The Best Sleepers Sold in America in the Past 25 Years

Many people like to own cars that are beautiful and naturally garner attention. They drive cars like Aston Martins and Jaguars. There are also a lot of people who can’t afford cars like those, but still want their cars to grab attention, so they drive cars like Subaru WRX STI’s and Ford Mustangs. Those cars are loud and proud of it. They grab attention through their noise. It just comes down to a matter of personal choice, and that’s fine.

Many people really like having a car that has great performance, but doesn’t attract throngs of people and law enforcement. Their cars of choice are seemingly Plain Jane cars on the outside, but that doesn’t mean that their performance capabilities are any less than something like an STI.

Here, in no particular order, are the absolute best sleepers that have been sold here in the past 25 years.

  • GMC Syclone/Typhoon: Some of my readers grew up in the 1990s. It was a technological revolution, and also a time of rebellion and shattering societal norms. GMC’s decision to build the Typhoon and Syclone was probably one of their best. 280 horsepower isn’t very much horsepower for a truck, but all the way back in 1991, it meant 60 mph in five seconds. That’s right on pace with a modern Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang. Thank the 350 lb-ft of torque and the AWD system for that. Most people won’t know what they are looking at. They will see an old truck or SUV that is pretty darn small. That punk in the Honda Civic next to them will have no idea that it will blow his doors off at the stoplight. Trust me, you’ll have to have a bona-fide performance car to beat a Syclone or Typhoon in a drag race. Plus, they are very reliable – Jay Leno daily drove one for years without any problems.

    One of the most legendary trucks, let alone sleepers, of all time. It looks so innocent!
  • Mercedes-Benz S600: Even people who know nothing about cars know about the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. They know it’s expensive and luxurious, but nothing past that, really. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice the W220 (chassis generation, just like people know generations of the Ford Mustang as the Foxbody, the SN 95, the S197 and S550) anymore. It still looks dapper, but at this point, it’s generic enough that it flies under the radar with ease. Only us car people will know what they are looking at. Any S600 is going to be quick, but the 2003 update made it something fearsome. The 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 snarled out 493 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. It’s the banker’s hot rod, just like the Hudson Hornet was in the 1950s. Oh, and if you put a straight piped exhaust on the S600, it sounds like a Formula 1 car.

    While it still looks nice, the average person would brush it off as just another Mercedes-Benz. However, any Mercedes with these wheels will blow the doors off of just about anything.
  • Mercury Marauder: Ford’s Panther platform always had potential for performance, but Ford was always interested in selling Crown Victorias, Grand Marquis and Town Cars to retirees, limo companies, law enforcement agencies and taxi companies that they left most of the performance potential untapped to enterprising tuners. That all changed in 2003. The Mercury Marauder was a souped-up Grand Marquis that had a lot of parts borrowed from the Crown Victoria P71 (Police Interceptor Package). It also borrowed some go-fast goodies from the Mustang. Very few people could tell the difference between a Grand Marquis and a Marauder, but under the generic sheetmetal, the Marauder was something to be feared. It had a 302 horsepower V8 and a heavily improved suspension. It didn’t drive like a Grand Marquis or a Crown Victoria. The entire point of the car was to show the world “Why not?”

    Doesn’t look like much, does it?
  • Volvo V70 R: Station wagons haven’t been the preferred method of kid schlepping in many years, which is a true shame. Even when they were popular, they weren’t cool. Any station wagon that has a Volvo badge on it is going to be recognized as safe, but nobody ever drives a Volvo aggressively. Now, chuck all of what I have just said out of the window. Never think or speak of it again. The Volvo V70 R had an inline five cylinder engine that cranked out 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque that went to the wheels via a Haldex AWD system. It hit 60 mph in under six seconds, which made it ideal for the dad who wanted a Mazda Miata with room for his wife and their kids and dog.
  • Saab 9-2X Aero: While the Subaru WRX is a great car in it’s own right, it’s the exact opposite of a sleeper. It’s loud and it attracts more attention than the cute girl in high school. If you liked how the WRX drove, but wanted something more toned down, look no further than the Saab 9-2X Aero. It used to be that there was no option like the Saab 9-2X Aero. Then some brilliant mind at GM decided that they needed to dive into the compact luxury car market. The result was the Saab 9-2X Aero. It was based off of the WRX, but the interior was much more premium, the car wasn’t nearly as loud, the looks were toned down, but at heart, it’s still a Subaru WRX.

    It’s just a luxurious Subaru WRX. It’s really compact, which is great if you live in a city.
  • Mazdaspeed 6: In the midsize sedan segment, many cars will put you straight to sleep. The Mazda 6 has never been one of those cars, and as such, is always my first suggestion for a family sedan. Even though it’s fun to drive, it’s still nothing special at the end of the day. However, Mazda decided to throw practicality and sensibility out the window. They handed a Mazda 6 over to the brilliant minds over at Mazdaspeed, and let them work their magic. The result was a 270 horsepower, turbocharged, AWD sedan with a six speed manual. Pure brilliance. It could hit 60 mph in under 5.5 seconds, yet looked like an average Mazda 6 to the untrained eye. And yes mom, it still has all the practicality of a family sedan. It just happens to be far faster than any other family sedan.

    It looks like just another family sedan. However, anybody who has read this post knows what’s up with this car.
  • Chevrolet Cobalt SS: The Chevrolet Cavalier was a truly terrible car. While it’s replacement, the Cobalt, was a vast improvement, it wasn’t a good car by any stretch of the imagination. It was an inexpensive car that catered to those who needed a brand-new economy car despite the fact that a three-year-old Toyota Corolla was a much better car. It sold well. Chevrolet somehow managed to redeem the Cobalt. The Cobalt SS was probably one of the greatest pocket rockets to ever race around. It was unexpectedly fast, and incredibly adept on any race course or autocross course. A 205 horsepower version came out first, but the real gem was the 260 horsepower turbocharged version. Even with a gigantic rear wing, nobody expects a Chevrolet Cobalt to be that fast. One way to make it even more of a sleeper is to remove the wing and put on non-SS Cobalt wheels. Talk about a sleeper of epic proportions!

