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Unique Cars That Only Earned Respect After They Were Discontinued

Vukasin HerbezDecember 22, 2022

A car company takes a huge risk every time it releases a new model. They don’t know if customers will respect it or if its design will appeal to the buying public. Customers wonder if it will actually be a dependable machine. Answers to those questions only come with time and real-world driving. However, some cars somehow flew under the radar and didn’t achieve the mainstream popularity the companies hoped for when they were released.

The cars listed below did just that. We can’t exactly call them flops because all of the machines on this list are capable and well-executed models. But they only (and finally) gained popularity only after they were discontinued. Some of them are valuable classics today that simply were not very popular when they were new. They all had some interesting features or designs but needed to be more understood by the general market. Look back on these interesting, late-blooming cars right here.

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Mercury Cyclone CJ

Even though the is far from the first muscle car name that pops into your head when you think of late ’60s muscle cars, this Mercury was popular back in the day. However, today it’s forgotten along with the brand itself, which was discontinued by Ford a few years ago. Along with the compact-sized and Mustang-based Cougar, Mercury had the Cyclone, an intermediate muscle car built on the Fairlane/Torino platform (via Hemmings).

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The Cyclone was introduced in 1964 and stayed on the market until 1971. The best version, which is the most interesting to collectors, was the Cyclone CJ. Those two letters marked the presence of the famed 428 Cobra Jet engine, which was the first genuine street muscle engine built by Ford. With a 7.0-liter displacement and an advertised 335 HP, the Cobra Jet really produced over 400 horses in real life. The Cyclone CJ was a serious street racing contender, and this new engine significantly upped the performance. However, less than 3,500 Cyclone CJs left the factory in 1969.

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Jensen Interceptor FF

One of the best British Gran Turismo cars was the Jensen Interceptor. With its Italian styling by Vignale, massive size, and powerful Chrysler 383 or 440 V8 engine, this four-seater coupe was one of the fastest and most comfortable cars for crossing continents in the late ’60s and early ’70s (via Silodrome).

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All Interceptors featured Chrysler’s engine, but the best and very influential version was Interceptor FF. The latter part of the name comes from Ferguson Formula. Meaning that this model has all-wheel drive and an early form of ABS brakes. In 1966, this was space-age technology. The power was sourced from a 383 V8, although there were coupe prototypes featuring the 426 Hemi. The Interceptor FF was too expensive and Jensen only sold 320 copies.

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Volkswagen Passat W8

Volkswagen isn’t a company that likes experimenting and introducing overly advanced models with unique features. They are famous for “middle of the road” cars with regular engines and decent driving characteristics. That’s why their introduction of the Passat W8 in 2001 surprised everybody in the car industry (via RAC).

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With the restyling of the current B5 generation of the mid-size sedan, Volkswagen introduced a special edition with top-of-the-line technology. It had an advanced 4.0-liter W8 gasoline engine and a four-motion all-wheel-drive system. Customers got a selection of manual and automatic transmissions. Also, this top-of-the-line model had all luxury features standard. The result was a perfect sleeper/German muscle/performance car in an unassuming Passat body. The compact-yet-powerful W8 engine delivered 270 HP and 270 lb.-ft of torque.

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Studebaker Avanti

In the early ’60s, Studebaker management decided to invest in a luxury coupe to fight poor sales. They thought that a new and fancy upscale model would attract customers and turn the attention of the automotive public back to Studebaker. So, in 1962, a very sleek and modern-looking Avanti was introduced (via Motor Trend).

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Its innovative design, construction, and technology were very interesting, and the car received praise from the motoring press. The base version could have been more powerful, but soon Studebaker introduced a supercharged R2 option that delivered 289 HP. Unfortunately, the Avanti didn’t pull Studebaker out of financial trouble but still remained one of the most iconic American cars from the 1960s as a true modern classic.

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Dodge Omni GLH

While Europe embraced the hot hatch class and developed it further in the mid-80s, America seemed entirely uninterested. The Golf GTI sold well in the States. Still, domestic manufacturers didn’t produce any models that could be considered hot hatches until the legendary Carroll Shelby teamed up with Dodge and introduced his version of the compact Omni model (via Car and Driver).

