The auto industry has taken some hits in recent decades. Combined with the dawn of blog culture, which effectively gives drivers a loudspeaker with which to review new models, automakers clearly feel the pressure to produce crowd-pleasers. It seems at times that innovation has been stifled; no brand wants to be associated with that ill-advised design that doesn’t quite stand the test of time. However, as this year’s Detroit Auto Show proves, a resurgence of new ideas is close at hand. With this in mind, let’s take a look at ten of the most intriguing cars hidden in the memory of days past.
- Brubaker Box
Our first entry, the Brubaker Box, differs slightly from the other cars on this list in that it was never an official product of any particular brand. Rather, it was the brainchild of Charles Brubaker, who intended for this kit to be built on a Volkswagen chassis. He never reached a deal with the famous European automaker, but nevertheless had a small, loyal cadre of fans who took his idea and ran with it. Brubaker Boxes were the first predecessor to today’s minivan.
- Plymouth Valiant
The Plymouth Valiant enjoyed a 16-year run from 1960 to 1976. The first iteration of the Valiant bore the tagline “Nobody’s kid brother,” which surely endeared it to a generation seeking individuality. Indeed, the Valiant was consistently rated as one of the best all-around cars, but unfortunately the mid-70’s saw a nosedive in popularity as it essentially became the twin of the Dodge Dart and lost its independent features (gone were the convertible options, for example).
- Chevrolet Townsman
The Chevrolet Townsman appeared twice in history: first as a 50’s station wagon, and then again as a 70’s sedan only offered as a V8. Although Chevy soon moved away from advertising powerful engines and inched back towards its line of family-oriented station wagons, for a brief time the Townsman shone as a perfect medium between the car aficionado’s ride and the grocery-getter du jour. The power rear window was also considered groundbreaking at the time.
- Mercury Zephyr
Also billed as the Ford Fairmont, the Mercury Zephyr was a decent foray for both brands into the realm of compact cars. It appeared trim and unassuming without bucking the style norms of the era. The Zephyr was hampered by its rear-wheel drive and by the very design ethos which was so popular at the time; it would be replaced by lighter compact cars that offered front-wheel drive and aerodynamic structuring.
- Nissan Maxima 810
Technically, this car was the prototype for Nissan Maximas to come and was actually known as a Datsun. Available as a jaunty coupe or a station wagon, this offering from the Japanese automaker managed to feel whimsical and family-friendly in both its iterations. Ultimately the Nissan Maxima of the future would see a more slimmed-down approach to this now ubiquitous vehicle.
- Chevrolet Corvette C4
This Corvette came roaring into the early 80’s with all the personality that era would come to exemplify. A convertible or coupe sports car with angular, almost comic book villain-esque lines, the C4 managed to be flashy without being too ostentatious. This little sports car gained a devoted following in its heyday. The LCD dash cemented its reputation as a thoroughly modern automobile.
- Hyundai Excel
Keeping pace with the move towards front-wheel drive, the Hyundai Excel was the South Korean automaker’s first car with front-wheel drive and for many outside of the South Korean market, their first introduction to the company. The Excel was a typical “boxy” car of the 80’s that received a facelift in the 90’s designed to carry it through another decade, although the new look and multi-point fuel injection weren’t quite enough to boost popularity. The third generation ended production in 2000.
- Volkswagen Corrado VR6
Rocketing from 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds, the Volkswagen Corrado VR6 was much-loved from the moment of its introduction in the early 90’s. Today you might find difficulty in hearing or seeing any mention of this powerful European offering, despite its former glory, and that has a lot to do with the fact that its fans were concentrated in Europe. The car never sold well outside of that market, perhaps due to its incongruous construction which projected uncertainty of what type of car it wanted to be. While today it might fare better, it has been out of production since 1995.
- Volvo 850 R
The short-lived Volvo 850 R was a luxury vehicle masquerading as a sport wagon. From 1996 to 1997, the 850 R upheld Volvo’s reputation as a car manufacturer churning out vehicles that drive like a dream, yet this one looked like a sporty outdoor enthusiast’s car of choice. In short, it was one of the “youngest” offerings Volvo ever produced. This car was also Volvo’s first front-wheel drive and first four-wheel drive product; given these innovations, perhaps it deserves a more prominent place in history.
- Porsche 968 Club Sport
Every culture eventually enters a period of fashion in which minimalism is all the rage, and Porsche seemed to enter this phase with their Club Sport. For this model, the luxury sports car manufacturer jettisoned the luxury and embraced the sport, stripping out the rear seats and the electrical panels that provided power window controls, among other features. The result was a sports car that felt weightless on the track, becoming the darling of racing enthusiasts and casual motorists alike.
While these ten forgotten cars may have gone the way of the dodo, we’re confident that many of them still have devoted fans. Whether we mentioned one of your favorites or introduced you to some unheard-of models, we hope automakers will continue producing weird, wonderful cars like the ones buried in the sands of time.