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Top 30 Underrated Performance Cars Of The Auto World

Vukasin HerbezFebruary 5, 2019

The internet is full of praise for ‘80s and ‘90s Porsche 911s, Ferraris, and R33 Skylines nowadays. Everyone agrees those are fantastic cars. But they are not the only ones who deserve the attention of the car crowd and spike a rise in prices. Over the years, the car industry has produced many interesting sports cars. As a result, there are more than a few underrated and overlooked models.

Today, you will learn about the top 30 most underrated and almost forgotten sports cars. Some of them you can still find for a great price, but some of them are slowly becoming out of the reach for the average car collector. However, all those cars have something in common. They are powerful and fast, yet they don’t get even close to as much credit as popular models.

30. Ford Mustang Cobra

Although collectors have seen a recent rise in prices, the Fox-body Mustang Cobra has flown under the radar of mainstream collectors for a while. Most people tend to dismiss it as another Fox-body Mustang, but the Cobra is much more than that. It’s a proper performance car, blurring the line between classic muscle cars and sports coupes.

Interestingly, Ford produced it for one year only, in 1993. It marked the end of the Fox-body Mustang generation. Under the hood was an SVT prepared 5.0-liter HO engine with a trick GT40 head and various other upgrades. The 0 to 60 mph time was well under six seconds. The 1993 Cobra handled perfectly thanks to its revised suspension. Ford made just 4,993 examples in 1993. If you want one, hurry before they become the Shelby GT350s of the 21st century.

29. Lamborghini Urraco

You might be surprised to find a proper Lamborghini on this list but just look at the specs of this ‘70s wonder. The mid-mounted 2.0-liter V8 with 180 HP is capable of reaching 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. Compared to later models and well-known Lamborghini supercars, this is not as good, but still quite a performer by 1970s standards.

However, they produced the Urraco in dark times for performance cars and rumors were it was assembled poorly. Lamborghini managed to produce over 700 of them so these wedge-shaped cars deserve a better look.

28. BMW 325is E30

The classic E30 generation of BMW’s 3-Series is recognized as one of the best driver’s cars you can find on a budget. But those M3s have gone stratospheric and way beyond the reach of the average enthusiast. However, there are still interesting gems in the E30 range that can provide plenty of performance and driving dynamics.

The 325is was model which was sold in America from 1987 to 1991 and featured 2.5-liter straight six engines with a healthy 170 HP. Although it is not much by today’s standards, the 325is has a lively performance. And with its perfect handling and light weight, it has a sports car feel and enjoyment.

27. Alfa Romeo GTV6

Jeremy Clarkson, the English writer, broadcaster, and journalist who has a specialty in motoring, once said you’re not a car enthusiast if you never owned an Alfa Romeo. As always, he is overreacting, but owning a GTV6 is highly recommended. The Tipo 105 successor was the coupe version of the Alfetta, which they introduced in the late 1970s. This car with chassis code 116 had advanced construction and suspension.

Also, it featured several interesting details. First, it had a transaxle gearbox that vastly improved the weight distribution; thus, its improved handling. Second, it had a De Dion type rear axle which helped the cornering and driving dynamics. With a 2.5-liter V6 engine in the front, the GTV6 delivered 160 to 170 HP. And it provided a vivid performance by the standards of the day.

Even today, people know the GTV6 for its perfect driving dynamics, solid acceleration times and the fantastic soundtrack from its high revving V6. Interestingly, they sold this car in the U.S. They even sold it with an optional turbo kit by Callaway performance that was good for a whopping 233 HP. Surprisingly, prices are still affordable so this could be the perfect starter classic if you are into Italian sports cars.

26. Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

The classic C1 to C3 Corvettes are already too expensive for the average car buyer. The standard C4, despite the great handling, may be too low on power for some owners. So the solution is the ZR1. A mighty C4 Corvette that could outrun most of the supercars in the early ‘90s. Under the hood, there was the LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine pumping out 375 HP, and later 400 HP.

Also, it had quad-cam heads and 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel that performed exceptionally well. With the beefed-up suspension, gearbox and a pair of extra-wide rear tires, the Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. That made it one of the fastest cars of the era and a true modern classic to the day.

25. Volkswagen Golf R32

This list wouldn’t be complete without one proper hot hatch. There are lots of interesting compact cars with high power to choose from. In most cases, when it comes to the hot hatch class, the newest and the fastest is always the best choice. But today, you’ll learn about a forgotten gem, the Golf R32.

