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20 Forgotten Performance Cars From the ’90s

Vukasin HerbezApril 9, 2019

Even though it doesn’t seem like it, the ‘90s were an interesting decade in modern car history. The industry changed because most car manufacturers introduced new solutions, concepts and trends. In the performance car field, the power levels were up from the ‘80s, so customers finally had choices when buying a muscle car, hot hatch or performance sedan.

Although some models are highly-prized collectibles nowadays, there are still lots of forgotten performance cars from the ‘90s that deserve more respect. So, keep reading to learn about the 20 forgotten performance cars from the ’90s.

  1. Lotus Omega/Omega Carlton

This crazy, menacing sedan is virtually unknown in the U.S. And that is despite the fact the GM subsidiary Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in the UK produced it. However, the Omega once claimed the title of the world’s fastest four-door. They introduced in 1990 and discontinued it in 1992.

Interestingly, the Omega Lotus was Opel’s rear-wheel-drive luxury model. In fact, the renowned British sports car maker, Lotus tuned it. They even added a turbocharger on top of the already powerful stock six-cylinder engine. The 3.6-liter six delivered 377 HP which was massive by the standards of the day. And, the performance was thrilling, as well.

A 0 to 60 mph run was over in just 5.2 seconds and the top speed was a record-breaking 177 mph. They installed the body kit, spoiler, and special details in England. Also, they sold the car in just one color they called Imperial Green, which was a shade of dark green. Apart from the small spoiler and fender flares, the Lotus Omega looked the same as the regular production model.

Unfortunately, that means you could easily mistake it for the boring and slow diesel sedan. Sadly, the production numbers were low due to a few factors. First, consumers considered both Opel and Vauxhall as economy car manufacturers. But, the Omega Lotus/Lotus Carlton was an expensive car with the price roughly the same as a fully optioned Jaguar XJ.

Second, the recession of the early ‘90s hit the market hard. So, in the end, Opel and Lotus made only 950 cars. Because they are valuable classics today, their prices are slowly rising as a result.

  1. Volvo 850 R Wagon

Is there anything more boring in the automotive world than a boxy, old Volvo station wagon? Probably not. The typical suburban mom car from the ‘90s had loads of space for the kids and their stuff. However, it was slow but dependable and dead boring to drive.

You can say all that for a regular Volvo 850 Wagon, but the R version they introduced in 1996 is something completely different. After the success of the T5 version of the 850 series featuring a turbocharged engine, Volvo decided to go a step further. So, they introduced an all-out sleeper machine in the form of the 850 R.

Under the hood, the 2.3-liter five-cylinder engine featured a bigger turbo and a different intake system. And thanks to its updated electronics, it pumped out a respectable 250 HP. Despite retaining its front wheel drive, the Volvo 850 R Wagon still had good acceleration times of 6.5 seconds to 60 mph. Also, it could hit a top speed of almost 160 mph.

For the mid-90s this was a sports car territory. So, you can bet there were lots of confused Porsche owners when those boring Volvo wagons passed them on the highway.

  1. Lexus SC 300

Lexus equipped their SC 300 with a plush interior and a 3.0-liter straight six engine producing 225 HP. And the ‘90s Lexus SC 300 was a capable competitor to the Mercedes SL and Cadillac Eldorado. Even today, this Gran Turismo didn’t lose much of its appeal.

It is still a great cruiser for a small price. But back in the early ‘90s, Lexus tried to establish themselves on the market. And that is why the company paid a lot of attention to the SC 300 as their top of the line coupe.

  1. Mercedes 500 E

Back in the early `90s, Mercedes produced the successful but docile W124 E-Class. The elegant sedan was famous for its comfort and refinement, rather than its performance and speed. However, a team of crazy German engineers was soon to change that. So, in 1991, they presented the mighty 500E, a high-performance version of their main sedan.

It featured a different drivetrain, suspension, brakes and engine. In fact, the 500E was so demanding to produce, Mercedes asked Porsche to assemble the car. The main feature of the 500E was the 5.0-liter V8 engine that produced 326 HP. That may not be an impressive number by today’s standards, but it was a crazy figure for the early ‘90s, especially in a formal sedan.

The 500 E could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just six seconds, which was almost as fast as a Ferrari 348. But the best thing was the design. The 500 E looked identical to a regular W124 Sedan. It was only when you looked carefully that you could notice the bigger wheel arches and brakes.

Nothing else revealed there was a monster under the hood. Also, Mercedes offered badge delete as a no-cost option for its customers. And, if you chose the black or silver color, you got a stealth sedan that eats Corvettes for breakfast.

  1. Dodge Stealth

The Dodge Stealth is another ‘90s legend mainstream sports car enthusiasts have forgotten, which is quite a shame. With its pop-up headlights, rear panorama glass and big spoiler, the Stealth screams early ‘90s car design. But there is much more about this car than contemporary nostalgia since this is one serious driving machine.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter twin turbo V6 that delivers 300 HP, sending its power to all four wheels over an intelligent AWD system. To be perfectly honest, the Dodge Stealth is basically the twin brother to the Mitsubishi 3000 GT. Apart from the exterior design, those two cars are identical. They even produced them on the same assembly line in Japan before importing them to the States.

