We get it: Cars aren’t for everybody. For the vast majority out there, they’re just appliances, designed to take us from A to B. But every now and then, a car can transcend and become interesting to more than just gearheads. These are the types of cars we decided to take a look at today.
Keep in mind that adjectives like “expensive” and “fast” don’t always equate to interesting. There are also quite a few one-offs and near-forgotten models out there too. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, we think that these 10 have a story (or stories) that just could pique just about anyone’s interest. Here are 10 classic cars that we think are fascinating.
1. Tucker 48
But it wasn’t to be. The company went under after just 51 cars were built. There were rumors that GM leaned on the government to help take Tucker down, creating endless “what-if” scenarios, and inspiring a 1988 movie about it starring Jeff Bridges. For a car, the Tucker holds a huge place in American pop culture.
2. Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen’s headquarters, Wolfsburg, was a planned city designed solely around building the Beetle. Vocholandia (or “Beetleland”) is a rough neighborhood in Mexico City, named after its high concentration of the cars. It’s the only pop culture icon that can be associated with both the darkest forces of World War II and the ’60s hippie movement. Drivers of a certain age probably owned or learned to drive in one. Is there anything left to say about the Beetle that hasn’t been said? On top of everything else, that’s what makes the Beetle so interesting: On top of the official story, there are at least 21 million more personal ones out there.
3. DeLorean DMC-12
4. Chevrolet Corvair
Ironically, the Corvair would go on to influence a generation of European compacts. In the 1970s, tests largely vindicated the Corvair, proving that it was no more or less safe than any other American car of its era. Today, Chevy’s wild compact has a strong cult following among collectors.
5. McLaren F1
The British supercar was envisioned by engineer Gordon Murray. It features a highly-modified BMW V-12, which was insulated by a gold-lined engine compartment for better heat dissipation. It was the first road car to use a carbon fiber chassis, and features a unique three-seater setup, with the driver sitting front and center, with passengers sitting behind. Just 108 cars were built over a six-year span – including five cars that dominated the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. Today, they’re the most coveted cars of the 1990s.
6. BMW Z1
Launched in 1989, the Z1 was based on the 3 Series, but had plastic body panels that could be swapped out when buyers wanted to change the color of their car. But the Z1’s real party trick was its set of doors that disappeared into the sills. Unfortunately, the Z1 was never sold in America. In Germany, its price made it a considerably slower Porsche 911 competitor. Just 8,000 were built.
7. Rover P6-Series
The P6 was handsome, quick, and relatively advanced from an engineering standpoint. Despite reasonable success (over 320,000 sold) and a cult following in America, it wasn’t enough to save the British auto industry. By the time it disappeared in 1977, Japanese cars were overtaking domestic cars in Britain. Rover was bought out by BMW in 1994. It disappeared for good in 2005.
8. 1986 Ford Taurus
In the early 1980s, Ford was still reeling from several costly lawsuits and recalls. The average American sedan was all right angles, rectangular sealed-beam headlights, and hefty chrome bumpers. Then came the Taurus. The fruit of a multibillion-dollar project, the Taurus’ aerodynamic, monochromatic design made it look like something out of the future. Inside, every control was designed to be within reach of the driver and recognizable by touch, to prevent driving distractions. It was front-wheel drive, well-built, reasonably powerful, and pretty cheap. Again, in the ’80s, all this stuff in one package was ground-breaking.
By 1989, it had made Ford financially stable again, selling over one million units. By the 1990s, GM and Chrysler were taking pages from the Taurus playbook. Over 30 years later, it’s still in the DNA of every American sedan on the market.
9. 1970½ Chevrolet Camaro
Despite a few brief big-block-powered glory years, the second-generation Camaro descended into overwrought Disco-Era glitz before it disappeared in 1981. Still, no self-respecting gearhead should overlook the brilliant styling and big leap forward that the car represented at the dawn of the ’70s.
10. Porsche 911
Today, the Porsche 911 still has its insanely powerful engine hung out behind the rear axle. But between aerodynamic aids, traction control, engineering tricks, and available all-wheel drive systems, it’s one of the best driver’s cars in the world. Talk about taking a bad idea and making it brilliant.