In 2003, Volkswagen took the Mk4 body shell and installed the best hardware it had in the early 2000s. That meant the R32 had intelligent all-wheel drive and a 240 HP 3.2-liter V6 engine. They added a luxury interior and a host of electronic aids. All of this makes the R32 a definitive future classic and an extremely capable everyday car. So buy one now while they are still affordable.

24. Lotus Esprit V8

They produced the Esprit from the early ‘70s until the early 2000s. It was always a fantastic supercar despite the fact it had smaller engines than the competitors. The last and the best version was the V8 with 350 HP. With its lightweight body, it could outrun many competitors while still retaining its classic wedge look.

This was a bonafide exotic, but current prices are relatively affordable. However, you should snap up this piece of classic British engineering right now. For the price of new mid-size SUVs, you get a Ferrari-beating performance and exclusivity. Maintenance can be tricky, but it is well worth the effort and investment.

23. Alpine 610/GTA

If you think that France didn’t produce any relevant sports cars in the last 30 years, think again. They introduced the Alpine A610 in 1991 as a replacement for the Alpine GTA and old A310 from the late ‘70s. The fiberglass-bodied coupe featured several interesting features like a futuristic interior. Also, it came with a rear-mounted turbocharged V6 engine from Renault, delivering vivid performance.

The 3.0-liter V6 produced 247 HP. And that was enough to launch this lightweight coupe from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds with close to 170 mph top speeds. The Alpine cars have a small cult following but are mostly unknown to Americans even though they sold some models there.

22. Sunbeam Tiger

In 1959, Sunbeam presented the Alpine, a nice-looking roadster with dependable and conventional mechanicals and a small 1.5 or 1.7-liter four-cylinder. But the company soon realized it needed much more than four cylinders to be competitive in the sports car market. So they called Carroll Shelby and asked him to turn the docile Alpine into a real performance car.

Shelby designed the Sunbeam Tiger as a muscle car version of the Alpine by installing a Ford 260 and later 289 V8 engine. Also, he redesigned the suspension and steering. It was the first British roadster with a proper V8 rumble delivering an impressive performance. Finally, Sunbeam had a sports car.

The Tiger was fast and powerful by the standards of the day. Back in 1964, this was one of the best sports roadsters money could buy. With the price of original Shelby Mustangs and Cobras going stratospheric, you will be pleased to know this model is still relatively affordable and is still a true Shelby car.

21. Volkswagen Corrado VR6

Today, the Volkswagen Corrado is a forgotten model. But in the early 1990s, this was the fastest Volkswagen you could buy. Conceived as a replacement for the popular Sirocco coupe, the designed the Corrado to be much more. Volkswagen wanted something closer to a Porsche 944 in terms of styling and performance than another sporty-looking Golf derivate.

Volkswagen Corrado VR6

So, the Corrado had a revised front-wheel-drive platform and a special suspension and brakes. Also, it had a new, aggressive-looking exterior design, and an interesting, powerful VR6 engine option. The VR6 was high-revving 2.9-liter V6 engine mounted to close-ratio five-speed manual delivering 190 HP. That was a high number for the early ‘90s when the Corrado was on sale in the U.S.

The VR6 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, which was respectable. In fact, it made this little coupe one of the best driving cars of the period. Today, those cars are relatively inexpensive. For around $5,000, you can find a decent example.

20. Lamborghini Jarama

The Jarama is not a budget car by any means, but it is still just is just a fraction of the cost of more popular Miura or Countach. Interestingly, the Jarama is more exclusive than both of those cars because they only built just over 350 examples from 1970 to 1976. Having a 4.0-liter V12 engine straight from the Miura up front, the Jarama is like a Gran Turismo coupe with a decent amount of interior room.

The performance is great, but the design seemed to miss the mark with wealthy buyers. With a wedge profile and squared lines, it wasn’t up to early `70s design standards. However, you can have that fantastic V12 for the price of a modern, well-equipped SUV.

19. Pontiac GTO

The 2004 to 2006 Pontiac GTO was in many ways the most underrated performance car in recent history. It was the last classic muscle car. It was fast, affordable and had a fantastic name and heritage. But somehow, it flew under the radar during its entire production run.

So, what was the problem with the 2004 to 2006 GTO? Was it bad, slow or underpowered? No, the car was just fine, but it failed to excite customers like the original GTO did. Simply, the design was restrained and not particularly aggressive. But the car was fast and the performance was convincing.

But as an overall package, the new GTO wasn’t appealing to new customers. This was the main reason for its early demise and relative market failure. This means you can now get a 400 HP engine with 4.6 seconds 0 to 60 mph time for next to nothing.

