The global success of the Shelby Cobra inspired many American race car builders to build a similar car that could compete on an international level. From this perspective, nobody came close to beating the Cobra, but Bill Thomas, a famous Chevrolet tuner and race car builder was a serious candidate. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, the Cheetah never had a chance.
As you know, Chevrolet and GM pulled out of racing in 1963, but several independent race shops worked for GM’s back door programs. The company supported private racing teams with racing know-how and special racing parts. The Thomas shop was one of those outfits and he decided to build a Cobra competitor with Chevrolet power. That is how the Cheetah was born.
The Cheetah was built on a special lightweight chassis with a small block V8 they moved as far back as possible. Covered in a light fiberglass body, the Cheetah looked and performed like a race car. Despite some overheating problems, the Cheetah was a remarkable performer. It won some lower rank races and even the 1968 SCCA championship. Unfortunately, the lack of support, mechanical problems and a fire at the shop in California stopped production after they built only 20 cars.
24. Volkswagen SP2
The biggest car company in Brazil was Volkswagen. They produced all their products there, including the Beetle, T2 Van and 1600 TL. The combination of air-cooled quality, usability and low price made Volkswagens the most popular cars in Brazil by far. However, Volkswagen didn’t have any performance credentials or a sports model. So in the early ’70s, Volkswagen wanted a piece of the action.
The problem was that Volkswagen didn’t have any powerful engines or performance drivetrain components that could turn any of its models into anything close to a performance car. So to produce a muscle/performance car, Volkswagen took the Beetle floorpan, a 1.7-liter flat-four engine and tuned it to 75 HP. Although that wasn’t much, it was far more than stock.
They called the finished product the SP2, presenting it in 1972. It looked modern with its long front end, low profile and sporty silhouette. The car cost more than any other Volkswagen product. Although it offered some performance, it failed to meet the expectations of performance-oriented car fans. The SP2 was in production for four years until 1976 and Volkswagen made over 11,000 of them.
23. Ford Capri Perana
Basil Green was an accomplished South African racer turned tuner and dealer. When Ford introduced their affordable and cool-looking Capri coupe in late 1969, he saw the potential and soon introduced the Capri Perana. Basil took the 3.0-liter V6 Capri they delivered straight from England to his workshop and installed a 5.0-liter Ford V8 from Mustang.
To make the car handle properly, Basil’s engineers modified the suspension, chassis, brakes, and steering and after a lot of work, the Capri Perana was born. The power output was around 280 HP. In the lightweight body of the standard Capri, the Perana was able to reach 60 mph in just six seconds. Those characteristics made it a favorite with racecar drivers. During the early ’70s, the Capri Perana dominated the South African racing scene.
22. Ford OSI 20M TS
Back in the 1960s, Italy was full of small design houses producing interesting variants of regular production cars. Most of those small body shops looked for lucrative contracts with big companies. They could provide them with financial security and a chance to present their creations to a worldwide audience. One of those small firms was OSI who concentrated on producing bodies using a Fiat chassis.
However, their best-known model was actually a Ford. Back in the mid-’60s, OSI teamed with European Ford to produce a limited run of sports cars they based on a mid-size Taunus chassis. The car was called the Ford OSI 20M TS and it had a gorgeous, elegant coupe body and a 2.3-liter V6 engine producing around 110 HP. That’s not much power. Yet since it was light, performance was satisfying to most customers.
21. Brasinca 4200 GT Uirapuru
Behind this strange and hard-to-pronounce name lies an equally obscure sports car they produced in Brazil. Brasinca conceived it as a serious contender to those foreign, mostly European sports cars. They presented it at the Sao Paulo Auto Show in 1964. The public was mesmerized by its advanced design and technology.
The Uirapuru had a custom steel chassis, sculpted body and 4.2-liter Chevrolet engine delivering a healthy 155 HP. The car was reasonably expensive but not unobtainable. Car customers loved its weird styling and performance. However, the Brazilian market had limited potential, so they only produced 73 of them until 1967 when production stopped.
20. Marcos GT
Produced from 1964 to 1971 and again from 1981 to 1990, the Marcos GT was the most popular and interesting model from this company. Basically, it was a kit car they built on a custom chassis with a choice of engines. The Marcos GT was a relatively affordable but capable sports car with aggressive styling, low weight, and decent performance numbers.
The GT came with numerous engines, mostly by Ford. The lineup started with a small 1.5 or 1.6-liter four-cylinder. However, if you want to experience its full potential, you could opt for the 3.0-liter V6 from Ford or Volvo. For a brief period of time, the Marcos GT was available on the American market with a Volvo straight-six engine, but they didn’t sell many cars.
