The Cars Best Suited for Just One Task

A lot of time, cars will try and be good at everything, and fail miserably. They end up being great at nothing. The cars I’m going to list all aimed for one specific thing, and completely dominate it.

  • Alfa Romeo 4C: Putting Italian car reliability concerns out the window, let’s talk about what a wonderful car the Alfa Romeo 4C is. It’s the perfect dance partner for winding mountain roads. The sensible money would go to the Porsche Cayman. The Cayman is a wonderful car – don’t get me wrong there. It’s got fantastic power, an interior that would make any car proud, and is relatively affordable. Look at the Alfa Romeo 4C on paper. It looks like an awful car to own. Four-cylinder engine, manual steering, few creature comforts, and some interior trim pieces wouldn’t look out of place in a Chevy Spark. Drive it in the city, and you’ll want to stop it in traffic and run after the bus. But, take it out on a winding back road and you’ll never want to stop driving it. It’s got a guttural four-cylinder with a whooshing turbocharger, a quick-shifting dual clutch transmission, and who needs navigation or a radio for back road blasting? 
  • Dodge Viper ACR: All it takes is one quick look to realize that the Dodge Viper ACR is probably one of the worst cars to drive on a daily basis. It’s got a massive rear wing, a thundering exhaust note that you can hear from a mile away, and it’s just a big car. It would be intriguing to see someone try to daily drive one, but my spine says let them do it! This car is built to keep up with racecars on the track, and set records. That’s exactly what it does. So far, it’s set lap records at 13 different tracks. Yes, 13 different tracks. Few street cars, save for hypercars (even those would have a serious run for their money), could have any chance of touching this car. The exhaust note might sound like it’s right out of a tractor, but tractors sound nice to me!
  • Dodge Challenger Hellcat: How can you not love 707 horsepower for around $60,000? If you expected Dodge to turn it’s burnout machine into some sort of corner carving demon, you should just press ALT + F4 right now. It’s got no interest in chasing Viper ACRs and McLaren P1s around tracks or canyon roads; no this car is the best for burnouts and drag racing (it ran 10.80 seconds in the 1/4 mile on street-legal drag slicks).
  • Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: The Jeep Wrangler has always been one of those vehicles that even non-car people love. It makes you feel instantly cooler, no matter what job you have, even if you never take it off-road. This is especially true in Rubicon form. Just promise me that you’ll take it off-road, because that’s where you WILL be cool. You don’t need to do anything to it to go just about anywhere in it. Just put some gas, friends, and a cooler full of cold drinks and some snacks, and you’re good to hit the trails.
  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evo: There used to be a time when the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo was one of the most desirable cars out there. It had cutting-edge technology that made it feel like you were blasting down a rally stage, even if you were just going to work. Today, unfortunately, that’s far from the case. With Mitsubishi’s announcement that they are going to be ceasing production of the Evo, and no significant updates to the car since it’s launch in 2008, it feels, like well, a car from 2008. However, that all changes when you get less traction. It doesn’t matter how old the car feels; it just feels right at home. That’s where all Evos have shined, and this one is no exception. Taking one for a spin down a dirt road will put a gigantic grin on your face.
  • Nissan Versa: Many people think that the Mitsubishi Mirage is the cheapest new car sold in the U.S., but they are wrong. The Nissan Versa starts about $1,000 lower than the Mirage. If you’re paying $60,000 for a luxury sedan, $1,000 is pretty insignificant. With a $12,000 car, that’s a lot. Then again, you don’t get much of anything for that price. You get air conditioning, ABS, and traction control, and a radio. That’s about all of the major things on the car. Still, it’s the best at being the cheapest new car sold in the U.S. Yes there are dealer wars to see who can sell the car for the least amount of money, but that’s always been the case.
  • Ram ProMaster: If all the cargo you carry home is takeout from Domino’s, then chances are likely that you don’t need a Ram ProMaster. But, if you haul a bunch of stuff around all day, every day, then the Ram ProMaster is a great choice. It’s got an incredibly low loading height, and a lot of space. With all the stuff you can carry in it, you’ll be catching a bunch of nasty looks from UPS and FedEx drivers.
  • Rolls-Royce Phantom: Set aside it’s hefty price tag for a minute. It weighs nearly 6,000 pounds. It’s far from a driver’s car. Even though it has a 6.8-liter V12, it’s far from a fast car. But, the Phantom chucks all of those notions out the window. It’s not concerned with any of those petty things. No, it’s by far the most comfortable car you could ever be in. It’s sumptuous leather seats have only the finest hides sourced from the finest tanneries in the world. It’s whisper-quiet. It’s also astronomically expensive.
  • Toyota Prius: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I lost my mind a very long time ago! The Toyota Prius is the ultimate car for fuel economy. The new Prius is more fun to drive than the previous generation, but it’s no sports car by any stretch of the imagination. If you go with the Eco model, you’ll get an incredible 58 mpg city and 50 mpg highway. It also looks worlds better. The Prius has been a ground-pounder in terms of paving the way for every other mainstream hybrid.
  • Pagani Huayra: For outright beauty, the Huayra is untouchable. It’s also stonking fast, but there are few cars that you can just sit and stare at for days at a time. It has so many beautiful little details that you really have to look for. It’s the brainchild of the absolutely brilliant industrial designer Horacio Pagani, the man who helped revolutionize carbon fiber technology back in the late 1980s.
  • Ford F-550: This behemoth pickup truck is one of the heavyweights in the towing/hauling ring. It’s basically a step below an International TerraStar. It can tow up to 26,000 pounds, which is absolutely mind-boggling. The insane part is that it does it without really breaking a sweat. It also costs a lot of money, but if you tow and haul lots of heavy stuff around all the time, there is no better option. All you need is a Class C driver’s license, which is the same one for passenger cars.
  • Mazda Miata: For cheap thrills, nothing beats a Mazda Miata. It’s cheap, fights far out of it’s class, and wins. It’s slow in a straight line, but few cars can catch it in the curves. It’s also really nice to go for a late-night cruise with the top down in your Miata. 
  • Dodge Grand Caravan: Like hauling people around, but don’t need a 12-passenger van? The Dodge Grand Caravan is your ticket. It’s got a powerful V6, lots of space, a nice interior, and is easy on the wallet. It’s probably one of the best vehicles to pile your friends in, and go for a long road trip in. Even the third row is usable for adults! 