    It looks like just another Chevrolet Cobalt, but with big wheels. Acceleration is best achieved by flat-footing it (where you keep the gas pedal planted, and shift without lifting).
  • Ford Taurus SHO: While the original Ford Taurus was a great car, the original Taurus SHO (Super High ) is a legend in the performance sedan world. The current generation does not look at all like a performance car. It’s a comfortable cruiser and a good police car, but it looks like nothing special. Part of what makes the current SHO such a sleeper is that the automotive press basically wrote it off when it was introduced. Even in the SHO trim, it’s meant for being an effortless cruiser, not a canyon carver. This doesn’t mean that you should try and do a stoplight drag race with one. An SHO can hit 60 mph in just over five seconds to 60 mph.

    If you’re a fan of fullsize sedans and the word stonking fast, look into getting a Ford Taurus SHO.
  • Chevrolet SS: Even though this is a list of sleepers sold in America over the past 25 years, the Chevrolet SS truly deserves to be on the list of all-time sleepers. How many cars can claim the accomplishment of having basically nobody know they exist? While some reviewers would consider it a flaw that the SS blends in with all of the boring cars, it’s actually a good thing. 99% of the people you pass in the SS will think it’s a Malibu, if they even notice it at all. They are wrong because it has a 415-horsepower Corvette engine, a six-speed manual and a magnetic suspension sourced from the Corvette. It’s the car that’s so anonymous that no cop will pull you over.

    Really looks like nothing, doesn’t it? Here’s to hoping that the FBI has good taste in cars and starts using these!

The Best $40,000 SUVs You Can Buy

Until about 2012, one could easily delineate between a luxury SUV and a mainstream SUV. It’s different now. Big players in the luxury SUV market (BMW and Mercedes-Benz) have started to move some vehicles down market in the hopes of snagging sales that would typically go to a mainstream manufacturer. Mainstream heavy hitters like Kia, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda are moving up market in the hopes of wooing buyers from the luxury brands. Let’s say you want an SUV but have a budget of $40,000. This can get you a lot of car. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a luxury SUV or a mainstream SUV. There are many good SUVs to choose from. Here are my picks.

