Wiesmann MF5 Roadster

24 Remarkable Car Models That Most People Don’t Know

Countless obscure and unknown car brands and models have come and gone over the years. Even the most well-informed car geek would struggle to keep up with every brand, let alone the individual models from the annals of automotive history.

Join us as we look at some remarkable car models that most people don’t know about. These cars aren’t obscure because they were horrible and people avoided them. They’re genuinely great in their own way, and some even changed the automotive scenery.

E30 BMW 320is

E30 BMW 320is
Image Credit: nakhon100/WikiCommons.

The BMW 320is may look like a regular 320i fitted with an M-Tech body kit, but there’s more to it than that. Under the hood of this sleeper car, we find a 189 hp, 2.0-liter version of the high-revving S14 engine fitted in the E30 M3. The 320is is essentially an E30 M3 without the iconic boxy wheel arches.

BMW only sold the 320is in Portugal and Italy, where cars with engines larger than 2,000cc were heavily taxed. They produced the 320is from 1987 to 1991, and sold 1,206 four-door versions and 2,542 two-door models in that period.

Isuzu Piazza Turbo / Isuzu Impulse

Isuzu Piazza Turbo / Isuzu Impulse
Image Credit: Rutger van der Maar/WikiCommons.

The Isuzu Piazza Turbo (Isuzu Impulse in North America) is a rare Japanese sports coupe produced in two generations, but the 1st-gen is by far the most stylish. If you squint, it looks like a Volkswagen Scirocco from the same era – probably because Giugiaro designed both.

The Piazza/Impulse had some lethargic naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines, so the Turbo version was the one to go for. The 2.0-liter produced 140 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque. Power is nothing without control, though, so British carmaker, Lotus, was tasked with setting up the suspension.

Porsche 912

Porsche 912
Image Credit: Lothar Spurzem/WikiCommons.

To the uninitiated, the Porsche 912 looks just like the 911, and there’s a reason for that. The 912 is essentially an entry-level 911 with the flat-six engine replaced by a Beetle-derived 1.6-liter flat-four from the Porsche 356. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the 912 offered better handling than the 911.

Porsche sold more than 32,000 units between 1965 and 1969, and the 912 actually outsold its more powerful 911 twin. However, it was replaced by the 914 in 1970, only to see an encore for one year only in 1976 as the 912E. This is certainly a car most people have forgotten about.

Volkswagen Phaeton W12

Volkswagen Phaeton W12
Image Credit: Volkswagen Phaeton/WikiCommons.

The VW Phaeton was in production from 2001 to 2016, and one might wonder why most people have never heard of it. While it certainly was a remarkable car, it also flopped spectacularly, making it one of the biggest car fails in automotive history.

VW head honcho Ferdinand Piëch gave his engineers a list of ten ridiculous parameters the Phaeton needed to fulfill in order to obliterate competitors, such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. In the end, people didn’t want to pay Mercedes money for a VW, even if it was better in almost every way.

Volkswagen Beetle RSi

Volkswagen Beetle RSi
Image Credit: Alexander Migl/WikiCommons.

Everyone knows the Beetle, but the RSi is a very different beast. This model was lower, stiffer, and wider than the regular model. It also featured a 221 hp 3.2-liter VR6 engine under the hood, and its power was distributed to all four wheels via a 6-speed gearbox.

The Beetle RSi was a racecar for the streets. Yes, I know that’s an overused cliché, but it’s true in this case. The suspension geometry was track-oriented, and VW fitted a pair of body-hugging Recaro bucket seats. The Beetle RSi is an exceptional car that’s unknown due to its 250-unit production run.

Nissan Pao

Nissan Pao
Image Credit: FaceMePLS/ WikiCommons.

Nissan produced this retro-styled three-door hatchback from 1989 to 1991 and marketed it solely in Japan at their Nissan Cherry Stores. Under the hood was the Nissan March/Micra’s 51 horsepower 987cc engine, mated to either a three-speed auto or a five-speed manual transmission.

The Pao looked like it belonged in the 1960s, and its styling had many retro features, such as external door hinges, ‘flip-up’ windows, and a split rear tailgate.

Nissan S-Cargo

Nissan S-Cargo
Image Credit: Alexander Yampolsky/WikiCommons.

Like the Nissan Pao, the S-Cargo is a small retro-styled vehicle built between 1989 and 1991. The S-Cargo was also sold exclusively at the Nissan Cherry Stores.

Nissan’s S-Cargo featured styling inspired by the Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette delivery van, and we can’t deny that it looks a bit like a snail. Its looks also explain the double entendre name, which stands for “Small Cargo” and sounds like “escargot.” Cute!

Porsche 916

Porsche 916
Image Credit: Abehn/WikiCommons.