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18. Dodge Viper RT/10

The Viper is not exactly a forgotten car, but it is amazing that it is not worth $100,000. They presented this legendary sports muscle car in 1992. Immediately, it became an American icon. It had a monster of a V10 engine in the front with a sleek, aggressive body style.

With its rear-wheel drive, there was not much to protect you from being killed by its sheer power and the wild nature of this car. The amount of driving excitement of the Viper is enormous. And although the first-generation Viper had its share of flaws, it was a glorious, monstrous sports car with loads of character. That is why it should be more expensive than it is and exactly why you should buy it now.

17. Chrysler Crossfire SRT6

Do you remember the Chrysler Crossfire they introduced in 2004? The Crossfire was basically a Mercedes SLK in a different body with the same mechanics and drivetrain. Chrysler introduced the Crossfire concept in early 2000s. Soon, the car public went crazy for its aggressive lines and stance. However, when the car premiered, it was obvious Chrysler cut corners and just made the American version of the SLK.

But, even though the press didn’t like the car, there was one version with proper performance credentials, the Crossfire SRT6. The SRT6 was, as expected, an SLK, but this time, it was an AMG. That meant the SRT6 came with an AMG-prepared V6 engine delivering 330 HP.

Also, it had a performance-tuned suspension, brakes, and other components. The SRT6 was fast and it came as coupe or convertible. Several thousand examples were made so better hurry up and find one.

16. Porsche 944 Turbo

This forgotten gem from Stuttgart is one of the best affordable sports cars you can buy. They are still affordable. However, if you don’t act fast, chances are the prices will go stratospheric soon. They designed it as an entry-level Porsche. So, the 944 had an interesting layout with a front-mounted engine and rear-mounted transaxle gearbox.

The handling was sublime, too. And, even though the base 170 HP engine wasn’t slow, the real treat was the turbo. It had a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that put out 250 HP. Due to its light weight and good transmission and aerodynamics, the 944 Turbo was a fast car.

The 0 to 60 mph took only 5.9 seconds and this car could top 162 mph. Even today, this little Porsche can outrun some modern sporty cars.

15. Lancia Scorpion

So, you want a limited production Italian sports car from the ‘70s with two seats and a mid-engine layout, but you only have $20,000 to spare. Does that sound impossible? Well, it isn’t since there is a solution to your problem in the form of the Lancia Scorpion. In 1976, Lancia presented the Scorpion, a U.S.-spec version of its Beta Montecarlo model.

For the American market, they couldn’t use the Montecarlo name since Chevrolet already had a Monte Carlo. So, Lancia decided to go with the aggressive Scorpion nameplate. However, despite the car’s modern looks and technical layout, the Scorpion wasn’t a great performer. In fact, its four-cylinder engine delivered only 81 HP in U.S. spec.

The Scorpion was on the market for two years, 1976 and 1977, and they sold around 1,800 in America. Today, these Lancias are rare but not expensive. Better yet, most of them have been upgraded with a Fiat 2.0-liter engine that produces more power and gives the Scorpion the performance it deserves.

14. ASC McLaren Mercury Capri

Although the Mercury Capri from the ‘80s was just a Fox-body Mustang with a different grille, there was one special version that deserves more attention. In those days, the American Sunroof Company (ASC) was famous for their convertible versions of various production models. However, they teamed up with Ford to produce a two-seater roadster variant of the Mustang and Capri.

But Mercury also had a deal with McLaren, so in 1984, they introduced a special model they called the ASC McLaren Capri. The cars were available as coupe or convertibles with many improvements over the standard models. The 5.0-liter V8 had 210 HP, which was a significant increase over other models. Also, it had different details, fog lights, special wheels and body kits. The overall production was low, and they discontinued the ASC McLaren line in 1986.

13. Fiat Dino Coupe

Back in 1967, Fiat introduced the Dino, a coupe and a convertible sports car that featured a Ferrari V6 engine straight from the 246 GT Dino. Bertone designed the coupe while Pininfarina styled the convertible. Also, the two cars shared the mechanics, engine, and performance, but the design was totally different.

They officially sold the Fiat Dino Coupe in America. You can find one on the classified ads for as little as $15,000. And that is the most affordable way to own a piece of Ferrari magic for Ford Fiesta prices. If you are budget-minded, look for the Dino Coupe since it is more common and affordable than the convertible. Also, look for the later 2.4-liter V6 version since it is better and faster than the early 2.0-liter model.