  • Mercedes-Benz GLA250/GLA250 4Matic: While it might look like a hatchback with a body lift, it’s really more than that. Some of us might remember the Mercedes C230 crapback of the early 2000s that was about the same price. Man, was that thing awful! The GLA250 starts at $32,225, and the GLA250 4Matic (AWD) starts at $34,225. That’s a lot of wiggle room for options. You can get the Multimedia and/or Premium packages, both of which give you such goodies as navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system, a rearview camera and heated front seats. That’s a pretty good deal. Throw in the fact that it’s a sporty little crossover, and you’ve got a good deal. You’ve got a mini crossover that is posh and carries the Mercedes-Benz cache. 
  • Audi Q3: The Q3 is another mini crossover, but it’s a very good one. It starts at $34,625 with FWD, and starts at $36,725 with AWD. A good deal for a Q3 would be a FWD Q3 Premium Plus, which starts at $34,625. You get such goodies as HID headlights with LED accents, a panoramic glass roof, leather seats and upholstery, heated front seats and keyless entry/start, all of which are standard. At this point, you can still easily add the Technology and Sport packages without cracking the $40,000 mark. If you need AWD, add on $2,500.
  • BMW X1 sDrive 28i/X1 xDrive28i: The BMW X1 is the cheapest BMW sold in America. It starts off at $32,195 for the sDrive28i and $33,995 for the xDrive28i. It’s a bargain BMW. The result is that you can get a lot of options for less than $40,000, especially with the RWD sDrive28i. You can even get the Sport Line, Technology, Lighting and Driver Assistance packages without cracking $40,000.
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport: Even though the Land Rover Discovery Sport SE starts off at a hefty $38,065, it comes with a lot of bang for the buck. Maybe it won’t break down a ton. It comes standard with a nifty AWD system, an 8-inch infotainment screen, a 5-inch TFT screen for the driver, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera with backup sensors, four (yes, four) USB ports, 18-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control. Throw in navigation ($800) and Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl smartphone apps ($430), you’ll have a sticker price of $39,745.
  • Lexus NX 200t: The NX 200t starts off at $35,405 with FWD, and $36,805 with AWD. It’s a really well-priced crossover for the money. However, you can’t get very many options, because just about everything is bundled into some sort of package. The best deal for the NX 200t would be an AWD NX 200t with the Navigation Package, which includes Lexus’s Enform apps, and it will even stay below $40,000.
  • Lincoln MKC: This is Lincoln’s newest entry into the luxury world. For the past five years or so, they’ve been blundering around the woods with a bag over their heads. None of their cars have been successful lately, and that’s a problem for them. They hope to change that with the MKC. It starts off at $33,995 for FWD models and $36,490 with AWD. It has a lot of standard features including an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, two USB ports, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s even more wiggle room with FWD MKCs, and for a touch under $39,000, you get navigation, a panoramic sunroof, leather and a hands-free liftgate.
  • Lincoln MKX: Yeah, I know. Two Lincolns in a row. Yowza. The MKX is larger than the MKC, but it’s still a good buy, even if it costs $39,025. You won’t have any wiggle room with this one, but that’s OK. You get the Ford/Lincoln SYNC infotainment system, a rearview camera, a 10-speaker high-quality audio system and keyless entry/start. Just because you go for the base model doesn’t mean that you will be sorely lacking in power. The standard engine in the MKX is a 3.7-liter V6 that is expected to crank out 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine that’s in the base-model Ford Mustang.
  • Acura RDX: Acura has long been a heavy hitter in the bargain-basement fun-to-drive luxury segment. Even though the RDX has gone up in price, it’s still an incredibly good buy. It comes standard with LED headlights, a premium ELS sound system, a power liftgate, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity, all for just $36,190 with FWD models. AWD models are a tad more at $37,690. Even getting the Technology Package will keep the price below $40,000 in FWD models. If you buy an AWD model, you can get the AcuraWatch safety features. The problem is that you can only get one or the other, as getting both packages will crack the $40,000 mark regardless of whether you have FWD or AWD.
  • Volvo XC60 T5 E-Drive/XC60 T5 AWD: Volvo has long been known for their bang for the buck. Their best-selling crossover comes standard with many great features such as City Safety automatic emergency braking, a 7-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth connectivity and 18-inch alloy wheels. The FWD T5 E-Drive starts off at $37,395, while the AWD T5 AWD starts off at $38,895. The XC60 is right at the same price as many other comparable luxury crossovers. You won’t be able to get many options in the XC60, unfortunately, as many options are bundled into expensive packages that will send the sticker price well over $50,000.
  • Volvo XC70 T5 E-Drive/XC70 T5 AWD: The Volvo XC70 was one of the first crossover wagons to go on sale. Since then, it’s been a staple in the Volvo lineup. It starts off at $38,095 for the T5 E-Drive and $39,595 for the T5 AWD. It doesn’t come with a ton of standard or optional features. It’s also not the best-seller in Volvo’s lineup, as it’s showing it’s age. Volvo has tried to spice it up with a recent refresh and new powertrain options, but buyers would rather buy an SUV than an aging wagon.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee: The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a great value. It starts off at a cheap $30,990 for RWD models and $32,990 for 4WD models. It offers a great combination of luxury and proven off-road capability. It comes standard with Fiat Chrysler’s amazing UConnect infotainment system, keyless entry/start and a 7-inch TFT display. Because it starts at such a low price, you can buy gadgets and goodies, or step up to higher trim levels. If you want navigation or the optional turbodiesel engine, be prepared to fork out more than $40,000. The navigation system doesn’t come with a package. You have to step up a couple of trim levels. Oh, and it’s built like a gigantic LEGO set. You can easily swap in better suspension, wheels, and just about anything you could think of.
  • Jeep Renegade: The Jeep Renegade is the replacement for the awful Compass and Patriot. It starts off at $18,990 and goes all the way up to $26,990. While it might be the cheapest new Jeep, it’s also in Wards Auto’s 10 Best Interiors for 2015. A fully loaded Renegade won’t even come close to $40,000, which is a good incentive for value-oriented buyers. It offers class-above equipment, a very nice interior and the Trailhawk models have decent offroad capability.
  • Buick Enclave: It’s certainly not the newest three-row crossover on the market, but it’s a very good one, despite having been introduced all the way back in 2008. You can get it in base model form for $39,975. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system, a rearview camera, remote start and a power liftgate. I’m speaking from experience when I say you should seriously consider it. It’s quick, quiet, and incredibly comfortable for every passenger. It has a lot of space, and gets decent fuel economy for something so large.
  • Buick Encore: Despite being tiny in size, the Encore is a pioneer in the subcompact luxury crossover market. It was also the first of its kind in the segment. It starts off at an incredibly affordable $24,990, and even fully loaded falls far short of the $40,000 mark. It’s got a quiet interior for the segment. It’s a good choice for large city dwellers who need a car, but need it to have space but be small.
  • Ford Edge: Even though it doesn’t have that luxury cache to it, the Ford Edge offers plenty of luxurious amenities. Even if you don’t want to spend more than $40,000, you can get an Edge Titanium with AWD and gadgets such as SYNC with MyFord Touch, navigation and a Sony audio system. You could also get a sparsely-optioned Edge Sport with it’s twin turbo V6 and navigation if you want more power.
  • Ford Explorer: You don’t need to get the Ford Explorer Limited to be well-equipped in one. While the Explorer starts off at $31,645 for FWD models and $33,645 for AWD XL models, your best bet is the $34,345 XLT, which has many more standard features than the XL. Getting the XLT nets you rear parking sensors, keyless entry/start and a 10-way power driver’s seat. You can also get navigation, SYNC with MyFord Touch, remote start, a nine-speaker audio system and heated front seats without coming close to $40,000.
  • Nissan Murano: The 2016 Nissan Murano has a design that certainly isn’t for everybody. It’s aggressive and daring. You can make it even more daring with vibrant paint colors. Even though it looks upscale, you don’t need to go for the range-topping Platinum model to have a well-equipped Murano. The base model Murano starts off at $30,445 with FWD and $32,045 with AWD. Both the SV and SL models offer plenty of conveniences and gadgets including navigation, NissanConnect apps, remote start and two USB ports. While an AWD Murano SV will set you back $39,435, you get a lot of good stuff with it. You get all of the standard SV features, plus Nissan’s Around View camera feature, a premium Bose audio system, leather upholstery and seats and adjustable ambient lighting. That sounds like a good buy to the adventurous, but value-oriented buyer.
  • Nissan Pathfinder: It’s no longer the rugged offroader that it used to be. It’s now more of a mall-roader. It starts off at $30,515 for FWD models and $32,205 for AWD models. The SL trim is the best out of the vast range of models, due to its standard remote start, a power liftgate and leather seats and upholstery. However, other tech goodies will be out of reach, due to the fact that they are stuck in expensive packages.
  • Hyundai Tuscon: The 2016 Tuscon is completely redesigned. In every trim, especially the Limited model, the Tuscon offers value, class-above features and a dizzying array of electronic wizardry in one incredibly stylish package. Regardless of drivetrain choice, the Tuscon Limited doesn’t even come close to $40,000. If you check each and every option box, you will have everything from a 4.2-inch TFT display to navigation to such safety features as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport: Hyundai has long been known to pack immense value into their SUVs. The Santa Fe Sport is no exception. It starts off at $25,845. Regardless of whether you get it with FWD or AWD, or different engines, it’s still a very good buy. You can check just about every option box and still not be close to $40,000. For anywhere from $30,000-38,000, the Santa Fe Sport will give you an Infinity Logic 7 audio system, navigation, a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free power liftgate. That sounds like a lot of value for not very much money to me.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe: The Santa Fe is just the three-row version of the Santa Fe Sport. It remains a very compelling buy in its segment. It starts off at $31,295. It comes with a host of standard features including blind spot warning, keyless entry/start and a hands-free power liftgate. Those come with the $36,545 GLS model. However, you can’t get navigation with the GLS, as that comes with the expensive Ultimate Package, which crakcs $40,000.
  • Toyota Highlander: The wildly popular Toyota Highlander is a good buy. It starts off at $30,650. The $37,870 FWD XLE and $38,935 AWD XLE models are the best buys. The XLEs come with the Entune infotainment system, which includes navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen, keyless entry/start and heated front seats thrown in for good measure. Throw in the legendary Toyota reliability and you’ve got yourself one helluva good deal.
  • Kia Sorento: Kia and Hyundai both are well-known for their value injections in every vehicle. The Sorento is the sister to the Santa Fe. The Sorento starts off at a reasonable $25,795. You can get a nicely optioned Sorento EX with either FWD or AWD, or a V6 or turbocharged four cylinder. The standard features on the EX are many, so I’ll just list a few. You get a nifty 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a 7-inch TFT screen, an Infinity Logic 7 high-quality audio system, keyless entry/start and leather seats and upholstery.
  • Honda Pilot: The newly-released 2016 Honda Pilot looks promising to me. It’s got more space than before, better looks than before, and has more features than any other Honda SUV. It starts off at an affordable $30,875 to boot. For the best bang for the buck, go with the EX-L trim with navigation, as you will get the LaneWatch system, Honda Link with an 8-inch main screen and a power liftgate for just a tad under $40,000, even with AWD. That sounds like a good deal to me. 
  • Mazda CX-3: Talk about something that really punches far above it’s weight! It starts off at an incredibly affordable $20,840, but even fully loaded, won’t go past $30,000. The best one to get is the range-topping Grand Touring model. It has a beautiful interior filled with white/black leather/suede upholstery, an amazing infotainment system and a delightful Bose audio system. Throw in some fun driving dynamics for good measure, and you have a winner.
  • Mazda CX-5: The Mazda CX-5 is basically the sports car of the compact SUV segment. It brings goodies that were previously unobtainable to the average person into reach. These goodies include a neat infotainment system and LED headlights. A base model CX-5 starts off at $22,675. While a fully-loaded one won’t come close to $40,000, a $33,655 compact crossover is a bit pricey. But, you will get such safety aids as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Many of the CX-5’s competitors don’t even offer these gadgets. Don’t get the smaller 155 horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder (it’s a great engine), rather, go for the more powerful 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four cylinder. The smaller engine doesn’t have much of a noticeable fuel economy advantage over the bigger engine.

