The CAR Top 10: iconic cars before they were famous

Published: 24 April 2015

Mitsubishi Lancer EX 2000 Turbo

Every superstar has a scrapbook full of cringing haircuts, bad suits and no sign of greatness to come. Also true of cars.

1) Nissan GT-R

Classic Nissan Skyline

Car nuts still talk in hushed tones about the 1989 R32 Nissan GT-R as if it cured cancer in between reeling off 8min laps of the ’Ring. But 20 years earlier, in 1969, the first GT-Rs were a tad less sexy. They were a boxy race-winning saloon and coupe pair, powered by a twin-cam 2.0-litre six.

2) Ford Capri

Ford Consul Capri

The car which, according to Ford ads, you always promised yourself, first appeared in January 1969, but Henry had already used the name eight years earlier on a coupe version of the Consul Classic. Power was almost as anaemic as sales of the car: 
Ford shifted fewer than 20,000 between 1961 and 1964, compared to more than 
one million real Capris in the four years 
from launch.

3) Corvette C1

Chevrolet Corvette C1

The hideously un-American concept of a ’Vette without a V8 seems as likely as the hammer and sickle motif nudging the stars aside on Old Glory, but Chevy’s legendary small block was still on the drawing board when the original ’53 Corvette was introduced to the world. Back then the 
sole drivetrain was a slothful straight-six 
and two-speed automatic combo unworthy of astronautical patronage – but luckily there weren’t that many astronauts kicking around in 1953.

4) Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger

Peter Yates’s iconic crime thriller Bullitt didn’t appear until the end of 1968, so it can only have been the stunning Coke-bottle curves that helped Dodge shift nearly 100,000 of its new Chargers. That was more than six times the volumes it managed with this mechanically identical, but exponentially less sexy, original-shape Charger the year before. Nobody ever called that a muscle car.

5) McLaren M6 GT

McLaren M6 GT

The F1 road car pushed the supercar bar so high it got a nosebleed, but it wasn’t McLaren’s first go at creating the fastest thing on four wheels. Work to turn the mighty M6 Can-Am car into a streetable weapon began in 1970, but only two M6 GTs were built before Bruce McLaren’s fatal crash at Goodwood that year.

6) Mitsubishi Lancer

Mitsubishi Lancer EX 2000 Turbo

Back-to-back WRC driver’s championships for Tommi Mäkinen from 1996-1999 put hot Lancers on the map, but the Evo road car had actually been on sale since late 1992, and its Lancer EX 2000 Turbo granddad appeared a decade before that. Perhaps this car’s award-winning lack of charisma inspired Mitsubishi to name a future model in honour of its dullness.

7) Volkswagen K70

K70 Volkswagen

Many credit the 1974 Golf with taking this purveyor of air-cooled anachronisms into the modern world of water-cooled front-drivers. But before that, there was the square-rigger K70 saloon. VW talked of big sales, but in the end it was just hot air.

8) Peugeot Rallye

Peugeot 205 Rallye

You’ve heard of the 106 and 306 Rallyes, right? What about the 205 version? Brits got a 75bhp sham that was nothing but a bone stock car with some snazzy decals, but the proper left-hook-only Continental version featured a screaming 100bhp competition-homologated 1.3, plus GTi seats and arches and gearing shorter than Ronnie Corbett in a pothole.

9) Porsche 989

Porsche 989

As if building a carbuncle of an SUV wasn’t controversial enough, Porsche added the Panamera saloon to the mix in 2010, butchered to look like a 911. Less well known is that they did a much better job 
of the styling on the stillborn four-door 
989 two decades before and, earlier still, even toyed with the idea of a real four-door 911 back in the late ’60s.

10) Dacia Duster

1980s Dacia Duster

Renault’s budget-but-brilliant Duster SUV deserves better than to be named after a gravely ropey Romanian off-roader from the 1980s. In the case of the tedious new Skoda Rapid though, we’d rather take the arse-engined original than that load of wheeled wallpaper paste.

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

Comments