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Cars That Were Almost Worthless But Now Fetch Huge Prices

Vukasin HerbezDecember 7, 2022

Depreciation is one of the nastiest words in the car world. As you probably know, the minute you drive a new car off the dealership lot, it’s technically a used vehicle, and you can no longer get the price you paid for it. Over the years, depreciation takes up to 90% of the value making the prices of old and well-worn vehicles ridiculously low. That’s also happened with the prices of the world’s most sought-after classic cars.

True, those vehicles are now cherished and multi-million-dollar investment pieces, but once, they were just old cars on the way to the scrap yard. Some even ended up there forever. All the vehicles on our list were once very cheap. But unfortunately, they aren’t anymore. Check out these cars that were once worthless but now cost big prices if you can even find them for sale.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

Toyota 2000 GT

This car was introduced in 1967 and turned the eyes of the car world to a small company from war-torn Japan. All car magazines of the period praised the ride and driving dynamics. Despite having only 150 HP from its high-revving 2.0-liter six-cylinder, the 2000 GT had decent performance and almost race car-like handling. In the late ’60s, this car entered the SCCA championship and found much success (via Toyota UK).

Unfortunately, due to high prices and poor brand recognition, the number of 2000 GTs sold was very low – exactly 351 cars until 1970. It didn’t even help that it was in a James Bond film. But we couldn’t call it a failure. The 2000 GT did precisely what it was supposed to do; it showed the world that the Japanese car industry was the next big thing in the car world.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Vintage Ford Bronco

Everything started in the mid-’60s when Ford realized that the market for compact and off-road capable SUVs was emerging. Ford invested a lot of effort and money into constructing the Bronco since it had its platform, suspension, and drivetrain components. Finally, it had the straight-six and V8 engines giving it enough power and performance (via Bronco Bastards).

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

The Bronco was very compact, which helped it be very maneuverable on and off the road. Its small dimensions meant the interior was cramped, but buyers loved it nonetheless. The sales numbers went through the roof. The second and third generations were even more successful. They were also bigger and more comfortable with a longer list of options. The original Broncos were cheap for so long, but now they are six-figure cars.

VW Microbus
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Volkswagen T1

Introduced in 1950 and produced until 1967 in Europe and 1975 in Brazil, the T1 (Type 2) was an enormous success for Volkswagen. The early models had a tiny Beetle 1.1-liter flat-four engine with just 24 HP on tap. In 1953, the engines were enlarged to 1.2-liter with 30 HP, although the high-compression version was available in 1959 with 40 HP (via Secret Classics).

Volkswagen Type 2 - Volkswagen
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In 1962, the bigger, 1.5-liter flat-four debuted with 42 HP, which continued until the end of its production. A year later, this unit gained a power bump to 52 HP and the 1967 version had 54 HP. The Brazilian production included a 1.6-liter flat-four engine with 47 HP. For years, T1s were sold for couple hundred dollars. Now a good one can fetch up to $100,000.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

Shelby GT 350 H

Back in 1966, Shelby teamed up with the Hertz rental company to make 1,000 black and gold GT350 fastbacks. Soon the GT350 H was a legend among the people looking to rent a race car. They could enjoy it on the weekend and return it on Monday. There were reports of drivers returning cars with race numbers on the side and holes drilled for race roll cages (via Mustang Specs).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Eventually, Hertz stopped offering sports cars, but the legend was born. The Shelby GT350 Hs sold as used rental cars, and Hertz even sold some for scrap. That makes them hard to find today. Nowadays, a well-restored GT 350 H will set you back at least $200,000.

Photo Credit: GM

GMC Jimmy

The first GMC SUV was introduced as the Jimmy, a mechanically identical car to the Chevrolet Blazer. However, the GMC Jimmy was still different thanks to the better-looking front end, more equipment, and all-wheel drive standard. From the start, the Blazer was for a wider audience. But they aimed the Jimmy towards the off-road enthusiast market (via Hemmings).

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This is why the Jimmy is rare. The most popular versions are the early ones from the late ’60s and early ’70s. The engine lineup started with a straight six, but most buyers opt for the more powerful V8 engines. Just like the Blazer, the GMC Jimmy had a removable hard top. Once cheap, these SUVs are now very expensive.

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Mercedes 300 SL

In the early ’50, Mercedes was in ruins. Their production was low, and the factory slowly recovered from the devastating World War II. Nobody expected it to produce one of the finest sports cars of all time. And the fastest production car of the ’50s – the 300 SL. This unusual creation was arguably the first supercar in the world. It transcended the limits of the sports car class and went beyond design, power, and technology (via Mercedes Benz).