Those are the best SUVs and crossovers you can buy for under $40,000. They are all great choices, depending on what you are looking for. Of course, I highly recommend you test drive at least some of them before you settle on one!

I apologize for the extreme delay in posting. I’m just crawling out of the pit that is midterms.

The Best Supercars of the 1990s!

The 1990s was the time when performance cars really started to get that oomph back. The supercars of that era still have jaw-dropping performance, and their designs are some of the most beautiful to ever howl and thunder their way down our roads.

They had no environmental restrictions, and they were the pure intent of the designer and engineers. These are the ones I view as the best.

  • 1993 Bugatti EB110 Super Sport: The predecessor to the legendary Bugatti Veyron, the EB110 Super Sport was capable of 216 mph, which is still a blistering speed. Yet, it had a comfortable and luxurious interior. Oh, and it had a quad-turbo V12.
  • 1998 Dodge Viper: Dodge’s Viper was a formidable car to begin with. However, it didn’t really compete with any of the European supercars. That changed pretty quickly when Dodge shoehorned a massive 8.0-liter V10 under the hood. It made 450 horsepower and topped out at 180 mph. It wasn’t as fast as the EB110 Super Sport, but it was much faster on a race track or winding road.
  • 1995 Ferrari F50: The F50 was slower than the legendary F40. It was the successor to the F40 and the predecessor to the Enzo. However, it was still incredibly fast and rare, with only 349 built.
  • 1990 Jaguar XJR-15: This was the world’s first completely carbon-fiber car. Jaguar only built 53 examples of this car. It had a 450 horsepower V12.
  • 1992 Jaguar XJ220: This Jaguar was one wild child. It had a 540 horsepower twin-turbo V6. It was the fastest car in the world in 1992, topping out at 212 mph. The McLaren F1 beat it in 1993.
  • 1993 Lamborghini Diablo VT: The Diablo VT could reach speeds over 200 mph. It was the first AWD halo Lamborghini. It’s also a car that many people have as their screen savers!
  • 1996 Lotus Esprit V8: The Esprit V8 was in that weird space between high-end sports car and supercar. It had a twin-turbo V8 that made 350 horsepower. It put the power to the ground via a five-speed manual. It was also the first all-aluminum Lotus design. Oh, and you can look like James Bond (providing the car runs)!
  • 1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR: This was more race car than street car. It made 604 horsepower out of a V12. Does it look expensive to you? It should. The Guinness Book of World Records pegged it as the most expensive car in the world in 1999, at a cool $1,547,620.
  • 1993 McLaren F1: The world’s only three seat supercar, the McLaren F1. It made 627 horsepower out of a BMW V12. It was the fastest car in the world from 1993-2005. It’s top speed is a crazy 240.1 mph. The car that beat it was the Bugatti Veyron, which just so happened to beat it’s own record a few years ago.
  • 1997 Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion: “Strassenversion” means “street version” in German. This Porsche made 537 horsepower from a 3.2-liter twin turbo flat six cylinder engine. There are about 25 that exist worldwide. Do the math. You’ll likely never see one. You’ve also probably never heard of it.

