Why Porsche Placed a Bet on Front-Engine Sports Cars

When you hear the word “Porsche,” what car do you think of? Of course it’s the 911. However, Porsche owes much more credit than it is given for the front-engine 944 and 928. Why’s that?

In the mid-1970s, Porsche executives were imagining a vastly different future for Porsche than where it is now. The rear-engine 911, was in their eyes, a flawed and rapidly aging design. They started developing two front-engine cars to replace it. What were those cars? the 924 and the 928. My grandfather owned a 924 at one point, but that’s a story I won’t tell now. Anyways, back to the point. We all know that the future those Porsche executives had planned out didn’t happen. The 911 still remains in production, and is a true masterpiece of automotive engineering and design. However, the 924 and 928 played a vital role in Porsche’s storied history.

The front-engine cars, especially the 944 , were the knight in shining armor for Porsche in the 1980s. They certainly stumbled with the slow, VW-derived 924, but they had a truly runaway success with the 944, which was what kept the 911 in production. In my eyes, it was unfortunate that the big, V8-powered 928 never really caught on with Porsche’s intended audience, but it has gained somewhat of a cult following in the past 15 years or so.

While the 928, and 944 are dearly departed, their spirit lives on, albeit in a different form. The 718 Boxster/Cayman occupy the same space that the 944 did. One can make the case that the 928 was reborn as the Panamera.

What about the 924? While it’s popular for budget track day enthusiasts, it never became as popular as the 928 and 944. Even though it had a VW engine, Porsche was in charge of developing the head for the engine. They played around with a 16-valve head, which meant it had four valves per cylinder (two intake, two exhaust), a turbocharger (which made the 924 quite formidable on a windy road), among other things.

This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?
This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?
The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.
The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.
This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.
This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.

Why Europe Should Be Worried About the Runaway Success of the Ford Mustang

The 2016 Ford Mustang is a great car, especially in the supercar-slaying GT350/GT350R form. It’s relatively fast, affordable, and can be easily modified. It turns out that the Yankee muscle car is now the most popular sports car in Germany. Why should they be worried?

In March, the Ford Mustang outsold the Porsche 911, Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and the Audi TT. It’s not that it’s inexpensive in Germany – a Mustang GT with no options costs about 50,000 Euros, while it costs $32,395 here in the U.S.

The Internet loves to trash talk the typical Mustang owner. A spike in high-profile crashes at car club meets doesn’t help with the Mustang’s PR either.

One of the problems that I have found about the Mustang is that the 1979 “Fox body” Mustang and it’s immediate successors were immensely popular and somehow durable. What does that mean? There’s a ton of them around, and used Mustangs are cheap horsepower. In 1979, there was a Dodge Challenger, which was a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant Coupe intended for the Japanese domestic market. The Challenger/Galant had a lifespan of five years at most, so it’s safe to say that your microwave has some Mitsubishi DNA in it!

Because the Mustang is so inexpensive, various misconceptions about the Mustang are out there. There’s nothing like a Porsche 911 or BMW M3 owner looking down on your ragged-looking Mustang GT with a set of Bilstein coilover shocks on it. Those owners have nothing better to do than look down at the lowly Mustang owner. Show up to a track day in a brand-new Mustang GT, and you’ll hear this kind of trash talk: the Mustang is heavy, it wallows, it doesn’t turn or stop very well, the rear end is uncontrollable, and you’re going to end up taking somebody else out when you spin. None of that is really true.

While the Mustang isn’t exactly light, the GT350R comes within 100 pounds of the BMW M4, a direct competitor to the GT350R. The steering in the GT350R is, according to pro race car drivers, worlds better than the M4. Don’t like the way it stops, even with the available massive Brembo brakes? That’s OK; the aftermarket will give you brakes that are IMSA (endurance racing) spec for less than half the cost of a single Porsche 911 GT3’s brake disc. You can walk into any Ford dealer, walk out with a Mustang in 45 minutes, and have a ton of fun. The GT350 (non-R model) is in a league of it’s own among four-seat performance cars. What about the Mustang being a tail-happy crash magnet? Well, the previous generation is notorious for that. It has a live rear axle, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Conestoga wagon, and couple that with 400+ horsepower, a driver who doesn’t know how to handle that much horsepower, and you know where I’m going. It’s mostly due to user error that there are so many Mustangs crashing. There have been a good deal of BMW M4 crashes as well. Trust me, it’s the same thing with Porsches.