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class - Mercedes-Benz
Photo Credit: Mercedes

Using space frame chassis, a fuel-injected straight-six engine, a host of components, and race-proven parts, Mercedes created a masterpiece with unusual doors and fantastic performance. With just 240 HP on tap, the Mercedes 300 SL was a 150-mph car all day long. But some even claimed it could reach 160 mph. It was available as a Gullwing coupe and gorgeous Roadster. The latter can be yours for North of $1,250,000. In the early ’70s, those cars were bought for around $5000.

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Ford Mustang GT390 Bullitt

One of the biggest Mustang legends is the Bullitt movie car. In 1968, the legendary actor Steve McQueen starred in this famous cop movie, playing a detective who drove a mean-looking 1968 GT390 Fastback. They used two cars during the shooting, but they destroyed one of them. They used the other for close-ups and promotional shoots. McQueen, a racing enthusiast, drove and modified it, preserving it for the future (via Car and Driver).

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They later sold the surviving GT309 car. After several owners, it finally settled on the East Coast of the U.S. The third owner bought it for $7000. For decades, only a few people knew of the car’s whereabouts and the owner refused to sell it, even to McQueen himself. Then, in the summer of 2019, the original vehicle once again made headlines when it was announced that it would be sold via an Mecum auction. It was sold for $3.4 million.

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Jaguar E-Type

Introduced in 1961, Jaguar E-Type was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite Jaguar’s long-lasting tradition of building fine sports cars, the E-Type was years ahead of its time with a superb design, disk brakes, independent rear suspension, and powerful straight-six engines. It used the Le Mans-winning C and D Type racers and was as fast as any Ferrari or Maserati at the time (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Jaguar

But the best thing was the price. The E Type had the looks, power, and performance of high-priced Italian exotics, but it cost just a fraction of the price. Today, you will have to pay over $70,000 for a decent example. In the early ’80s, you could get yourself a lovely E-Type for about $3000.

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International Harvester Scout

International Harvester is a well-known American company dedicated to producing trucks and agricultural machinery. However, from the ’50s to the early ’80s, International was producing two SUV models. Called the Scout, it was a small and very usable off-road SUV with choices of engines ranging from 2.5-liter straight four to 4.4-liter V8 (via Hi Consumption).

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Also, it came with a removable hard top, which meant that every Scout was also a convertible, and it also had a fold-down windshield. The first models were pretty basic and used by nature lovers and hunters. Still, the second generation introduced a more luxurious Scout with more options, better engines, and exterior trim. This model was also popular in some European countries, but with a diesel engine. Even though the Scout ended in 1980 after 19 years of production, it is still a very popular and sought-after model. Unfortunately, rust claimed most examples, but the surviving ones still command high prices.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Shelby EXP500 Green Hornet

When talking about the most expensive Mustangs, it is essential to mention the Green Hornet, even though they never sold it. Still, the car received the highest bid of $1.8 million, but that wasn’t enough to buy it. For those who don’t know, the Green Hornet is another experimental Mustang from Shelby’s heyday (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Barrett Jackson

Although it wasn’t the only one, the Green Hornet had the most innovative features. It had a 390 V8 with fuel injection, unique disc brakes on all four wheels, and an independent rear suspension. With this layout, the Green Hornet was a capable car that handled and stopped better than any other sports car on the market. Ford crushed most other prototypes. However, the Green Hornet managed to survive in the hands of an ex-Ford employee. They restored the car. It is in perfect condition in the hands of the man who saved it from the crusher.

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Hudson Hornet

In 1951, Hudson introduced the Hornet, a full-size sedan with an affordable price and a few exciting features. First was a sleek design with a sloping roofline which made Hornets look longer, wider, and sportier. The second was the all-new “Step down” construction which merged chassis and body in one structure, which helped Hornets achieve a lower center of gravity and better handling. The third important feature was an improved straight eight-cylinder engine with 308 CID and up to 170 HP on tap (via Hemmings).

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This gave the Hornet a significant advantage on the race tracks, and Hudson dominated NASCAR races from 1951 to 1954, becoming one of the sport’s biggest legends. In comparison to other models, Hornet handled better, and the big straight 8 had a lot of torque which helped with the performance.

Photo Credit: Mecum

1979 Pontiac Trans Am

Unfortunately, in 1979, the days of big cube motors and high horsepower ratings were gone. So Pontiac decided to invest in new technology to generate power. That new technology was turbocharging, and in late 1979 it introduced the Trans Am Turbo.

