Supercars. The term means different things to different people, and there's no clear definition of what makes a supercar... well... super. It might mean cars that are limited editions or one-offs. It could also refer to anything that's fast and expensive. It possibly could also include regular cars that have been modified for performance, though that's controversial.
Supercars should be art. They should represent the best the automaker can offer. And ideally, they should be driven only by the elite few (let's face it—if there were as many Zondas on the road as there are Honda Civics, you'd be a lot less impressed by them). The Bugatti Veyron, the McLaren 675LT, the Koenigsegg Agera R—these are among the undisputed members of the club, the "I know it when I see it" supercars.
But what about the supercars that aren't so obvious? Clearly, if automakers are pulling out all the stops and trying new technologies, not all their efforts are going to be roaring successes. Some might even be complete dumpster fires. And as beautiful as the Hennessey Venom GT is, the dumpster fires are often a lot more interesting.
So cue up the Spice Girls and grab your pager, because we're going back in time. Here are 20 supercars from the 1990s their makers want us to forget.
20 Vector M12
If right now you're saying, "Hey, that kind of looks like a Lamborghini," you're absolutely correct. The M12 was a handbuilt car manufactured from 1995-1999 by California-based Vector Motors. Only 17 were produced. The M12 was a bit of a Lamborghini Diablo wannabe since it was made using the Diablo's engine and chassis (albeit modified). This gave it Lambo-like numbers on paper (492 hp and 428 ft-lb of torque), but the reality was a little less dashing.
The M12 was designed to be a more "road-friendly" version of the AWX-3, a Vector racing prototype. I don't know what "road-friendly" means to you, but to Vector, it apparently meant a car that could get UP TO 13 mpg. Add to that a cheap fiberglass body, and the M12 was a disappointment on all fronts.
19 Aston Martin Virage Volante
Thanks to their role as the car of choice for 007 in 12 different James Bond films, Aston Martins have a reputation for quality, innovation, technology, and luxury. But every family tree has a few bad apples.
When it was first introduced in 1993, the V-8 Virage Vantage was marketed as Aston Martin's top model. With a top speed of 186 mph and a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds, its performance was well below other supercars of the era (for example, consider the 1995 Ford GT90's 235 mph capabilities). But it's not all about speed, right?
Actually, speed might be the only thing going for it. Turns out the Virage Vantage was a Frankenstein. It was comprised of cheap parts from more everyday brands, such as Volkswagen, Audi, Chrysler, and Ford. If this is Aston Martin's top model, I'd hate to see the bargain model.
18 Jaguar XJ220
Designed as a modern version of Jaguar's famed Le Mans race cars of the '50s and the '60s, the XJ220 prototype was unveiled in 1988 to rave reviews. All-wheel drive with a V-12 engine, the XJ220 had a beautiful, sleek exterior and a top speed of 212 mph. People were so impressed with the prototype that around 1,500 individuals each put down £50,000 to reserve one.
Fast forward to 1992, and some of those 1,500 people finally got their hands on their very own XJ220—except it wasn't quite like they remembered. The AWD had been changed to rear-wheel drive. The V-12 had been swapped for a V-6. The recession of the '90s had hit Jaguar hard, and only 275 of the watered-down, £470,000 XJ220s were made. Production ended in 1994.
17 Dodge Viper
Like its namesake, the Dodge Viper has always been a bit dangerous and unpredictable. In 2013, the Viper was rebranded as more driver friendly in order to improve lagging sales. It included driver-adjustable suspension and a five-mode electronic stability control system. Prior to this, the Viper had none of these things. And at its introduction in 1992, it was at its wildest.
The V-10 engine produced 400 hp and 450 lb-ft but without the electronic babysitters that might've made it drivable to anyone without specialty training. Imagine trying to control a jet engine with a bad attitude on the freeway, and you'll have some idea of the difficulty. And as an added insult, the side exhausts would burn your legs if you didn't exit it with the proper caution.
