Every gearhead has an imaginary dream garage, and more often that not, it’s likely to have at least a few of the same cars in it as your friends. A Jaguar E-Type, Lamborghini Countach, Mercedes-Benz 300SL, Porsche 911 Turbo, or vintage Ferrari are likely to be in there, as could any host of Japanese or American iron. It’s your dream garage, of course, and even though you’ve picked the cars, and maybe even lusted after them for years, we’ve found that most people’s wish lists aren’t exactly the most creative.
“If I had all the money in the world…” you say, listing off one impossibly expensive car after another, showing off your good taste and automotive knowledge. But cars have roamed the earth for 130 years (give or take), and there are thousands of models to choose from. You aren’t likely to find many flops like a Yugo in many people’s, but for every crowd-pleaser like the Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvette, there are five cars that never quite got their due. Besides, as people like Floyd Mayweather or Guy Fieri have shown, one person’s dream garage can be so obvious or tasteless that it ends up as another gearhead’s nightmare.
So we did some deep diving and a bit of soul-searching, and came up with a list of 10 cars from America, Europe, and Japan that don’t usually show up in most people’s dream garages, but probably should. So next time you want to impress your friends with what you’d own if you could have it all, drop any of these in for a wild card. And if any of these 10 are already on your list, then congratulations, your taste in cars is already more interesting than any Bugatti-driving boxer or any Ferrari-hoarding investment banker.
1. 1957 Ford Thunderbird “F-Code”
For such a legend, the 1955-’57 Thunderbird has a complicated legacy. On the one hand, it was an impossibly stylish sporty car that captured America’s collective imagination far better than the Corvette had up to that point. On the other hand, it was far more of a luxury cruiser than a true sports car. But there’s a glaring exception: the 1957 “F-Code” Thunderbird. Designed to compete with the new-for-’57 fuel-injected Corvette, the F-Code cars pumped out 300 horsepower (over the base car’s 225) thanks to a four-barrel Holley carburetor and McCulloch/Paxton supercharger. Despite success in the 1957 NASCAR season, Ford only built 211 F-Code cars, making them the holy grail for Thunderbird collectors. For people who love ’50s American style and raw power, this T-Bird definitely deserves space in the dream garage.
2. 1991-1994 Nissan Sentra SE-R
Cars of the 1990s are finally starting to get some love, but so far, the Sentra SE-R has been curiously absent from the conversation. For $12,150 (around $20K today) the SE-R had a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four mated to a crisp five-speed manual gearbox, independent suspension, anti-lock disc brakes, and was compared in the press to the BMW 2002 and Datsun 510. Despite being a regular on Car and Driver’s 10Best list, its affordable price and the rise of tuning culture has made one of the best driver’s cars of the era an endangered species. If you can get your hands on one, hold on to it for dear life.
3. 1990 Mercedes-Benz 190E Cosworth Evolution II
Here’s a trivia question: Why did BMW develop the E30 M3? Answer: to compete with the Mercedes 190E 2.3 Cosworth, which debuted in 1983. The original M3 may be stuff of legends today, but back in the ’80s and ’90s Germany was wrapped up in a sports sedan arms race, and Mercedes put up one hell of a fight. The ultimate 190 is the Evolution II, with its outrageous body kit, electronically-adjustable suspension, racing-spec brakes, and its Cosworth-designed-four enlarged to 2.5 liters, which made it good for 235 horsepower. On top of other Euro-spec goodies like a five-speed transmission with a dog-leg first gear and plaid seats, the Evo II would be hard to say no to, even against an M3. That said, we wouldn’t mind having both in our garage.
4. 1984-1994 Peugeot 205 GTI
They may not have made it to our shores the first time around, but in Europe, Volkswagen wasn’t the only automaker with a lustworthy GTI hot hatch. The Pininfarina-designed 205 was a much needed hit for Peugeot, with over 5.3 million sold between 1983 and 1998. But in GTI spec, Peugeot dropped in a 104-horsepower 1.6-liter four (later available with a 126-horse 1.9), and made the best use of its car’s fully independent suspension. The result was a performance car for the masses that was lighter, quicker, and better in the corners than the Volkswagen — and an all-time favorite of Jeremy Clarkson’s.