Tell me what your favorite cars at one specific task are!

The Cursed Blessing of the Death of Scion

When Toyota started Scion in 2001, nobody expected it to do much of anything. It didn’t. Well, yes, the original xB was an all star smash hit, and the tC was a great combination of bulletproof reliability combined with an astonishingly low asking price, but everything else they did, let’s be honest here, was a massive flop.

The 2001 xB was an excellent car. It was fun to drive, affordable, and instantly lovable. It was, in my eyes, the modern version of the original VW Type 1 Beetle. It was originally marketed towards Gen X, but everyone from teenagers to seniors bought it. It was just that kind of car. Every 10 years or so, there’s a car like that. It comes out of nowhere, sells like cocaine in the 1980s, and is fondly remembered by many. The “toaster,” as it was affectionately called wasn’t fast – it was far from it. It was safe, it had almost as much space as a minivan, thanks to its boxy shape and was easily customizable – from the dealer!

It’s cute, right? I really love the original xB. Can you see why?

Yes, you could walk into a Toyota dealership that sold Scions (I’ll get to that in a bit, I swear), and get a Scion xB, then go over to their customizing desk, and decide how you wanted to customize your xB, all within 20 feet of each other! There were so many options, you had to fill out a questionnaire so the customizing agent could help you out! The great part about this was that you could customize the car to your specific taste, not worry about voiding the warranty and walk out within two hours.

The 2001 Scion xB was the car that kicked off the dealer accessory craze. It was a great marketing tool for many brands. Want a roof rack? You had a choice between Thule and Yakima, and between the two, literally 50 different roof racks to choose from. Want a wrap on your xB? The techs could slap it on in 20 minutes. The list goes on. All these accessories were affordable – you could walk out of the dealership with a Scion xB, customized the way you wanted it, with a good warranty, fully registered and insured, for $22,000.

That’s what the appeal was. As I said, everyone from teenagers to seniors, and everyone in between bought the car. It shocked Scion’s marketing team, and even Toyota. Nobody predicted so many cars would be sold.

Unfortunately, Scion failed to deliver with the second-generation xB. It had gigantic shoes to fill, but it had baby feet. It was heavier – almost 500 pounds heavier. It was more expensive; to the point that people walked over to the Toyota sales desk and bought a Matrix. It used to be that the Matrix was just a hatchback Corolla (the xB was too), but it was kind of like trying to differentiate between twins. The Matrix was cheaper, but it didn’t have the instant customizability that the xB had. The difference showed in sales – Scion still had all their repeat buyers, but the Matrix was just a better car overall. Buyers went to the Matrix, until Toyota killed it in 2013.

Onto the tC. It was a perfectly fine car, but by no means was it on the same level as the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. The build quality was great, no doubt about that. It just left something to be desired. But, it was cheap. Dirt cheap. That’s why every 8th car you see on the road is one. Well, maybe not that many, but it sure seems like it. It wasn’t as easily customizable as the xB, but it certainly had it’s benefits. It was cheap enough for those starting to get into the automotive scene to modify it like no tomorrow, but drive it to school or work every day. The Mazda 3 could do that too, but was more expensive. It was also marketed towards college students and above.

The original Scion tC was a smash hit. The second generation wasn’t as wildly popular, but it certainly sold a lot.

Let’s talk about the stupidity of selling Scions next to Toyotas that were similar in price. Seriously, who at Toyota, when they were planning Scion, thought that was a good idea? It’s like selling candy bars next to each other. You can’t choose the right one. That’s what happens when there are too many options. Scion sales would go sky-high for a couple months, then Toyota compact car sales would overtake them like you wouldn’t believe. It was just a constant game of tug-of-war.

Imagine walking into an Armed Forces recruitment center, with all the recruiters standing there, all trying to give you “the best deal you’ll get.” The truth is, they all offer the same thing, but they disguise it well. Just choose the one you like best and the others will find somebody else.

This was Scion’s ultimate downfall in my eyes. They simply couldn’t compete with the elephant in the room.

Yes, they had other problems. Their other cars were practically carbon copies of Toyotas. Why buy a Toyota Yaris hatchback when you could buy a Scion xD? The Yaris was cheaper, and had essentially the same things going for it. The xD had a bit more power, but the Yaris at least looked halfway decent. The xD looked like someone chiseled a block of concrete with an ax, slapped wheels and a price tag on it, and pitched it to Scion.

What might have been the best car Scion made, apart from the 2001 xB, was the FR-S. It was cheap, which was Scion’s main selling point. It was an incredibly fun car to drive, and the perfect one for the budding autocrosser or track day enthusiast. It’s biggest downfall is that Subaru and Toyota sold the exact same car, but with different badges. Yes, I know it was badge engineering, but why buy the Scion when you could buy the Subaru? That was the dilemna many prospective owners faced. It offered more utility and just as much fun as the Miata, but it was a price difference of $2000 between the Scion and the Subaru.

