11 February 2014

Five Of The Coolest Cars You’ve Never Heard Of

Automotive anoraks are a tough lot to stump. We figure we’re doing quite well if at least two out of the five on this list are news to you. So without any further intro, here are five of our favourite obscure cars from the far corners of the globe:

  1. 1966-82 IKA Torino: IKA was the Renault-owned Argentine remnant of American WWII ship builder Henry J. Kaiser’s automotive empire.  Although based on the humble but rugged American Motors Rambler Classic, the Argentines enlisted Pininfarina to make it pretty. The result, not surprisingly, looked quite Italian (although oddly, there’s some Gilbern Invader in the front). With firmer suspension than your average Yank tank and an available manual gearbox, it was reasonably sporting, a bit like a poor man’s Iso Rivolta. Juan Manuel Fangio was a noted Torino owner and supporter. Not surprisingly, all were LHD.  Some wound up in the U.S. and around £8,000 buys a good one.
  2. 1973-75 Anadol STC-16: The STC-16 was the first Turkish-designed sports car, and it was surprisingly nice-looking and competent. A bit like the love child of a MK I Ford Escort and Datsun 260Z, it was powered by a 1600cc Ford four-cylinder engine and made of glass fibre. Its high price and limited market in Turkey meant that only 176 were built over its two-year run. Very few ever left Turkey, where they’re quite prized and the survivorship rate is high.
  3. 1970-74 Bolwell Nagari: Australia has a rich automotive history. Its take on American muscle cars was particularly interesting. Missing, however, was a really killer indigenous sports car with export potential. The Nagari could have been that, had its timing been better. It had good looks — kind of a pleasing mix of 1970s Corvette, Alfa MontrealGinetta and Ferrari 250 GTO. Five-litre Ford V-8 power, and just over a tonne in weight gave it an excellent performance. Sure, it was a bit “kit car” in its execution, but few low-volume cars of the day weren’t that way. It’s the only car on the list that was RHD only.  Sadly, skyrocketing petrol prices in the early 1970s put an end to the idea of an Australian supercar. Its legend will last a lunchtime.
  4. 1972-76 Volkswagen SP2: Volkswagen has traditionally had a large operation in South America, and its Brazilian arm, Volkswagen do Brazil, has a history of creating cars solely for the Brazilian market. Since the Brazilian market of the 1970s was largely import-free, VW found the need to create a locally built replacement for the Karmann Ghia. From a styling standpoint, it was sensational — far prettier than the Porsche 924 of the same era. Unfortunately, the steel-bodied SP2 was heavy, and with just 75 hp from the air-cooled four, its pace was leisurely at best. In fact, the joke was that “SP” stood for sim potencio, Portuguese for “without performance.” Still, the survivors of the run of 10,000 or so are considered national treasures in Brazil, unless and until someone shows up with about £10,000 in hand.
  5. 1966-95 Puma GT: The Puma was another Brazilian-built VW derivative. Not unattractive, it had a long run in both coupé and convertible form. Earlier cars with chrome trim and fewer styling gimmicks were prettier, and Pumas, while still VW Beetle-powered, were often seen with outrageously modified engines that made them cheap, indigenous Porsche or Alpine A110 competition. Unlike the VW SP2, Pumas were all glass fibre and so tended to biodegrade less in humid and salty Brazil.

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