12. Lincoln Mark VII LSC

The ‘80s Lincolns are not the most sought-after car for collectors, but there is one car that deserves respect and recognition. And that is the late ‘80s Mark VII LSC. Although they conceived this car as a comfortable coupe with no performance aspirations, the LSC was a bit of a hot rod from Ford.

LSC stood for Luxury Sports Coupe and this Mark VII was just that. Under the hood was a 5.0-liter V8 delivering up to 225 HP straight from a Fox-body Mustang GT. The performance was slower than the Mustang, but the LSC was a great touring car. They loaded it with lots of options, special seats, and luxury items. Today, the LSC is forgotten but it still presents great value and is a great classic American car.

11. Mitsubishi Starion

Back in the mid-80s, turbocharging was the most popular way of upgrading engine power, so the Japanese manufacturers were active in that field. One of their characteristic coupes was the Starion Mitsubishi produced. Interestingly, in the U.S., they also sold it as the Chrysler Conquest, thanks to a cooperation agreement between the two companies.

With its pop-up headlights and bulged fenders in the TSI version, the Starion was an example of typical ‘80s styling. Under the hood, there were several four-cylinder engines, but you should look for the 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivering 155 HP. In stock form, the performance is not great by today’s standards but in 1986, the Starion a decent performer.

However, due to the availability of modern turbocharging components, you can transform the Starion into a rapid machine. In fact, you can double the original power with just a few simple mods. Since the more popular Japanese sports coupes have experienced a rise in prices, the Starion is still affordable, but every bit as cool as 300 ZX or Mazda RX7.

10. Monroe Handler

Few people know what the Monroe Handler is. But back in the late ’70s, the Mustang was a disgrace due to a serious lack of performance and power. However, Hot Rod Magazine thought that underneath it was a cool, little performance car. So with the help of Monroe, a manufacturer of shock absorbers, they built the Monroe Handler. It turned out to be the only real-performing Mustang II.

Thanks to a long list of modifications, the Monroe Handler came with a 400 HP engine and a racing suspension. Monroe added an extensive body kit and a long list of other upgrades. Although it was a show car, the Handler proved the Mustang II had potential, so they started producing kits for the public.

9. Alfa Romeo 4C

In 2013, Alfa Romeo introduced the 4C. However, nobody expected such a car from Alfa Romeo. The 4C was a “junior supercar” with a carbon fiber tub and lightweight construction. Also, it had a cramped interior and a four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

But the heart of the 4C is a tiny, 1.8-liter engine. However, thanks to the turbocharger pumping 238 HP to the rear wheels, the performance numbers are just as impressive as the soundtrack.

8. Ford Mustang SVO

The third-generation Ford Mustang appeared in 1979. It added modernization to the Mustang range in design and in technology. The new Fox-body Mustang was sleeker, more modern, and more aerodynamic. It was also somewhat lighter and nimbler, which reflected in its performance.

However, the biggest news was the introduction of the turbo engine, a modern device for the time. The Ford Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department introduced the Mustang SVO for 1984. It featured a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produced 175 HP, which was big power for a small engine. As a light car, the ’84 Mustang SVO was faster than the 5.0 V8 version. But with a turbo engine, muscle car traditionalists never accepted it.

7. Chevrolet Camaro

Modern times brought modern versions of some legendary cars. The best example of this is the new Chevrolet Camaro. Chevy has equipped it with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Muscle car purists may wonder why Chevy would produce a four-banger Camaro. However, the new Camaro turbo is a great car with performance ratings better than those classic V8-powered models from the 1960s.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers 275 HP. In just 5.1 seconds, it can propel the heavy coupe from 0 to 60 mph. It can go up to 155 mph. Although the new four-cylinder Camaro may not have the glorious soundtrack of a V8 engine, it has the performance and fuel economy that V8’s have always lacked. The motoring press loved the new downsized engine and this version has proven how far technology has come.

6. Ford Taurus SHO

Back in the late 1980s, Ford caused a revolution with the introduction of the Taurus model. This was the first truly modern American sedan. Ford ditched the heavy ladder-type chassis and big engines. They 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 Super High Output (SHO) version.

The SHO wasn’t a muscle car by any means since it was a four-door sedan. Still, it delivered a significant amount of power so it belongs on our list of the best 1980s performance cars. It featured a Yamaha-sourced 3.0-liter, high-revving V6 with 220 HP.

Today, this doesn’t sound like much, but for 1989, it was a lofty figure. Performance was outstanding with just 6.7 seconds to 0 to 60 mph acceleration times. On the outside, Taurus SHO looked like any other regular Taurus and only the badge on the back revealed its true nature.