So, what was Scion’s downfall? Poor sales after the redesign of the first-generation xB, offering similar, if not identical products, and no dedicated dealers. Will I miss Scion? Yes. I will miss the magic that the 2001 xB brought to the automotive world, the affordable performance the FR-S brought wailing and burbling into the automotive world, the instant and easy customizability that any Scion brought, and the ferocious sibling rivalry between Toyota and Scion.

Will Scions keep their value? Who knows. Only time will tell. The resale value of the 2001-2007 xB has certainly held up, and likely will for a while. They are cheap, but the price hasn’t gone up or down, like most cars. The tC, a fantastic car in it’s own right, may hold up. It’s hard to tell with that one. The FR-S? Maybe, maybe not. It was a worthy Miata competitor, but it’s identical siblings, the Subaru BR-Z and Toyota GT86 (non-North America markets only), will still be in production.

The FR-S/BR-Z/GT86 was a failed design opportunity. They had a golden opportunity to make a stunning car, and the result is, quite frankly, kind of meh. It doesn’t look like much. Sure, it looks nice, but you don’t point at one and know exactly what it is, like you do with the 2001 xB.tf

I am saddened that Scion couldn’t clean up their act, but they obviously weren’t competitive. Their market went away. They had a nice run though, and there are certainly other choices.

The Best Way to Make a Mazda Miata Faster

Say you have a Mazda Miata. It doesn’t matter what generation Miata you own – there are many options to make your Miata into a track monster, a daily driver with some oomph, a canyon carver that will hang around with a Porsche 911 GT3, and anything in between. If you don’t have a Miata, I highly encourage you to get one. Hop onto Craigslist, type in “Mazda Miata” and see what comes up. You can get one for $1,000, but I wouldn’t recommend that, unless you know what you are going to do (i.e. yank out the engine, put on new bodywork, etc.). If you know what you want to do, get one for cheap. Otherwise, my rule of thumb is get the nicest one you can get. Paying a few thousand dollars more for one that’s been taken care of, has a paper trail, and no accidents will mean less of a headache for you down the road.

The Miata was designed with extreme abuse in mind, so keep in mind it’s pretty hard to break them. They are durable cars, and will hold up to more abuse than many new cars.

Here are some options:

  • Monster Miata: Ever wanted to stuff a V8 into a tiny roadster just for the hell of it? That’s exactly what Monster Miata did. The overall structure of the Miata is more than capable of holding up to the massive stress of a V8. It’s almost as if the Miata was built for it! Monster Miata certainly has the expertise – they have done over 100 conversions in the past 20 years. You can have Monster Miata do the conversion for you, or you can do it yourself through their incredibly detailed instruction manual. You can buy the kit (not including a motor) for $3,995, which includes everything you’ll need to shove a Ford 302 V8 into one. You can find a Ford 302 V8 from a 1980s-1990s Mustang for $1,000. Throw in the fact you can get well over 400 horsepower without having to put a supercharger or turbocharger onto the engine, figure about $1,000 for everything. What do I mean by everything? The car, the kit and the engine. That’s a really good deal, especially because the Monster Miata cars are designed to be daily drivers, but track cars, autocross cars, and weekend warriors all in one package. Check them out at monstermiata.webs.com Doesn’t look like it’s going to fit, does it?
  • Flyin’ Miata: Flyin’ Miata started modding Miatas when they came out in 1989. They have everything from V8 conversion kits to turbocharger kits. Flyin’ Miata stuffs GM’s wonderful LS-series engines into the tiny engine bay of the Miata. The car gains less than 200 pounds, 1/3 of which is on the rear wheels. Road & Track tested one in 2013, and it hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. That’s Porsche 911 territory. Automobile Magazine compared it to the Shelby Cobra. A Flyin’ Miata will be a bit more expensive, but it’s well worth it. Monster Miata only does NA generation Miatas (first generation) conversion kits. Flyin’ Miata does V8 conversion kits for all generations of Miata. I’d go for an NC generation Miata (third generation), just because I like them the most. Oh, you can also buy used ones from Flyin’ Miata. Don’t worry about repairing them – any engine, transmission, or rear end part can be bought at any GM dealer, and most other parts can be bought at your local Mazda dealer. Want to keep the little four banger but want near LS engine power? Not a problem! You can get a turbocharger from Flyin’ Miata, as well as all the necessary parts. It’s literally a bolt-on process.

    This Miata is Flyin’ Miata’s test bed. They call it “Atomic Betty.” Several magazines have likened it to the Shelby Cobra 427.

Now, some of us might not have that kind of money. Don’t worry if you don’t – there are still plenty of options to make your Miata a speed demon!

  • Tires, tires, tires: I can’t say enough about how a good, sticky set of tires will dramatically improve the handling characteristics of your Miata. Get a set of really sticky summer tires, and if you daily drive your Miata, get a set of all-season tires that will last a while. This will mean a couple of sets of wheels, which I’ll talk about in a second. Just keep this in mind: the right summer/track tires can make the difference between winning and losing a race, but they come at an expensive price. Tires aren’t exactly the cheapest things on the planet, and considering that the Miata is a small car, you probably won’t have room to put four wheels (with tires on them), plus a cooler, tools, and whatever else you bring to the local autocross or track day. Think about towing the car if you can, or get a really small trailer. Lots of grassroots racers do that. Also, ask your friend if they will loan you their truck for a day, or ask a racing buddy who has a truck and is going to the same event if they can grab your tires.
    These might be all-season tires, but they are sticky all-season tires, along with wheels designed for the Miata.
    • Wheels can also make a big difference. A carbon fiber set of wheels will shave a good 20-30 pounds off the weight of your car. It might not sound like a lot, but consider this: lighter wheels + stickier tires = more smiles per mile. There are a lot of options for wheels, and tires.