For a long time, the Porsche 914 was one of the most disliked models to ever emerge from Stuttgart. P-car enthusiasts complained about the weird styling and that the engine was a VW unit, not a real Porsche engine.

The Porsche 916 featured more aerodynamic styling, flared fenders, and a hardtop roof. They also replaced the VW Beetle engine with a 2.4 or 2.7-liter Porsche 911 flat-six unit. Porsche only built 11 prototypes before they scrapped the program. They made one 916 with US specs, which has been at the Automobile Atlanta 914 museum since 1990.

Kia Elan

Kia Elan
Image Credit: Reddit.

The front-wheel drive Lotus Elan from the 1990s was an excellent car that never quite lived up to its legendary predecessor. Kia bought the Elan production rights in 1995 and kept it in production until 1999.

While Kia did make some changes to the Elan, such as new taillights and a Mazda-sourced 149 hp 1.8-liter engine instead of the Isuzu 1.6 turbocharged unit, the Elan was easily recognizable. In the end, Kia produced 1,056 Elans, which makes it rarer and more expensive than its Lotus counterpart today. While it wasn’t the success Kia hoped it would be, the Elan did help improve their image, as they were mostly known for horrible cars that everyone hated back then.

Panoz Roadster

Panoz Roadster
Image Credit: Nate Grigg/WikiCommons.

The Panoz Roadster is perhaps one of the most obscure American sports cars ever made. The Roadster was a car for proper driving enthusiasts. There was no roof, radio, heater, or air-con, and it only came with a 5-speed manual transmission. It did have a small heater to defrost the windshield, but only because it was a US DOT requirement.

Frank Costin designed the frame that was previously found in an Irish sports car called the TMC Costin. All the body panels were aluminum to keep the weight down, and under the hood there was a massive 5.0-liter Ford V8.

E36 BMW M3 Lightweight

E36 BMW M3 Lightweight
Image Credit: Mr.choppers/WikiCommons.

Everyone and their grandma know about the regular E36 M3, but the Lightweight version is no ordinary M3. BMW only produced 126 examples of the Lightweight version.

All Lightweight cars were painted Alpine White, with tricolor graphics on the left-front and right-rear corners. They had aluminum doors, an adjustable front splitter, and other goodies. Surprisingly, BMW struggled to sell these cars when new, but prices have skyrocketed now.

Drakan Spyder

Drakan Spyder
Image Credit: Drakan Cars.

The Drakan Spyder is a Californian-made 2-seater that weighs in at a mere 2,000 pounds. It also has a 6.2-liter LS3 V8 engine that sends 450 wild stallions to the rear wheels.

Its power-to-weight ratio means it can reach 60 mph from a standstill in just 3.2 seconds, with a top speed of a very decent 165 mph. A rolling chassis costs $115,000, and a turn-key car is $140,000. Not cheap, but this is a serious machine that can keep up with much more expensive toys.

Mosler Consulier GTP

Mosler Consulier GTP
Image Credit: Mr.choppers/WikiCommons.

The Mosler Consulier GTP will certainly not win any beauty contests, but that was never the goal. This beast is all about function, not form. In the early days, power came from a 2.2-liter Chrysler turbo engine, although later models used various V8 units.

While the 157-190 hp 2.2-liter version may not sound very interesting, it decimated established rivals thanks to its low weight. Porsches, Ferraris, and Corvettes were all eating the GTP’s dust. In fact, it was so dominant that IMSA eventually decided to ban it from their racing series.

Tucker 48

Tucker 48
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Tucker 48 is one of the greatest cars from brands that no longer exist. It could’ve been one of the most innovative cars of its time. Unfortunately, the competition wasn’t afraid of playing dirty, and we’ll never know what the 48 could have been.

Negative publicity, an SEC investigation, and a stock fraud trial that was proven baseless meant Tucker only built 51 cars before it declared bankruptcy. If that hadn’t happened, the Tucker 48 would’ve revolutionized the industry and most likely dominated the market, as Tesla does with its EVs today.

Lamborghini Jalpa

Lamborghini Jalpa
Image Credit: ColinMB/WikiCommons.

Practically every gearhead knows about the iconic Lamborghini classics. I am, of course, talking about the gorgeous Miura, in-your-face Countach, and devilishly handsome Diablo. However, it seems many are clueless about the Jalpa.

Lamborghini introduced the Jalpa as an “entry-level” model in 1981. It was much cheaper and easier to drive than its bigger sibling, the Countach. Unfortunately, the Jalpa never sold in large numbers, and Lamborghini shut down production in 1988 after 410 units found new owners.