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It was called the Omni GLH, a proper hot hatch and one of the best affordable performance models money could buy those days. Nobody expected Dodge could produce a hot hatch that could beat its European competitors. But with Shelby’s help, it did just that. Shelby took the 2.2-liter four-cylinder and added a turbocharger to produce a total output of 175 HP and 0 to 60 mph time of fewer than seven seconds, which was very impressive for the day. Of course, the Omni GLH had suspension modifications, and other bits improved so it could handle all that power. Only 500 of those models left the factory.

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Dodge Spirit R/T

The Spirit was Dodge’s economy model 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 produced only 90 HP, got a turbo upgrade and then put out a pretty impressive 224 HP and 218 lb.-ft of torque (via Autopian).

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For the 1991 model year, this was a hefty power level from an economy car. Its newfound power raised the performance to a whole new level and the Spirit R/T could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, which was Corvette territory in 1991.

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BMW M1

Although the M1 was not a commercial success and sold only 453 copies, this limited-production sports car was tremendously crucial for the brand and for BMW’s future. This was the first model designed and produced by BMW’s famed M Motorsport division, which was until then responsible for racing cars only.

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BMW presented the M1 in 1978 and it was one of the biggest premieres of the year. The heart of the car was BMW’s famous M88 six-cylinder engine with 3.5 liters of displacement, advanced fuel injection, and 273 HP, a high number for the day. The M1 was a mid-engined car, and handling was sublime with performance better than most of the competitors. BMW wanted to go racing, and the M1 racing car was next. But, despite all the qualities and the fantastic design, M1 wasn’t successful since it was expensive, not available on all markets and its lack of reputation in the sports car class proved to be fatal (via Car and Driver).

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Shelby Dakota

The Dakota wasn’t a compact car but a compact pickup sold between 1987 and 1996. It was dependable, tough-looking, and came with a wide arrange of engines and trim levels. But Dodge wanted more, so in the late ’80s, the company conceived a performance version created by the legendary Carroll Shelby, who was working with Chrysler Corporation at the moment (via Hemmings).

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Shelby took the regular production Dakota and installed a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 175 HP. Even though the power output was relatively small, the Dakota was light and had lots of torque which meant that this compact truck had some convincing performance. Shelby also dressed up the Dakota with special paint, trim, roll bar, and wheels, making this little truck stand out on the streets.

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Ford Mustang Boss 351

In 1971, Mustang received another thorough restyle, the final one for the first generation. The car grew in size and weight and featured a new sharper look with a much wider track. Unfortunately, the Boss 302 and Boss 429 versions were gone, but Grande and Mach I stayed, albeit with lower power ratings. However, there was one exciting model introduced in 1971, the Boss 351 (via Motor Trend).

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Made for one year only, the ’71 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs produced with only 1800 made. It had a highly tuned version of the 351 V8 engine with around 330 HP. It was fast, good-looking, and more expensive than the Mach 1 version of the same model year, and today, it’s a true collector’s item.

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DeLorean DMC 12

Started by John Z. DeLorean in the late ’70s, DeLorean was briefly the next big thing in the sports car world. Its founder was a famous ex-GM executive and a market strategist who knew the car industry and all the key players. For a short time, it looked like America got a sports car brand that could rival Europe’s finest companies (via Britannica).

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However, the production was late, and when the cars left the factory, they were slow, underpowered, and riddled with quality problems. After the excitement at first, buyers stayed away from the DMC 12, and DeLorean was in big financial problems. Although the DMC 12 looked like an exotic and super-fast car, it wasn’t. However, this model is very sought-after and highly valuable today.

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Plymouth GTX

The Grand Turismo Exterminator or GTX isn’t precisely a long-lost or forgotten model. But it needs to get the attention it deserves in muscle car history. They based this model on the same platform as the Coronet or Roadrunner. However, it was much more luxurious with a 375 HP engine standard. The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all the creature comforts (via Muscle Car Club).

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It had only one optional engine choice: the mighty 426 Hemi. The GTX was significantly more expensive than the rest of the Mopar muscle car lineup. This means it was never popular and is rare today. However, the GTX was gone in 1971, keeping it from being a disgrace like other muscle cars. That is why the 1971 GTX was the last of its breed. And most car fans believe it’s a fantastic muscle car that deserves recognition and respect.

