There’s a lot of cars that become legendary in their own time, and then fade from prominence, remembered only by their enthusiasts. Some are too great to forget, and get a second chance at production, like the Acura NSX and Ford GT. For every great car that makes a comeback, there are a dozen worthy rides that will never again see the factory. Here’s our picks for the greatest cars that deserve a comeback.
“Back in my day,” Honda used to make this better looking version of the Civic, lux it up a bit, emphasize the sportiness, and sell them for profit as an Acura. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy where everyone wins, including the enthusiasts. This could be done today, but with the current Civic large and in charge, the new Integra would be better suited to the light and nimble Fit chassis. With more power, and a 6-speed manual, and a totally new body, a Fit-based Integra would rip, but be priced for enthusiasts.
Speaking of Honda, even more fun than a Civic coupe is a dedicated sports car. Honda showed NSX-like focus in developing the S2000, a no compromise roadster worthy of any track. The naturally aspirated 2.0L I4 was the most powerful available, delivering (depending on market) 240 horsepower. The 6-speed was called one of the best in the industry. The steering was like a Japanese version of Porsche. Honda didn’t care that a good year meant only 12,000 global sales, as it was a value-adding prestige car. While it’s hard to justify economically today, the S2000 added tons of enthusiast cred to a company that was asleep at the wheel by the end of production.
Yeah, the North American version of the 2 Series is a pretty sweet little coupe, but it’s also unrealistic for anyone with a family or for use as a daily driver. Twenty years back, BMW made the odd little hatchback 318ti that could serve as second car for a family, or see daily use by a bachelor. A second generation could slot in under the 2 Series in size and price. In fact, it already does in Europe, as the 1 Series is available in 3- and 5-door hatchback variants. Bring them to North America!
In this modern era of Dodge’s goofy over-performance, we end up with ridiculous cars like the Challenger Hellcat. 707 horsepower in an affordable package is the epitome of modern muscle, and every bit the definition of the original ‘Cuda’s mission. While Plymouth is long gone, this would easily work as a Dodge. While their muscle car portfolio is stocked, the Cuda could work by being a convertible version of the Challenger Hellcat. Step one: chop the roof off, slap on a distinctive grille, shaker hood, and boom: ‘Cuda. Step two: profit.
From the ‘70s through the millennium, this British mid-engine sports car defined the existence of Lotus. With an emphasis on light weight and responsive handling, the Esprit was a blast to drive whether it had the I4 or sweet little 3.5L twin turbo V8 coupled to a 5-speed manual. The wedge-y looks stayed fairly current with modifications, and it was so low it looked worthy of speeding tickets while parked. While Lotus has gone questionable with the Toyota-powered Evora, they made up for it in 2010 with a gorgeous Esprit concept. However, a few years back, Lotus management said the concept wasn’t to be. Wankers.
While the Pontiac GTO arguably kick started the muscle car wars, the Chevelle SS was the final word in ‘60s performance. A 454 V8 making 450 horsepower was an incredible performer, even if the car was heavy and used unrealistic gross hp ratings. While the GTO saw rebirth in 2003 as a rebadged Holden, the Chevelle name has sat idle as Chevy watched the Dodge Challenger eat the American performance sedan market. When the slow selling SS ends production, a V8 only Chevelle should be the range-toping rear-wheel drive Chevy.
Honda used to be fun. Back in the day, the little CRX was Honda’s personification of fun. Cheap and efficient, Honda sold a lot of them to bargain hunters. It was also fun to drive. Honda made a half-assed attempt to revive the name with the CRZ, but just how they got the name wrong, they also got the heavy little car wrong. Thing is, Honda already makes the car we should have, as the not for North America N-One Modulo X. While the name needs work, just make it left-hand drive, and this little CRX is a winner here.
The original Pantera was quite the oddity. An Italian supercar with a Ford V8, sold at Mercury dealerships… yeah. Lots of drugs back then. A comeback Pantera would likely need a conventional American V8 to keep costs down, similar to an Ultima GTR. It could go with the current Ford 5.0L Coyote, which is just a single turbo away from supercar power. Just be sure to take a look at the Ring Brothers recreation car as an example of where the looks should be for the 21st century.
Chevy El Camino
The El Camino was neither truck nor car, but it was all cool. Truck utility with car handling, business and work plus mullet-waving burnouts. Americans love over-capability in their vehicles, but the El Camino can get the job done with decent MPG to boot. Plus, GM already makes it in Australia as the Holden Ute. Bring it to the States with a Chevy bumper and some different badges, and instant profit. This is the Chevy people are willing to drop $40k for, not the current SS.
