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20 Well-liked Classic Performance Sedans

Vukasin Herbez May 9, 2019

Once upon a time, sedans were just basic transportation and not performance cars by any means. Then, somebody shoehorned a powerful engine into a four-door body and created a performance or sports sedan. And doing that started a small revolution and inspired numerous manufacturers to offer comfortable, well-equipped sedans with sports car performance.

You probably know about those insanely powerful BMW M5s and Mercedes AMGs, but which cars started this trend? What were the first performance sedans they ever produced? So, read on to learn about the forefathers of today’s four-door muscle cars. These are the 20 of the best classic performance sedans ever made.

  1. Duesenberg SSJ

Duesenberg was one of the most famous luxury manufacturers that were famous for their superb quality and big power. Sadly, the company is no longer around. However, their SJ and SSJ four-door models they produced in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s were among the fastest cars of the period.

And that was due to its big straight-eight engine they equipped with a supercharger. The output ranged from 260 to as high as 400 HP in SSJ trim. As expected, those rare and extremely expensive cars had big top speeds. In this case, it was over 110 mph, which was insanely fast for 1932.

  1. Ford V8 Deluxe Sedan

Despite the fact that the advertised power of the early ‘30s Ford V8 was just 65 HP, it was significantly more than any of their competitors. The V8 is what turned Ford’s four doors into real performance machines for the masses. When those early hot rodders got a hold of those engines, the power rose to over 150 HP.

They transformed those ordinary sedans into blisteringly fast cars by the standards of the day. And that is why those ‘30s V8-powered Fords were the favorite transportation of those legendary gangsters and bootleggers.

  1. Lincoln Zephyr V12

In the mid-30s, Ford wanted to catch up with Chrysler as America’s most advanced car manufacturer. And that is why they decided to invest in a new line of upscale Lincoln models, powered by a V12 engine. Ford named it the Zephyr and it was a modern, aerodynamically efficient and fast car that attracted lots of car buyers.

Ford presented the Zephyr in 1936 and sold it until 1942. The Zephyr wasn’t a top of the line Lincoln because it was smaller than the K-Series models. However, it featured extremely advanced art deco styling and a modern interior. Also, it had a smaller V12 engine that delivered 110 HP.

  1. Oldsmobile Rocket 88

For the 1949 model year, Oldsmobile presented two important things. They were the 88 model series and the new 303 CID V8 engine they called the Rocket V8. In fact, both would prove influential in Oldsmobile and motoring history. The 88 model was relatively light and compact.

But the Rocket V8 was a hot engine with a two-barrel carburetor and 135 HP on tap. And this combination of a light body and a powerful engine in the 1949 Oldsmobile 88 made it the first muscle car and performance sedan from Detroit.

  1. Cadillac Sedan de Ville

The 1949 Cadillac was an important model for the company since it introduced a new design gimmick that sparked the trend of big chrome fins. Those raised rear fenders near the rear lights started a revolution in American design during the ‘50s.

And better still, they added the new 331 CID V8 to the ‘49 Cadillac, which produced 160 HP. The new motor was powerful by the standards of the day. They equipped it with a manual transmission, to allow the Cadillac Sedan de Ville to accelerate to 60 mph in just 12 seconds. Those numbers were fast for the late ‘40s, transforming this luxury sedan into a performance machine.

  1. Hudson Hornet

In 1951, Hudson introduced the Hornet. It was a full-size sedan with an affordable price and a few interesting features. The first feature was the sleek design with the sloping roofline that made Hornets look longer, wider and sportier.

The second feature was the all-new “step down” construction that merged the chassis and body in one structure. It helped the Hornet achieve a lower center of gravity for better handling. The third important feature was the improved straight eight-cylinder engine with 308 CID and up to 170 HP on tap.

  1. Chrysler New Yorker

Even though Chrysler introduced the Hemi engine in 1951, it was only in 1954 when they became a hot item. In fact, the Chrysler engineers managed to squeeze 235 HP out of the Hemi. That was considered ludicrous power for the day.