If you haven’t driven a Mustang in a while, or your opinions are based on the old Mustangs with the live rear axle, I strongly encourage you to go down to the local Ford dealer and take a Mustang for a test drive. Any Mustang will do. Your expectations will be shattered.

Inside the Mustang, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The fit and finish holds up against whatever Germany and Japan have to offer. The interior is both classic and modern. The seats hold you in a bear hug, but are incredibly comfortable for any person. The infotainment systems are easy-to-use, and you’ll never really want more out of them. You’ll get plenty of feedback from the steering wheel, and all of the controls feel like Ford pulled them out of an Audi.

While the Mustang might be a large car, it feels perfectly comfortable on small back roads. You know exactly where the car is, what it’s doing, and how much gas you can give it. The overall driving experience feels like something Mercedes-Benz and Audi would co-develop. The only real differences between any current Mustang and a BMW 4-Series are the high door sills in the Mustang…and the availability of a manual transmission with every engine!

But, don’t take my word for any of this. I’m just an 18-year-old car enthusiast who does all of his automotive homework. Just ask any German car enthusiast. Clearly there’s something amazing about the Mustang, or there’d be a spike in Audi TT sales. Don’t get me wrong – all of the major automotive magazines have given rave reviews of the TT. It’s just you get a whole lot more car for the money out of the Mustang. Even in it’s home country, the Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, or BMW M4 is a rare sight. Why? Because they’re really expensive to buy and maintain. While it’s true that the Porsche 911 GT3RS will leave the Mustang (and most cars) far behind at any race track, the 911 GT3RS is a very rare and expensive sighting.

Of course, most German car enthusiasts will say that this article is a load of garbage. Why? Because the March sales are an “isolated incident.” It’s just inventory availability, rebates, and the same occasional fascination with American novelty that sends so many European tourists to the U.S. to ride rental Harley-Davidson motorcycles along Route 66. But, what if it’s not an isolated incident? What if it’s a perfectly reliable indicator of things to come?

After all, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have spent the past 15 years engineering any semblance of character and authentic heritage out of their vehicles. The same industry that introduced so many to wonderful cars like the air-cooled Porsche 911, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, the E39 BMW M5, the Audi Quattro, the E30 BMW M3, the AMG Hammer, and the Porsche 944, has abandoned those wonderful examples for 5000-pound SUVs making gobs of horsepower from high-tech twin-turbocharged engines, put down to the ground through fragile AWD drivetrains, all controlled by hundreds of pounds of self-destructive electronics meant to save them from doing just that.

Let’s imagine that this isn’t just an isolated incident. Maybe the Germans are tired of driving expensive, self-destructive, massive transportation pods. They want something that reminds them of their dad’s AMG Hammer, their grandpa’s Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, their uncle’s Audi Quattro. They want something different. Something real. The Mustang will continue to sell in droves. Soon, the mighty roar and scream of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat will be heard across the Atlantic on the last unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. Trails once populated by Nissan Patrols and Mercedes-Benz G-Classes will be filled to capacity with Jeep Wrangler Rubicons. You’ll hear the bellowing shriek of the Corvette Z06 at the Nurburgring and the Hockenheimring. What’s that massive hulking truck taking up the tiny country road? Is it really a Ford F-250?

OK, I’m going to start to wrap this up. What does this all mean? No matter what happens, there is a very important lesson to be heard. American automakers got lazy during the late 1970s through the late 1980s. This in turn allowed German automakers to bring us incredible cars. Can you imagine picking a Lincoln Versailles over a BMW 528i, or picking a Cadillac DeVille over a Cosworth-powered Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 (2.3 is the engine size in liters, 16 is the number of valves)?

If German car enthusiasts are buying a Ford Mustang over a BMW M4 or a Porsche Cayman, that should be a message ringing loud and clear in automotive executive boardrooms all over Europe. The last time something like this happened, it was in 1989 with the Lexus LS400. That sent BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Lincoln scrambling back to their drawing boards. In turn, that gave us such gems as the BMW 740i, a wonderful crisp, clean cruiser plagued by electronic maladies, and the Lincoln Town Car, which was a great car held back by the fact that it had a horrific drivetrain. The Lexus LS400 also inspired hideous cars like the early 1990s version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which had so many electrical problems it was a miracle if the door opened.

It seems like it might be America’s turn. The German Big Three put peanut butter on their homework and gave it to their dog. America did the same thing 30 years ago, but they have made massive strides with their cars.

