Automotive history has many great cars. These are the cars that make drivers say “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” and lead to a bunch or blogs and articles about the “good old days”. While legendary nameplates like Mustang and Corvette have never left us, and others like Continental and NSX are on their way back, there are plenty of cars that disappeared into memory, destined for a spot in a museum or former Tonight Show host Jay Leno’s garage.
Today, cars have never been safer. Gas and horsepower both come relatively cheap, and the ascendency of Hybrids and EVs all contribute to one of the most exciting and rewarding eras of automotive history. Our rewind articles are more than just about nostalgia, it’s about celebrating engineering history. This time we’re changing our tune to look at the cars that may have left the spotlight and are due for a revival from their makers. From supercars to pickup trucks, cars of every shape and size have left unexpected gaps in today’s automotive market, and new versions could potentially make this current era of automotive marvels even greater:
After years of lying low, the midsize pickup truck segment is heating up again, thanks to the success of the new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. But Ford’s iconic Ranger pickup is notably absent from the equation in it’s home of North America. For 29 years, the Ranger defined this segment of vehicles with distinctly no-frills interior, rugged simplicity, and trademark hauling capability. For that small but frustrated demographic that wants nothing more than a tough and bare-bones little truck, a return of the Ranger to the Homeland would be welcome with open arms.
Like many classics, the third-generation Mazda RX-7 didn’t get the love it deserved the first time around, and was pulled from the American market in the mid-90s along with JNCO jeans and visor shades. History has been kind to Mazda’s twin-turbo rotary-powered rocket though, and it has become one of the most desirable sports cars of the ’90s thanks to a starring role in certain action blockbuster franchises. Its spiritual successor, the 2004-2012 RX-8 had some undeniable bright moments (near 50/50 weight distribution, great handling, high-revving rotary engine), but its atrocious reliability issues have turned it into a lemon in the used-car market. Mazda’s lineup may be one of the best in the world right now, but we can’t help but drool over the prospect of a new range-topping RX-7 shaking up the sports car world.
The Chevrolet SS was the best open secret in the performance car world. With its full-size figure, 415 horsepower Corvette engine, and ultimate sleeper car looks, it’s a throwback to the days when muscle cars didn’t need to show off. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of an albatross; a little too coarse to run with the BMW M5 and Cadillac CTS-V, and a little too expensive (at $45,745) to take on the Ford Taurus SHO (at $40,220). Though the SS hasn’t exactly been a sales success, we would love to see Ford step up and offer an alternative to the big Chevy. The old full-size Panther platform (which underpinned the Mercury Marauder, pictured above) may be gone, but Ford has a new full-size platform on the way for the new Lincoln Continental, and the thought of the Shelby GT350’s 5.2 liter V8 in a big sedan makes for a great what-if.
Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
High-performance wagons never really caught on in the U.S. — but there was a brief shining moment when they looked like they could have. Between the real-world hauling capabilities of the Dodge Magnum SRT8, the 577 horsepower European madness of the Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S Wagon, and the 556 horsepower Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, there was an embarrassment of riches in the segment. Today, the Mercedes may be the last super wagon standing, but nothing beats the general outrageousness of the CTS-V wagon. It was the first wagon Cadillac officially built, and they made it count. It was arguably the most unexpected car ever to come from the brand, and it helped put Cadillac’s V-Sport performance division on the map. With the all-new 640 horsepower CTS-V sedan coming later this year, we can’t help but imagine how it would look with a long roof.
Though the Mazda Miata has long-dominated the small, two-seater market, Honda was no slouch in the segment, either. At its debut in 2000, the S2000 featured a 2.0-liter inline-four that redlined at 9,000 RPM and “with 240 hp, it put out more horsepower per liter than any other naturally aspirated engine on the planet,” Edmunds notes. The S2000 was truly a driver’s car, and only improved with the introduction of the 2.2 liter VTEC power plant in 2004. But a recent one-two punch in the world of roadsters has left us wanting a next-gen S2000 more than ever. The refocused new Mazda Miata, and Honda’s new Japanese market-only S600 roadster have convinced us that there’s a Honda-shaped hole in the American sports car market. Sure, the Miata is great, but the roads would be a more exciting place if it had another roadster to compete with.
After decades of building innovative cars and earning one of the most fervent cult followings in the automotive world, Saab shut its doors in 2011, and has remained on life support ever since. Now owned by a Chinese holding company, it’s unlikely that the company will ever produce cars again – which is an automotive tragedy. The quirky, famously independent company (even while it was under GM ownership) created some of the most iconic and recognizable cars ever made, and its unique combination of sportiness, luxury, and technology have been sorely missed in the automotive world. Any new Saab model would be enough to make millions of gearheads rejoice, but with Volvo’s U.S. sales struggles, the future doesn’t look rosy for Swedish cars in the American market. Still, we long for the days when Saabs provided the strange Swedish counterpoint to staid German competitors like BMW and Audi.
Nissan Pulsar NX
This may be a deep pull, but the time feels right for a return of the modular car. The Pulsar NX was based on the boring Sentra, but with its good-looking coupe body, it offered a little extra fun to go with the practicality. It’s party trick, though, was its modular body; Its roof and hatchback were removable, and the SportBak option (pictured above) converted the little coupe/convertible/pickup into a station wagon. For a company that’s no stranger to small, quirky people movers like the Juke and the now-discontinued Cube, Nissan seems like just the company to bring back the quirky practicality of a modular car. While there’s no reason to necessarily revive the Pulsar NX name (it was discontinued due to poor sales in 1990), it’s all things to all people practicality is a concept that we’d love to see make a comeback.
The Cadillac Cien (pictured above) never went into production, but its muscular good looks and mid-mounted V12 still seem like a good idea 13 years after it debuted as a concept. With the Ford GT getting ready to hit street and racetracks, it seems like a perfect time for GM to develop its own mid-engine world-beater to take on its cross-town rival. Earlier this year, spy photos taken at the GM proving ground showed a mid-engine test mule being put through its paces on a track. Rumors started swirling that a mid-engine Corvette was coming, but Automobile Magazine Executive Editor Todd Lassa made the case that the car wasn’t a Corvette at all – it was a Cadillac. Adding fuel to the fire, Cadillac chief Johan de Nysschen spoke with the magazine and talked about his desire for one or two “very prestigious, very high-performance but luxury cars” to serve as flagship models. The Ford GT will undoubtedly be a fantastic car, but it would be that much sweeter if it had a little hometown competition to keep it on its game.
As exciting as the automotive landscape is today, these models prove that there is still much to be desired. None of these cars may be as good, safe, or efficient as a new car, but their features and what they represent would make future models that much better.
Alex has worked in the automotive service industry for over 20 years. After graduating from one of the country’s top technical schools, he worked as a technician achieving a Master Technician certification. He also has experience as a service advisor and service manager. Read more about Alex.
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