We see them every year at the various auto shows around the world; concept cars that challenge the standards of how we conceptualize a mode of transportation many of us take for granted. But if you think the ideas featured in today’s auto marketplace are off-beat, have you considered what designers thought the future would look like — in the past?
In the article below, we’ve gathered a list of some of the most obscure classic cars we believe you may never have even heard of. Some of them are one-off concept cars, while others are vehicles that actually had limited production runs but failed to become popular. Which of the following models do you recognize?
1. 1941 Willy’s Americar Coupe
Most people know the Willy’s Jeep but not a lot of folks are familiar with the Willy’s Americar Coupe. Styled with the sloping lines and rear wheel covers of years past, the Americar Coupe was produced from 1941 to 1952. The design was incredibly popular with dragsters, who took advantage of the lightweight and aerodynamic form to speed past their opponents. Only 20,000 units were ever made. Though they only cost about $634 new back in the day, buying one now could put you out over $100,000. The 1941 Willy’s Americar Coupe was fitted with a small inline four-cylinder engine capable of up to 63 horsepower.
2. Ford X-2000
One look at the Ford X-2000 concept car and you might not be sure which way the car is supposed to move until you locate the steering wheel. The X-2000 was designed by Alex Tremulis, a man who worked for the U.S. Government during the Second World War. The fact that he also drew UFOs in his spare time only adds to the overall caricature of this conceptual vehicle. First featured in 1957, the Ford X-2000 never really had a price as it didn’t quite make it past the concept stage. That’s the same reason there isn’t a lot of info about its performance specs, features, or sticker price.
3. 1971 Manic GT
The Canadian-built Manic GT was only available in 1970 and 1971. The model featured a Renault 4-cylinder engine in the rear, which made anywhere from 65 to 105 horsepower. Both a four-speed and a five-speed manual were available. Rumor has it that the model was named after the Manicouagan River in Quebec.
The Manic GT was introduced at the Montreal Auto Show in 1969 and was slated in the same $3,400 price range as the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. These models quickly passed the Manic GT in terms of popularity though, as only 160 units of the Manic were ever produced. Even though the Manic GT had excellent fuel economy, financial instability halted production after 1971.
4. 1972-1976 Volkswagen SP2
Though most well-known for the adorable Beetle, Volkswagen also created a hatch that looked similar to the Datsun 280Z car. Known as the Volkswagen SP2, this hatch wasn’t exactly something you’d write home about. It could only command about 75 horsepower from a small air-cooled four-cylinder engine and only about 10,000 units were produced. However, Volkswagen only sold the SP2 in Brazil, where it was to be an import-free replacement for the Karmann Ghia. Though restored VW SP2s can range anywhere from $10,000-$40,000 these days, they likely didn’t cost much more than a grand or two back in the day.
5. 1948 Davis Divan
When you imagine what a concept car from the late 1940s might look like, you may come up with something like the Davis Divan. Shaped more like a boat than a car, the model actually only sits on three wheels. The Davis Divan was sold from 1947 to 1949, for around $1,400, but only 11 units of the Divan were ever made. Measuring about 15.5 feet long, the Divan was inspired by aircraft, oddly enough, and could sit four people across the front seat. The Divan captured 63 horsepower beneath the hood and remains a classic today.
6. 1970 Mercury Cyclone
One look at the Mercury Cyclone and you’re probably wondering “what’s so special about this car?” It looks like every other muscle car from the ‘70s. It had a big block V8 engine capable of 335 horsepower — or was it 400? Mercury claimed the Cyclone could post a 14-second quarter mile and yet only 2,175 models made it across the production floor.
The most interesting thing about this model is why it didn’t achieve the fame it probably could have. Cyclones were priced at around $2,000 back in the ‘70s. In fact, there were a few different variants of the model as well. For instance, the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II Long-Nose was produced to challenge the Plymouth Superbird but in reality only a few were ever completed.
7. 1962-1963 Studebaker Avanti R2
Produced only in the consecutive years of 1962 and 1963, the Studebaker Avanti R2 commanded quite a presence. The model was marketed as a muscle car with table manners. Studebaker supercharged the engine and paired it with a manual transmission. The car ended up breaking world speed records (at the time) for a top speed of 170 miles per hour.
Studebaker inevitably had issues with production, so in the end only around 4,600 Avantis were ever driven off the line. Models designated with the “R2” symbol numbered even less. Back in the 1960s, a Studebaker Avanti R2 would have cost you around $4,500, but today working models and restorations go for upwards of five times that amount. The Avanti R2 was powered by a 290-horsepower V8 engine. If you’d like to see the vehicle in action, take a look at this promotional video on YouTube. The Avanti R2 was certainly a capable — and memorable — car.
8. 1963-1967 Gordon-Keeble
For roughly $3,400 when brand new, you could be driving a 1960s Gordon-Keeble (pictured below), a model cobbled together from a mishmash of parts that still managed to look complete. Only about 100 units were ever made, due in large part to the lack of both buyers and ironically, the right parts. Since the motor came from a Chevrolet 5.4-liter V8, horsepower likely ranged from 210 to 375. The Gordon-Keeble is most memorable, perhaps, for its logo: a turtle. Not many examples of this off-the-wall vehicle still exist, but that turtle logo is unmistakable.
9. 1985-1990 Owosso Pulse
If a car could take on the shape of a bumblebee, the Owosso Pulse painted in black and yellow would describe its form. The Owosso Pulse may look like a flying object but it’s actually powered by a motorcycle engine. With only about 85 horsepower beneath its wings, the Owosso Pulse actually incredibly fuel efficient. As you might imagine, the Pulse had plenty of stage time in its day. There are only around 150 units still left today.
10. 1967 Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan
Take a car shell accessible only from the back, add in a truck engine, and fit it with steel rails for protection against accidents. Drop in a bit of luxury inside and you’ve got what’s known as the Mohs Ostentattienne Opera Sedan. Priced somewhere between $19,600 and $25,000 back in the 1960s, this luxury machine was reserved for the select few who were able to afford such names as Bentley, Rolls Royce, and the like. However, the powerful V8 engine made 250 horsepower, which is still a respectable amount today. The company claimed they could make about three or four every year, but only one was ever built.
Gotta Love the Classics
That does it for our list of obscure classic cars. We couldn’t include every model on our list but if you’re interested in learning more, just search “obscure classic cars” on Google—and make sure to click the “Images” tab. The designs popping up at auto shows today may not seem so far-fetched after glancing through a few pages.