If you lived through the ‘80s, you remember the Testarossa. The design is out there, and the performance is not, but it is still an icon of the Italian prancing horse. You haven’t been able to get a mid-engine 12 cylinder in a Ferrari unless you want to spend $1 million plus on an Enzo or La Ferrari. This gets us the classic sound and performance we know and love, for about ¼ the current cost of entry to the V12 club. It doesn’t even have to be that fast, just make it look bonkers and it will sell.
Trucks are still mega poplar after all these years, so it’s curious that GMC hasn’t taken a look at one of their most famous models. Rather than an ‘80s-tastic 4.3L and a 4-speed auto, a new Syclone could be a cheaper GT-R competitor, as GM already makes the hardware. Ideally we’d like the Z06 engine and trans dropped straight into a lowered Colorado, but that may be too much lunacy for GM’s bean counters. Instead, a more likely way to justify production is with the AWD driven bi-turbo V6. A manual transmission would help – maybe the 7-speed from the Z06?
Yeah, odd choice, right? The Corvair is usually on the list of top turd-wagons that people hope to never see return. But think about it: an affordable, rear engine sporty car with good looks, and a turbo and manual transmission. It can’t fail. Sure, the first generation Corvair had some dangerous handling issues infamously pointed out by Mr Nader, but they were fixed even back then. It may not have been a great car then, but the modern version could be great. A new Corvair would be perfectly safe, and offer GM a cheap competitor to the FRS/BRZ twins. Throw a turbo at it, and watch the young import buyers come.
We need an entry level Ferrari. The original ‘60s Dino was designed to be an entry level Ferarri, competing price and performance-wise with the Porsche 911. Not every Ferrari needs to have a bazillion horsepower. Make it cheaper with lower performance, and people will still line up to buy it if the looks are there. Even call it a Maserati Dino if you must, but we’ll know it by the name, price, and stunning exterior. The 488 is nice, but at over a quarter million dollars, it’s no 911 competitor.
The LFA was great, but now it’s already out of production. Without a halo car, Toyota is empty and looking down the barrel of Honda/Acura’s NSX. A 2000GT could be based on a new Supra chassis, but feature a large displacement naturally aspirated engine, and luxurious treatments. Rather than compete with the Corvette in the sports car arena, a more expensive 2000GT could be a classy, but cheaper alternative to expensive Aston Martins. Probably more reliable too.
I love these old things. Good looking for the time, great handling, and decent power with the turbo. Depreciation has taken its toll, and non-turbo cars in running condition can sell for as little as two grand. It’s a fun car, and introduced many first time buyers to the brand. What does Porsche have now as an introductory car? A Cayman starting at nearly $53,000 with no options. Way to kill your younger enthusiast market, Porsche.
“That’s a Buick?” Instead of more badge-engineered GM sedans and SUVs, Buick should build something badass to get the hype out there. GM already makes something equivalent: the Cadillac ATS-V Coupe. It’s powered by a 464HP twin turbo V6 driving the rear wheels. Make it available in either gloss or satin black, on black wheels, with unique Buick bits and pieces and Darth Vader’s car will be ready for the road again.
What’s not to love? A big GT car with a twin turbo V6 and all-wheel drive, the 3KGT was an expensive near supercar in its day, and surprisingly it has aged well in terms of looks and performance. With the Evo gone, Mitsu needs a fun car, and the Mirage sedan isn’t getting it done. A new 3000GT could be a hybrid halo car, showcasing the best of Misubishi’s technology and recent eco concern. Keep it turbo and AWD, then price it less than the new NSX and watch the fanboys return.
Subaru Impreza Coupe
Subaru makes some cool cars for the budget enthusiast, somehow spanning the gaps between fun, safe, and environmentally friendly. We primarily care about the first trait here, and we like that you can still order a “Scoobie” with AWD and a manual transmission. Know what would be even better? If we could get that in coupe form. Sure, they have the two-door BRZ, but there’s no turbo and no AWD. The Impreza coupe hasn’t been seen since 2001, and it’s overdue for a return.
Sure, Saleen is currently bankrupt, and is unlikely to be able to even produce another body kit for the new Mustang. And it’s also true that the S7 had crapwagon build quality equivalent to a mid-‘80s Hyundai. Still, nothing else looks quite like this American supercar, and the performance for the era was world class. A second generation could have more refined and sophisticated looks, with a proper interior and build quality, and even faster performance. Unfortunately, that position seems left to Hennessy now, with their Lotus-derived Venom GT.
Some of these cars are too great to leave in the past, and will likely make a comeback. Others are gone for good, due to the economic realities manufacturers have to live with. They need to make a profit, and probably half the vehicles on this list wouldn’t do that. Still, hit the comments and make the case for what cars you want to see return. You never who’s going to read it.
By: Andy Jensen