Best of all, they installed the 331 Hemi in the elegant and restrained New Yorker. It proved to be not only fast and durable but also a record breaker. Chrysler entered a special 24-hour endurance run with the ‘54 New Yorker. And it managed to average 118.8 mph over 24 hours of nonstop driving.

  1. Jaguar Mk2

Jaguars were always powerful and fast machines, covered in beautiful bodies with luxury interiors. They are dream cars that combine the best aesthetics with smooth six-cylinder engines and luxury trim. Over the years, Jaguar earned its performance credentials with numerous racing wins and beautiful sports cars. But in 1959, it presented a proper performance sedan in the form of the Jaguar Mk 2.

Interestingly, this car earned the nickname, “The Bank Robber’s Express” because of its speed and handling. In fact, it helped bank robbers quickly escape the scene of their crimes. And that is why the British police also started using them in the ‘60s. With a top of the line 3.8-liter engine they sourced from the E-Type delivering 220 HP, the Mk 2 was a capable, elegant sedan with a 0 to 60 mph time of nine seconds flat.

  1. Maserati Quattroporte

As a renewed manufacturer of sports and racing cars, Maserati caused quite a controversy in 1963 when they presented the Quattroporte sedan. It was a luxury four-door model they built on a stretched 5000 GT platform and with the potent V8 engine. Despite its size and form, the Quattroporte handled like a sports car.

With a 4.1-liter V8 producing 260 HP, it could cruise at high speeds and get to 60 mph in just eight seconds. Although the Quattroporte wasn’t the first powerful and fast sedan, people widely regard it as the car that started the performance trend in Europe.

  1. Alfa Romeo Giulia Super

Back in the early ‘60s, Alfa Romeo introduced the legendary Giulia as a compact sedan. It came with a high-revving four-cylinder engine. It had good handling, four-wheel disc brakes and lively performance. Although the Giulia was an economy model, it offered much more than its competitors in terms of handling and performance. In fact, it was the favorite transportation of the Italian police and quite successful in racing, too.

  1. Dodge Coronet Hemi 426

The Chrysler Corporation introduced their legendary 426 Hemi engine for 1966 as an option on select Plymouth and Dodge models. The iconic powerplant was an option on the Dodge Coronet as well. Technically customers could order it with any body style. However, most car buyers associated Hemi power with two-door coupes or convertibles.

In fact, most people didn’t realize they could have the Hemi in sedan or even in wagon form. That is why only a few people bought the Coronet DeLuxe Hemi four-door in 1966. With an advertised 425 HP under your right foot, the Coronet Hemi four-door was arguably the fastest production sedan in America and the ultimate muscle car four-door.

  1. Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3

Back in the late ‘60s, Mercedes took a big leap forward by introducing the 300 SEL 6.3 version of their luxury sedan, the W109. This was the first power sedan for the company since the mighty 6.3-liter V8 engine with 250 HP and 434 lb-ft of torque sat under the hood. From the outside, this formal Mercedes sedan looked ordinary apart from its twin tailpipes. However, when you kicked the accelerator pedal, you could leave a Porsche 911 in the dust.

  1. Iso Fidia

The Iso car company produced some of the most elegant and powerful Italian GT models of the ‘60s like the Rivolta and Iso Grifo. But in the late ’60s, Iso entered the luxury sedan market with the fantastic Iso Fidia. It was a big four-door sedan with a Chevrolet V8 engine and a luxurious interior.

However, the Fidia was more of a high-speed cruiser than a four-door sports car with around 300 HP on tap. Also, it came with a precisely sorted suspension and brakes, so it could hold its own on twisty roads, as well.

  1. Monteverdi 375/4 Sedan

Monteverdi was a Swiss company that produced bespoke sports and luxury cars using Chrysler engines. However, in 1970, owner Peter Monteverdi wanted to compete with Maserati, Mercedes and Jaguar by introducing a sublime sedan they called the 375/4. Interestingly, they designed the car in Italy.