16 Mosler Consulier GTP
The Consulier GTP was race car produced from 1985-1993 by Mosler Automotive, which was helmed by founder Warren Mosler. The GTP never successfully made the jump from race car to production car; it seemed forever stuck in the prototype phase. But if you're thinking Mosler Automotive pulled out all the stops for this prototype, you'd be wrong. With an exterior made of fiberglass, foam, and a shoddy, bare-bones interior, the manufacturers never actually seemed to take consumer preferences into account. Reviewers complained it was "difficult to handle" and had "anemic brakes."
In 1991, Warren Mosler confidently bet $25,000 that no one in any street-legal production car could post a faster lap time than the GTP. Car and Driver took up the challenge, pitting it against a stock 1991 Chevrolet Corvette. The GTP lost.
15 Chrysler’s TC by Maserati
Maserati has long been known for making luxury sports cars, but that doesn't mean they skimp on speed (for example, the V-8 twin-turbo powered Quattroporte GTS can hit 191 mph). Chrysler, meanwhile, is "Imported from Detroit," whatever that means.
In the 1980s, Chrysler's charismatic CEO, Lee Iacocca, and his buddy Alejandro de Tomaso, a race car driver and owner of Maserati, partnered together to release a sports coupe that would be "the prettiest Italian to arrive stateside" since Iacocca's mother immigrated. The love child of this agreement was the strange and sad Chrysler TC by Maserati.
Manufactured only from 1989-1991, the TC had a V-6 engine that produced just 141 bhp. The interior was hand-stitched Italian leather and the grille proudly bore the Maserati trident, but under the hood, it was pure Chrysler disappointment. In the end, the TC was nothing more than a K-car playing dress-up.
14 Subaru SVX
Introduced in 1992, the Subaru SVX was the brand's first foray into the performance market. On paper, it should've worked. The SVX was designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro (creator of the BMW M1 and the Maserati Ghibli) and had a drag coefficient of only 0.29 (most modern cars today are in the 0.3-0.4 range). Unfortunately, that efficiency came at the expense of a rather ugly car with freakish windows.
With a 7.3-second 0-60, a top speed of 154 mph, and optional four-wheel drive, the SVX was a good first effort for Subaru. But its $25,000 price tag at its launch scared away prospective buyers (especially with the recession at the time). Subaru was never able to meet its goal of selling 10,000 units per year, and production was discontinued in 1996.
13 Audi Sport Quattro
German engineering is renowned for its quality and precision, so you really have to wonder what went wrong with the Audi Sport Quattro. Produced from 1983-1991, the Sport Quattro was meant to be a road and rally beast, a pumped-up version of Audi's original Quattro. It had a turbocharged five-cylinder alloy-block engine and a dashboard that actually spoke to the driver via a voice synthesizer when it detected problems. Because of the fierce competition from similar cars on the market and on the rally circuit, Audi tried to cut the car's weight by using carbon-Kevlar panels and by shortening the wheelbase by 12.6 inches. This had the unintended consequence of creating a front-heavy, under-steering disaster that even an enormous spoiler couldn't fully remedy. Despite the eight-year production life, Audi only ever made 224 of these.
12 Ferrari Mondial T
One afternoon years ago, I was standing with a group of people, waiting for our turn to cross the street. Suddenly a blue Ferrari 488 Spider roared past. The man next to me turned and said, "I can't afford one of those!" I replied, "Maybe one day, right?" He agreed, and we parted ways united in that simple dream of Ferrari ownership. Perhaps if we'd considered the Ferrari Mondial, we'd have picked a different benchmark for our success.
Produced from 1988-1993, the Mondial T was the final form of several generations of underperforming and disappointing Mondials. The cars were heavy and cumbersome, a problem the T tried to fix by mounting the long engine lower in the chassis. While it was an improvement, Ferrari soon abandoned the Mondial and applied the lessons they'd learned to the construction of the California.
11 Venturi Atlantique 260
When you think of supercar manufacturers, your mind probably wanders to German, Italian, Swedish, Japanese, and American companies. But what about the French? Are there any French supercars? To answer your question, let me direct your attention to the Venturi Atlantique 260.