      Like these wheels? How surprised would you be if I told you they were the stock wheels plasti-dipped, and with the center cap removed? That’s probably a modification under $100 for all four wheels.
  • Cold air intake: Want a bit more power out of your Miata, but not so much? A cold-air intake is a great investment. It works as a kind of ram-air system. They draw cold air from outside the car into the engine. Because of this, combustion requires less heat and fuel, which means a more efficient burn. Acceleration will increase, not dramatically, but you certainly will notice it. Your fuel economy will also increase, no matter how hard you drive the car. The engine note will be louder and more aggressive. It won’t bring the cops to your house at 1:30 a.m. when you’re revving it (good ones won’t), but it will have more of a roar then before. Get one from a reputable brand like: K&N (who promise, and deliver an extra 15 horsepower or your money back), Injen, Volant and Airaid. This is a great modification, and it’s pretty cheap too! One from, say, K&N, will cost about $300-400.

    Here’s an example of a cold-air intake on a Miata. Saves a lot of space in the engine bay and boosts performance!
  • Bigger brakes: If you’re planning on seriously autocrossing or tracking your Miata, invest in bigger, better brakes. You don’t need to go all-out and get massive 14-inch disc brakes – when you hit the brakes, the car will literally catapult you out of it! Step up about an inch or two in rotors, and don’t go above four-piston calipers. I’d go for EBC brakes. They provide great stopping power at an affordable price.

    EBC Brakes is a British brake company. Think of them as the working man’s Brembos.
  • Upgrade the suspension: Get adjustable coilover shocks, better struts, etc. They will make the ride a bit stiffer, but if you’re serious about driving the car hard, the added stiffness will pay off.

    Here’s an example of a suspension upgrade kit. This one is from Flyin’ Miata, and has just about all you need to keep your car a daily driver and be truly flyin’ at the track.
  • Racing seats: Most tracks will not allow you to track the car without a racing seat, a HANS device (I’ll explain that in another post), a five-point harness, a track suit, gloves and a helmet. Those are all great investments, and I’ll get to them in another post. They are a bit too much to explain how to get in this post. But, a racing seat is a great investment. Look at Corbeau, Recaro, and Sparco. They are all incredibly comfortable, and you can keep the stock seatbelts in the car, so you don’t have to buckle up into a five-point harness every time you have to go to get milk.

    Here’s a good example of a Recaro in a Miata, but just be careful of hitting the convertible top with the seat. Some seats are quite tall, and then it’s a bunch of hacking the floorpan to make it fit. The stock seat is the passenger seat, which the builder left in the car for comparison.
  • Rollcage: If you are going to track the car, definitely get one of these. A rollcage will protect you when you flip over at the track. Airbags will only do so much to save you. Not to say they aren’t great, because they are, but they won’t help very much when you flip going 110 mph. That’s where a rollcage will. The car will be damaged, but you should be able to walk away with only minor injuries. Go to a trusted and highly recommended fabricator. It should be a piece of cake for them. You should also get it padded, because a rollcage will seriously injure you if you’re driving without a helmet on. Most of the time, the padding can be removed if the track safety officials won’t allow it.

    This is a padded rollcage for a Miata, but it still allows the convertible top to go up and down.
  • Less weight: Never really used the air conditioning in your car? Rip it out and there goes about 30 pounds. Keep the heater core and all of the defroster stuff. Rip out the soft top and get a hard top. There goes another 30 pounds. Remove the spare tire and jack from the trunk, and that’s probably a good 30 pounds. This will free up trunk space, and you can get a tire repair kit. That right there is 80-90 pounds.

    Ever wondered what a stripped-down Miata interior looks like? This. It’s still perfectly functional, but all the heavy carpeting is gone.

All of these options are great. You will love the added performance bonuses all of these options give you. Think about it this way: if you don’t want a massive V8 in your Miata, all of the cheaper options I listed will total about $10,000, which is about the same price as one of the V8 conversion kits (before the engine). Excuse me, I have to go onto Craigslist and find a Miata to do all of this to. As always, donations are gladly accepted. I have always wanted one, after all…Why not go all out and get one with a V8?

What You Should Fill Your Two Car Garage With

If you had such strong brand loyalty that you had to fill your two-car garage, what car combinations would they be? Here are mine. Tell me what you would fill your garage with!