Wiesmann MF5

Wiesmann MF5 Roadster
Image Credit: Wiesmann

Wiesmann is a German car manufacturer that builds retro-styled custom sports cars by hand. The Wiesmann GT MF5 & Roadster MF5 two-seater cars look absolutely stunning, and thanks to the BMW V10 engine, they pack a much harder punch than previous models.

Wiesmann built fewer than 200 MF5 cars, and only 43 were roadsters. The company has now returned and announced they will enter the electric sports car market.

Mercury Cougar

1999 Mercury Cougar in Rio Red
Image Credit: Cutlass/WikiCommons.

Those who know their Fords are most likely familiar with the Mercury Cougar nameplate. However, only die-hard enthusiasts know about the short-lived eighth-generation model, introduced in 1999.

Gone were the vinyl roof and rumbling V8s of Cougars from the past. This version featured front-wheel drive, and power came from an inline-four or V6 powerplant. The last Mercury Cougar rolled off the assembly line in August 2002, and 8 years later, the Mercury brand was gone, too.

Nissan NX2000

Nissan NX2000
Image Credit: Teun Lucassen/WikiCommons.

The Nissan NX2000 certainly wasn’t the prettiest car to emerge from the land of the rising sun, nor was it the sportiest. The quirky-looking coupe did have some things going for it, though.

Under the hood, it had the semi-hot, 140-horsepower 2.0-liter SR20D engine from the Nissan Sentra SE-R. Thanks to its small size and light weight, the NX2000 was also nimble. It reached 60 mph in under 7 seconds and managed a 134 mph top speed, and with the T-tops off, owners could feel the wind in their hair.

Mitsubishi FTO

Mitsubishi FTO
Image Credit: Shadman Samee/WikiCommons.

Gran Turismo video game fans will instantly recognize the Mitsubishi FTO, while others are probably scratching their heads. The FTO was a front mid-engined coupe, and its 2.0-liter V6 engine sent all its 200 horses to the front wheels.

Mitsubishi built this beauty between 1994 and 2000, and it won Car of the Year in Japan upon its debut. Mitsubishi built the FTO for the JDM market but made it available in other RHD countries towards the end. Good luck finding one, though. Most have succumbed to rust issues.

Toyota Sera

Toyota Sera
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Toyota Sera 2+2 hatchback coupe was officially only sold in Japan from 1990 to 1996. While it looks somewhat sporty, it only had a 1.5-liter engine that produced a rather underwhelming 104 hp.

The Sera’s biggest claim to fame is the butterfly doors. Gordon Murray, the designer of the McLaren F1, said the Sera inspired the McLaren F1’s door arrangement. Toyota built 15,941 Seras, and sold fewer than 100 outside Japan, so that’s probably why you haven’t heard of it.

Jaguar XE SV Project 8

Jaguar XE SV Project 8
Image Credit: Alexander Migl/WikiCommons.

The standard Jaguar XE wasn’t among the most exciting sedans on the market, but the top-of-the-line XE S version did its best to keep up with the BMW 335i.

Jaguar’s engineers decided to take it to the next level, so they used what they’d learned from the Project 7 F-Type and created the XE SV Project 8. This beast “borrowed” the supercharged 5.0-liter V8 from the F-Type SVR. It sent 592 wild horses to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission, making it one of the best sports sedans ever – yet it remains largely unknown.

Ronart Lightning V8

Ronart Lightning V8
Image Credit: MrWalkr/WikiCommons.

If you’ve never heard of Ronart, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It was a small British company that built bespoke retro sports cars, and in 1999, they unveiled the Lightning at the London International Motor Show.

The Lightning has a Ford V8 originally found under the hood of the Mustang SVT Cobra. Buyers could choose between a naturally aspirated version with 320 horsepower or a supercharged version with 500 horses. Production ended after just seven cars, making it a rare sight.

Bristol Fighter

Bristol Fighter
Image Credit: Edvvc/WikiCommons.

Bristol is another British carmaker most people have never heard of. They stuck with the same formula for several decades — sporty and luxurious grand tourers built around large Chrysler V8 engines.

The Bristol Fighter deviates slightly from that formula, as there’s no V8 under the hood. Instead, this gullwing-door monster came equipped with an enhanced V10 they’d taken from the Dodge Viper. While the exact production number is unknown, it’s believed to be between 9 and 14 units.

Andre Nalin

Author: Andre Nalin

Title: Writer

Bio:

Andre has worked as a writer and editor for multiple car and motorcycle publications over the last decade, but he has reverted to freelancing these days. He has accumulated a ton of seat time during his ridiculous road trips in highly unsuitable vehicles, and he’s built magazine-featured cars. He prefers it when his bikes and cars are fast and loud, but if he had to pick one, he’d go with loud.

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