Produced by Monaco-based Venture Automobiles from 1991-2000, the Atlantique 260 was a 2-door coupe with a 2.8L twin-turbo V-6 engine—good enough for a 5.2-second 0-60 and a top speed of 167 mph. Despite earning accolades from Top Gear (in a 1992 episode, Jeremy Clarkson likened it to "having your own personal jet fighter" and called it one of the two most exciting sports cars of the time), sales were terrible. Venture produced fewer than 700 of the Atlantique 260 and eventually declared bankruptcy in 2000.
10 Shelby Series 1
Carroll Shelby is a legend among gearheads. The creator of the Shelby Cobra and the Shelby Mustang, he's the father of some of America's greatest cars. But even the most accomplished among us can still make mistakes.
Enter the Shelby Series 1. Introduced in 1998, the Series 1 had a 4.0L V-8 engine that was available in both supercharged and naturally aspirated versions. Prototypes produced almost 600 bhp and 530 lb-ft and were capable of a 3.2-second 0-60.
So what was the problem? For its entire life, the Series 1 was constantly at odds with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Shelby American (the production company) spent huge amounts of money trying to conform to the FMVS Standards, but no sooner had they complied than the 1999 standards expired. The cost to re-certify was prohibitive, and the Series 1 never really had a chance.
9 MTX Tatra V8
In 1991, Czech automobile manufacturer Václav Král decided to get in the supercar game with the MTX Tatra V8. With its sleek styling, scissor doors, and pop-up headlights, the Tatra certainly looked the part, but it was more than just a pretty face. The car was powered by an air-cooled V-8 32v DOHC motor that produced 302 bhp and gave it a top speed of 152 mph.
After its debut at a Prague motor show in October 1991, Václav Král began production to fulfill the nearly 200 pre-orders they'd received for the Tatra. Fate wasn't on their side, however; after only four vehicles were produced, a factory fire shut production down for good, making the Tatra one of the rarest cars in existence. Kanye West drove one of them in his experimental film Runaway. As if the Tatra hasn't been through enough already, in the film, West crashes it.
8 Ferrari Testarossa
Produced from 1984-1996 as Ferrari's successor to the Berlinetta Boxer, the two-door coupe Testarossa was the brainchild of Italian-car design firm Pininfarina S.p.A. In Italian, "Testarossa" means "redhead," and the car was so named after its red cam covers. The Boxer had suffered from an overheating cabin due to the radiator design, so the Testarossa was enlarged to fix the problem. It seemed like a good idea, but once its increased wheelbase was combined with its angular exterior, consumers complained that it was basically like driving a $181,000 box. The side strakes, in particular, marked it for mockery as a "cheese grater." Further tarnishing its reputation as a supercar was the fact that the Testarossa never proved itself as a race car, as was typical, and instead stuck to the roads. In the end, it was mainly known as a car for yuppies.
7 Acura NSX
Introduced in 1990, the Acura NSX (a.k.a. the Honda NSX to the rest of the world) was produced with the goal of getting Ferrari-type speed at an affordable price point. NSX stood for "New Sportscar eXperimental." The two-seat, mid-engine car's sporty look was styled after an F-16 fighter jet cockpit. As the first mass-produced car with a totally aluminum body, the NSX had a low curb weight—which was good because the 3.0L V-6 engine only produced 270 hp and 210 lb-ft (good enough for a 5.9 second 0-60). The car was discontinued in 2005, having sold only 9,000 over 15 years. According to Auto Week, "while the NSX is a superb car, it’s no one-word supercar. It is meant to dwell with the 911, 348, and L98, not the 959, F40, and ZR-1."
6 Cizeta V16T
I know what you're thinking, and no, that's not a Lamborghini—at least, not technically. In the late 1980s, car designer Claudio Zampolli (who would later sue Jay Leno for slander in 1999) teamed up with Giorgio Moroder (the father of Italo disco music and EDM) and Marcello Gandini (ex-Lamborghini designer) to create the Cizeta V16T.