  • BMW i8 and X5 M: For the moment, the closest thing to a spaceship you’ll get is the BMW i8. It has liberal use of carbon fiber, and it’s fast enough for most of us mortals. The X5 M is fast, luxurious, comfortable, and can haul a lot of people or random things you get. The funny thing is that the i8 gets better fuel economy than the X5 M, and the X5 M is almost as fast as the i8. Sounds like a good combination to me!
  • Cadillac CTS-V and Escalade: Cadillac aimed for the throat when they introduced  the CTS-V in 2004. That hasn’t changed one bit, and we should be grateful. The CTS-V uses a barely-detuned version of the Corvette Z06’s LT4 motor. If you need to haul a bunch of people in the lap of luxury, go for the Escalade. The Escalade radically changed the SUV game in 1999. This might be even better than the BMW combination.
  • Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Colorado Z71: The Corvette Z06 is the automotive equivalent of a fighter jet that an inexperienced pilot can dogfight in. The Z06 will hold it’s own against a flat-out racecar on a track, but you can daily drive it. However, you’d be better off daily driving the Colorado Z71. Get the Colorado with the Duramax diesel engine, and you’ll get great fuel economy and have more fun than with a gasoline-powered Colorado in the process.
  • Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and F-150: You’ll get the utmost in performance with the Mustang Shelby GT350. Road & Track named it their Performance Car of the Year. I can’t say the 2017 F-150 SVT Raptor is the perfect garage-mate for it because it hasn’t come out yet. You’ll have to make do with the F-150, which is a great truck in it’s own right. Plus, good luck carrying anything bigger than a shopping bag or briefcase in your Mustang.
  • Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Grand Cherokee SRT-8: Few unmodified cars can do as well off-road as a Jeep. However, when you build one towards the heavens to explore places few others have been, they tend to be horrific on the street. See, the solution to that is to have a Grand Cherokee SRT-8 for actual streets. If you’re only going to drive a Jeep on the streets, it might as well have 475 horsepower…
  • Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and E63 AMG wagon: Mercedes has a giant killer on their hands with the spectacular AMG GT. We shall see if it will topple the giant that is the Porsche 911. Either way, the AMG GT is a fantastic driver’s car. In fact, Motor Trend named it their Best Driver’s Car. If you need more utility than a two-seat supercar can offer you, but still want to go fast, get the E63 AMG wagon. It’s slower than the AMG GT, but you can take the whole family with you.
  • Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Macan Turbo: Unless you go out and buy a legitimate race car, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is the closest you’ll get. It’s street legal, so you can drive it to the track. It won’t be at all fun with potholes, speedbumps, and road imperfections, so fill out your garage with a Macan Turbo. If you squint hard enough, you could convince yourself it’s just a hatchback with really big wheels.
  • Tesla Model S P90D and Model X P90D: I’m sure that most of us would love to own a Tesla. The Model S was a groundbreaking car. The Model X is pretty damn cool as well. I’m still holding out for the Model 3, and would love to see a Tesla Roadster version 2.0, but this would be the perfect electric garage.
  • Volvo S60 Polestar and XC90 T8: I’ve always been a fan of Volvos. However, very few of their cars are truly exciting. However, the S60 Polestar is by far the sportiest car that Volvo has offered in a very long time. The XC90 rivals Range Rovers in terms of luxury, but at a much lower price. Go for the T8, and you’ll have a 400 horsepower hybrid to play around with. How can you not love that?
  • Mazda Miata and Miata Cup Racer: It’s just like with Jeeps. If you buy one to build it up to win races, you should have a stock one to drive around. With the ND generation (4th generation) of the Miata, you can get a stock Miata for daily driving, and a full-out race car. The Miata Cup Racer costs a tad more than $50,000, and a loaded stock Miata goes for around $30,000. While not everybody can afford both of these Miatas, it’s likely that nobody on this list could buy the combinations of cars I’ve listed.

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!

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.

The Vehicles That Forever Changed the Automotive Landscape

These are not the best cars ever made.  Rather, they are the cars that have shaped modern cars.  I hope that you enjoy my list.  Please share any corrections if you feel necessary.