Well, those are what I think are the best supercars of the 1990s. Tell me what you think!

I’m having technical difficulties with WordPress and photos. I will resolve the problem as soon as I can, but you are going to be without pictures until then.

More of the Best Japanese Sports Cars Ever!

This is a follow-up to one of my most popular posts of all time. Japan has given us some of the most iconic, endearing, and usable sports cars ever to drive.

  • 1959 Datsun Sports/Fairlady: It was known as the Datsun Fairlady in Japan, but over here, it was known as the Datsun Sports. It came with a 1,500 cc engine, a 1,600 cc engine, or a larger 2,000 cc engine. It started as a cheaper competitor to the MG Midget, but it had a fiberglass body instead of the aluminum used in the MG. It developed into one of the most successful road-racing cars in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America).

    This is a 1962 model, but it is essentially the same as the 1959 model.
    This is a 1962 model, but it is essentially the same as the 1959 model.
  • 1963 Honda S500: This was Honda’s first car. While it’s successor, the S600 enjoyed numerous class wins in the SCCA and other road racing bodies, the S500 shouldn’t be forgotten. The S500 weighed a mere 1,500 pounds, and it was powered by a tiny 500 cc dual-overhead-cam engine with a 9,500 RPM redline. It had one motorcycle influence – chain-driven wheels. It was a fast, sprightly little car that could hang with the big boys.1963 Honda S500
  • 1965 Toyota Sports 800: This was Toyota’s first sports car, and while it wasn’t a hit in the US, it’s had a devout following since day one. It has 44 horsepower, and a removable targa top. Oh, and it’s pretty cute.

    The only thing that isn't stock about this beautiful 1965 Toyota Sports 800 are the wheels, but I think it adds a nice touch.
    The only thing that isn’t stock about this beautiful 1965 Toyota Sports 800 are the wheels, but I think it adds a nice touch.
  • 1967 Toyota 2000GT: Riding off of the success of the Sports 800 in Japan, Toyota decided to build a competitor to the Jaguar E-Type. The result is the absolutely stunning Toyota 2000GT. Toyota teamed up with Yamaha to develop the engine and transmission, and boy did Yamaha deliver! It’s an achingly gorgeous car that breezes well over $1 million at auction.1967 Toyota 2000GT; top car design rating and specifications
  • 1968 Datsun Bluebird/1300-1600/510: Datsun essentially reverse-engineered the legendary BMW 1600, and this wonderful rally/drift machine was born. It was known as the Bluebird in Europe, the 1300-1600 in Asia, and the 510 here in America. It still holds 2wd rally records. It’s one of the most legendary sports coupes ever made, and you can buy one for a relatively low price.

    This is a picture from one of the original advertisements that Datsun put out in 1968. The No. 85 car is one of the legendary rally cars.
    This is a picture from one of the original advertisements that Datsun put out in 1968. The No. 85 car is one of the legendary rally cars.
  • 1970 Datsun 240Z: This is certainly one of the most beautiful sports cars ever made, let alone one of the most beautiful cars ever made. My grandparents and dad used to own one, but guess who decided to sell it so I couldn’t enjoy it? It had a single-overhead-cam inline six cylinder engine, a five speed manual, and fully independent suspension. European sports cars never knew what passed them.1970 Datsun 240z
  • 1971 Mazda RX-2 and RX-3: These cars were the precursors to the legendary RX-7. The RX-2 set so many records and poles in IMSA that rotary engines got banned. The RX-3 went 160 mph at Bonneville. 
    This is a 1971 Mazda RX-2. It's not exactly pretty, but it got the job done.
    This is a 1971 Mazda RX-2. It’s not exactly pretty, but it got the job done.

    This is the slightly larger 1971 Mazda RX-3. It's equally homely, but it was much faster than the RX-2.
    This is the slightly larger 1971 Mazda RX-3. It’s equally homely, but it was much faster than the RX-2.
  • 1979 Toyota Celica: The original Toyota Celica was for all essential purposes, a Datsun 240Z with icing on the cake. While it didn’t have a six-cylinder engine, it had a rear seat, and therefore, more utility. It was originally somewhat homely, but then the legendary AE86 generation came around, and it had totally ’80s styling, man.

    Most teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s really wanted to own a 1978 Celica notchback, like this. You can decide if they really wanted it that badly.
    Most teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s really wanted to own a 1978 Celica notchback, like this. You can decide if they really wanted it that badly.
  • 1982 Datsun Maxima: This is the precursor to the Nissan Maxima. It borrowed powertrain components from the 240Z, and was supposed to be a very fun car to drive.1982 Datsun Maxima
  • 1985 Toyota MR2: You can call it Mister Two. It was inspired by the then-fast Ferrari Testarossa. It was a break from the monotonous, boring cars Toyota had been cranking out…oh wait, they still are!

    You can call it Mister 2.
    You can call it Mister 2.
  • 1986 Honda Civic, CRX, and Prelude Si: The year 1986 was a good year for car people. Honda released the Si model for the Civic, CRX, and Prelude. It upped speed and handling prowess. These cars are still fast enough to keep up with a modern Porsche Cayman on a winding road or a race track. Plus, you can get them for very little money, as Honda made a lot of them!
    This is the 1986 Civic Si, which was basically a four-seat CRX. It had more utility, but was slightly slower.
    This is the 1986 Civic Si, which was basically a four-seat CRX. It had more utility, but was slightly slower.
    The 1986 Prelude Si was a sporty, yet very refined car. It had tuned port fuel injection, which was rare for the time. Yet, it was still affordable to the everyman.
    The 1986 Prelude Si was a sporty, yet very refined car. It had tuned port fuel injection, which was rare for the time. Yet, it was still affordable to the everyman.