19. Lotus Elite
Introduced in 1974, the Lotus Elite was the most controversial Lotus model up to date. But it was also the most practical for obvious reasons. Colin Chapman, owner, and head of Lotus wanted to replace the old Elan Plus 2 model with a more modern, four-seat model. It would feature enough room for passengers and more luggage space. To do that, Chapman designed a wedge-shaped shooting brake that proved to be a quite capable, as well as a usable sports car.
Since it was a Lotus, it had four wheels, an independent suspension, a high revving 155 HP engine and light construction that provided perfect road holding. Despite its styling, the Elite was surprisingly roomy inside. Unfortunately, British cars from the ’70s suffered from various types of mechanical failures and the Elite was no exception. They ceased production in the early ’80s after building more than 2,500 of them.
18. Saab Sonett
Even though Saab was famous for sedans and convertibles with turbo engines, during the ’60s and early ’70s, they produced a sports coupe. As expected, it was strange, obscure and quirky, just like the rest of the range. In fact, there were three generations of SAAB Sonett sports cars. The first one was a racing prototype from the ’50s, but the second and third were regular production models.
Saab designed the Sonett on a box chassis and fitted it with a fiberglass body. They initially equipped the Sonett with the tiny Saab three-cylinder two-stroke engine producing just 60 HP. As you can expect, most car buyers were disappointed with the poor performance. However, soon Saab fitted it with a 1.7-liter V4 they borrowed from the Ford European division.
The power grew slightly, but the V4 had much more torque. However, the small Sonett still wasn’t a record-breaker. They ceased production in 1974 after building less than 15,000 of them over three generations.
17. Fiat Abarth OT 2000
During the better part of the 20th century, Italy was home to many great names in the sports car world. It was also a place where they performed many interesting conversions. One of the most famous names in tuning was Carlo Abarth, who devoted his life to modify and race various Fiat models. There are a lot of interesting Abarths over the years, but the OT 2000 is one of the most obscure.
It is a perfect example of how to turn a tiny two-door car into a proper sports machine. Abarth took an ordinary Fiat 850 Sports Coupe and installed a 2.0-liter, high-revving and highly-tuned four-cylinder engine. The engine now delivered 185 HP, which is not much by today’s standards.
However, if you consider that the car weighs only 1,500 pounds, it was more than enough for a thrilling performance. The OT 2000 was reasonably expensive, so they only produced five of them.
16. Ligier JS2
One of the most interesting and forgotten sports cars from the early ’70s was the Ligier JS2. Conceived by Guy Ligier, a French racer and constructor, the JS2 was a seriously capable and fast car. Guy Ligier was a close friend of the French racing driver, Jo Schlesser. After his death, Ligier decided to stop racing and concentrate on car building.
The JS2, which are the initials for Jo Schlesser, debuted in 1971. It was powered by a 2.7-liter V6 from Maserati. Later it got an upgrade with the 2.9-liter version. With a light fiberglass body, race car construction and a host of other performance components, the JS2 was fast. However, problems with founding and high costs crippled production, ending it in late 1974.
15. De Tomaso Vallelunga
Even before the De Tomaso company become famous as the producer of the Pantera and Mangusta supercars, this Italian outfit presented an interesting compact model they called the Vallelunga. They presented the Vallelunga in 1964, and by the current standards, it was advanced. It came with a mid-engine layout, independent suspension all around and four-wheel disc brakes.
However, the Vallelunga used a 1.5-liter Ford Kent engine they tuned to 104 HP. It also had a Volkswagen transaxle gearbox, Triumph suspension bits and lots of other components from regular production cars. The result was a dynamic, fast and lightweight car that won many races in Italy. The success of Vallelunga inspired Alejandro De Tomaso to invest more in car production and that’s how the history of this company started.
14. Alfa Romeo GTV6
Jeremy Clarkson once said that you are not a car enthusiast if you never owned an Alfa Romeo. As always, he is overreacting, but owning a GTV6 is highly recommended. The Tipo 105 successor was the coupe version of the Alfetta, which was introduced in the late ’70s. This car (chassis code 116) had very advanced construction and suspension and featured several interesting details. First, it had a transaxle gearbox, which vastly improved weight distribution, thus handling. Second, it had a De Dion type rear axle, which helped to corner and driving dynamics. With a 2.5-liter V6 engine in the front, the GTV6 delivered some 160-170 HP and vivid performance by the day’s standards.
Even today, GTV6 is known for its perfect driving dynamics, solid acceleration times, and the fantastic soundtrack from the high revving V6. Interestingly, this car was sold in the USA and even sold with an optional turbo kit by Callaway performance, which was good for a whopping 233 HP.
13. Alpine A610
The Alpine A610 was introduced in 1991, and it was a replacement for Alpine GTA and old A310 from the late ’70s. The fiberglass-bodied coupe featured several exciting features like the futuristic interior, rear-mounted turbocharged V6 engine from Renault, and pretty vivid performance.
