We all know the great marques that produce supercars. Pedigree driven names such as Ferrari, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, and others. Mostly German and Italian, and entirely European, these brands have built a reputation mainly on their old exploits in racing and high end road car production. But these exploits are old. “Pedigree,” after all, is just the practice of a car buyer wanting to have some of the glory others have earned for themselves. At best, this is somewhat pointless and whimsical hero worship, but at worst it means blindly sitting on one’s laurels and someone else’s previous achievements.
Then there are the car companies that don’t normally produce supercars. Driven primarily by profit like most, but with an inner core of designers and engineers truly dedicated to building things that are awe inspiring. They plod along, producing everyman cars, crossovers, and utility vehicles, praying for the day that their dreams could come true. And every once in a blue moon, and often without the prior consent of upper management, those dreams become reality. When these small teams of talented people with the resources of a large corporation get their shot, it almost always hits the mark, and some of the greatest supercars of all time have come from the halls of car makers whose list of Gran Prix wins is as empty as the head of someone who buys a car for pedigree. This is a list of when the greats weren’t so great, and when the underdogs were.
20 Best Of The Boring: Acura NSX
When the 348 was first unveiled, despite its glaring problems, it was the standard of the world. Seen as an Italian masterpiece just because there wasn't much else to compare it to. Then the people who made the Honda Civic decided to build a supercar.
Supernaturally agile, lightweight, reliable, easy-to-use, gorgeous, and even fuel efficient, the resulting NSX broke the supercar world.
Suddenly it dawned on the establishment that supercars didn't have to suck as cars. The NSX was Ferrari's moment of clarity, and supercars the world over would become better and better built vehicles over time because a company that specialized in economy cars decided to build something more exotic for once.
19 Bad Legend: Ferrari 348
The 348 was Ferrari's public low point. The supercar so bad at being a supercar it was handily beaten in the ¼ mile by a GMC pickup truck of the same era- though the Syclone is a legend itself. Largely a result of a company long used to being at the top resting on its laurels, the 348 had all the standard Ferrari problems without the requisite praiseworthy features. Extremely expensive maintenance, frustratingly poor reliability, bad ergonomics, and relatively touchy handling were standard Ferrari issues that were always mysteriously absent from press cars, but all too present in series production models.
18 Best Of The Boring: Oldsmobile Aerotech
Dazzlingly high tech, especially for its era, the Aerotech series placed a body that was as aerodynamic as it was gorgeous over a current IndyCar chassis, with adjustable downforce. Not necessarily via a splitter or rear wing, but the underbody itself was adjustable to move the center of downforce of the car to promote stability or maneuverability. All this on an 80s Oldsmobile.
Powered by a heavily boosted production-based Quad 4 engine, the Aerotech was built to smash speed records.
Despite the mid engine, rear wheel drive, incredibly turbocharged car proving a handful to drive, it set several records, including a top speed of over 267 miles per hour.
17 Bad Legend: Lamborghini Jalpa
If you haven't heard of the Lamborghini Jalpa, there's probably a reason for that. There is a reason why a mid-engine rear wheel drive Italian supercar of the 80s was so utterly forgotten. Partly, this is because it's big sister was the Countach. But also, this is because it sucked. At the time, it was the second most successful Lamborghini design. But no one really bought Lamborghinis, so that really isn't saying anything.Slow, ungainly to drive, and even more ungainly to look at, it failed in many supercar areas. The next baby Lamborghini, the Gallardo, was a massive success, but only after several decades of progress.
16 Best Of The Boring: Nissan MID4
Besides the original Z car, Nissan has only really built great sports cars by accident. The 240SX was supposed to be a “date car”, and ended up being a drift monkey. The Z became more and more bloated as a GT car, and eventually its own high cost and heavy weight killed it. But the minds at the super conservative Japanese automaker were far from dull.
The ideal performance layout for an internal combustion engine powered car is mid engine, four wheel drive.