  • Ford Model T:  This was the car that made the production line possible.  It was also the car that made cars affordable to the American public.  Ford produced well over 15 million of them before production ended in 1927.  They are fairly simple to own, and they can keep up with city traffic if you want.  With so many built, there are many clubs and associations for the Model T all over the country.  Just look up “Ford Model T club <insert your area here>” on Google.  I can practically guarantee you that there is at least one club that you can join if you are the new owner of a Model T.  People drive them all over the place on tours.  You can take one into Alaska if you so please.  There are always plenty for sale anywhere between $10,000-40,000.  If you want to daily drive one, all you need is a good arm to crank-start it, and some adjustments to the timing.  Just retard the timing a big, be gentle with the gas, and you’ll have a car that gets up to 35 mph.  That’s plenty good for most city driving.
  • 1916 Cadillac Type 53:  Every single modern car owes a lot to this Caddy.  It was the first car EVER to come from the factory with an electric starter and a modern control layout, both of which we take for granted today.  The Type 53 wasn’t popular with Americans or the world, mostly because of it’s price (about $3,000).  However, the Austin Seven copied the Caddy and set the die for all cars to come.  Yet, I still credit the Cadillac.
  • 1932 Ford:  This was the first affordable car available to the American public with a V-8 engine.  It had a flathead V-8 making a whopping 85 horsepower.  Today, that’s comparable to a car making 500 horsepower from a V-6 (not unheard of).  Anyhow, it was affordable to some Americans.  It became known as “The Deuce,” as did the third-generation Chevrolet Nova.  It was the fastest affordable car of it’s day, which is why it was the escape vehicle of choice for Bonnie and Clyde.  It’s unclear how many were made, but it’s estimated that well over 1.5 million were sold.  Remember that Ford was selling these cars in 1932, right before the peak of the Great Depression!  It became one of the most popular cars to hot rod.  I want one, and we can call ourselves lucky that there are reproduction steel bodies, chassis (yes, that is plural and singular), and used engines aplenty.  How’s that for cool?  You can build your very own reproduction Deuce for about $20,000.  It’s going to be so much more fun than that Corolla you’ve had your eye on.
  • Willys/Bantam/Ford Jeep:  WWII veterans say that the Jeep was the vehicle that won WWII.  They are right.  It can still embarrass most purpose-built vehicles on a dirt road or in mud.  It was the first 4X4 to be sold to the American public en masse, and it proved to be popular.  After WWII, Willys decided to market the Jeep as an alternative to a tractor for farmers.  Chrysler still rakes in hundreds of millions on new Jeep Wranglers every year.  It’s truly an iconic vehicle.
  • 1948 MG TC:  This little wood-framed British roadster is what allowed such amazing cars as the Lotus Elise, Mazda Miata, and even the mighty Shelby Cobra to be.  Every single great American racing legend – Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, and many others got their start in an MG TC.  On a winding road, this little car that only made 55 horsepower and 64 lb-ft of torque would simply run away from any American car, regardless of power output.  Much of what we hold dear as an automotive enthusiast was started by this little car.  It’s influence on every single sports car from 1948 on is immeasurable.  It’s still fast enough to embarrass a modern Chevy Camaro Z/28 on a windy road.  That’s pretty damn fast for a car that makes 450 less horsepower.
  • VW Beetle Type 1:  It’s the single most-produced car in history.  It’s an elegantly simple design that has stood the test of time better than most cars produced at the same time.  It was the foundation for the legendary Porsche 356, Meyers Manx dune buggy, and VW Transporter bus.  It was FWD, came as either a convertible or a coupe, had a tiny rear-mounted four-cylinder engine, and cost far less than any new American car on the road.  It became extremely popular with people of all ages and demographics.  Many new parents went out and bought a Beetle, and it would serve millions of families around the world faithfully for 20 years or more without major problems.  Most new cars can’t say that.  In the hippie movement, it became extremely popular.  Once the off-roading community got their hands on one, the legendary Baja Bug was born.  It is still fast enough to keep pace with a modern Trophy Truck in the horrible dirt roads of Baja, or the sand dunes of Pismo Beach.  Almost every desert town in the world will have at least several Baja Bugs running around.  It’s fast, sturdy, and capable, yet can be driven around town without complaining.  And the best part is you can build yourself one for about $5,000!  That’s not including a starter vehicle, by the way!  My grandparents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Toyota 2000GT:  This was the car that put the Japanese automotive industry on notice with the world.  It was a more expensive alternative to the Jaguar E-Type, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Thunderbird, Porsche 911, and the like.  It’s achingly gorgeous, and only a handful were built.  It’s also achingly expensive.  Toyota proved that they could hang with whatever Europe happened to build.  James Bond drove one.
  • Lamborghini Miura:  It’s not the quintessential Lamborghini – that goes to the equally-amazing Countach, but it set the standard for supercars.  It came around because Ferrucio Lamborghini wanted to build a better Ferrari.  When Lamborghini was going to debut the Miura concept car at the Geneva Motor Show in 1965, they didn’t even have a body!  They had a chassis with a V-12, a transmission, and wheels.  That was it.  However, the Miura looks absolutely stunning.  It’s one of the most beautiful cars ever built, and every single supercar owes a lot to the Lamborghini Miura.
  • Citroen DS:  When it debuted in 1955, it was the most technologically-advanced car in the world.  It had hydraulic suspension, a streamlined fiberglass body shell, four wheel disc brakes, a twin-cam V6, and many other technological innovations.  It was one of the first truly modern cars.  One can compare it to the Tesla Model S.  That’s how revolutionary it was.
  • 1955-1957 Chevrolet 210/Bel Air:  The Tri-Five Chevrolet’s are some of the most beautiful cars ever produced.  My personal favorite is the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air coupe.  The 1955 Chevy became forever immortalized with Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti.  Yes, the sinister ’55 is the same car in both movies!  The 1955 Chevrolet introduced the revolutionary Chevrolet small-block (Mouse motor) V-8 to the world.  The 1957 Chevy Bel Air with the 283 cubic-inch V-8 and Rochester mechanical fuel injection became legendary on NASCAR tracks and dragstrips around the country.  It was as fast the Jaguar E-Type 10 years later.  I’m still wanting one!
  • Austin Mini:  Alec Issigonis sketched it on a bar napkin.  He never knew that it would become one of the most popular vehicles of the 20th century.  Let’s forget that it’s a cultural icon for a moment.  It was the first FWD car to come with a transversely-mounted engine (the engine was mounted sideways), which means that it’s the template for most FWD cars on the road today.  It became a motorsports icon in everything from endurance racing to rally racing.  It also became iconic in several movies – The Italian Job, The Bourne Identity, Mr. Bean, and Goldmember.  It’s also a major cultural icon.
  • Ford Explorer:  This was the vehicle that kicked off the SUV craze of the 1990s-today.  It was based off of the lowly Ranger pickup, but had a comfortable interior and the second generation had good looks.  It’s still a best-seller today.  It’s popular with the off-road community because it’s a Ranger with more space for people.  My parents owned one.  You probably know somebody who’s owned one.
  • Shelby Cobra:  Yeah it’s an obvious one for this list.  Carroll Shelby took a British roadster, and put a small-block Ford motor from the Mustang into it.  Then, he went hog-wild and put a big-block Ford into it.  That catapulted the Shelby Cobra into automotive fame.  Anybody who knows something about cars knows of the Shelby Cobra.  It could hang with anything.  It could beat a Chevrolet Corvette with the coveted L88 big-block V-8 in the curves and straightaways.  It dominated endurance and road racing for a glorious 3 years before Shelby stopped production of it.  It also dominated the NHRA Pro Stock drag racing class for a few years.  Today, there are at least 20 different companies who will sell you a Cobra replica.  Get a Factory Five replica.  It’s Shelby of North America licensed, and it comes with modern mechanical parts, yet can still hang with a modern hypercar.  
  • Chevrolet El Camino:  In it’s first generation, it was quite a looker.  Chevy didn’t sell too terribly many of the Impala-based ute, but you’ve probably seen a few driving around your town/city.  The second generation proved to be much more popular.  It was based off of the massively popular Chevelle, and you could get one with the rare, coveted LS6 V-8.  I remember reading an article about an owner of an LS6 Elco (a nickname for the El Camino), and he said that he has to drive it around with sandbags in the bed to keep it from spinning out.  That’s what happens when you have a massively-underrated 450 horsepower and no weight over the rear tires.  If you could get it to hook up, it would go through the 1/4 mile in 13 seconds flat at 125 mph.  That’s about as fast as a modern sports car.  I’ve heard driving one isn’t any different than driving a Chevelle, except for throttle modulation.  Flooring it from a stop, even with the still-powerful 327 cubic-inch V-8 will give a glorious burnout.  I want one.
