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Wednesday, June 8, 2011
10 Great Cars that Time Forgot
Everybody knows the fastest, best-performing or most beautiful cars. The short list includes icons such as the Shelby Cobra, Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari Daytona. But besides the headline-grabbing machines, there is a wide variety of entertaining cars that, for one reason or another, don't come to mind when the car guys talk cars. So what do drivers who value performance but buy on value park in their own garages? Rides were largely overlooked when new and don't have great visibility today. But despite their under-the-radar profiles, these cars deliver above-average driving pleasure. Our ten favorites cover a wide variety of prices and eras, and only scratches the surface of worthy cars. Use this as a starting point for further rumination, cogitation and "If I were going to buy something today"-type conversations with your pals at the bar
We can thank car guy Bob Lutz for the Pontiac GTO. Likewise, he's culpable for its lagging sales and unremarkable styling. The separated-at-birth 6/5th-sized Chevy Caviler Coupe was actually a lightly disguised Australian Holden Monaro, a coupe known for its robust V8 power and sturdy-for-the-Outback chassis. In its debut year, the GTO had the 350-hp 5.7-liter V8, while 2005–06 models got the 400-hp 6.0-liter. All models were quick and are ideal for drivers looking for a modern midsize muscle car that also handles and stops.
Dodge Omni GLH-S (1986–87)
Carroll Shelby is best known for his Cobras, and also the vehicles he brought to market with Ford. Lesser-known partnerships included an affair with Oldsmobile and a longer tryst with Chrysler. The lowly Dodge Omni GLH-S four-door hatch (500 produced in '85) and Dodge 024 GLH-S two-door hatch (1000 in '86) were among the first Chryslers to receive the full Shelby treatment. The GLH-S moniker stood for Goes Like Hell Some-More. Really. With intercooled turbo 2.2-liter four-cylinders making 175-hp, the cars were capable of ripping low 14-second quarter-mile times in stock form and were easily coaxed into the 12s with simple mods.
Ford SVT Contour (1998–2000)
With an exterior duller than Clark Kent in his workday suit, this Mondeo-based compact sedan was a product of Ford's Special Vehicle Team. Yes, the same guys responsible for the original SVO Mustang, Mustang Cobras, SVT Lightning pickups and plenty of other wicked rides. The subtle bodywork hints at a significantly modified 2.5-liter V6 with up to 200-hp at 6600 rpm. Reviews praised the Contour for its balanced handling and poise.
Acura NSX (1990–2005)
This unexpected Japanese supercar epitomizes why a generation of enthusiasts love(d) Honda. While other manufacturers fitted their midengine flagships with V10 and V12 engines, Honda crafted their rapier-like NSX with a high-revving V6 sized from 3.0- to 3.2-liters. The NSX's replacement for displacement was a lightweight body that would have made Lotus founder Colin Chapman proud. Its all-aluminum monocoque beat Audi (a company now touting the feature) to market by seven years.
Porsche 914-6 (1970–72)
"That's a Porsche?" If you drive a 914, that could be a frequent reaction from friends and family. Considered a red-headed stepchild compared to the iconic 911, the 914 was a two-seat sports car that didn't earn a good reputation with enthusiasts in part due to being meagerly powered by a four-cylinder VW engine. However, the 914-6 was more of a "real" Porsche because it benefited from the legendary flat-six out of the 911T.
Allard J2 (1949–52)
If you're interested in firing up the Wayback Machine, you might come across the Allard J2, a car that paved the way for Carroll Shelby and his Ford-powered ACE Cobras. Conceived and built in post-war England by Sydney Allard, the cycle-fendered two-seaters are most often found running Ford Flathead V8 and Cadillac overhead-valve V8 engines. Shelby would follow the American V8/English roadster–body formula to much greater success, rendering Allard a wonderful footnote awaiting discovery by new generations of enthusiasts.
BMW 540i (1996–2003)
Compared to the current BMW M-5 with its drive-by-wire V10 and overbearing electronics, the E39 5-Series from 1996 to 2003 represents a simpler era filled with much more organic driving experiences. The best of the E39s is unequivocally the 394-hp M5, but don't forget the allure of the less costly and complex 282-hp 540i. Its 4.4-liter V8 pumped out 324 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm, a fact that highlights the car's easy drivability, especially with a traditional three-pedal, six-speed manual gearbox. If you want the 155-mph limited top speed, find one equipped with the Sports Package.
Aston Martin DB Mark III (1957–59)
James Bond has driven some truly horrid cars (remember the AMC Hornet in The Man With The Golden Gun ?), but the Aston Martin DB Mark III from the pages of Fleming's novel Goldfinger was anything but horrid. Less well known than the newer DB5 used in the screen version of Goldfinger, the Mark III is a handsome 2+2 hatch powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine displacing 2.9-liters. Two-seat coupes and dropheads (convertibles) were other available body styles
Mazda RX-7 (1984–85)
The Series 3 RX-7 powered by the 13B turbo rotary engine was a wonderfully entertaining ride. The tiny flyweight body weighed just over a ton, offered drivers the tossability of a 50/50 weight distribution, and all of 135 hp. The rotary engine loved to rev, and aside from oil consumption, it remains a reliable mill. So smooth was the Wankel engine, a warning buzzer alerted the driver when approaching the 7000 rpm redline
Chevrolet Cobalt SS (2008–10)
Occupier of rental car lots across the country, the Chevrolet Cobalt earned its reputation for being a plain, cheap sub-compact of limited desirability. However, relatively hidden within the Cobalt line is the turbocharged, high-performance version called the SS Turbocharged. The twin-scroll blower maximizes the direct-injected Ecotec's effective range and delivers a whopping 260-hp through a Getrag 5-speed manual. The chassis proved so surprisingly well-balanced that the car's overall performance helped owners overlook that they were driving a Cobalt. One note: We're not including the earlier supercharged Cobalt SS here. The turbo version was not only more powerful, but had several chassis enhancements that transformed the car.