of which was crippling the German battleship Bismarck.
    • The Italian Fiat CR.42 also got a glowing reputation for maneuverability and toughness, despite being slower and armed with weaker weapons than most other front line fighters. Italian pilots used these advantages whenever they could, outmaneuvering their faster, better-armed enemies and were able to defeat Hurricane and even Spitfires this way. Most impressively, the Hungarian airforce managed to gather a kill ratio of 12-to-1 in air combat over the Eastern Front in their slow, under-equipped Italian biplanes.
  • French carmaker Renault famously took a Renault Espace Minivan (a rather pedestrian-looking family car) and installed an 800 bhp Formula One engine in it. They also got four-time former Formula One World Champion Alan Prost to drive it around a track at speeds rather higher than you'd normally achieve while dropping the kids off to the soccer practice. Why? Because they could. You know the Espace racing machine that appeared in Gran Turismo 2? Yes, that one clearly was derived from the aforementioned Formula One-engine installed version in Real Life. Unfortunately, this van is not meant to be for sale because it is a concept car.
  • The RMS Carpathia, a Cunard ocean liner most famous for her involvement in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Ten years old, with her engines due for an overhaul, the sleepy, poky, single-funnel Carpathia — well-loved in her own right and for the comfortable journey she provided through rough seas, but lacking the glitz and glamour of express liners like Mauretania — was rated for only 14 knots, a speed she hadn't reached since her sea trials in 1902. But on that fateful April night, her captain, Arthur Rostron, and crew shut down all non-essential systems, rerouted every iota of power to the engines, woke the second team of stokers, and shoveled coal into her boilers as though their own lives depended on it — and the "sleepy, poky," brave little Carpathia responded beyond her limits. She was coaxed up to 17.5 knots that night, steaming straight through the very heart of the iceberg field that had already laid Titanic low, and shaved nearly an hour off the time it should have taken her to reach the survivors. There is no telling how many people that hour saved. Sadly, it came at a cost; Carpathia never exceeded 12 knots in service again, and suffered the damage to her engines for the rest of her life — and may have contributed to her unfortunate end, when she was chased down and sunk by German U-boats during the Great War. But on the one night it mattered most, she was there, and because of it, became immortal.
  • The Willys MB/Ford GPW, also known as the "Truck, ​1⁄4-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance", but known by soldiers everywhere as the classic "Jeep." Is it fast? Nope. Is it sleek? Uh-uh. Is it really that nice to look at? Ehh...Jury's out. But it could go practically anywhere a footsoldier could, and could carry up to four men — possibly up to six if you really needed it to. Reliable as the most loyal dog you could ask for, it could take a licking and keep on ticking, and when it stopped ticking, it was easy to repair and could be almost completely disassembled in the field without special tools. The Jeep would go on to define American mechanized warfare for the next three decades, and even today is still a recognizable icon of the U.S. Military.
  • Willie Nelson's signature guitar, Trigger. Taking one look at Trigger, a battered old 1969 Martin N-20 covered in scratches, signatures and a giant hole worn in him from years of Nelson playing without a pick guard, you'd think the thing wouldn't even work. But as demonstrated even today, Trigger still sings like a songbird.