Home Cars Failure To Launch: Sports Cars That Disappointed Performance Fans

Failure To Launch: Sports Cars That Disappointed Performance Fans

Vukasin Herbez October 5, 2023

One of the biggest indicators that the car industry is constantly improving is the rapid evolution of performance. The relentless quest for speed has inspired many engineers to make cars faster and more exciting, especially when it comes to sports cars.

However, while many car fans believe that all sports cars are fast, this just isn’t the case. There are more than a few sports car models that are downright disappointing due to the fact they’re ridiculously slow. We chronicled those engineering failures, so find out which cars attempted to create speed and failed right here.

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Matra Bagheera

For decades, French company Matra delivered innovative solutions, and new technologies while working with some of the biggest names in the industry. In cooperation with Simca in the early 1970s, Matra decided to produce a small sports car for the European market. Called the Bagheera, this three-seater was introduced in 1973 (via Hagerty UK).

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The Bagheera had three seats up front. Even though it was very compact, three people could sit comfortably next to each other. Unfortunately, the power came from diminutive 1.2 and 1.4-liter engines that didn’t provide any exhilarating performance. However, with three seats and some French charm, the Matra Bagheera was a moderate success.

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ASA 1000 GT

This little Italian sports car was once considered the next big thing in the car industry when it was introduced in 1962. Called “Ferrarina” (little Ferrari), the ASA 1000 GT was exactly that. It was built on a tubular chassis with a lightweight body and engine designed by then-Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarinni. It had four-wheel disc brakes, a sports suspension, and a nicely trimmed interior.

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Under the hood was a 1.03-liter four-cylinder with only 93 hp (via Classic Driver). Despite initial interest from customers, production stopped in 1967 after only 95 examples were built. Today, however, this little car is highly praised by collectors and car historians.

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Bricklin SV-1

The SV-1 was the brainchild of automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin. It was produced in Canada from 1974 to 1975 in less than 3000 examples. For a short while, the SV-1 was marketed as the best and most advanced American sports car. But as soon as the first cars started rolling off the assembly line, it was clear that the SV-1 was not as good as people expected (via Car and Driver).

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The idea was to produce a safe, fast sports car as the name SV-1 (Safety Vehicle One) suggested. Bricklin designed the car with big bumpers, warning sensors, power Gullwing doors, no cigarette lighters, and an integrated roll cage. These details made it heavy and not very agile. Its power came from a 360 AMC V8 engine that wasn’t very powerful. Later the company turned to the 351 Ford V8. However, it still didn’t deliver any real performance.

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Volkswagen SP2

When the SP2 came out, the biggest car company in Brazil was Volkswagen. The combination of air-cooled quality, usability, and low price tags 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 to get in the muscle/performance car market. They took the Beetle floor pan, a 1.7-liter flat-four engine, and tuned it to 75 hp. This wasn’t much but it was far more than stock (via Silodrome).

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The finished product was called the SP2 and it debuted in 1972. It had modern looks with a long front end, low profile, and sporty silhouette. The car cost more than any other Volkswagen. It did have some performance but failed to meet the expectations of performance-oriented car fans. The SP2 was in production for four years until 1976. During that time, Volkswagen made over 11,000 examples.

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Marcos GT

Produced from 1964 to 1971 and again from 1981 to 1990, the Marcos GT was the most popular model from this company. Basically, it was a kit car built on a custom chassis but with a choice of engines. The Marcos GT was a relatively cheap but capable sports car with aggressive styling, low weight, and decent performance (via Marcos OC).

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The GT could be had with numerous engines, mostly from Ford. The lineup started with small 1.5 or 1.6-liter four-cylinders. For a brief period of time, the Marcos GT was offered on the American market with Volvo’s straight six. However, not many cars were sold and their performance was poor.

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SAAB Sonett

SAAB was always known for its sedans and convertibles with turbo engines. But during the 1960s and early ’70s, SAAB produced a sports coupe. As expected, it was strange, obscure, and quirky just like the rest of their cars. In fact, there were three generations of the Sonett. The first one was a racing prototype from the ’50s but the second and third were regular production models (via Top Gear).