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Dodge Magnum

The model named Magnum may sound familiar to you. Dodge used it on a successful line of station wagons produced from 2005 to 2008. However, it dates as far back as 1978. The original Dodge Magnum was a luxury muscle car coupe built for two years in 1978 and 1979. As one of the prominent muscle car companies, Dodge knew this and tried to introduce a model that would have some power. They wanted to put it in a luxury package to appeal to a broader audience. This is how the Dodge Magnum was born. It was a cool-looking coupe with all the right ingredients for the time period.

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It had rear-wheel drive, a long hood, a short deck, and a thumping V8 in the front. The biggest engine customers could order was a 5.9-liter V8 with 195 HP. This is diminutive by today’s standards, but back in 1979, this guaranteed respect. Unfortunately, the high price didn’t help sales, so they discontinued the Magnum in the 1980 model year (via Hemmings).

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Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

For years, Cadillac was without a proper performance series needed to compete with BMW or Mercedes. Finally, the V-Series was born. It was all that Cadillac lovers dreamed of: powerful engines, world-class handling, and suspension setups, and exclusive production. Even the competitors took notice when Cadillac rolled out the brand-new V-Series model (via Edmunds).

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Arguably the most successful was the second-generation CTS-V model produced between 2008 and 2014. Under the hood was a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 556 HP making the CTS-V the most powerful performance sedan on the market. The rarest of the three body styles offered was the wagon, and this is the one you should look for.

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Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

The classic C1 to C3 Corvettes are already too expensive for the average car buyer, and the standard C4, despite its excellent handling, may be low on power for some owners. The solution is ZR1, the mighty C4 Corvette, which could outrun most of the supercars in the early ’90s.

Corvette Via GM
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Under the hood, there was LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine with 375 HP (later 400 HP), quad-cam heads, and 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel and performed exceptionally well. With a 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, making it one of the fastest cars of the era and a true modern classic today (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: Silodrome

BMW 2002 Turbo

In the early ’70s, BMW found success with their 02 Neue Klasse series of models. The 02s were quick, nimble, and light coupes, which established the brand amongst performance lovers and racing fans worldwide. But BMW wanted more. It wanted to present the ultimate 02 models incorporating signature design with the latest in high-performance technology – turbocharging.

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So, in 1973, BMW introduced the 2002 Turbo, a crazy cousin to the rest of the BMW lineup. The car featured a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 170 HP, revised suspension and brakes, unique design details, only one color choice, and an exciting graphics package. Despite relatively small power numbers, the 2002 Turbo was a blast to drive, thanks to its lightweight body. The car met universal praise from fans and the car press, but the Oil Crisis of the early ’70s killed the model after only 1672 examples left the factory in Munich (via BMW M).

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Chevrolet SS

With a 6.2-liter V8, 412 HP, precise steering, and neutral handling, this Chevrolet SS rivals Europe’s finest sports sedans. Of course, this is a Holden model from Australia but rebadged as Chevrolet and fine-tuned for US customers (via Car and Driver).

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The performance numbers are pretty respectable, and a 0 to 60 mph sprint is possible in just 4.7 seconds, while its top speed is over 150 mph. The Chevrolet SS is a good proposition for people who need a practical sedan but want a sports car. This is one of the best sleepers on the market since it can blend with the traffic, and nobody can tell that you have 400 HP under your right foot, ready to jump in seconds’ notice. The Chevrolet SS is a future classic, so grab your model today before time runs out.

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Audi RS2

Despite the looks of the old, early ’90s Audi station wagon, the RS2 Avant is a serious performance machine that could destroy almost anything. And not just in a boulevard drag race but on a race track as well. Under the dull and unassuming body lies some serious rally technology with exceptional performance. Audi engineers took the famous inline five-cylinder turbo engine with 2.2 liters and 315 HP and put it in the most uninspiring body style they could find – the station wagon (via Top Gear).

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The result was the RS2, with a 4.8-second time from 0 to 60 mph. It had divine road holding in its early 90s form. Unfortunately, production was limited, but if you see one of those cars at the stop light, you know you’ll get left in the dust.

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Ford Mustang SVO

Ford’s SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) department introduced a Mustang SVO in 1984, featuring a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 175 HP. It was quite the power output for a small engine. As a light car, the ’84 Mustang SVO was hot at the moment (via Car and Driver).

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The package included four-wheel disc brakes, stiffer suspension, and sharper steering, transforming the little Mustang into a capable sports car. For 1985, the SVO upped the power to an impressive 205 HP, which turned the eyes of the motoring public to third-generation Mustangs.

