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20 Ultra Rare and Obscure American Sports Cars That Will Blow Your Mind

Vukasin HerbezJuly 26, 2018

Ever since the sports car class landed in the global car market, European brands have been dominant in the segment. The combination of design, performance and style has been the winning combination for millions of customers around the world. But American car manufacturers seemed uninterested in the sports car market. So, for years they didn’t produce any rivals to those European models.

However, when Chevrolet introduced the Corvette in 1953, the domestic brands started thinking about sports cars. But just a few dared to follow Chevrolet’s path. Although some car historians claim the Corvette was the first sports car, but the truth is somewhat different. Before the 1953 Corvette, several small companies introduced sports cars with varying levels of success. While some manufacturers produced special body kits to mount on existing chassis, others redesigned the whole car from scratch.

Here is a list of obscure American sports cars to introduce you to the lesser known part of the U.S. car industry. Most names on the list are long gone, so most mainstream enthusiasts probably won’t recognize them. However, these cars were part of the American automotive landscape from talented individuals and small companies.

  1. Kellison J6

In the late ’50s and early ’60s, fiberglass body construction stopped being a high-tech process exclusive to established manufacturers. In fact, it became something you could do in your garage. This influenced numerous small companies to offer their plastic bodies people could mount on a regular car chassis for a unique, interesting design. Most of those companies produced these bodies using crude designs as well as poor fits and finishes, but not Kellison.

They established Kellison in the early ’50s to produce several successful kits for installation on popular models. But in the early ’60s, the company introduced the J6. Consumers could buy the J6 as a kit or a fully built car, making Kellison a boutique car manufacturer. They based the J6 on the Corvette frame, but Kellison didn’t just re-body the ‘Vette. They moved the engine further back in the chassis and changed the suspension.

Kellison also installed larger brakes and added a different interior. Since the J6 body was lighter than a stock Corvette, the J6 handled better and went even faster. This conversion was so popular, they built over 500 bodies and cars. The J6 was successful for private racing teams since it offered Corvette power in an updated handling package.

  1. Devon GTX

You may remember the Devon GTX sports car since the project caused quite a stir when they announced it in 2009/10. They conceived this car as the ultimate American sports car using a Dodge Viper RT10 as the basis and engine. Devon also made numerous modifications and upgraded the power to 650 HP.

The GTX used the same six-speed manual and had improved performance and top speeds. It even broke a few track records during testing, but there is no official confirmation of that. Unfortunately, the economic downturn and recession of 2009/10 hit the car industry especially hard. This caused big problems for car makers.

Chrysler decided to kill the Viper project and stop producing platforms and engines, affecting Devon’s production of the GTX. Devon tried to buy the rights for the Viper platform, but Chrysler rejected the bid. This caused the company to close after building just a few pre-production cars.

  1. Apollo 3500

This car goes under several names including the Vetta Ventura and Griffith GT, but the project started as the Apollo 3500. It was the brainchild of Californian engineer Milt Brown who wanted to build a proper sports car to rival the European exotics. With the help of Intermeccanica founder Frank Reisner, the Apollo project started to take shape as a handsome coupe with a 3.5-liter Buick V8.

They later moved the production to Texas and renamed the car the Vetta Ventura, but it stayed the same. However, they gave it an upgraded engine in the form of the 4.9-liter Buick V8. Production started in 1962 and lasted until 1965, but there are some reports that they completed the last examples in the early ’70s. At the end, they only built 90 cars.

The Apollo 3500 delivered 240 HP from its V8 engine and thanks to its light weight, it was a capable coupe. But, the production problems, high price and unknown company were problems that were too big to overcome.

  1. Nash Healey

The story of the Nash Healey is interesting. Many car fans say it’s the original American sports car because it debuted in 1951, two years before the Corvette. The project started when the head of the Nash Car Company met with Donald Healey, a British engineer and constructor on a cruise ship. They decided to make a proper sports car, something America didn’t have at the moment.

The idea was to take the Nash Ambassador platform and a six-cylinder engine and cover it with an elegant roadster or coupe body consisting of aluminum for a lower weight. They introduced the first cars in 1951 and despite getting 125 to 140 HP from the 3.2-liter straight six engine, the Nash Healey delivered a respectable performance.

Italian design house Pininfarina did the redesign in 1952 and in 1953 when they presented the closed coupe. The Nash Healey even had several highly publicized racing wins. But the high price and lack of brand recognition killed the project in 1954 after they made only 506 of them.

  1. Bradley GT

The Bradley GT was the typical 70’s kit car company. They built cars on VW Beetle floor plans with flat four air-cooled engines and updated suspensions. Even though it didn’t count as a sports car configuration, the Bradley GT was fast since it was light. And some owners decided to tune the engine. Some even installed the Porsche flat six units, giving the Bradley GT a vivid performance.

The Bradley GT was an interesting looking sports coupe they sold as a kit or as a fully built car, customized to customer’s specifications. It was a typical ’70s DIY model with metallic paint, chrome wheels and gullwing doors, adding to its appeal. For those who invested in a more powerful engine, updated suspension and drivetrain, the Bradley GT was a sports coupe, but most owners only wanted a show car.