    This is the infamous 1986 Honda CRX Si. It's still fast enough to keep up with a new Miata.
    This is the infamous 1986 Honda CRX Si. It’s still fast enough to keep up with a new Miata.
  • 1988 Honda Prelude: Honda took the already-impressive Prelude Si, made all of it’s equipment standard, and then added four-wheel steering to it. It was a speedy little car.1988 Honda Prelude
  • 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata: It’s a sprightly Lotus-inspired roadster that is now the world’s favorite roadster out there. It took all of the fun charms that British and Italian roadsters had, and added bulletproof reliability to the mix. It’s also the world’s most popular race car. Need I say more? I really want one (hint, hint Zayzee)…1990 Mazda Miata
  • 1991 Acura NSX: Acura’s NSX is still one of the most amazing supercars ever. It’s so reliable that you can daily drive it without having to worry about overheating it. It has a sleek aluminum body that looks fabulous in red (just to rub it in to Ferrari), and it’s 3.0-liter V6 revs to 8,000 RPM. It’s V6 has the original VTEC system, which is just a variable timing and lift valvetrain. VTEC comes from motorcycles, but it first appeared in 1989 with the Acura Integra GS-R for Japan only.

    It's 24 years old, yet it's still incredibly fast, and has styling that is superb.
    It’s 24 years old, yet it’s still incredibly fast, and has styling that is superb.
  • 1994 Toyota Supra: The Supra finally matured in it’s fourth generation. It’s still one of the most legendary sports cars around. It’s twin-turbocharged 2JZ-GTE engine further catapulted the Supra into fame. Most have been tuned to within an inch of their life, so it’s rare to see a stock fourth-generation Supra.1994 Toyota Supra
  • 1992 Mazda RX-7: The third, and final generation of the legendary Mazda RX-7 arrived in 1992 with sequential turbocharging, beautiful bodywork, and vastly improved handling. It’s been successful on the racing circuit, and is still winning awards in Formula Drift.1992 Mazda RX-7
  • 2000 Honda S2000: How does Honda celebrate their 50th birthday? By building an incredible successor to the S600, that’s how! The S2000 was powered by a 9,000 RPM 2.0-liter VTEC four-cylinder engine that screams to the heavens. It’s supposed to be one of the most visceral and engaging cars ever to come out of a factory’s doors.2000 Honda S2000
  • 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII: It’s a cross between a road-racing machine and a rally car. It had massive Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks with lots of travel that somehow allowed for perfect car control, and a massive, provocative carbon-fiber rear wing. It’s instantly recognizable.2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
  • 2004 Mazda RX-8: The Mazda RX-8 was the last dying gasp for rotary engines. It had doors like an extended cab pickup truck, and a backseat. It drank fuel like a sailor, and ate oil like a long-haul trucker. If you started driving it before the engine was warm, you’d flood the engine. If you turned it off without letting it idle for a few minutes, you’d cook the rotors. Yet, people still love them.Mazda RX-8, 2004 World Wide Launch Monterey, CA  12/29/2002
  • 2009 Nissan GT-R: Nissan took the GT-R to uncharted heights in terms of performance. It has a twin-turbo V6, AWD, and a video-game dashboard just for kicks. It’s performance is truly astonishing. It can grip like nothing else out there, and it’s acceleration is only rivaled by hypercars like the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder. And a garden-variety brand-new one costs about $100,000.

    It's Godzilla! The nickname came around after an automotive journalist looked at all of the races that the original GT-R had won, and proclaimed it "Godzilla." It's a fitting nickname.
    It’s Godzilla! The nickname came around after an automotive journalist looked at all of the races that the original GT-R had won, and proclaimed it “Godzilla.” It’s a fitting nickname.
  • 2012 Lexus LFA: Lexus took a stab at the supercar market with the clunky and odd LFA. They brought a butterknife to a minigun fight. They built 500 LFA supercars that are somehow coveted right now. They aren’t fast by supercar standards, and they aren’t very much fun to drive. Their transmission can never replicate a shift, so you either get slammed back into your seat, or you don’t notice it shifting at all. There is no in between. That being said, it’s 4.8-liter V10 sounds spectacular, and revs to the heavens. Lexus likely lost money selling each LFA. Building supercars is an expensive, risky business.2012 Lexus LFA
  • 2012 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86: This might just be the best Subaru/Toyota pairing ever. It’s certainly an odd pairing – Toyota and Subaru are competitors, but their collaboration resulted in a really fun car. The Scion FR-S is a bit more loose, as it’s meant more for drifting, whereas the Subaru is a bit tighter, as it’s meant for canyon carving and track duty. They’re really affordable – a well-optioned one comes in about $30,000, and they have a lot to offer: RWD, fuel efficiency, fun-to-drive factor, reliability, standard manual transmission, etc.2012 Scion FR-S

2012 Subaru BRZ2012 Toyota GT86Those are what I think to be more of the best Japanese sports cars ever made. I’d love to hear more of your stories about any of these cars, or which one is your favorite.

Porsche Never Designed the 911 Around it’s Rear Engine

It’s certainly one of the most iconic automotive designs ever.

I’m sure that if you named just one thing about one of the air-cooled Porsche 911’s, it’s been written about.  While being in and around the car is like watching a movie you’ve seen multiple times, it still has that mystical allure that reels you in each time.

Seeing the car is an experience that is hard to forget.  It’s probably because you can’t compare the design to any other car on the road.  It’s incredibly and undeniably unique.

Yes, it’s got a hint of VW Beetle and the Porsche 356 that preceded it, but we tend to forget those cars when we see one.  The car was designed to carry four adults and their luggage around in comfort and style, yet be fun to drive.

Most “true” sports cars only have two seats, yet the 911 has four.  This is odd, but somebody high up at Porsche presumably wanted something that could carry more than two people.  Unless they wanted to make it incredibly long, the engine would have to be behind the rear axle.

