Every so often, a car comes along that’s truly special: a one-in-a-million vehicle – almost literally, in some cases – or a rarity that most people may never even get to see, let alone own. To make matters worse, manufacturers, for one reason or another, generally make very few of them.
Sometimes these cars are built in obscurity, and over time become legendary. Others are introduced with great fanfare, only to flop and be reclaimed decades later as cult classics. But as these cars age, the likelihood of them disappearing, getting totaled, or meeting other less-than-desirable fates increases by the year. By the time there’s finally an audience for them, they’re already too rare and valuable for most people to afford.
Go to any car show this summer, and more than likely you’ll hear at least one old timer talking about the good old days, about that old friend who daily drove a Cobra, or a strange childhood neighbor who had a Tucker locked away in his garage. It’s easy to think that there was some simpler time when a legendary car could be had for a song, but truth be told, most legendary cars were rare and valuable from the get-go. While the list of high-demand underproduced classics could go on forever (shouldn’t BMW still be building the E30 M3?), Chris Perkins from Jalopnik named 10 that deserved a much longer production run than they were given.
10. Pontiac Solstice Coupe
Six years after the last one rolled off the assembly line, Pontiac Solstice convertibles are still commonplace. But the hardtop coupes? Those are harder to come by, as GM only built 1,266 of them before the axe came down on the brand in 2009. While the Solstice was a rare bright spot during GM’s darkest days, the Coupe looked even better than the soft-top, and the rigidity of the added roof helped handling too. Especially in rare, turbocharged GXP guise (with 781 built), the Solstice Coupe is a safe bet for future collectable status. “This is the sport coupe we wish GM was making now,” Jalopnik said.
9. Volvo V70R
Volvo has long been known for putting safety and sensibility first, but every now and then, it likes to throw a little excitement and performance into the mix too. The V70R was one of these cars: It packed between 235 and 300 horsepower (depending on the year), and as much as 295 pound-feet of torque, all of which was sent to all four wheels – not bad for a Volvo. The fire-breathing spirit of the original Rs live on today in Volvo’s Polestar models, but with only 120 of those reaching U.S. shores in 2015, those are even rarer.
8. Porsche 914/6
For decades, the Porsche 914 was considered a major misstep for Porsche; an entry-level, mid-engined car engineered and powered by Volkswagen with a Porsche badge on the back. In base trim, the 914 was a lightweight, engaging little cruiser – think more Fiat X1/9 than 911, but it didn’t come anywhere near Porsche’s performance standards. With the the 914/6, however, all the “dressed-up Volkswagen” talk went right out the window, as the base car’s wheezy four-cylinder was swapped out for Porsche’s 110 horsepower flat-six mill from the 911T. If you can find one today, chances are you’ll be paying a premium for it; with just 3,338 built, it’s become one the most sought-after Porsche road cars of all-time.
7. BMW 1 Series M Coupe
To paraphrase Jeremy Clarkson, late of BBC’s Top Gear, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe was a car that shouldn’t have worked, but did. Largely a Frankenstein-type project, it had the engine from a Z4, the door mirrors from an M3, the rear axle from a late-model M3, and added up to (as Jalopnik says) “…one of the best BMWs of the modern era.” Unfortunately, BMW only allowed 740 of them into the States before it was replaced by the new M235i. By all accounts, BMW’s new compact M-car is good, but it just doesn’t have the same kind of magic that the ragtag 1-Series M had.
6. Ferrari F40
All things considered, the F40 is one of the higher-volume supercars ever built by Ferrari. Compared to the F50, the Enzo, and the LaFerrari, the F40’s 1,311 car production run makes it downright common. But for the first production car that to break that magic 200-plus miles per hour threshold, and that defined performance for the better part of the 1980s and 1990s, that just isn’t enough. Perkins writes: “In fact, there are more F40s than all the others combined but I don’t care. The F40 is the best of them all and the world needs more than 1,311 of them.”
5. Shelby AC Cobra
“There’s approximately 10 billion replicas and just 998 original Cobras. If that doesn’t prove that Shelby needed to make more Cobras I don’t know what will,” Perkins said, and he’s got a point. Cobras were plenty well-known in their day, but a high price (at around $6,000, almost twice as much as the Corvette), and the constant juggling between importing the body and chassis from AC Cars in England, ordering high-performance V8s from Ford, and keeping the car competitive for racing proved too much for tiny Shelby American, and it halted production after just five years. Over half a century later, Cobras have become some of the most valuable collector cars to ever come from America. With “less desirable” cars now in the high six-figure range, you’re probably better off buying a good replica from Shelby itself than a real ’60s car.
4. Toyota 2000GT
The Toyota 2000GT is arguably the most beautiful car to ever hail from the Far East, and one of the most important. In an age where Japanese imports were looked at with disdain, Toyota seemingly came out of nowhere with a car that was worthy enough for James Bond. Due to its incredibly low production numbers — only 351 were built, it’s become the most valuable Japanese car in the world today. In 2013, a mostly original yellow coupe made headlines when it fetched $1.1 million at auction. The 2000GT’s East-meets-West styling has become a true design classic. Power came from a 2.0-liter Yamaha-sourced mill that offered 150 horsepower, though a larger 2.3-liter engine was offered on nine exclusive models.
3. McLaren F1
It had a BMW-derived V12 and chassis that was developed by a company that rose to greatness in Formula 1 racing. It had an unusual single front seat and two-backseat seating configuration, and is still by today’s standards one of the fastest road-going cars ever. But McLaren only made 107 of them in total, and F1s are now going well into the millions at auction, as many, Perkins included, consider the F1 to be among the best cars ever made.
2. Tucker 48
Nearly 70 years after it was built, the Tucker continues to capture our imagination. Not only because of its stranger-than-fiction story, but because the car was truly groundbreaking. In many ways, the upstart automaker could have been the Tesla of its time, showing immense promise, and garnering significant media attention. Ultimately, shady business dealings and poor planning led to the company’s very public failure – though rumors still persist that the Big Three were somehow involved in taking the company down. Tucker managed to produce just 51 Tucker 48s before going under, but the car’s legendary status, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream ensure that the Tucker 48 will live on for decades to come.
1. Every homologation special
In certain leagues of racing, cars can only legally be entered if they’re paired with a minimum number of road-legal versions for public consumption. These are called homologation models, and many have gone down in history as some of the greatest performance cars ever built. Unfortunately, automakers often make very few of these cars — no more than required — and as a result, they’re usually rare, expensive, and highly sought after. “I could have put a homologation for every spot on this list, but instead, I’m going to dedicate the number one spot to all of them,” Perkins wrote. “Lancia Stratos, Ferrari 250 GTO, Ford RS200, BMW M3 EVO, Porsche 959, Ford GT40, Mercedes CLK-GTR [pictured above], Celica GT-Four, Renault R5 Turbo, Ferrari 288 GTO, Audi Sport Quattro, Lancia Delta Integrale. The list is endless.”
Additional reporting by James Derek Sapienza