All of this is not to say that the BMW M4, Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, and Audi TT are horrible cars. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are all incredible performance cars that many of us would love to own, or at least go for a spirited drive in. This is a golden age of automotive performance, and the performance cars put out by various manufacturers (American or otherwise) are fantastic.

 

The Greatest American Turbocharged Cars

Many people think that turbochargers belong in heavily modified import cars.  Well, that’s partially true.  Europe has turned out some impressive turbocharged cars, as well as the US of A.  Here are America’s greatest turbocharged cars.

  • Ford Mustang SVO:  The 2015 Ford Mustang has a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, just like the SVO Mustangs of the 1980’s.  The first turbocharged Ford Mustang showed up in 1979 with a 135-horsepower, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.  It was an alternative to the downsized 4.2-liter V8 found in the Mustang GT.  But, it wasn’t until Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO, now known as Special Vehicle Tuning or SVT) got their hands on one that it became anything noteworthy.  It came with a factory-installed Hurst short-throw shifter, revolutionary Koni adjustable shocks, ABS disc brakes at all four corners, a limited-slip differential, and a screaming, turbocharged 205 horsepower.  Drivers even had the cool option of flicking a dash-mounted switch that allowed the car to run on lower-grade fuel for a certain amount of time.  When it ended it’s production run in the late 1980’s, it was something to be feared.  It looked especially menacing in grey.
  • 1965 Chevrolet Corvair:  Believe it or not, the Corvair actually had a go-fast option.  It had two, in fact.  One was the Crown Corvair, which used a mid-mounted 283-cubic-inch Corvette V8, and the other was a turbocharger bolted onto the engine.  From the factory.  It made 150 horsepower initially, but by the time the Corvair died, it made 180 horsepower.  Unlike many other turbocharged cars, the turbocharged Corvair did not use a wastegate, the internal exhaust flap that opens at higher engine speeds to prevent over-spinning the turbine.  Instead, Chevy engineers simply built enough backpressure into the exhaust system to prevent overboost and serious engine damage.  Very few Corvairs with the turbocharged engine were ever made.
  • Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire:  Oldsmobile was one of the early adopters of turbocharging technology.  It released the powerful F85 Jetfire in April of 1962, and the car was something of a small success.  It took the fabled 3.5-liter high-compression “Rocket” V8, cranked up the boost, and let it rev.  It made a screaming 215 horsepower, and it was easily quicker than many naturally aspirated cars of 1962.  Plus, owners got an ashtray-sized boost gauge in front of the shifter.  The engine had problems with detonation, which is the process where the hot air-fuel mixture under pressure spontaneously ignites before the spark plug has a chance to ignite it.  So, the Turbo-Rocket engine was fed a mixture of methanol alcohol and water (the same stuff fed to dragsters).  This allowed the mixture to not ignite as quickly and get a higher octane level.  Today, water/alcohol injection is commonplace in high-performance tuner car applications, but isn’t it cool that F85 Jetfire owners had to periodically fill their “Turbo Rocket Fluid” reservoir?
  • Buick GNX:  If there’s a poster-child for American turbocharged cars, the Buick GNX wins, hands-down.  The all-black, tire-smoking, Ferrari Testarossa-beating, quarter-mile waltzing Buick GNX was and still is a force of nature.  Buick initially started turbocharging it’s anemic 3.8-liter V6 in 1978 for the Regal and the LeSabre, introducing the fast Regal Grand National line in 1982.  It culminated with 1987 with the GNX.  Buick purposefully underrated the crank horsepower at 276 horsepower, but dyno tests showed that the car made at least 315 horsepower at the wheels.  This means that the car made somewhere close to 360-370 horsepower at the crank.  It even beat the twin-turbo Callaway Corvette that I featured on my blog a couple of months ago in the quarter mile.  The GNX would go through the quarter mile in the low 13-second range at around 125-130 mph.  Just 547 GNX’s were built in 1987, each specially massaged by AMC/McLaren.  Today, the turbo Buick’s are something of a legend, and many go for upwards of $30,000.  The car was so successful on the street the Buick entered a naturally-aspirated V8 version of the car in NASCAR’s Grand National series (now known as the Nationwide Series), where it was extremely competitive.
  • 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am:  The all-white Pontiac Trans Am picked to be the pace car for the 73rd annual Indy 500 was completely different than the first turbocharged Trans Am, which was all mustache and no Burt.  This 1989 force-fed pony car was something completely different.  I liken it as the Pontiac storm trooper to the Buick GNX Darth Vader.  Pontiac subcontracted an engineering firm to swap Buick GNX engines (made by Buick for Pontiac) into the Trans Am.  But, the story doesn’t (and shouldn’t) end there.  Anniversary-edition Trans Am’s got better-flowing heads than the GNX, stainless-steel headers, GNX-sized Eaton intercoolers, a cross-drilled Comp Cams crankshaft, and their own engine tuning higher up in the powerband.  The net result was a car that officially produced 250 horsepower at the crank, but made closer to 320 horsepower at the crank.  This marked a return to the horsepower-underrating days of the muscle car, started by, you guessed it, Pontiac.  It was the fastest pace car ever in the history of the Indy 500, which is impressive, given the fact that many fast cars have been chosen since then.
  • Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe:  The Beach Boys made the T-Bird famous with the line, “fun, fun, fun, until her daddy takes it away.”  The T-Bird was fun until Daddy (the EPA) introduced emissions regulations that took the fun out of the T-Bird.  By 1982, the T-Bird was a horrible, anemic shoebox of a car.  Happily, 1983 saw the rising of the phoenix.  It’s beak-like hood had twin nostrils that meant that there was a turbocharged engine underneath that pointy hood.  Other than the amazingly 1980’s-FILA edition, the T-Bird Turbo Coupe was at it’s peak in 1987 and 1988.  That was when stick-shifted version of the Fox-bodied T-Bird came equipped with a whistling 190 horsepower, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, and a limited-slip differential.  Those nostrils on the hood, by the way, are functional, as they feed air directly to the top-mounted intercooler.
  • Shelby GLHS:  It’s hard to find a car that has a shape that’s more square than the Dodge Omni.  The blocky Omni had all of the sporting pretensions of a worn-out water shoe.  Then, you hand the Omni over to Carroll Shelby.  Early Omni GLH (unofficially Goes Like Hell) cars weren’t turbocharged, but by the mid-1980’s, America was becoming obsessed with the turbocharger.  So, by the mid-1980’s, the Omni GLH had enough punch to beat any VW GTI of the era.  For the 1986 model year only, 500 cars were further tweaked by Shelby to become the Omni GLHS (Goes Like Hell S’More), which was a 175-horsepower breadbox with more boost, better suspension, and factory options like a roll cage and heavy-duty oil cooler borrowed from the Ram 250 with the Cummins Diesel.  Quite possibly the best part of the GLHS:  The uprated top speed of the GLHS was too much for the regular 85 mph speedometer of the Omni, so Shelby simply added a sticker to the bottom of the gauge with increments up to 135 mph.
  • Shelby CSX-VNT:  Another Shelby creation was the CSX-VNT, which was based off of the homely Plymouth Sundance and Dodge Shadow.  Initially, the CSX-VNT packed 175 horsepower, and like the earlier GLHS, went like a bat out of hell.  Shelby built a small run of 1,001 cars for the Thrifty rental car company with slightly less power.  In the final year of CSX-VNT production, 1989, the CSX-VNT included some new, unique technology previously only seen on race cars – variable turbine geometry.  Computer-controlled vanes moved to direct the hot exhaust gas stream to improve spool-up time.  While it’s power rating remained the same at 175 horsepower, it had dramatically better response time in the low end, virtually eliminating turbo lag.  The next time this technology would show up in the U.S. market would be in 2011, with the 997-generation Porsche 911 Turbo.  That was more than 15 years later.
  • GMC Syclone:  In 1990, Gale Banks Engineering cracked the 200-mph mark at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a compact GMC pickup truck with no turbocharger or supercharger.  In 1991, the streetable version of that high-powered pickup showed up on dealer lots.  It’s 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine was turbocharged with the help of Gale Banks himself.  It came standard with ABS and AWD, neither of which were options on the S15 Sonoma.  You couldn’t haul much with the Syclone, unfortunately, as it was only rated to haul 500 pounds.  Too bad, but you could still fill the bed with the egos of every single Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati driver on the road.  This all-black, one-year-only mini-truck was the fastest-accelerating production vehicle in America for a few years, easily getting off of the line, thanks to the torque-rich engine and AWD.  It got to 60 mph somewhere in the low 4-second range.
  • GMC Typhoon:  A spin-off of the one-year-only Syclone, the Jimmy-bodied Typhoon was officially rated at 280 horsepower, though dyno tests showed that it made at least that at the wheels, meaning that it made somewhere around 320 horsepower at the crank.  It could easily beat a Ferrari 348 off of the line and up to about 70 mph, when the 348 really got into the powerband.  Just under 5,000 Typhoons were made between 1992-1993, and unlike the black-only Syclone, could be bought in a variety of colors.  In fact, Clint Eastwood used to drive a Forest Green Typhoon around in his Dirty Harry days, where he would pull up to a stoplight and ask punks if they felt lucky. Most thought they were going to beat some middle-aged guy in his SUV with their Mustang or import car.
  • Dodge Neon SRT4:  In 2003, Chrysler/Dodge’s Street Racing Technology (SRT) team got hold of the friendly-faced Neon subcompact car, and built what is still the car to beat for bang-for-your-buck performance.  A frog-eyed four-door sedan with a functional front-mounted intercooler peeking out of the grille, the tiny Neon made mincemeat out of everything from a Porsche Boxster to a Nissan 350Z.  Dodge claimed 230 horsepower, though dyno testing showed that the car made at least that much, if not more at the wheels.  This means that the engine was making close to 280 horsepower at the crank.  Something else that is cool about the Neon SRT4 is the fact that it doesn’t have a muffler on it.  This allows it to have vastly better turbo flow.  Resonators keep the volume semi-sane, but the Neon really makes a lot of noise when you give it some go-juice.
  • Chevrolet SS Turbocharged:  Initially available only as a supercharged coupe, the Cobalt SS was always OK in performance testing, but it wasn’t going to set any records.  Starting in 2009, the Cobalt SS came as either a sedan or coupe with a turbocharger bolted onto a small four-cylinder engine.  It made 260 horsepower.  Should you want a cool sleeper, if you aren’t afraid of the ignition recall, you can get a Cobalt SS, take the badges off, swap the big chrome rims for something more discreet (like the regular Cobalt rims), and you’d have the makings of a good sleeper.  It had a no-lift-shift system – just keep your right foot floored so that you don’t loose boost – and you’ll see the quarter mile fly by in under 13 seconds, and will keep up with a Porsche 911 on a road course.  Take it out to the twisties out on the road, and you’ll be able to keep up with a motorcycle, thanks to the tiny size of the Cobalt.