5. Dodge Shelby Charger

Dodge combined two of the greatest names in the American performance portfolio in the 1980s – Shelby and Charger. With front-wheel drive, a Dodge Omni platform, and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Shelby Charger wasn’t your typical muscle car. However, it provided strong performance as well as decent power and acceleration times.

Based on the Dodge Omni GHL, the Shelby Charger shared the drivetrain and 2.2-liter turbo engine which pumped 175 HP. For such a small, light car this was loads of power. The Shelby Charger could accelerate to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, making it one of the fastest accelerating American production cars for 1987.

Despite the famous name and good performance, this edition of Chargers aren’t that collectible, but they deserve recognition and respect. After all, they are a part of the American performance portfolio from the ’80s as well as a budget-friendly way to obtain a genuine Shelby car.

4. Sunbeam Lotus

Introduced in 1977, the Sunbeam was a compact, modern-looking hatchback to compete with the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Escort. It had rear-wheel drive and a low weight, which made it perfect for modification. So, in 1979, Sunbeam approached the famed sports and racing car manufacturer Lotus to build a hot hatch that could go racing.

Soon, they presented the Sunbeam Lotus, and it was a fast car for the day. It had a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 152 HP, a specially tuned suspension and ZF close-ratio manual gearbox. With rear-wheel drive and Lotus-tuned driving dynamics, this car was a capable driving machine. In fact, it even won the World Rally Championship in 1981.

3. Mazda Familia GTR

The early ’90s were the perfect time for the introduction of those rally homologation specials. In fact, many European and Japanese companies did just that. They called it the Mazda Familia GTR for the Asian market and 323 GTR for the European market. It was a competent and fast version of the popular Mazda compact car. But the GTR meant more than just a cool nameplate.

The Familia GTR was a highly tuned version of a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with special all-wheel drive. The power output was high at 205 HP, and the AWD system helped this little compact handle like a dream. Today they are rare, so hurry up and snap up this obscure piece of rally history.

2. Toyota MR2

Back in the mid-80’s, Toyota shocked the automotive world by introducing the MR2, a small mid-engine sports car. It offered a great performance, superb road handling and an affordable price. In those days, as well as today, consumers considered Toyota as a dull manufacturer of economy models without any interesting cars for enthusiasts. But the MR2 changed that since it was different from other Toyotas. It appealed to all fans of spirited driving and dynamic handling road machines.

They presented the first generation MR2 in 1984. It featured 1.5-liter or 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mounted centrally behind the driver, between the cabin and rear axle. This gave the little car fantastic handling. Look for the 1.6-liter supercharged model – the Supercharger (SC) that delivers 145 HP and 140 lb-ft of torque.

Although those power output figures don’t sound like much today, the MR2 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just seven seconds, which is still respectable. The prices for well-preserved examples are still affordable. The MR2 is tons of fun, so if you are looking for a small, nimble sports car from Japan with sublime handling, this is it.

1. Maserati 222 BiTurbo

Although most people have probably never heard of it, they can become the owner of an almost classic Maserati for as little as $10,000. For that money, you can buy a decent Maserati BiTurbo, which they introduced in 1981 and produced until 1994. The BiTurbo lineup of cars started with the 222 model. It was a handsome two-door coupe, and Maserati continued with the 420 and 430 sedans built on the same chassis. There was even a beautiful convertible the Zagato design house built, but it is expensive and rare.

They intended BiTurbos to be entry level Maseratis at a more affordable price for consumers. Under the hood was a new generation of turbocharged 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter V8 engines offering a high-power output. In fact, it went from 180 HP all the way up to 270 HP in later years. The interiors were luxurious and fitted with all kinds of creature comforts.

You are probably wondering what the catch is and why these fantastic looking cars from an exotic brand like Maserati are so affordable. The reason is simple: people considered the BiTurbo generation to lack reliability and prone to mechanical issues. Maserati made over 40,000 BiTurbos in a 13-year period, but just a small fraction of them are still on the road.

However, modern technology and aftermarket components can improve the quality of these gorgeous looking, but mechanically-flawed BiTurbos. Some owners are reporting they have made these cars more dependable. So, if you want an Italian exotic, but are on a budget, the Maserati BiTurbo could be your solution.

You can forget the expensive 911s, because these are the best-underrated performance cars you can buy. No matter what your taste in cars is, there is a gem on this list just for you. But, you’d better be quick, because their prices are on the rise.

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