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Pontiac Trans AM GTA

Arguably, the Trans AM was the best version of the third-generation Pontiac’s F-body. It was introduced in 1987 and was the top-of-the-range Firebird on offer. The package was available until 1992 and produced in relatively limited numbers. The secret weapons of the GTA were the engine and WS6 handling package. The engine was 350 V8 with 210 HP in early models and up to 245 HP in later versions.

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The rumor was that the engine was the same as in the Corvette since it used the same TPI fuel injection system and displacement, but that wasn’t the case. Corvette used aluminum heads, while Pontiac used iron cast ones. The WS6 package offered unmatched road holding and braking capabilities. It consisted of four disc brakes, stiffer suspension, more robust sway bars, unique wheels, and performance tires (via Silodrome).

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Chevrolet C/K “Square Body”

Called “Square Body” for its boxy design, the third generation C/K featured a computer-designed body with more space and comfort than ever. The truck was bigger and tougher due to the new platform, revised suspension, and tougher axles. Customers had numerous cab configurations, special editions, engine options, and details to choose from, making the third-generation C/K one of the best trucks in the world at the time (via Driving Line).

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Produced from 1973 to 1991 in the USA, this model was made in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and South Korea. During its long production run, Chevrolet introduced a diesel engine as an option. Which proved to be a highly popular choice in Europe and South America. Today, most of the trucks are rusty, but preserved examples are fetching high prices since people fondly remember those utilitarian trucks.

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Cadillac Eldorado 1953

The 1950s brought post-war optimism and rising standards, and Detroit responded with fresh models and more power. Still, nothing could match the highly exclusive Cadillac Eldorado in 1953. Based on the Series 62 convertible model, the Eldorado was the first true “personal luxury” car and the most expensive Cadillac at the moment, with a price of $2000 above the rest of the lineup (via Supercars).

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The main features included the advanced one-piece wrap-around windshield interesting belt line with a slight dip before the rear fenders. Also, raised tail lights were the announcement for chromed fins that were to arrive just a few years later. The power came from the same 5.4-liter V8 as the rest of the models for 1953. Cadillac only made 532 Eldorados that year, but despite the limited availability, the Eldorado name became popular and stayed in Cadillac’s portfolio for 50 years.

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Volkswagen Corrado VR6

Today, Volkswagen Corrado is a forgotten model, but in the early ’90s, this was the fastest Volkswagen buyers could get. Corrado was a replacement for the popular Sirocco coupe, and it was much more. Volkswagen wanted something closer to Porsche 944 in terms of styling and performance than another sporty-looking Golf derivate. So the Corrado had a revised front-wheel-drive platform, unique suspension and brakes, a new and aggressive-looking exterior design, and a powerful VR6 engine option (via Evo).

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The VR6 was a high-revving 2.9-liter V6 engine mounted to a close-ratio five-speed manual which delivered 190 HP. A high number for the early ’90s when Corrado was on sale in the USA. The VR6 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, which was respectable and made this coupe one of the best-driving cars of the period.

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Oldsmobile Jetfire

The Jetfire is a very important model for automotive history that unfortunately never got the respect it deserved. Back in the early ’60s, Oldsmobile was known as an innovative company that was never afraid to introduce new systems to their cars. Oldsmobile chose to turbocharge as the new technology it wanted to perfect (via Car Throttle).

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Engineers took the compact F-85 model and retained its small 215 CID V8 engine, which developed 185 HP and gave it a new forced induction intake system with a Garett turbocharger. For the standards of the day, the Jetfire V8 was a state-of-the-art technology, and initially, the market was very interested. The new V8 delivered 215 HP, which was 1 HP per cubic inch, making it one of the best performance cars of the day. However, very soon, the Jetfire got a bad reputation despite praise from automotive magazines. After just two years and around 10,000 examples, Oldsmobile decided to kill the car and its turbocharging technology.

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

GMC Typhoon

The Typhoon was a limited-production small SUV with a high price tag for its day and unbelievable performance. It set it apart from all the rest. More than 25 years since the first Typhoons saw the light of day, this vehicle is still a benchmark of performance and style. But what makes it so exciting and desirable (via Motor Trend)?