  1. Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited

Today, fast SUVs are nothing special. But in the ‘90s, they were extremely rare and obscure. However, Jeep produced one that will be a collector’s item in the near future. And that is their 1998 5.9 Limited. It was a one year, top of the line model Jeep equipped with every luxury item they had to offer.

And they added the cherry on top in the form of the 5.9-liter Magnum V8 with 245 HP. Although 245 HP doesn’t sound like a lot today, it was a lofty number by late ‘90s SUV standards.

You could consider the Grand Cherokee 5.9 a Jeep hot rod long before those modern SRTs with their powerful Hemi engines arrived. But because they only built about 15,000, the 5.9 Limited is a definite future classic.

  1. Lotus Elan

The original ‘60s Elan may be the most popular but in ‘90s, Lotus introduced a new, modern version. It came with front-wheel drive and a signature wedge design. They produced and engineered the car with the help of Kia. In fact, they even built it in South Korea under the Kia badge.

Although the ‘90s roadster market was dominated by the Mazda Miata, the Lotus Elan was a formidable competitor with precise handling and low weight. And best of all, the engine pumps out up to 162 HP, which provided a decent performance.

  1. Panoz Roadster

Younger enthusiasts don’t remember the name Panoz, but back in the `90s, they were one of the most famous limited production American brands. Successful in racing, Panoz offered a lot of racing technologies in street legal vehicles. And that is what made them favorites with fans of performance driving. Panoz presented the Roadster in the early ‘90s.

It represented a modern version of the legendary Shelby Cobra. It was a stripped down open-top two-seater they built of aluminum, which kept the weight down. Panoz used a lot of Ford Mustang components including the engine, drivetrain, and suspension. And all that meant the Roadster delivered 300 HP and a brutal performance.

  1. Chevrolet Impala SS

The Impala SS is one of the most legendary names in Chevrolet performance history. However, as the muscle car era came to an end, they discontinued the Impala SS. Later, they resurrected the Impala in 1994 as an option for the seventh generation of this legendary model.

The black 1994 to 1996 Impala SS is one of the coolest American four-door models of the ‘90s. The car may last only three model years, but it was influential. In fact, it marked the return of performance sedan from Detroit.

  1. Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX

In most cases, the Eclipse was just an attempt from Mitsubishi to introduce a sports coupe. They built it on a regular car platform and shared the engine and front-wheel drivetrain with the rest of the Mitsubishi line up. However, there was one special model from the ‘90s that was highly respected and worth looking for.

It was the Eclipse GSX, an all-wheel-drive version with a highly tuned 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 210 HP. In a relatively light body and with the AWD advantage, the Eclipse GSX was a rapid coupe.

  1. Lancia Delta HF Integrale

Lancia was always big in rallying. After the banning of their Group B model S4, they wanted something that would work well on the street and on the track. And that’s how the HF Integrale was born. The main features of this model were the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with, at first, 185 HP and later up to 220 HP. Also, it had a permanent, well balanced all-wheel-drive system.

The Delta HF Integrale is an utterly important ‘90s performance car and a hot hatch because it was the first one with the AWD system. It marked the beginning of the transition from those front wheel drive, simple economical hot hatches, to those high-tech, all-wheel drive performance monsters of today.

The combination of a powerful engine, sharp handling, great traction and low weight was intoxicating for the magazine testers of the day. In fact, the Delta HF Integrale received nothing but praises. Over the years, the Delta HF Integrale proved to be a successful concept, and not only on the rally stages all over the world but also among hot hatch fans.

  1. Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo

The Toyota produced many Celicas over the years, but in 1994, the company introduced the best one yet. The Celica All-Track Turbo was a rally car for the road with lots of rally technology underneath the body. It had a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 255 HP.

Its intelligent all-wheel-drive system came straight from a racing car. Also, it got a specially trimmed suspension, aero package, wheels and interior. They limited the production, building several thousand cars until 1999.

  1. BMW M3 E36

BMW built the M3 E36 from 1992 to 1999. It featured a newly-designed six-cylinder plant. Earlier models had a 3.0-liter engine with 291 HP. But from 1995 until the end of production, they installed the bigger 3.2-liter producing 321 HP. But unfortunately, in America, the E36 M3s produced only 240 HP.

That was due to the emissions regulations that crippled the otherwise powerful BMW engine. Available as a sedan, coupe or a convertible, the E36 M3 was popular, introducing new standards in handling and performance. The 0 to 60 mph times were around six seconds. But thanks to the updated chassis and sharp steering, the driving dynamics were perfect.