  • 1968-1970 Dodge Charger/Charger 500/Daytona:  The second-generation Dodge Charger is one of the most beautiful cars ever built.  It’s got muscular elegance.  It had curvy “Coke Bottle” styling, and a plethora of engine choices.  The base engine was the “poly” 318 cubic-inch small-block V-8 that stayed in production in one form or another from 1959-2004.  The next step up was the 383 cubic-inch “Commando” big-block V-8.  After that, it was the 440 “Super Commando” big-block V-8.  One rung above that was the 440 Six Pack – a 440 with three two-barrel Holley carburetors.  The top of the ladder was the mighty 426 HEMI “Elephant Motor” big-block V-8.  The Charger 500 was designed for NASCAR, so it had a rear window flush with the body, along with other small aero modifications.  The Daytona was truly legendary.  Only 503 were sold to the general public, only 70 of which had the 426 HEMI.  The rest had the 440 Six Pack.  It was designed for NASCAR superspeedways, and it truly dominated.  It looked comical with it’s 19-inch long nose cone and nearly two-foot tall rear wing.  The only reason the wing was so high is that anything shorter and the trunk wouldn’t close! The Charger was catapulted into fame by The Dukes of Hazzard for one generation, and for the millenials, they were captivated by the supercharged 1968 Charger used in Fast & Furious.
  • Datsun 240Z:  This little Japanese sports car wasn’t a smashing success, but it certainly left it’s mark on sports cars.  It was light, looked drop-dead gorgeous, had a reliable, powerful engine, and a five-speed manual transmission.  Very few cars at the time had a five-speed.  All of that combined meant that it was a serious threat on a windy road.  Today, they are becoming collector cars, which is a shame, as they are built to be driven.  That’s not to be said that you can’t find a cheap one – you still can.  Hot rodders who are enamored by Japanese cars, but love the power of an American V-8 put a Chevy small-block V-8 and some suspension bits in, and have one hell of a ride.  My grandparents and dad owned one.
  • Audi Quattro:  This AWD notchback with a turbocharged 5-cylinder engine was so successful on the rally circuit that AWD was banned from the sport for about 10 years.  Stock, it’s not at all reliable (except for the first two years of production), but upgrading the engine internals will give you a strong, reliable, fast, and cool daily driver.  It’s truly an all-weather car.  I chose this car because of the impact that it had on rallycross and rally racing.  Any car with AWD past 1985 would have been much worse if it weren’t for the Audi Quattro.  My uncle owned one.  He should have kept it and given it to me.
  • Ford Mustang:  This was the car that started the ponycar craze.  No matter how much Ford hypes it as a muscle car (and Chevy with the Camaro), it IS NOT and never will be.  It is a pony car.  The Dodge Challenger is a muscle car.  Sorry Ford, but I’m just stating the truth.  Don’t shoot the messenger.  That being said, Ford introduced a whole new type of car to America.  Buying a Mustang with the base six-cylinder engine meant that you were carefree but had to watch your cash.  Getting it with the V-8 meant that you were carefree, but who cared about money – you only live once!  Getting it as a convertible only reinforced that.  The Shelby GT350 Mustang of 1965 was part of a deal with Hertz where you could rent the car on Friday, drive it to the racetrack on Saturday, race and win, go again on Sunday and win, and then drive it back to the rental lot.  It was somewhat streetable, but it really did well on the racetrack.  Carroll Shelby originally didn’t want to do it – he told Lee Iaccoca that “Lee, you can’t make a racehorse out of a mule.”  Yet that so-called mule became a massive racing success.  It’s still in production 50 years later.  Many American moms went from a station wagon to a Mustang and never looked back.
  • Pontiac GTO:  Originally offered as a package on the mid-size Tempest in 1963, the GTO took the thundering 389 cubic-inch V-8 from the Le Mans and shoved it into the considerably smaller Tempest.  It was a smashing success, so Pontiac decided to turn it into it’s own model in 1964.  It was much more popular that way, and the ultimate model was the 1969 Judge Ram Air IV.  It came with the then-new 455 cubic-inch V-8 and a functional Ram Air hood (the Ram Air package came in four stages), a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission, and bodywork that let you know that you really were king of the street.  It was truly stunning, especially in green.  It went dormant for 20+ years before appearing as a rebadged Holden Monaro in the US.  It wasn’t very popular.  It’s probably because Ford launched the retro-styled S197-generation Mustang right around the same time.  The 2004-2006 GTO looked nothing at all like any other GTO.  It didn’t look very good.  Nowadays, the modern “Goat” is popular with hot rodders who want to have all of the modern conveniences and glorious power.  Some even take the body off of the GTO and put on a classic car’s body.  Voila, you have a car that looks like a classic, but handles and drives like a new car.  Plus, they are easy to put bigger engines in.  Drifters are starting to find them.  Beware.
  • Lexus LS400:  This big Lexus was the car that sent Germany scrambling back to the drawing board.  The LS400 competed with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series.  The German cars were stodgy cruisers that were heavy, large beasts on the street, but smooth on the highway.  The Lexus took that trademark Japanese agility and feeling of being a smaller car, threw in a buttery-smooth engine and transmission (the ads showed a champagne flute on the hood while the engine revved.  The champagne never overflowed – or came close to that!), a sumptuous leather interior, and made it a fun car to drive.  Lexus kept it in production from 1989-2000 in one basic form or another.  It sold well, and is a completely bulletproof car in terms of reliability.
  • Chevrolet S-10:  OK, I am a bit biased on this, but hear me out.  The Chevrolet S-10 replaced the dismal LUV pickups of the 1970s in 1982.  It came with an underpowered 4-cylinder engine or a more powerful 2.8-liter V-6.  In 1988, Chevy added their new 4.3-liter V-6 to the S-10.  It literally doubled the towing and hauling capacity, as well as making it a far more enjoyable truck to drive.  My S-10 is a 1989 Tahoe model.  That means that it was top of the line.  It has a cloth interior, an AM/FM radio, air conditioning, and it has fuel injection (the 1988 model had a carburetor).  You could get it as a regular cab or an extended cab.  Bed sizes were a 5-foot bed or a 6.5-foot bed. That’s not huge, but for somebody in a crowded city who needs a pickup, it’s perfect.  You could get it in 2WD or 4WD.  Mine is 2WD.  It was wildly successful, and you can still see a lot on the road.  Some people are taking modern Chevy LS3 E-Rod engines (smog-legal V-8’s) and stuffing them into an S-10.  They’re quite the sleeper.
  • Porsche 911 Turbo:  When it first debuted in 1975, it was a total animal of a car.  Lift off of the gas going into a corner, and you’d hit the guardrail with the backside of the car.  You had to keep your foot in it.  It made an underrated 276 horsepower (think closer to 350), had no ABS, a clutch that was so stiff that some had to literally push their leg down to depress the clutch, and a 5-speed manual transmission.  It was a total monster of a car that dominated the racing circuits, but was completely and totally unstreetable.  But, put one on a windy canyon road, modulate the throttle, and you had a recipe for speed.  Porsche still makes it.  However, it now makes a ridiculous 520 horsepower, and is truly the ultimate all-weather supercar.
  • Ford GT40:  This was the car that dominated endurance racing during the 1960’s.  It was the result of Enzo Ferrari refusing to sell his company to Ford in 1964.  Henry Ford II decided to beat Enzo Ferrari at his own game on his own turf.  Talk about owning a bully.  The GT40 was aerodynamic, muscular-looking, and was built for racing.  Ford built about 20-40 for the street (it’s unclear how many).  The first models came with a Shelby-tuned 289 cubic-inch V-8 that made 300 horsepower via a tri-power (three two-barrel carburetor) setup and forged internals and an Isky cam.  This engine was so durable that when Ford disassembled the engine after the season was over, it looked brand-new.  Later models came with Ford’s mighty 427 cubic-inch FE-Series “Cammer” engine.  This engine was the same one in the Shelby Cobra.  It made about 500 horsepower.  Both engines were mated to a four-speed manual.  The GT40 simply dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 24 Hours of Nurburgring.  It was insanely fast, and it could be heard from over a mile away.  It beat Ferrari at their own game for years, before the FIA changed the rules, and both Ferrari and Ford had to comply.  Ford pulled out of Le Mans endurance racing for 20+ years and let Ferrari dominate.