It featured a long and low silhouette, perfect comfort and a big American 440 V8 they rated at 375 HP; hence, the name. With such firepower under the hood, the Monteverdi was one fast sedan capable of reaching speeds well over 140 mph.

  1. Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9

The mid-70s were dark times for performance models all around the globe. The muscle cars were almost gone thanks to the tighter restrictions. They reduced the output of sports cars to ridiculously low levels, making performance sedans almost extinct. However, in 1974, Mercedes introduced the 450 SEL 6.9.

The car continued the idea the 300 SEL 6.3 started several years prior. However, the 6.9 was a bigger, heavier, more advanced model with impressive performance hidden in a formal body. And with 268 HP and 405 lb-ft of torque, it was one of the most powerful automobiles you could buy in the mid-70s.

  1. BMW M5 E28

The ‘80s brought a slight rise in power and liberty to experiment even further. So, in 1984, BMW made motoring history with the introduction of the first M5 model. They named it the E28 and it was the ultimate version of the popular 5-Series sedan. Under the hood was a highly tuned 3.5-liter straight six engine producing 265 to 288 HP, depending on the market.

Although this doesn’t sound like much today, for the mid-80s, it was unbelievable power. And better yet, they paired it with an M-Performance tuned suspension and brakes. And all that turned this docile family sedan into a proper sports car.

  1. Mercedes 500E

Back in the early ‘90s, Mercedes produced the successful but docile W124 E-Class. But the elegant sedan was famous for its comfort and refinement rather than its performance and speed. But the team of crazy German engineers wanted to change that. So, in 1991, they presented the mighty 500E model. This was a high-performance version of their main sedan featuring a different drivetrain, suspension, brakes and engine.

Interestingly, the 500E was so hard to produce, Mercedes asked Porsche to assemble the car. The most impressive feature of the 500E was the 5.0-liter V8 engine that developed 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.

  1. Ford Taurus SHO

Back in the late ‘80s, Ford caused a revolution with the introduction of the Taurus model. This was the first truly modern American sedan that ditched the heavy ladder-type chassis and big engines. In fact, Ford went in a different direction with a sleek and aerodynamic body, new technology and front wheel drive.

The Taurus sold in volumes, but the most interesting is the famed SHO version. The SHO or Super High Output was a performance model in the Taurus lineup. It featured a Yamaha-sourced 3.0-liter high revving V6 that produced 220 HP. Today, this doesn’t sound like much, but in 1989 it was a lofty figure. Best of all, the performance was outstanding with just 6.7 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph.

  1. Maserati 430 BiTurbo

The BiTurbo lineup of cars started with the 222 model, which was a handsome two-door coupe. And it continued with those 420 and 430 sedans they built on the same base. Even though this was an extremely boxy car, it still looks cool. Even today, this elegant Italian still turns heads.

Despite the problematic quality, those compact but luxurious sedans were fast, capable cars that had the performance of an ‘80s exotic with the comfort of a four-door. The late versions of 430 4V sedans produced up to 270 HP with 0 to 60 mph times of fewer than seven seconds.

  1. Dodge Spirit R/T

The Spirit was a Dodge economy model they introduced in the late ‘80s. But, then Dodge presented the R/T version and things got interesting. The base 2.2-liter four-cylinder which only developed only 90 HP got a turbo upgrade to put out an impressive 224 HP and 218 lb-ft of torque.

For the 1991 model year, this was a hefty power level from an economy car. Although it was fast, it retained the ‘80s boxy look. But that is what makes it an even more surprising performance sedan and unusual Mopar performance sedan.

These are 20 of the best classic performance sedans ever made. While some are still famous, others are just forgotten models. But all of these sedans set the stage for big performance cars that are affordable and look like everyday family sedans.

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