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Top 30 Underrated Performance Cars Of The Auto World

Vukasin HerbezFebruary 5, 2019

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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