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The engine in question was a 301 V8 with a Garrett turbocharger bolted onto it. The power output was relatively modest at 200 to 210 HP but the torque was high at 340 lb.-ft, which resulted in a hint of performance. The highly well-preserved cars can fetch over $50k at auctions (via Driving Line).

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Pontiac Bonneville

Introduced in 1958, the Bonneville was always a desirable car powered by the best and biggest engines packed in highly designed bodies. However, in the ’60s, this model was really popular and in a class of its own. The GTO’s success affected the Pontiac range, and all of a sudden, Pontiacs became sportier, more powerful, and more aggressive. Even four-door sedans became performance machines, and the biggest and the most luxurious, Bonneville was the best example.

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The Bonneville got a new design in 1965, but in 1966, its design matured and evolved into an elegant, low, and sleek form which was perfect for this performance sedan. Bonneville came as a hard top with Pontiac’s signature wide-track design, split grille, and nine-bolt wheels. The customers could get a lot of optional equipment and pretty powerful engines. The 389 V8 with 325 HP was standard, but you could also get a mighty 421 V8 with the famed Tri-Power option which delivered 360 HP (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Ford

Shelby GT350 R

As you may already know, Shelby started building Mustangs in 1965 as fire-breathing machines. They brought Ford some much-needed recognition and performance credentials. But, these cars were responsible for racing success. There were 34 “R” models they produced only in 1965. Ford sold them to privateers and racing teams all over America (via Supercars).

Photo Credit: Ford

Each example had numerous wins under its belt. Every R model is a precious piece of Mustang and racing history. They rarely come up for sale, but they achieve astronomical prices when they do. That was the case in 2012 when an original GT350 R sold for almost $1 million. This car had only 4,900 miles on the clock and the original transmission and engine.

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Jeep Grand Wagoneer

The Grand Wagoneer is the ultimate vintage luxury off-road vehicle. The fact that it was in production from 1963 to 1991 with just a few tweaks is genuine proof of its qualities. The Wagoneer had numerous inline-six and V8 engines. It had both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Hagerty

The most coveted models came from the 1984 to 1991 Chrysler era, when the car underwent a series of upgrades. With air conditioning, high-quality audio, comfortable power seats, lots of chrome, and optional woodwork, the Wagoneer was indeed a well-equipped car. Today the best examples can even get $100k at auctions.

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Continental Mark II

If you think that the Edsel is the only Ford’s failed luxury attempt, you’re mistaken. In the mid-’50s, Ford established a separate brand, Continental Division, to produce new luxury cars above the Lincoln brand. The success of the original Thunderbird showed the way, and Ford decided it should build a more advanced, more expensive, and prestigious luxury coupe. The first and only car was the famed Continental Mark II, introduced in 1955 (via Motor Cities).

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Ford’s idea was to present a superb luxury coupe with the finest technology and comfort and market it as a separate brand. The idea sounded well, but the market repose could have been better. The Continental Divison was shut down in five years, following the disappointing sales of the Mark II coupe, despite being one of the finest American cars ever made the ultimate American personal luxury coupe.

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Ford Mustang Boss 429

Getting $605,000 for any car is a fantastic achievement, let alone for the Boss 429. Despite its rarity and mystic allure, the Boss 429 never commanded such a high amount. However, this one did. This is one of the first Mustangs they made by hand. It featured an 820-S NASCAR engine with special Ford C9AE-A heavy-duty half-inch bolt rods. It also had forged pistons and a steel crank, among other factory options.

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Ford hoped that NASCAR would accept the Mustang, so the first examples were more specific. They featured equipment and an engine with slightly more power and race-specific components. Besides all of that, the best-known and respected names in the Mustang world restored this Boss 429. So, the price was high yet justified by the providence of this car (via Supercars).

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Dodge Charger Daytona Hemi

Dodge wanted to get into NASCAR and the Charger was the perfect candidate. However, since NASCAR cars already approached high speeds of almost 200 mph on newly constructed superspeedway tracks, aerodynamics played a crucial role in a car’s performance and results.

Photo Credit: W Supercars

So Dodge decided to go all out and create a racing car with a unique front end, flush rear glass, and a prominent rear spoiler. The Charger Daytona was a one-year-only model, and 504 got delivered, most with 440 V8 engines and only a handful with 426 Hemi engine option. If you want one of those cars, be prepared to pay over a million dollars (via Motor Trend).