The 3.0-liter V6 produced 247 hp, which was enough to launch this lightweight coupe from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and close to 170 mph top speed.
12. Fiat Dino
Back in 1967, Fiat introduced the Dino, a coupe, and a convertible sports car that featured a Ferrari V6 engine straight from the 246 GT Dino. Bertone designed the coupe while Pininfarina styled the convertible, and the two shared the mechanics, engine, and performance, but the design was totally different.
The Fiat Dino Coupe was also officially sold in America, and we found one on the classified ads for as little as $15,000, which is definitely the cheapest way to own a piece of Ferrari magic for Ford Fiesta prices. If you are a budget-minded enthusiast, you will look for the Dino Coupe since it is more common and affordable than the convertible.
11. Venturi 400 GT
You are excused if you don’t know about Venturi, a small French car company which was active in the ’90s. Using components from other car companies and producing its own bodies and chassis, Venturi produced several beautiful and fast cars, raced a lot, and left its mark in the history of obscure supercars with its magnificent 400 GT model from the mid-’90s.
Visually similar to Ferrari F40, the Venturi 400 GT also used a twin-turbocharged engine. But in Venturi’s case, it was a 3.0-liter Peugeot V6, which was pumped to produce 400 hp in street trim. In racing trim, it was capable of over 600 hp.
10. Mazda 1100 Cosmo
Back in the ’60s, the biggest news amongst the car engineers was the Wankel rotary engine. The innovative concept of a single-piston engine, which was far lighter and smaller than conventional units but with more power and revving capacity, captivated several major manufacturers’ imagination. One of the first companies which were brave and confident enough to introduce such an engine in mass production was Mazda, with its little sports coupe called 110 S Cosmo, which debuted in 1967.
This was a sharp-looking two-seater with modern design and a tiny 982 cc engine with 110 or 130 HP in later versions. Since the car was extremely small and light, the performance was pretty vivid, especially for the day’s standards. Mazda 110 S Cosmo was imported to the USA, but the reception was nonexistent. Mazda was a new name to the American customers, and the Wankel-powered two-seater for Corvette price was a hard thing to sell. That is why they only made around 1300 cars, and left-hand examples are very rare today.
9. Mazda RX-3 Coupe
Despite the limited appeal of Mazda’s Wankel engine offerings, problematic durability, and unusual driving dynamics, the company continued to offer this type of engine in various models for USA buyers, even in compact pickup trucks. But in the early ’70s, the most interesting was a small but lively RX-3 Coupe.
This tiny car was a nicely styled fastback coupe with modern design cues, although on a much smaller scale than contemporary models from the USA or Europe. The most important was the engine, and under the hood was a two-rotor, 1.1-liter Wankel unit with 91 HP. We know it doesn’t sound as much, and foreign markets got the same engine with 115 HP, but domestic emissions regulations choked this little Rotary motor.
But, the 2300-pound weight, manual gearbox with short gearing and high revving engine made this tiny coupe pretty capable. The car even broke a few records on Bonneville in 1974.
8. Lancia Fulvia
Today, Lancia is a forgotten company, still active but with nothing interesting in their lineup and selling rebadged Chryslers. But, back in the ’60s, Lancia was an independent luxury manufacturer with very specific and highly respected cars that boasted unique designs and technical solutions. So, when the company presented the Fulvia Coupe in 1965, the car world took notice.
The Fulvia Coupe was a little 2+2 two-door car with a narrow-angle V4 in the front powering the front wheels. This unique layout handled fantastically, and with the small weight of the car itself, it presented vivid performance. Despite having from 85 to 115 HP, Lancia Fulvia Coupe was a rally champion and an extremely rewarding car to drive fast on winding roads.
7. Triumph GT6
The GT6 project was started in the mid-’60s when Triumph realized that they needed a coupe version of their popular roadster. However, just putting the roof on Spitfire wouldn’t do the trick. They needed to extensively re-engineer the car and add a more powerful engine for the chassis to cope with the coupe body style’s added weight. So, Triumph engineers installed a 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine with 106 HP and provided the GT6 with more power and performance than the similar Spitfire.
The GT6 was officially presented in 1966 and discontinued in 1973 after around 45,000 examples were produced. The GT6 was never as popular as the Spitfire, but it was arguably a better car and a pretty cool-looking alternative to all other sport coupes on the market.
6. Bradley GT
The Bradley GT was a typical ’70s kit car company that produced cars built on VW Beetle floor pans with flat-four air-cooled engines and suspension. Despite the fact it doesn’t count as sports car configuration, the Bradley GT was, in fact, pretty fast since the bodies were light, and owners often decided to tune the engines. Some of them even installed the Porsche flat-six units giving the Bradley GT pretty vivid performance.