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First was the engine. Typhoons had a 4.3-liter V6 engine with a turbocharger and intercooler. The power output was 280 HP, not that impressive today. But back in 1991, it was a strong number. But, the automatic transmission, performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system, and suspension helped its performance. The Typhoon could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. Even today, this is fast for an ordinary SUV. However, it was expensive and produced in limited numbers.

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Chevrolet Corair Monza

The American car industry was intrigued when Chevrolet presented the Corvair in 1959. It was a compact car in a time when compact cars were rare on US soil and produced mainly by foreign brands. Then, it had the engine in the back rather than in the front as all other domestic vehicles had. Third, it was a six-cylinder boxer, not a straight six or V8 as everybody expected. All in all, it was a bold and unusual move by the usually conservative Chevrolet.

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However, the most exciting model was the Corvair Monza, a two-door coupe or convertible. It was a performance car in the Corvair lineup and featured one of most unusual power plants Detroit has ever produced – a turbocharged boxer engine. Think of it as Chevrolet’s four-seat Porsche 911 Turbo some 15 years before Porsche even thought of the idea. It wasn’t overly successful, but today, it got the recognition it deserves (via Supercars).

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Ford Galaxie 428

Like the Chevrolet Impala, Ford’s Galaxie was Blue Oval’s most crucial series with high production numbers, many versions, and broad appeal. However, Ford seemed to be on the back of the design trend and still featured heavily chromed models with late ’50s styling cues in 1964. So, for 1965, the all-new Galaxie was introduced. With stacked headlights, new sheet metal, and more versions and options than ever (via Auto Week).

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The most popular were base trim models like Galaxie Custom. Still, Ford also offered a luxury Galaxie 500 LTD, a luxury version featuring a vinyl roof and upscale details. For 1965, Ford offered a 427 V8 engine as an option. The V8 in question was not the famed Cobra Jet but the engine from the Thunderbird with 345 underrated horsepower. With over 460 lb.-ft of torque, the Galaxie could truly go despite its size and weight.

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Buick Roadmaster Wagon

The legendary Roadmaster name returned to Buick’s lineup in 1991 after a 33-year-long hiatus. The car was the same as other offerings from General Motors in the same class. However, the Roadmaster had some more luxury options and one exciting engine, which turned this comfy cruiser into a muscle car (via Bloomberg).

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Buick engineers found a way to install Corvette’s LT1 5.7-liter V8 engine into the Roadmaster’s engine bay. The LT1 had 300 HP in the Corvette, and in the Buick, it had 260 HP, which was more than enough to turn this heavy wagon into a proper hot rod. Despite the curb weight of over 4400 pounds, this car could outrun many of the muscle cars of the day.

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Tucker Torpedo

The most significant “what if” story of automotive history is the saga of Preston Tucker and his brainchild, the Torpedo. The Tucker car company started in the late ’40s and soon presented a fully functioning prototype that made the rest of the cars from Detroit look terribly outdated (via Tucker Club).

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The Tucker Torpedo featured numerous innovations. From safety glass and a central headlight that followed the movement of the steering wheel to a roomy interior and engine in the back with lots of power and torque. The Torpedo was so advanced that the Big Three (Chrysler, Ford, and GM) were afraid it would cripple their market share. So while Tucker prepared for full-scale production, the Big Three prepared to set him up with a lawsuit that would stop the production and sink the company.

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Continental Mark II

If you think that Edsel is the only Ford’s failed luxury attempt, you’re wrong. In the mid-50s, Ford decided to establish a separate brand, called Continental Division, to produce new and luxury cars above the Lincoln brand. The success of the original Thunderbird showed the way. Ford decided it should build a more extensive, more advanced, much 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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Pontiac Can Am

In the late ’70s, the American performance car segment was just a pale shadow of its former glory. But, in 1977, Pontiac introduced the Can-Am, a one-year-only model that was the last actual muscle car with big block power and as much power it could produce packed in a unique body style and white color (via Hemmings).

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Under the hood scoop from the Firebird Trans Am, there was a big 455 engine with 200 HP. More than any other muscle car on the market at the moment. The Can-Am package consisted of special rear window louvers, a rear spoiler, and a long list of optional extras. The first examples left the factory in early 1977, and the market responded very well, Pontiac received between 5,000 and 10,000 reservations, but in the end, they sold only 1377 examples.

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