1955 Ford Thunderbird
Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Thunderbird

Ford was off guard when Chevrolet introduced the Corvette in 1953. Although the Corvette was a commercial failure and didn’t earn any money for GM for long, the model proved extremely successful for promotional purposes and was very valuable as a halo car for all of General Motors. This is why Ford wanted its version to capitalize on the trend (via Hemmings).

1955 Ford Thunderbird
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

So, in 1955 the Thunderbird was introduced, and even though Ford tried to present it as a sports car, it was pretty clear that the Thunderbird was not one. The car had two seats and sporty looks. But it rode on a standard platform with comfortable suspension, and the interior was filled with creature comforts. This was Ford’s first personal luxury car with others to follow soon.

Photo Credit: Mecum

1967 Shelby GT500

The ’67 Shelby GT500 is a natural muscle car legend. Bigger and more powerful than before, the 1967 GT 500 featured a new design modified front and rear end. And a hefty 427 V8 engine with 335 HP and 420 lb.-ft of torque. In those days, Ford was notorious for underrating the power output of its engines. And 335 HP sounded too little for the big 427.

Photo Credit: Mecum

The enthusiasts claim that the real power was closer to the 400 HP range. And the performance figures backed that claim. The 0 to 60 mph time was 6.5 seconds, which was good for the day. Thanks to suspension modifications, the GT 500 could handle the curves well too. The Shelby GT500, in totally original and unrestored condition, can fetch hefty sums on auction, a far cry from its $2000 price in the early ’70s (via Car and Driver).

Foto Credit: Auto WP

Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6

The Chevelle was always a very popular muscle car, and its combination of affordable price, excellent design, and powerful engines was a hit with the buyers. In 1970, Chevrolet offered an expanded line of engines, including the famous 454 V8 big blocks.

Foto Credit: Mecum

The regular version was called LS5, which was very powerful, but Chevrolet installed an even stronger LS6 variant in just 3,700 cars. The LS-6 had almost racing compression of 11.25:1 and used a bigger carburetor and much stronger engine internals. It had 450 HP, but it’s more likely that it produced over 500 (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible

Two of the biggest Chrysler legends from the classic days of muscle car culture are the Barracuda and the 426 Hemi engine. All through the ’60s, those icons of the industry didn’t mix, at least not in street-legal cars. In 1970 Plymouth offered this legendary engine in Barracuda body style. It immediately created one of the fastest and most desirable muscle cars ever made (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The mighty Hemi engine was an expensive top-of-the-line option for 1970 and 1971, available in coupe or convertible form. It cost around $900 over the price of the standard Barracuda, and Chrysler installed it in just about 600 coupes and only 17 convertibles during a two-year production period. Well, prices for those 17 cars range from two to four million dollars.

Photo Credit: RM Sotheby’s

Shelby Daytona Coupe

Regular Cobra lacked top speed due to poor aerodynamics, and on long straights like on Le Mans, it was slower than the competition. To fight that, Shelby needed to modify the Cobra entirely. With the help of his talented team of engineers, he managed to construct longer chassis, relocate the suspension, and design a whole new, longer, sleeker, and much more aerodynamically efficient body.

Photo Credit: Ford

The Daytona Coupe was a pure racing car barely suitable for street driving and intended to destroy the competition. There were only six of them made and you’ll need at least $7.25 million to own one. Strangely, this car managed to get so expensive since Shelby had a hard time selling them to the general public in the late ’60s (via CNN Edition).

Foto Credit: Hagerty

Pontiac Catalina 421 “Swiss Cheese”

In the early 1960s, Pontiac realized that racing helps sell cars and that the famous Detroit mantra “Win on Sunday-Sell on Monday” really worked. Pontiac was big in NASCAR in that period, but its drag racing reputation in the NHRA championship was slim. To do the latter, Pontiac’s engineers manufactured numerous aluminum parts like bumpers, fenders, hoods, and so on, saving 159 pounds from the heavy car.

Foto Credit: Hagerty

Moreover, the vehicle got the name “Swiss Cheese” since they also drilled holes in the car’s frame to save a few more grams. With high compression 421 V8 engine and 410 hp, these Catalinas were lightning quick. Needless to say, “Swiss Cheese” Catalinas proved to be the fastest on the strips and won numerous races earning Pontiac some much-needed publicity. Today, most of the cars are well-known and the prices for those valuable drag racing legends are close to $1 million (via Supercars).