However, this isn’t the universally-accepted truth.  The idea that Porsche is wedded to the engine-in-the-back philosophy is one that you could seriously consider.  The 911 was preceded by the mid-engine 550 Spyder, then followed by the mid-engine 914, the front-engine 924 and 928.  The purpose-built racecar built by Porsche in the same era, the 904, was mid-engine.  The car that truly preceded the 911 was the rear-engine 356, which was essentially a rear-wheel-drive VW Beetle with a nice interior.  For all essential purposes, the 911 is the second and final Porsche rear-engine design, redone a few times.  Even the 356 began as a mid-engine car.

This rear seat thing is why the driver sits higher than most other sports cars.  It allows their legs to be slightly more bent, which gives more space to the folks in the rear seat.  This is also what makes the roof so tall, as well as how far forward the windshield goes.

It’s flat-six engine is only three cylinders long, so the rear overhang is no longer than most front-engine sports cars.  But, it’s also significantly lower overall than most other sports cars.

Most people rail on the car because of it’s rear-engine location, but the truth is, that’s not the most interesting part of the design.  They should focus more on the tall and forward-positioned windshield, and the single sweep backwards to the tail end of the car.

The original Porsche 911 was a massive 15 inches shorter than the Jaguar E-Type, which is really the only comparable car in terms of cabin space and performance.  In short, the 911’s proportions are more to do with the fact that it was designed to carry two people in the back, rather than having the engine in the back.

The real allure of the 911 for me is the fact that Porsche placed function over form, yet created an intensely beautiful and unique car that nobody else was capable offering.  It is utterly unique, and nothing can quite compare to it.

The interior is nothing special, but there’s something beautiful and understated about it. It’s very simple, but owners say that the car is far from basic.  The car may be small, but it’s far from cramped.

There is something that draws me to the surprising compactness of the original 911.  It’s actually a small car.  While I know that modern cars have grown substantially, the original 911 is about the same size as a stock 1930 Ford Model A.  It’s really not a big car, yet it’s got an impressive amount of utility to it.  I really want to drive one, or at least ride in one.

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This is the infamous Porsche 550 Spyder. James Dean died in one.
This is the infamous Porsche 550 Spyder. James Dean died in one.
Most racers in the 1960s got started in either an MG or a Porsche 356, both of which dominated the road racing circuit for many years.
Most racers in the 1960s got started in either an MG or a Porsche 356, both of which dominated the road racing circuit for many years.

1973 Porsche 914

Porsche 924 Porsche 928 GTS

1964 Jaguar E Type

2003-Volkswagen-Beetle

1930 Ford Model A Sedan

 

How Porsche DNA is in Your Car

Porsche and the rear window wiper are forever linked in the annals of automotive history, and for good reason.

While rear window wipers were accessories as far back as the early 1940s, they never became commonplace for a variety of reasons that I’ll talk about in a bit.  Italy became slightly interested in them in the mid-1950s.  Ferrari installed a pair of them on a 1955 Ferrari 250 GT Europa by Pinin Farina.

Interest had picked up sufficiently that, in 1957, rear wipers made their next public appearance at the 1957 Salon de Genève on the new Lancia Flaminia Berlina, another Pinin Farina creation.  While they were highly praised for their functionality by the press, nobody quite caught onto the idea.  This should come as no surprise: outside mirrors, which greatly aid rear visibility were considered superfluous to Italians.

Eight years later, a wealthy German industrialist contacted Porsche with a request.  He wanted a wiper installed on the rear window.  Porsche set about developing a rear window wiper.

You can only imagine what other Porsche enthusiasts thought when they saw this fine gentleman cruising the boulevards with his fancy new car and it’s rear window wiper.  The factory began to receive an increasingly large number of requests for similar installations. The demand was so great that Porsche offered a dealer-installed or DIY retrofit kit. This wasn’t even enough – Porsche decided to make it a factory option in 1966.

The early rear wipers were rudimentary at best, but they did the job.  The early wiper arm pivot shafts had bushings angled inward and outward, which enabled it to be mounted to the edge of the air intake recess on the existing engine lid.

In 1967, as the rear wiper option gained massive popularity, engine lid pressing dies were slightly modified to incorporate integral mounting pieces for the rear wiper installation. This eliminated the need for the angled adapter bushings.  These were included on both sides of the engine lid to accommodate both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive applications.

Volvo took note of Porsche’s little invention, and added one to the 145 in 1969.  The time for rear window wipers had finally arrived.

By the time the OPEC oil crisis arrived in the mid-1970s, rear wipers had become commonplace on hatchbacks, station wagons, and off-road machines like the Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco.  These body styles were perfect applications for the rear window wiper: because of the lack of a rear deck (a trunk), a rear window is bound to collect more dirt and grime than a sedan or pickup truck’s.

Since 1965, Porsche has remained a devout follower of the rear window wiper, offering it on every single fixed-roof production car after the 911, with the exception of the 914, as it had a recessed rear window and long rear deck, which eliminated the necessity of a rear window wiper.

It doesn’t matter how old the Porsche is to make this option desirable.  It goes far beyond a functionality statement.  It’s a perfect visual metaphor of the classic Porsche essence and character that has carried through today.

You can still feel the original Porsche character today.  The 356 and 911 (through the 993 generation), with their air-cooled reliability (their engines were souped-up VW Beetle engines), rear-engine traction, fully-independent suspension with incredibly long travel, and generous ground clearance meant that these were not cars to be taken lightly.  They were not smooth-road sports cars like the Triumphs of the same era.  They were truly all-weather, go-anywhere-on-any-road cars.  This set them far apart from the other sports cars of the era, which generally had low ground clearance, borderline-at-best weather sealing, limited traction, horrifically unreliable everything, and marginal-at-best cooling systems.