  1. Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442

Ever since the original muscle car era ended in the early ‘70s, Oldsmobile tried to recapture the magic of the original 442 muscle car. Behind that long name lies the compact, front-wheel-drive Calais. It was a two-door with a highly tuned four-cylinder engine that developed 190 HP from 2.3 liters. Nowadays, these numbers don’t sound powerful, but they introduced this car almost 30 years ago.

And that was a time when 200 HP was considered big power. Thanks to its low weight, race-tuned suspension, and gearbox, this little Cutlass Calais 442 W41 could accelerate rapidly. In fact, it could beat much bigger, more expensive cars. Unfortunately, they limited the production to only 204 cars necessary for homologating for the SCCA racing championship.

Despite the great performance, people soon forgot the W41. However, it influenced other manufacturers to present similar compact yet highly powerful cars. Without this little Oldsmobile, the car world wouldn’t have the Chevrolet Cobalt SS or Dodge Neon SRT-4.

  1. Porsche 968 Clubsport

The Porsche 944 brought a new vision of sports car dynamics to the market in the early ‘80s. In fact, Porsche constantly upgraded the original concept and performance. However, in the ‘90s, they decided to introduce an improved model they named the 968, as well as its ultimate track-day version, the 968 Clubsport. The Clubsport was a two-seater model without any luxury items.

They gave it a 238 HP four-cylinder engine, updated brakes, and a track-trimmed suspension. When they released it, the car journalists recognized it as one of the best front-engine Porsches they ever built. However, their customers weren’t all that impressed. And that is why they produced the 968 Clubsport in limited numbers, so if you find one, buy it.

  1. Ford Taurus SHO

Ford already made history with the first-generation Taurus and Taurus SHO in the late ‘80s. But for 1992, FoMoCo prepared a new generation and upgraded the SHO version. It featured the Yamaha designed 3.3-liter V6 engine with 220 HP. That may not sound as much today, but 27 years ago, this was respectable power. And it managed to propel this big sedan into muscle car territory.

  1. Dodge Neon ACR

Everybody knows about the awesome turbocharged Neon SRT4 from the early 2000s. However, that car wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fantastic yet forgotten Neon ACR. Dodge only produced the car for two years, in 1996 and 1997.

But back in the ‘90s, the Neon was one of the best compact cars America produced. Soon, the Dodge engineers realized the chassis had the potential to be something more than just a grocery go-getter. The Neon ACR was basically a race-prepared Neon with a twin cam engine.

It came with four-wheel disc brakes, a different speedometer, a stiffer suspension and radio delete. The got the name, ACR, from the American Club Racer. Soon, the Neon ACR was the favorite car of amateur racers on racetrack weekends.

  1. Nissan 300 ZX

One of the best cars in the long line of Z-named Nissan sports coupes was the 300 ZX. Nissan introduced it in 1990 and discontinued it in 1996. Car enthusiasts respect this model since the 300 ZX was a proper sports coupe.

It came with the technology and performance to rival much more expensive and exclusive cars. The twin-turbo V6 engine pumped out 300 HP. And the 300 ZX could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds and top 150 mph.

  1. Mazda Familia GTR

The early ‘90s were the perfect time for the introduction of rally homologation specials, so many European and Japanese companies did just that. Almost all those models became successful on the rally stages and legends of the hot hatch segment. However, some of them remained popular for years while others fell into oblivion.

And unfortunately, this car is one of those forgotten cars. Mazda named it the Familia GTR for the Asian market and the 323 GTR for the European market. It was a competent and fast version of the popular Mazda compact car. But GTR was more than just a cool nameplate.

That meant it was a highly tuned version of the 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a special all-wheel drive. The power output was high at 205 HP, and AWD system meant this little compact handled like a dream. Today, they are rare and not so expensive, so hurry up and snap this obscure piece of rally history.

  1. GMC Typhoon

Out of all the SUVs they produced in the early ’90s, arguably the most interesting and fastest was the GMC Typhoon. And what the Ford Bronco Boss didn’t get the chance to achieve, the Typhoon did. It was a limited production small SUV with a high price tag for its day.

However, it came with an unbelievable performance that set it apart from all the rest. More than 25 years since the first Typhoons saw the light of day, this vehicle is still a benchmark of performance and style. But what makes it so interesting and desirable? First, look at the engine. The Typhoon had a 4.3-liter V6 engine with a turbocharger and intercooler.

The power output was 280 HP, which is not that impressive today, but back in 1991, it was a nice number. Also, the automatic transmission, performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system and suspension helped the performance. In fact, the Typhoon could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds.

Even today, this is fast for an ordinary SUV. The rest of the package included a special trim, wheel choices and color. They gave it some luxury interior appointments and limited its production. In just three years, from 1991 to 1993, they produced 4,697 Typhoons.

These are the 20 forgotten performance cars from the ’90s that changed the future of car production. While some are still available, others are quite rare. So, if you want one of these, you should move fast before the prices go up or they are gone forever.

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