1986 Ford Mustang SVO 1986 Shelby Omni GLHS 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

1989 Shelby CSX-VNT 2004 Dodge Neon SRT4

 

1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder Turbo

1987 Buick GNX

1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Edition

1991 GMC Syclone 1992 GMC Typhoon

 

10 Cars That You Just Have to Love, Even if They Were Lemons

Lots of cars are reliable.  Lots of cars aren’t reliable.  A lot of British and German cars fall into the not-so-reliable category.  My uncle can attest to that with the fact that his 2001 Jaguar XK8 has spent about half of its life in the shop.  On the other side of reliability, another one of my uncles had an Audi Quattro for something like 10 years, and he never had any reliability issues.  My dad’s had trouble with his 2003 GMC Sierra 2500 HD with the Duramax diesel engine.  My 2003 Chrysler Town & Country is just a few hundred miles away from hitting 200,000 miles, and it’s been one of the most reliable cars that I’ve ever seen.  Anyhow, the basic premise of this blog post is to tell you the top 10 cars that we all love, even if they were (or still are) lemons.

  1. 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster:  The 996-generation Porsche 911 was the first Porsche to ever have a water-cooled engine.  For Porschephiles, that’s the equivalent of the Pope converting to Buddhism.  The 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster had a teeny, weeny, little problem with their engines where the faulty intermediate shafts could fail, turning a fine sports car into a very expensive paperweight.  Even after enough owner complaints, Porsche started fixing the problem, but only on a case-by-case basis, which meant that many owners were left out to dry unfairly.  It’s easily one of the largest black spots in Porsche history, which is a true shame, because these cars were otherwise some very nice drives.
  2. 2001-2003 Subaru WRX:  The first Subaru WRX to be offered in the U.S. had a massive problem with the transmission.  The five-speed manuals were extremely fragile, and the tuner-friendly engine often meant that the tiny boxer four-cylinder engine was tuned to within an inch of its life.  All Subarus have problems with their head gasket, but the 2001-2003 WRX often gave its head gasket up before it even reached 100,000 miles.  I can forgive all of this, because aside from these two problems, it’s a reliable daily driver that’s a LOT of fun.  The purity of these WRX’s means that your inner Swedish rally driver fantasies can come true.
  3. 1993-1995 Mazda RX-7:  One of the last rotary-powered cars (the last was the Mazda RX-8), the Mazda RX-7 was a true driver’s car.  However, apex seal failure hangs over every owner’s head like a cloud.  Apex seal failure means a complete engine rebuild or replacement if the car is not maintained at the proper intervals.  The massive amounts of premium fuel and oil going into the engine didn’t help matters, either.  Still, the 3rd-generation Mazda RX-7 is an amazing driver’s car.  Plus, many owners say that there’s  truly nothing like spooling up the second sequential turbocharger.  Mazda had made the RX-7 with two turbochargers – one for the lower rev range only, and the other for the upper rev range only.  It’s been a long, long time since the last RX-7 was built, and I really hope that Mazda gets their act together and builds an RX-9.
  4. 1999 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra:  This was a one-model-year special put on by Ford, and it was supposed to be a drag racing special for the street.  However, it didn’t  take long for enthusiasts, mainly drag racers, to figure out that it was making WAY less than the 320 horsepower that Ford advertised.  Ford traced the problem to aluminum residue in the intake and exhaust systems.  Ford did well by fixing the problem free of charge.  However, the public snafu on Ford’s part caused Ford to drop production of the SVT Cobra after just one model year.  The upside is that there are no other reliability problems with the SVT Cobra Mustang.  Because it’s a single-model-year special-edition Mustang, it’s got potential to be a future classic.  Don’t be intimidated if you see one for sale with lots of modifications – Ford designed this car to be tuner-friendly.  Just make sure that there’s good documentation of the car.