  1. Cord 810 – 812

Errett Lobban Cord was a successful car salesman and businessman who had the dream of building cars under his own name. So, in 1929, he established a company he called Cord and introduced his first model, the L-29. The most famous Cord was the fantastic 810/812. It featured Art Deco styling, front wheel drive and a powerful V8 engine. When they presented the 810 in 1936, the car market was stunned.

At that time, it was the most advanced American production car with V8 power and front wheel drive. It also came with an independent front suspension and hide away headlights. The car featured many industry firsts, establishing itself as one of the most revolutionary American sports cars ever. Unfortunately, the market wasn’t ready for an advanced automobile, so sales were bad. This caused Cord to close its doors in the late ’30s.

  1. Bricklin SV-1

The SV-1 was the brainchild of automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin. They produced it in Canada from 1974 to 1975 in less than 3,000 cars. For a short while, they marketed the SV-1 as the most advanced American sports car. However, as soon as the first cars started rolling down the assembly line, it was clear the SV-1 was not what people expected it to be.

Their idea was to produce a safe yet fast sports car with the name SV-1 for Safety Vehicle One. Bricklin designed the car with big bumpers and numerous additional features like warring sensors. It also came with power Gullwing doors and an integrated roll cage, making it heavy and not agile. It came without any cigarette lighters

The power came from the 360 AMC V8 engine, which wasn’t powerful. So later the company turned to the 351 Ford V8, but it still couldn’t deliver any real performance. The public praised the SV-1 for its dedication to safety but criticized it for its lack of performance. The heavy weight, high price and poor build quality are what killed this car.

  1. Muntz Jet

The growing interest of American buyers for European sports cars in the early ’50s inspired U.S. companies to produce cars of equal appeal and performance. One of those attempts was the Muntz Jet. Earl “Madman” Muntz, a well-known Californian used car dealer and electronics retailer built it. With the help of famous Frank Curtis, he produced 400 Muntz Jets, which was one of the first American sports cars.

All cars were convertibles and featured numerous unique features along with the choice of Cadillac or Lincoln V8 engines. Unfortunately, the market wasn’t ready for an expensive, limited production American sports car. So, in a couple of years, they discontinued the Muntz Jet. Out of around 400 cars they built, there are only around 45 left today.

  1. Dodge Storm Zeder Z-250

You probably never heard about this car, but the Storm Zeder Z-250 was a true sports car from the early 50’s. They built it as a pet project for Chrysler engineer, Fred Zeder, Jr. In those days, only Chevrolet had a sports car in the Corvette. But Dodge could have an even better car, except that the Zeder Z-250 never made it into production. The idea behind this car was straightforward.

They wanted to use common mechanical components and a powerful Chrysler engine. The body was by Bertone, the famous design house from Italy. They wanted to create a comfortable and fast sports car. However, the Z-250 had one interesting feature. The whole body was easy to remove and replace with a lightweight fiberglass body. The reason for this was to make two cars for the price of one.

When the owner wanted to go driving on the street, they would use the regular metal body. But if they wanted to go racing, they could use the light fiberglass body for better performance and handling. Despite the advantages and fantastic design of the Z-250, Chrysler decided it would cost too much to build, so they scrapped the idea. Fred Zeder, Jr., produced around nine Z-250s, selling them to his friends.

  1. Kaiser Darrin

One of the most interesting but short-lived sports car attempts of the 1950’s was the beautiful Kaiser Darrin. It was an advanced roadster they produced for only one model year in 1954. The idea behind the Darrin was to introduce a lightweight sports roadster to battle those European models with homegrown elegance and power.

The Kaiser Car Company was an economy manufacturer in Toledo, Ohio, producing affordable yet dependable cars for years. In the early ’50s they decided to produce a performance roadster. So, they contacted designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin who produced a stylish roadster body consisting of fiberglass. It came with one unusual feature: doors which slid to the fenders to open.

The car debuted in 1954, but its high price tag and modest power from the 90 HP engine didn’t sit well with some customers. Only when they installed the optional Cadillac engine did the performance improve. However, it was too late to revive the image of the model. They made just 435 cars, all of which are sought-after classics today.

  1. Cheetah

The global success of the Shelby Cobra inspired many American race car builders to produce similar cars to compete on an international level. 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 the GM backdoor program. The company supported private racing teams with racing know-how and special racing parts. Bill Thomas’s shop was one of those outfits, so he decided to build a Cobra competitor with Chevrolet power. And that is how the Cheetah was born.

With a special lightweight chassis and small block V8 further back 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 even won some lower rank races as well as the 1968 SCCA championship. Unfortunately, a lack of support, mechanical problems and a fire at the shop in California stopped production after they built just 20 cars.

  1. Equus Throwback

One of the newest, most exclusive American sports cars is the new, sophisticated Equus Throwback. The Equus company concentrates on restomoded muscle cars with unbelievable levels of power and performance. And now the company has decided to go a step further into the sports car market with the 2018 Throwback.

