Cool Cars We Miss
Gone but not forgotten—a short list of cars once loved, still missed.
Some cars are so fun to drive, so pure in design, and so innovative that it makes you wonder how they could ever be discontinued. For each generation of car enthusiasts, these are the machines that make you smile even if you never owned one.
Outlined here in alphabetical order is a small slice of recent successes and upcoming cult classics that haunt the minds of enthusiasts. Destined to be the "barn finds" of future generations, the upside is that many are now within easy reach via the used-car classifieds at AutoTrader.
Acura NSX (1990 - 2005)
As the NSX sped toward production, Honda was in the midst of dominating the F1 World Championship. This, plus a healthy Japanese economy allowed engineers to make decisions that were unheard of at the time, based on performance instead of bottom-line cost or mass production efficiency. The "Ferrari fighter" featured the first use of Honda's VTEC variable valve timing system outside Japan, titanium connecting rods, individual coils, magnesium intake and valve covers, an aluminum monocoque chassis and aluminum body panels.
The NSX's mid-ship mounted DOHV V6 makes only 290 horsepower. But the car's light weight, incredible balance and reliability—coupled with low sales expectations—allowed it to stay on the market an incredible 15 years with very few updates. The NSX nameplate is slated to make a comeback in 2009.
Buick Grand National (1984 - 1987)
The "GN" was originally created to celebrate Buick's manufacturer championships (1981-1982) in NASCAR's Grand National (now Busch) series. The 1982 Grand National was a hopped-up version of the two-door Regal, but moved to its own production model for 1984. Grand Nationals from 1986 and 1987 are the most desirable because they were factory intercooled. In 1987, the Grand National was GM's swiftest product, hence the moniker, "We BrakeFor Corvettes."
Buick had a hit on its hands, as Grand National sales went from 5,512 for the 1986 model, to 20,194 in 1987. Unfortunately, the automotive climate conspired against the Grand National. The entire GM sedan lineup moved to front-wheel drive in 1988, dropping the red flag on the all-black speedster.
Dodge Omni GLH (1985 - 1988)
Carroll Shelby developed this car, and other turbo models, during a stint at Chrysler. The initial name of the car was "Coyote," because it was aiming at the Rabbit GTI. This name didn't fly, so in true Texas gunslinger fashion Shelby came up with GLH, which stood for "Goes Like Hell."
The GLH helped inspire the hot hatch craze with a factory turbocharged, 146-horsepower single-cam 2.2-liter four. Chrysler would make good use of this turbo engine as it saw action in the Shelby Charger, Daytona, Dodge Spirit R/T and a number of other sporty models debuting while David Hasselhoff and K.I.T.T. were fighting injustices Knight Foundation style. Sadly, the car was ahead of its time, hitting the highway before there was a real small-car aftermarket to embrace it.
Mazda RX-7 (1993 - 1996)
The third-generation of the RX-7 represented the pinnacle of Mazda's prowess in turbocharging the Wankel rotary engine. The 255-horsepower 13B-REW mill was supremely tunable, and powered a road-racing-capable chassis—evidenced by its impressive showings in factory-backed endurance competition and grassroots events like the SCCA Runoffs.
The RX-7 has grown into a cult classic, which translates into a happy existence in the hereafter via aftermarket upgrades. Market trends away from high-ticket sports cars and toward SUVs put the seductively styled coupe out to pasture.
Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 (1991 - 1992)
The Galant VR-4 is another limited-edition machine with a cult following. Mitsubishi created a wicked sleeper by grafting the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive 4G63 powertrain from the first-generation Eclipse / Talon into a monochromatic four-door Galant sedan.
These cars, known as "Evo Zeros," were hand-built in Japan and readily accepted most of the aftermarket tuning parts designed for the Eclipse/Talon. That meant nearly unlimited tuning options, as the 4G63 created a hardcore following as one of the most popular and longest-running import-engine lines. The latest variant of this motor powers the Lancer Evolution IX. Production of the Galant VR-4 was limited to 4000.
Toyota Celica All-Trac (1988 - 1993)
Celica All-Tracs are divided into two model runs. The All-Trac ST165 was produced between 1987 and 1989 as a homologation for Toyota's competition in the World Rally Championship (WRC). The ST185 was born when Toyota redesigned the rest of the Celica lineup in 1990.
The ST185 featured a number of performance improvements, including a twin-entry turbo and an air-to-air intercooler. These tweaks allowed the car's 3S-GTE engine to produce 200 horsepower. The significance of the All-Trac can be seen in its resale value: $7,000 to $12,000 for well-kept ST185s. Carlos Sainz won the 1990 WRC driver's championship in a Celica All-Trac, and the car's run ended when Toyota stepped out of WRC competition.
Toyota Supra (1993 - 1998)
Timing was a key factor in the Toyota Supra's rise to becoming the ultimate symbol of high-tech horsepower. The new Supra arrived right when the tuner aftermarket was beginning to explode. The sleek, technically advanced coupe featured a 320-horsepower, twin-turbocharged inline six powerplant, six-speed manual transmission and a drivetrain that begged for abuse. At the time, the MKIV Supra was an expensive date with prices in the mid-$40K range. Its cost and single-minded performance-car mission were its undoing when low-cost, highly versatile SUVs became the rage in the mid-1990s.
VW Corrado VR6 (1990 - 1995)
Replacing the popular Scirocco, the Corrado did not become a Euro-spec performance icon until VW installed its innovative VR6 engine in the sporty hatch in 1992. The VR6-mill is part V-engine and part inline engine, with its cylinder bores separated by a scant 15 degrees and staggered from one side to the other. This was done to allow a six-cylinder engine to fit transversely in VWs front-wheel-drive cars. In the Corrado, the 2.8-liter VR6 pumped out 178 horsepower and a hearty 177 lbs-ft of torque.
Today the VR6 is alive and well, having been expanded to displace 3.2 liters and fitted to the Audi TT, VW Touareg, MKV Golf R32 and Passat R36 where it now generates 300 horsepower. The VW Corrado VR6 is coveted because of its seductive styling, road handling capabilities and its role as trailblazer, introducing the VR6 to the American market.
Future Barn-Find Fodder
- Alfa Romeo Spider
- Ford GT
- Ford Mustang SVO
- Ford Taurus SHO
- Isuzu Impulse
- Jaguar XJ-SV12
- Lotus Elan
- Lotus Esprit Turbo
- Mazda 323 GTX
- Merkur XR4Ti
- Nissan Sentra SE-R (Classic 1991-1993)
- Pontiac Fiero
- Porsche 928
- Saab 9000 Turbo
- Suzuki Swift GT
- Toyota MR2
From 1992 to 2005 Evan Griffey was an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance magazine, a pioneering force in the creation of the import/sport compact tuning industry. Today Evan is a freelance writer working for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Honda Tuning, Turbo & High Tech Performance, Car Audio and Siphon magazines.
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