  5. 2008-2010 Nissan GT-R:  Like many supercars, the Nissan GT-R came with launch control.  The difference was that the launch control function could potentially blow up the transmission and void the warranty, leaving the unlucky owner with a $20,000 repair bill.  Nissan settled a class-action lawsuit in Decemer 2010, and the launch control was dialed back on 2011-up models.  It’s impossible not to love the GT-R and it’s mind-altering ability to be an absolute freight train on race tracks of any kind, just avoid the hard launches.
  6. 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S:  Anybody who was (or is) an owner of the 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S felt more like a beta tester for a video game than anything else.  Here’s the relatively short list of, uh, ‘bugs:’  Electric power steering pumps that could catch fire, supercharger failure after just 80,000 miles, and head gaskets that seemed to be timed to blow up as soon as the warranty expired.  Despite it being a sub-$20,000 car new (and used), it’s got maintenance costs of a 2001-2005 Porsche 911 or Boxster (see #1 on this list for reference).  If you can forgive those faults, the handling is some of the best this world has ever seen.
  7. 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia:  Most mid-engine Ferrari’s have a wholly undeserved reputation for spontaneous combustion.  However, with the 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia, the argument was valid.  The adhesive bonding between the wheelwell and the engine heat shield would melt and catch fire.  Reports vary, and if Ferrari is to be believed, only 11 cars were affected by this.  All 1248 Ferrari 458 Italias sold until that point were recalled.  Ferrari still claims that this only happened during hard driving, but asking owners of Ferraris to not drive their car hard is laughable.  After the concerns of owners becoming BBQ, the Ferrari 458 Italia once again ascended to its rightful place as the best mid-engine car the world has ever seen.
  8. 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD:  These things are supposed to be bulletproof, right?  Think again.  The fuel injection systems on the Duramax diesel-engine trucks are notorious for the fuel injectors cracking.  My dad has a 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD, and the engine’s been rebuilt something like 4 times.  If you buy one of these vehicles, make sure to get it with the LQ4 6.0-liter V8.  The Allison 1000 heavy-duty transmissions will go over 150,000 miles without trouble.  Just DON’T get it with the Duramax!  Not only are engine rebuilds expensive, but they are frequent.  If you buy one, make sure you find one with good documentation, as many of these were used for hauling and towing, both of which put phenomenal stress on the engine and transmission.
  9. 1996-2005 Volkswagen Passat:  This was the infamous era of VW unreliability.  The B5-generation of the Passat had steering problems – the rack-and-pinion assembly was prone to stripping, which means no steering.  When it stripped, it would burn out the power booster, which means that other parts are brought into the mix.  Volkswagen made a lot of these cars, and some of them are good.  Other family sedans are good choices.
  10. 2003 Land Rover Freelander:  This is quite possibly one of THE most unreliable vehicles EVER!  It was quite simply bad.  The engine was bad, the cheap interior fell apart after just a few thousand miles, and forget replacing parts for it.  The replacement parts were usually just as bad as the stock parts.  Avoid this car at ALL costs!