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Designed on a box chassis and fitted with a fiberglass body, the Sonett was initially equipped with tiny SAAB’s three-cylinder two-stroke engine with just 60 hp. As you can expect, customers were disappointed with its poor performance. But the company soon fitted it with a 1.7-liter V4 borrowed from Ford’s European division.

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Porsche 914

The Porsche 914 was built from 1969-76 as an entry-level model. It was designed and produced in cooperation with Volkswagen and is sometimes called a VW-Porsche 914. Behind the driver is a Volkswagen-derived flat-four engine with around 100 hp (via Porsche).

Porsche - Volkswagen Group
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It doesn’t sound like much because it wasn’t. Despite its low weight, this Porsche wasn’t really a sports car. It looked like one and was produced by a notable sports car company with the engine in the back. But unfortunately, you could beat it with a V8 family sedan.

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Toyota Celica

Toyota produced the Celica for decades as an affordable coupe built on a regular car platform. This meant that the Celica looked different, sporty, and fast, but it wasn’t much faster than the Camry or Corolla from the same model year (via Toyota).

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The last generation Celica was a really sharp-looking coupe with a wedge shape, a low silhouette and a supposedly big performance. But that just wasn’t true. It had only 110 hp and a 0 to 60 mph time of 10 seconds.

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Hyundai Tiburon

When it was released, the Tiburon was a breath of fresh air in the affordable coupe class. It was a good-looking, inexpensive, and exciting coupe to own. At least it was marketed as such. Under the body was a regular Hyundai chassis with a 2.0-liter, 140 hp engine and 172 hp engine as an option (via Car and Driver).

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Either way, it wasn’t fast or particularly rewarding to drive. The Tiburon was a total disappointment as a result like most of those front-wheel-drive coupes with ordinary drivetrains and small-displacement engines were.

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Chevrolet Corvette C3 (1980)

In 1970, the hottest Corvette had 435 hp. In 1980, the hottest Corvette had a much more modest 180 hp. It even had 10 hp less in California due to more strict emission standards in that state. So what happened in just 10 years and where did all those horses go (via CorvSport)?

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An economic recession, emission standards, and safety regulations appeared and killed almost all the performance from the legendary Corvette. The 1980 Corvette was sort of a dinosaur with old technology under the plastic skin. It had lazy engines and an outdated interior. It still looked the business but the years had caught up with it and the disco era had passed.

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Porsche 912

In 1965 after the end of Porsche 356 production, the brand-new 912 was released. It was a 911 but with a 2.0-liter, flat four-cylinder engine, 90 hp, and modest performance. The car was also significantly cheaper than the 911 and very fuel efficient with 36 mpg (via Porsche).

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Despite its slow performance, the 912 turned out to be a major hit for the factory. Between 1969 and 1969, more than 32,000 examples left showroom floors. In fact, the 912 proved to be a savior of the whole 911 series because it secured the financial stability of the factory until buyers fully accepted the 911.

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Skoda 110 R

During the 1960s, Skoda’s main sedan model was the 110, a basic four-door car with a rear-mounted four-cylinder engine. At that time in Eastern Europe, sports cars were almost nonexistent as a category. Skoda wanted to introduce a sports coupe to widen its appeal and export sales. The result was the Skoda 110 R, a true sports coupe with a dynamic fastback design and more power (via Skoda Storyboard).

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The 110 R was introduced in 1970 and immediately became a sought-after model in Eastern Europe. It retained the basic technical layout but had an upgraded engine boosting 62 hp. Of course, the performance was diminutive by today’s standards. But back in the early ’70s in Czechoslovakia, this was a proper sports coupe.

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Opel GT

Opel needed a sports car based on its entry-level model, the Kadett. In the mid-1960s, it got approval from GM to introduce such a vehicle. The design was heavily influenced by Corvette and GM’s concepts from the ’60s. With covered headlights, a curvy Coke bottle design, twin round tail lights, and a similar silhouette, the Opel GT was a scaled-down version of the Corvette. And it even appeared on the market at the same time as the Vette’s third generation (via Auto Express).

