2003-2012 Rolls-Royce Phantom
"The Phantom has what you might call vestigial eyes—they're very, very small. They appear to be evolving out of existence like some deepwater fish that's shedding its eyeballs over millions of years."
Photo: Drive Images/Transtock
Long before Pixar gave us a car that sounds like Owen Wilson, humans have anthropomorphized the automobile. It’s evolutionary: Back when our only transportation was our feet, we had to quickly recognize fellow Homo sapiens and separate friend from foe. As a result, we’re so good at seeing faces that we sometimes spot them where there are none. And since we tend to trust things that look like us, carmakers create their products in our image. (But it should be an image of ourselves that we actually like—some have attributed the infamous Pontiac Aztek’s poor sales to its vacant stare.)
Pulitzer Prize-winning car critic Dan Neil knows this better than anyone; the man can’t walk through a garage without the eerie feeling he’s being watched, watched by creatures with headlights for eyes and grilles for mouths. “Carmakers are very much aware of this tendency of people to see faces on inanimate objects,” Neil says. “Sometimes they play toward it, and sometimes they play against it.” Wired asked Neil to choose some of his favorite (or unfavorite) automotive mugs.