The Bradley GT was an interesting looking sports coupe that sold as a kit or as a fully built car, customized to customer specifications. It was one of the typical ’70s, DIY models, with metallic paint, chrome wheels, and gullwing doors, all of which added to the appeal. For those who invested in a more powerful engine, better suspension, and drivetrain, the Bradley GT could be a proper sports coupe, but most owners only wanted a show car.
5. Cunningham C-3
Briggs Cunningham was a world-known entrepreneur, racer, and constructor who introduced American cars to Europe’s sports car scene in the 1950s. His dream was to build a racing car that would be dominant on both sides of the ocean and win Le Mans with an all-American machine, drivers and crew. From 1952 to 1955, Cunningham entered the Le Mans race with several cars of his own design. However, in the same period, he produced a road-going sports car in the form of the beautiful Cunningham C-3.
The C-3 was a two-door coupe or convertible produced in his West Palm Beach facility. It used the Cunningham C-2 R racing chassis but converted for street use, and the bodies came from Italy, designed and produced by Vignale. Under the hood was Chrysler’s 331 Hemi engine but tuned to produce 300 HP. The C-3 was a luxury sports car that could easily rival any Ferrari or Maserati, and it was also very expensive with the prices close to Rolls Royce of the day. That is why Briggs Cunningham produced only 25 cars (20 coupes and five convertibles), all of which still exist today.
4. Fiat Coupe
This interesting car was never imported in the USA but is now eligible for import since it is older than 25 years. The Fiat Coupe was introduced in 1993 and stayed in production until 2000, selling in Europe and selected markets around the globe. At one point, it was the fastest and most powerful Fiat product and definitely the one with the biggest potential to become a classic and sought-after model.
The Coupe was a front-wheel drive, four-seater, a two-door model with interesting design and elegant interior. It was based on the standard Fiat platform, but it had performance-tuned suspension and steering to make it more sporty and dynamic. The engine lineup started with rather anemic four-cylinder engines. Still, it ended up with a pretty potent 2.0-liter turbocharged five-cylinder unit with 220 HP, which was quite a power output for the early ’90s.
Fiat Coupe was a fast car in turbo guise, and with unique styling, it was a real head-turner wherever it appeared. With 0 to 60 mph time of 6.3 seconds, it is quick by today’s standards. The prices are not high, so you should jump to the opportunity to own a rare car in the States and a gorgeous Italian coupe with all modern features like air conditioning, ABS brakes, and airbags.
3. Isuzu 117
The gorgeous Isuzu 117 Coupe was never offered on the American market, which is a shame. Even with its limited production, it managed to become one of the early Japanese classic and very influential models. Back in the late ’60s, Isuzu was building and selling passenger cars, which were later abandoned in favor of trucks and pickups. The company needed a halo car, something that will turn the industry’s attention on Isuzu and present it in the best possible light.
So, they used the existing passenger car rear-wheel-drive platform with 1.6 and later 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and went to Italy to find a fashionable suit. There, Isuzu contacted famous designer Giorgetto Giugiaro who provided them with an elegant and cool-looking coupe design. This was the final piece of the puzzle, and in 1968, the beautiful Isuzu 117 Coupe debuted. The car stayed in production until 1981, and it was sold in reasonably large numbers. Despite the fact it wasn’t particularly fast or agile, the 117 Coupe was a comfortable and fast GT, which was perfect for relaxing cruising.
2. Nissan Sylvia CSP 311
You all probably know Nissan Silvia for its widely popular S14 and S15 versions produced in the ’90s, which became the definitive drift car. Still, Silvia’s story as one of Nissan’s most legendary sports cars dates back to the mid-’60s and cool looking Silvia CSP 311 coupe, which was one of the first modern and proper sports cars from this brand.
Introduced in 1964 on the Tokyo Motor Show, the Silvia CSP 311 was a big step forward for this still obscure manufacturer. The car had European looks and proportions, and it was a luxurious (for the Japanese standards of the times) sports coupe with rear-wheel drive. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder powered it with 96 HP, which gave it decent performance.
However, the first Silvia was a pretty expensive car for the Japanese domestic market, and it sold in just 554 examples, most of which stayed in Japan. Today, it is widely regarded as one of the most influential early Japanese sports cars.
1. Audi 100 Coupe
Virtually unknown to US car enthusiasts, Audi 100 Coupe was an elegant, front-wheel-drive GT model produced from 1969 and sold through 1976. It was based on then biggest Audi model and featured a totally different fastback coupe body. Since the mechanics were unchanged, the 100 Coupe didn’t have much performance credentials, and power came from a rather anemic 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
However, the main thing about this car was the looks, and it looked much upscale and expensive than it really was. With four headlights, a sporty silhouette, and chrome trim, the Audi 100 Coupe was considered an upscale proposition on the European market.