It should come as no surprise to you that early Porsches were even better for all-weather capabilities than most standard sedans when the weather got yucky.  Those early Porsches don’t care about the meteorological conditions or terrain.  They will get a driver and their passenger to almost any destination in comfort.  They truly have the functionality of a Swiss Army knife.  The stark functionality of a rear window wiper expresses this.

Almost every Porsche that went rallying was fitted with a rear window wiper until high-speed rallying and weight reduction made them somewhat obsolete.  Anybody who has ever gone rallying or bombing up and down a fire road knows just how important a rear window wiper is, especially after a big slide.

Most Ferraris, Jaguars, and Corvettes are taken out when the weather is nice.  It’s always been that way.  Porsche owners have never been afraid of taking their Porsche out when it’s rainy or snowing.  A rear window wiper, in addition to it’s functionality, signals to the casual observer that they are gazing upon a car that earns it’s keep.  While it’s great to have a car that wins trophies, how often is that car driven?

To the uninitiated Porsche enthusiast, a rear window wiper would seemingly ruin the looks of the car.  Let me explain it this way: a Porsche with a rear window wiper is like seeing Sean Connery as James Bond in black tie slipping a steel Rolex Submariner onto his wrist.  It’s a seemingly incongruous functional instrument that seems out of place, but it hints at capabilities at his beck and call.

1955 Ferrari 250 GT Europa

 

1957 Lancia Flaminia Berlina

1965 Porsche 911

1967 Porsche 911

 

1969 Volvo 145

 

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

1976 Chevy Blazer

 

Porsche 914-6

James Bond

The Cars that Deserve a Stripped-Down Track Version

Some cars are just born to be demons on the track.  The track doesn’t necessarily need to be a road course – it could be off-road also.  These are the cars that deserve to be stripped down to the basics for maximum fun.

  • Audi TT:  The Audi TT has always been a decent sports car, but it’s always cried out for more power and aggression.  This is why it deserves to have the sound-deadening materials yanked out.  Audi being Audi will never do this, but who’s to say that some very smart person won’t?  In my humble opinion, I think it is perfectly sized for rallycross, which is like autocross in dirt or gravel.  It’s awesome.  Just add a vented hood, a spoiler, more power, beefy tires and suspension, and a rollcage, and you’re good to go.  Audi has a history of legendary rally cars, so it seems fitting to me to introduce it.
  • Chevrolet Corvette:  Yes, the new Corvette ZO6 is truly a monster at the track, but it also weighs more than it should.  I love supercharged engines, but they end up with heat soak after about 20 minutes, and then what?  If Chevy put the C7.R endurance race car’s engine in, it would weigh less and have as much power.  My idea of a ‘Vette track special would borrow heavily from the C7.R parts bin, and would utilize carbon fiber and titanium.  It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would beat just about anything this side of a race car.
  • Jeep Wrangler:  Jeep needs to build a pickup again.  Several aftermarket companies will sell you a kit to turn your Wrangler into a regular cab pickup.  It’s time for Jeep to do that…from the factory.  If Jeep put the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 under the hood, the Wrangler pickup could actually tow and haul.  Better yet, Jeep could put the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 under the hood.  Now, that would be something that would sell like crazy!  It would be big enough to haul dirtbikes, an ATV, firewood, camping gear, and other important off-road items.  If Jeep offered a toolbox where you could store stuff, that would be awesome.  I’m starting to get carried away with this now.  I’m going to let your imaginations continue your dream Jeep pickup.
  • Chevrolet SS:  The Chevy SS is Chevy’s big performance sedan.  It has the LS3 V-8 from the Camaro, and it comes with a stick!  It’s a stealth tire shredder, but it’s not very fast around corners.  If Chevy put the trick suspension and computer electrickery from the Camaro Z/28 or ZL1 in, talk about a real sleeper!  It really doesn’t need more power – it just needs less weight.
  • GMC Canyon/Chevrolet Colorado:  The new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are great little trucks.  The Canyon just doesn’t stand out all that much from the Colorado.  Here’s my idea:  Make a street brawler version of the Colorado available only in 2WD (jam the 5.3-liter EcoTec V-8 from the Silverado in, along with the Corvette’s 8-speed automatic), and make an off-road monster version of the Canyon that would compete with the Jeep Wrangler and Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.  It would be about the same size as the Wrangler, yet have more utility.  It would also come with the V-8, but it would be the big Duramax diesel V-8 and Allison 6-speed automatic from the heavy-duty pickups.  It would be loud, and have the perfect gearing for bombing around the desert or rock crawling, thanks to the big tranny.  
  • Jaguar F-Type:  The Jaguar F-Type is already a holy drifting terror.  If you go onto YouTube and find hotlap videos of it, you’ll see what I mean.  It’s too much engine and not enough tire.  Jaguar should start a Formula Drift team with this car.  If they put on less-sticky tires, increased the steering angle, and put in super high gearing, they would have a drifting beast.  I would buy it.
  • Ford Mustang:  It’s the first mass-produced Mustang to come from the factory with independent rear suspension.  Recent reviews haven’t been exactly kind to it, however. They say that it’s chassis is still slightly hairy.  Well, let me tell you something, grumpy overworked people:  GET OVER IT!  This is one of the best Mustangs to come out of the factory doors in recent years.  If Ford irons out the suspension kinks, the Mustang will be a much better car.  I know, I’m harshly critical too, but the Mustang desperately needs to impress.  It’s already got plenty of power from it’s 302 cubic-inch V-8, which I might add, is the second most-popular crate engine sold in America.  I would take it out and put out Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which has twin turbos, but turbos do not a car make, Fast & Furious fanboys.  The reason I would choose this engine is that it is much lighter than the V-8, can easily be tuned to make as much, if not more power, and meets smog requirements with ease.  Oh, and I can mention that it has a race pedigree in endurance racing.

Those are the cars that I think really need a track makeover.  They are all amazing cars in their own right – you should own or drive at least one of them before you die.  Let me know what you think deserves to give other cars a beating on the track.