Introduced in 1991, the V16T was born from Gandini's original design for the Lamborghini Diablo that Chrysler had declined. It was named for its V-16 engine—a feat it achieved by combining two flat-plane V-8s in a single block. Considering it had two engines, you might expect it to be twice as fast. But no. The V16T had a top speed of 204 mph compared with the Diablo's 196 mph. With a $300,000 price tag, only 19 were ever built during the car's four-year run, at which point, the company bankrupted.
5 DeTomaso Pantera
When the Pantera (which is Italian for "panther") was first imported into America by Ford in the early 1970s, it didn't make a great first impression. Produced by the Italian car company De Tomaso, the Pantera had shoddy rust proofing, and its body panel flaws were covered by large amounts of body solder. The inside was no better; headroom was lacking, and the poorly placed cigarette lighter was prone to accidental activation.
Time went on, and the Pantera improved some. By the early 1990s, the car was being produced with Ford 351 Cleveland engines. Although it had 304 bhp, its top speed was only 146 mph, and the car was phased out in 1992. With only 7,000 produced over the vehicle's 20-year run, the underwhelming Pantera still somehow managed to be De Tomaso's best-selling model.
4 Nissan R390 GT1
The tale of the Nissan R390 GT1 is really a story of what might've been. The GT1 was designed for one purpose: to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. According to the rules at the time, the car also was required to have a road version. Nissan built exactly one (pictured here), which is now housed at their Kanagawa facility. That out of the way, they could focus on their race cars.
The mid-engine GT1 housed a twin-turbo V-8 engine that was longitudinally mounted, giving it a whopping 641 hp. Unfortunately, it saw nothing but trouble from the start. All three of Nissan's 1997 Le Mans entries failed scrutineering and had to be modified at the last minute. During the race, two were scratched due to mechanical failure. The third managed to finish the race but only after two gearbox changes.
3 Panoz Esperante GTR-1
The Panoz Esperante GTR-1 sings a similar sad song as the Nissan R390 GT1. Built by Panoz Auto Development in America, the GTR-1 was also designed exclusively for racing. According to rules, two road versions were built and set aside (they're owned by Donald Panoz, entrepreneur and founder of Panoz Auto) so the developers could focus on racing.
The GTR-1's unique styling is due to its 6.0L V-8 engine being located in the front of the car, which necessitated a long nose with the cockpit placed farther back. Unfortunately, it never lived up to the expectations of its developers. The GTR-1 debuted at the 1997 12 Hours of Sebring but failed to finish. It later failed to finish the Silverstone Circuit and again racked up DNFs at Le Mans, where all three of them were scratched due to mechanical failure. One was even destroyed when it caught fire.
2 Aixam Mega Track
If you've ever wondered what a supercar would look like as a donk, now, you have your answer. The Track was produced by French-based automobile manufacturing company Aixam Mega. Aixam Mega typically produced microcars, so I'm not really sure why, in 1992, they decided to produce something the world had never seen before nor has ever seen since.
The Track is basically a supercar crossover. It was powered by a 6.0L Mercedes-Benz V-12, which gave it 400 hp. Despite weighing over 5,000 lbs, it still managed a 5.4-second 0-60 and a top speed of 155 mph. With off-road tires and a ride height of up to 13", this might as well have been inspired by Doc Brown's famous phrase "Where we're going, we don't need roads." Sadly, only five of the Tracks were ever produced. The world just wasn't ready for a supercar that danced to its own beat.
1 Isdera Commendatore 112i
The Isdera Commendatore 112i might be the rarest car in the world. In fact, it's so rare that even photos of it are hard to find, save for the those taken at the 1993 Frankfurt Auto Show where the car was introduced. The Commendatore prototype was designed by Eberhard Schulz (formerly of Porsche) and sons. The car was powered by a Mercedes-Benz V-12 engine that gave it 408 bhp (good enough for a top speed of 205 mph and a 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds). It was also packed with innovative technology, such as automatically adjustable ride height and active rear airbrakes. Accordingly, it was immensely expensive, costing almost €4 million to produce. Tragically, Isadera went bankrupt before any were even manufactured for sale. This left only the prototype Commendatore as the first and last of its kind.