While the bonkers mid-engined T16, a one-of-200 Group B rally homologation special, is the holy grail car, any GTI is worth your time, even if you have to import it from Europe.
5. 1998 Subaru Impreza 22B STI
The modern Subaru WRX STI may be the very definition of a cult car, but the original 1998 22B STI has long been forbidden fruit. Built to celebrate both Subaru’s 40th anniversary and a third consecutive World Rally Championship title, the 22B had a 2.2-liter four delivering 276 horsepower to all four wheels, flared fenders, a unique aero kit, and a beautiful blue paint job with gold alloy wheels. According to legend, all 400 Japanese market models sold out within a half hour. Subaru may have built thousands of STIs since, but the 22B is the one we’d want in our dream garage.
6. 1961-1969 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 34
Of the classic ’60s affordable sports cars, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia is still a bit of the odd one out. Not as orthodox (or as fast) as the MGB, Triumph TRs, Austin Healeys, Datsun Fairlady, or Fiat 124, it’s still a fun and good-looking car. But in Europe, Volkswagen also offered the Type 34, also known as the “Razor-Edge Ghia.” With elegant lines, airy greenhouse, and a beautifully uncluttered interior, the Type 34 was German design at its best. It may still be slow, but if we owned one we’d want people to get a good look at it.
7. Jaguar XJC
After the design triumph that was the 60s-era E-Type, Jaguar seemed to lose the plot. By the ’70s, safety and emissions standards transformed the sensuous E-Type into a bloated grand tourer, its replacement the XJS was polarizing at best, and its elegant sedans began to feel old compared to the cutting-edge competition from Germany. But a bright spot from Jaguar’s dark ages was the XJC, a muscular pillar-less coupe version of the XJ sedan, powered by Jaguar’s iconic 4.2-liter XK inline-six. The cars suffered from the standard ’70s-era British quality control, but we’ve seen some tasteful restomods that are absolutely jaw-dropping. Lose the vinyl roof, rust-proof that fickle British steel, work out the electrical gremlins, and an XJC would be welcome in our dream garage any day.
8. 1999-2003 Bentley Continental R Mulliner
Volkswagen has largely been credited with revitalizing Bentley (and rightfully so), but there were signs of life at the company even before it split from Rolls-Royce and came under German ownership. The Continental was introduced in 1991, and was the first Bentley with a unique body in decades. Its graceful thin roof pillars and traditional wood and leather interior were classic Bentley, but its performance was a throwback to the days when the company was synonymous with performance. The hottest Continentals were the R Mulliner models, with Bentley’s iconic 6.75 V8 (still in production today after 57 years) supercharged to put out 420 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. The ’90s may be remembered for its supercars, but we think the era’s greatest grand tourer deserves some more love.
9. Lola T70
Racing in the 1960s has taken on almost mythical overtones — a time when fearless men wrangled incredibly fast and unintentionally gorgeous cars at tracks all over the world, putting their lives on the line for the glory of the sport. And while cars like the Ford GT40, Porsche 917 (above, in blue), and Ferrari 512 have all become legends, the Lola T70 (above, in red) seems all but forgotten by everyone but the most die-hard racing fans. Lolas were so dominant in the early ’60s that Ford hired away some of its engineers to work on its GT40 program. By 1965, the T70 was one of the top cars in the world to beat. But despite star turns in Le Mans and THX-1138 (George Lucas’s first film), the fact that Lola never produced any road cars, as well as FIA rules changing its prototype class, meant the car was obsolete by 1970. Since then, it’s largely been relegated to historical races.
10. 1964-1967 Pontiac 2+2
Pontiac’s biggest muscle car wasn’t the GTO. The 2+2 may have been based on the bigger Catalina, and more luxurious, but with the optional “High Output” 421-cubic-inch V8, the car had 376 horsepower and a whopping 461 pound-feet of torque on tap. With a little tuning, the full-size car could rocket from zero to 60 in 3.6 seconds — faster than a 2017 Porsche 911 R. We’d be crazy not to have one of these in our dream garage.