Under the highly stylized body lies a Corvette C7 chassis and components. However, Equus decided to improve every aspect of it, including the suspension, brakes, engine and gearbox. According to their press release, the Throwback is available with an optional 1,000 HP engine. This gives the car 0 to 60 mph times of just 2.5 seconds and top speeds of over 220 mph.

  1. Bosley Mk1 GT

Like many car enthusiasts, Richard Bosley dreamt of building his own sports car. As a talented person without an engineering or design education, Bosley started constructing the Mk1 GT in his garage. He completed the car in 1953. The result was a modern, advanced sports coupe that featured a tube chassis.

It also had a tuned Chrysler Hemi engine with around 300 HP. The Bosley Mk1 GT was a surprisingly capable coupe with an amazing performance compared to other cars of the period. Unfortunately, Richard never intended to produce more Mk1 GTs, so there is just one of them.

  1. Cunningham C-3

Briggs Cunningham was a world known entrepreneur, racer and constructor who introduced American cars to the European sports car scene in the 1950s. His dream was to build a racing car to dominate both sides of the ocean. He also wanted to win the 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: the beautiful Cunningham C-3. The C-3 was a two-door coupe or convertible Cunningham produced in his West Palm Beach facility. It used the Cunningham C-2 R racing chassis, but they converted it for street use. The bodies came from Italy, which Vignale designed and produced.

Under the hood was a Chrysler 331 Hemi engine tuned to 300 HP. The C-3 was a luxury sports car that could easily rival any Ferrari or Maserati. But it was also expensive, with the prices close to Rolls Royce of the day. That is why Briggs Cunningham produced only 25 cars. There are 20 coupes and five convertibles, all of which still exist today.

  1. Shelby Daytona Coupe

The Daytona Coupe was basically a Shelby Cobra with coupe body they built primarily for racing. During its development, they stretched the chassis a few inches to create new driving dynamics.

Shelby produced just six of those gorgeous Daytona coupes, and all made racing history with much success. However, someone registered and drove at least one of those on the street.

  1. Callaway Turbo Corvette

Rives Callaway established Callaway Cars in 1977, long after the muscle car craze had wound down and high horsepower performance machines were just a thing of past. In the late ’80s, he was already a well-known name in the car industry, building his own creations on he based on regular models.

At the moment, the hottest U.S. car was the Corvette C4 which produced 245 HP. In order to show the real potential of twin turbo C4, Callaway produced the legendary Sledgehammer Corvette. It was a highly modified and turbocharged 1988 Corvette that delivered 898 HP and went over 250 mph.

  1. Shelby Series 1

Shelby had the idea to introduce a retro-styled car. He envisioned a power roadster with sharper handling, more direct driving dynamics and a modern drivetrain. The idea materialized in the form of the Shelby Series 1, a world class sports convertible. This was the only vehicle Shelby ever built from the ground up.

They introduced the Series 1 in 1999. It featured a gorgeous roadster body with a low silhouette and design reminiscent of the mid-60s. However, under the body, everything was new including an Oldsmobile 4.0-liter V8 engine that delivered 320 HP.

  1. Dodge Viper ACR

As you may already know, those ACR Vipers were always a car purist’s dream. They were specially-prepared road/track cars with immense possibilities, sublime handling and performance. The 2016 version was all that and more with its unique aerodynamic package that delivered tons of downforce.

It even allowed the Viper ACR to break several records for production cars. The secret of the ACR Viper was a slightly more powerful engine producing 645 HP. It also had a significant weight loss and a perfectly balanced chassis. Also, they gave it special race tires and powerful Brembo brakes.

  1. Chevrolet Corvette C3 ZL1

The C3 generation in 1968 included some of the most powerful Corvettes ever. And none was more powerful than the ultra-rare and legendary ZL1. The heart of the ZL1 was the fantastic racing-spec fully aluminum 427 V8 that produced up to 550 HP. And that’s in a mild tune.

This monster of an engine was far more powerful than anything Mopar or Ford had in production at the time. It was the prototype of the ultimate Corvette they produced in just 12 cars. However, only two are known to have survived.

  1. AMC AMX/3

Encouraged by the success of the Javelin and AMX, the AMC management team decided to attack the sports car market. They had the funds to do it, but they didn’t have a starting point. So, AMC hired the renown sports car creator and ex-Ferrari engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini. They asked him to build them a modern sports car with a rear engine, transaxle gearbox and sleek body.

Despite the promising start, AMC realized that the finished product would cost somewhere around $12,000. That was significantly more than the similarly designed De Tomaso Pantera and almost double the price of the Corvette. Unfortunately, but understandably, they decided to kill the fantastic AMX/3 in 1970 after building just six pre-production cars.

These are the ultra-rare, obscure American sports cars in existence today. Some are old and some are new, but they all share the same thing: They can almost fly down the road. If you are a sports car fan, you probably chose your favorite from this list. Hopefully, there are plenty of them around, so you can easily find the sports car of your dreams.

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