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With 1.3 and 1.9-liter four-cylinder engines, the Opel GT didn’t have the Corvette’s power or performance but it had the looks. It was sold in America through the Buick dealership network. Interestingly enough, it actually sold well. In fact, more Opel GTs were sold in the US than in Europe during its five-year production run.

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Ferrari Mondial

Introduced in 1980, the Mondial was the successor of the 308 GT4. It was a compact Grand Turismo sports car with a 2+2 seating configuration and a mid-engine layout. That meant it offered more space than the 308 and 328 GTB models, which were two-seaters only (via Ferrari).

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Despite the fact that the Mondial was more practical and somewhat cheaper, it wasn’t particularly popular So today it is one of the rare poorly regarded models in the Ferrari community. The design wasn’t very dynamic and its performance figures were much slower than the rest of the Ferrari lineup.

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Lancia Scorpion

In 1976, Lancia presented the Scorpion, a US-spec version of its Beta Montecarlo model. For the American market, the Montecarlo name couldn’t be used since Chevrolet already had the Monte Carlo. So Lancia decided to go with the more aggressive Scorpion name (via Motor Trend).

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However, despite the car’s modern looks and technical layout, the Scorpion wasn’t exactly a great performer since its four-cylinder engine delivered only 81 hp in US spec. The Scorpion was on sale for two years in 1976 and 1977 and sold around 1,800 examples in America.

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Pontiac Fiero

By the standards of its time, this was the most advanced American production model. Customers were hyped by the appearance of the Fiero. With its cool and modern design and advanced technology, the initial response was more than good (via GM Parts Centar).

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It was a bold move for Pontiac to introduce a compact, rear-wheel drive car with the engine positioned behind the driver and to pair it up with a five-speed manual transaxle gearbox. But one of the Fiero’s main problems was the fact it was underpowered. With 93 hp and a 0 to 60 mph time of over 10 seconds, it was painfully slow.

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Fiat 128 3P

Based on the economy family sedan called the Fiat 128, the Coupe and 3P (Tre Porte – Three Doors) models presented a supposedly sporty alternative. Introduced in 1971, the 128 Coupe and 3P featured front-wheel drive and four-cylinder engines (via Curbside Classic).

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Despite its cool, almost muscle car looks, the 128 Coupe and 3P weren’t exactly fast. The reason was the engine choice and buyers could choose between 1.1 and 1.3 liter units which delivered 60 and 67 hp. That is why most owners installed more powerful engines.

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Melkus RS 1000

As you may know, the sports car market in communist countries was practically nonexistent. Apart from the Skoda 110 R, there was no other sports car available. However, in East Germany, automotive engineer Heinz Melkus designed a very capable and interesting sports coupe. They convinced the Wartburg factory to produce a limited number of cars (via Silodrome).

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They used the Wartburg 353 as a basis, a Melkus-designed and fabricated independent front and rear suspension, roll-bars, and a close ratio five-speed gearbox. The 992 ccm engine had 68 hp, which was a lot from such a small displacement. The engine was behind the driver sending its power to the rear wheels, instead of the front like the standard Wartburg 353. It looked cool but with 68 hp, its performance was disappointing.

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Toyota Sports 800

This was the first Toyota sports car. It debuted in 1962, and in those days, Toyota was a small unknown company. So it wasn’t strange that sales were limited to Asian markets only (via Toyota).

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It had a diminutive 800 ccm engine with 45 hp. But despite its modest power and displacement, the Sports 800 had some performance credentials since it was extremely light and agile. However, by today’s standards, the 800’s dynamics are ridiculous. Production was over in 1969 after over 3,100 examples left the factory. It’s a valuable piece of Toyota’s history although it is very slow.

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Fiat X 1/9

Behind this strange name lies one of the most interesting affordable sports cars of the ’70s. Introduced in 1972, the Fiat X1/9 was a small two-seater with T-Tops, a mid-mounted engine, and two trunks. Think of it as a Porsche Boxster, just 20 years older (via Classics World).

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Despite fantastic looks and technical layout, the X 1/9 was pretty underpowered. With just around 60 hp from its small 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine, its performance was not impressive and most owners decided to fit bigger engines.

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