 

 

 

Yes, that is a young Harrison Ford standing next to one of the most iconic hot rods ever.  It’s a 1932 Ford Hi-Boy (the body was lifted off of the frame so the frame could be tweaked).  It has a Chevy 283 cubic-inch small-block V-8 with crackling sidepipes.  This was the car that made me appreciate the little deuce coupe.

This is a fuelie 1957 Chevy Bel Air.  It became known as the “Black Widow” because it only came in black with white tape stripes, a black-and-white interior, and the red center caps on the wheels.

This is a gasser.  Gassers got their name because of the drag racing class they were in (B/Gas or blown/gas).  They had big engines with no supercharger, or smaller supercharged engines.  Look up “Roadkill Blasphemi” on YouTube for the build and cross-country blitz of one of my favorite cars – “Blasphemi.”

This is probably the ultimate Shelby Cobra.  It’s called the “Super Snake” because it has twin superchargers on top of an already-powerful engine.  Bill Cosby almost bought one, but took it on a test drive and thought he was going to die.  Carroll Shelby bought it.  Only two were made, but it was incredibly fast.  It’s rumored that in testing the car hit 210 mph – in 1966!  To me, it’s the ultimate factory hot rod.

This is a 1969 Dodge Daytona replica made by a host of the /DRIVE Network, Mike Musto.  It’s one of my favorite cars ever.  He took a 1969 Charger and turned it into a Daytona.  It’s the ultimate cross-country cruiser.  Just looking at it sends shivers down my spine.

The only stock part about this Mustang is the roof, A-pillar, and C-pillar.  It’s the latest creation from the brilliantly mad folks at RTR and Hoonigan.  Ken Block had it built.  It’s got a stroked NASCAR-spec engine that makes 850 horsepower that goes to all four wheels.  That’s right, this car is AWD.  You need to watch “Gymkhana 7” if you haven’t already.  It’s simply amazing.