The 10 Most Underrated American Cars Of All Time
For every legendary and iconic car America has produced, there are several that, for various reasons, never made it into the automotive hall of fame. These are ten of the most underrated American cars, and ten any car guy would be proud to have in his garage.
10. Cadillac Allante
A spiritual predecessor to the Corvette-based XLR, the Allante was somewhat ill-received because it was front-wheel drive and thus didn't have world-crushing handling. The rest of the car was an odd mix that involved Pininfarina (the same Italian design house that's responsible for scores of your favorite Ferraris over the years) building the bodies in Italy, flying them to Detroit, and mating a decent chassis and V8 to the car. If you're just cruising around, it's hard to argue against its value.
9. Ford Pinto
The Pinto got a bit of a bad rep for, well, catching fire. But so have plenty of other cars over the years, yet few have gotten such an intense stigma. The Pinto was an economical car that was really perfect for the Gas Crisis seventies. Its handling wasn't bad, and if you got it with a stick, it was a perfectly entertaining little car. Today, you can drop a Mustang's 302 in there and go as crazy as you'd like.
8. Studebaker Avanti
The story of the Avanti is one of unfortunate timing. When it debuted in 1962, it was a really cool grand tourer, and you could get it with an optional factory supercharged V8 that put out up to 355 hp. Unfortunately, after Studebaker closed the Avanti factory in 1963, they let other makers produce the Avanti on other platforms with much, much lower quality standards. Those non-Studebaker Avantis were produced even into this century, and pretty much trashed the rep of an otherwise cool car.
7. Ford Torino
The Torino enjoyed moderate success, but never had the staying power it really warranted. Despite Starsky and Hutch's best efforts, and despite an engine lineup every bit as powerful as the Mustang, the Torino arrived, won in NASCAR, and about a decade later, faded from the collective conscious.
6. Kaiser Darrin
In its day, the Kaiser Darrin was a contemporary of the Corvette and Thunderbird, built to prove that America could build better roadsters than the Brits. It didn't sell well, largely because it was pretty slow in a straight line. By today's standards, though, just about every car from the 1950s was slow, so the car's main drawback is a moot point. The Kaiser makes this list because it's all about style, and it has, along with the BMW Z1, one of the most stylish sets of doors ever put on a car. Look closely: they slide into the front fender.
Bonus! Volkswagen Rabbit GTI
Fact: VW produced Rabbits in Pennsylvania.
Fact: The GTI may not have been the first hot hatch, but it certainly made the genre popular.
Fact: In the U.S., it was more often than not seen as an attempt at an economy car, but just about anywhere else on earth, it's anything but underrated.
5. Ford Taurus SHO
The original SHO was the ultimate sleeper. Unless you really knew to look for the distinguishing body work, you'd never know it had a Yamaha-built engine that revved to 7k, a manual transmission, or that a lot of the chassis fine tuning was done by legendary Scotsman Sir Jackie Stewart.
4. Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
The Turbo Coupe was as close to a European sports coupe as you could get from an American manufacturer in the 1980s. With a 190 hp four cylinder, it had a chassis full of technology like adjustable suspension, plus great brakes and special shorter gearing for better acceleration. Still, it only lasted for four years before being relegated to the history books, whereas its sister car, the Mustang SVO, attained a near mythical status among hardcore Mustang enthusiasts.
3. Buick GNX
It's generally safe to say that every one of the Buick Grand Nationals built in the mid-1980s was somewhat underrated, as a turbocharged 245 hp, eighties-style muscle car, but the GNX was even more so. A "normal" Grand National was shipped to Michigan, where a couple of all-star tuners tweaked everything from the turbo to the transmission. The GNX came without badges, not because it was trying to be a sleeper, but because you shouldn't need badges to know that the all-black car, often referred to as "Darth Vader's car" was packing a serious punch.
2. Ford Bronco
The original Bronco was built to go toe-to-toe with Jeep. In some respects, it's the world's first small SUV, but it's punch was huge. It had its own chassis, but took a lot of heavy duty parts from Ford's full-size trucks. They competed in international events like the extremely rigorous Baja 1000, before later generations of Bronco became either too car-like or too huge, like the one from OJ's famous chase.
1. Chevrolet Corvair Monza
Today, the Corvair is most known as the subject of Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed, wherein he argues that many people died as a result of GM cutting corners with the car's suspension. In truth, however, the suspension setup was fundamentally the same as contemporary Porsches and Mercedes, and statistically, the car wasn't any more dangerous than other vehicles. It had an advanced air-cooled flat six engine that was mounted in the rear. It was basically GM's version of a Porsche for normal people, but thanks to Nader's controversy, the car died, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was born.
Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. The first time he "drove" a car, he was seven, and on his dad's lap in his 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Follow him to adulthood on Twitter.
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