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1969 Pontiac Trans Am

The Trans Am model became pretty popular and mass-produced in later generations. But in 1969, it was a rare and unique limited edition car. In 1969, Pontiac wanted to present a model which could be homologated for Trans-Am racing. But the company was under a racing ban from GM. Pontiac introduced the Firebird Trans Am as a loaded car. That featured big-block power from the famous 400 V8 engine equipped with Ram Air III or IV intake system to mask its intentions.

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The difference between those engines was significant since Ram Air IV featured a lot of improved engine internals and components. Still, they were both rated at 366 HP, which was pretty underrated. However, this particular version with signature white paint, blue stripes, Rally II wheels, and other equipment proved to be a tough seller, and only 634 Firebird Trans Ams got sold. Of those, only eight were convertibles (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

1961 Lincoln Continental

Back in the late ’50s, Ford’s luxury division Lincoln was far behind Cadillac, not only in sales numbers but also in popularity and style. Despite building big luxury cruisers with powerful engines in the late ’50s, Lincoln needed to look better and nicer than the Cadillac. Ford decided that this had to change and the 1961 Lincoln Continental was born.

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When Lincoln showed the new model, the automotive public was stunned. The beautiful elegance of the styling, conservative use of chrome, straight lines, and futuristic design transformed the four-door luxury model into a work of art. All of the sudden, sales doubled. This new Continental became the official car of the White House because of its stately appearance. The best exterior feature was the suicide doors, with the rear doors opening toward the traffic. Of course, this wasn’t the best solution, but it only added to the charm of the Continental. Interestingly, Lincoln offered a very cool-looking four-door convertible model, which proved to be very popular and unique on the market (via Schmitt).

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1968 Cadillac DeVille

Back in the late ’60s, Cadillac was on top of its game. Sales figures were high and the model lineup was full of exciting, luxurious cars like the new front-wheel drive Eldorado. And the company’s reputation was second to none. However, Cadillac was always improving its products. So in 1968, it introduced one of its best engines as the standard for all of its models (via Automotive Mileposts).

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The brand-new 472 V8 was the final piece of the puzzle. Cadillac was the best luxury sedan of the late ’60s, with 375 HP under the hood and unmatched style and presence. The design, introduced in 1965 with stacked headlights and a prominent grille, was steadily improved. With the new 472 V8, the 1967 Cadillac DeVille was the perfect luxury car.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevrolet El Camino

In 1957, Ford introduced the Ranchero, a half car half truck built on their passenger car chassis and design. It was an exciting alternative to a regular truck since it offered decent payload with the drivability and size of a standard car.

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Chevrolet was surprised and needed a ready answer for this model. The Ranchero became relatively popular, and Chevy needed something to fight Ford. The answer came in 1959 in the form of the El Camino. The beautiful truck was built on Impala’s frame and featured the same looks, engine, and cabin. The customers immediately well received it. Since it offered all the goodies of the Chevrolet main passenger lineup with a half-ton capacity (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Wallup

Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible

By 1971, the end of the muscle car segment was in sight. Tightening government regulations regarding safety, environmental, and insurance issues were killing the market since power was the main selling point of muscle cars. On the other hand, by 1970 and 1971, the muscle car market was full and never before, or since there were so many models on offer (via Street Muscle Mag).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The famous Judge version, introduced in 1969, was continued in 1971. It featured a big block 455 V8 engine, crazy graphics, and a big spoiler on the trunk for the 1971 model year. The Judge version was relatively expensive and sold less well than before. The convertible had over a $4,000 base price, which was a lot of money back then. This is why only 17 GTO Judge 455 convertibles got delivered that year, making it one of the rarest GTOs and muscle cars ever created.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Chrysler Turbine

During the early ’60s, Chrysler performed turbine car testing. This kind of engine (similar to jet aircraft engines) made sense as the future of internal combustion engines. After extensive testing in laboratories and test tracks, there came a time when Chrysler needed valuable real-life data. So it built 55 cars and sent them to Italy’s Ghia design house to get fancy hand-made bodies. Then the cars were given to randomly chosen families all over America to be used as regular cars for some time (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

After that, Chrysler shipped the cars to other users, and engineers evaluated their experiences to see if the turbine engine was suited for mass production. The extensive program lasted two years, during which cars covered millions of miles and were tested in various conditions. Finally, Chrysler decided to abandon the project and scrap all 55 cars. Since it had to pay the import duties as they produced in Italy. However, due to lucky circumstances, nine cars survived today in museums and private collections throughout America.

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