That is the concept behind the Mid4. Keeping relative light weight, turbocharged power flowed to all four wheels, and boosted by mid engine balance, this stillborn Supercar promised to be a sight to behold.
15 Bad Legend: Ferrari 400i
While the 348 was Ferraris very public low point, and call for intervention, the 400i is much more of an embarrassing faux pas swept under the rug. Everyone seems to forget the 400 I existed, and perhaps it's a good thing, but it is an interesting point in Ferrari history. This is when the company was truly showing signs of the deteriorating management of Enzo. A man both egotistical and vain. He was Ferrari, after all. Built to be a gran tourer, the 400i was boring to look at, slow and unagile. Perhaps worst of all, simply unexciting. The lower end Ferraris have a habit of not quite being worth it.
14 Best Of The Boring: Toyota 2000GT
The late sixties were a time when Toyota was building Bond cars. Utterly beautiful, to the point of eclipsing the hardtop Jaguar E-type that inspired it’s lines, the 2000GT recently became the first Japanese car to rival European classics in auction value. Before the cars ever hit the auction block, however, they had soul. Small and nimble, they can be compared to early 911s, except without the rear engined handling and air cooling complications faced by the German thoroughbreds.
Toyota actually directly hired Shelby to develop and race track versions in an attempt to beat Porsche.
Even though the 2000GTs didn’t have the speed to beat the 911 in its prime, they showed the world that Japanese cars can bring the heat.
13 Bad Legend: Ferrari Mondial
Some Ferraris depreciate spectacularly. High end cars tend to do this, as owners of such vehicles tend to always have the latest and throw away whatever came before. But the Mondial goes above and beyond. A Mondial can be had for the same money as an up-optioned BRZ. A mid engined, Pininfarina designed, Italian baby supercar is the same price as a BRZ. That’s because this particular mid engined, Pininfarina designed, Italian baby supercar is terrible. Overweight and underpowered, the Mondial will get dramatically outrun by a Honda minivan, while being perhaps the most ungainly Ferrari Pininfarina ever designed. While much easier to service than other Ferraris of the era, it is no more reliable. This is a 30,000$ that isn’t worth it.
12 Best Of The Boring: Chrysler ME412
Back in the bad old pre-bankruptcy days of Chrysler, they saw the world going nuts for supercars. The Ford GT was on its way to being remade, the Gallardo was actually making Lamborghini a pretty penny, and even Ferrari was beginning to sell thousands of 360 Modenas.
Chrysler, similar to Ford with the GT90, wanted to upstage them all.
What they came up with was basically a GT90, but from 2000s Daimler Chrysler instead of 90s Ford. A Mercedes V12 with a quartet of superchargers attached gave the ME412 near-hypercar performance numbers in an era that hadn’t yet seen a hypercar. 248 miles per hour top speed, sub 3 second 0-60 time, and a quarter mile time of 10.6 seconds.
11 Bad Legend: Chrysler Firepower
During the economic boom and subsequently supercar saturated period of the early 2000’s, Chrysler was wide eyed with supercar dreams. The Viper was going strong, and the badge-engineering faithful at Daimler Chrysler wanted a plush, luxurious Viper for the Chrysler brand. It was a challenging task the sports car inclined people at Chrysler awaited eagerly, producing a stunning body for the Viper-based supercar that only kept the most basic proportions of the Viper and replaced the rest with elegant, flowing lines with the standard 2000’s panache and chrome. With just a few hints of Viper-like aggression, of course. But this, and the ME412, would be cancelled as Chrysler began to surge downhill. The firepower fizzled out.
10 Best Of The Boring: Buick Wildcat
In the 80s, there were rumblings at GM that would soon become a flood of awesome cars as the 90s began. While the domestic auto industry was still reeling, its greatest minds continued to muse. So while the rank and file rat racers at Buick were building soulless front wheel drive boxes, a small team deep within the company put together the fourth “Wildcat” concept- a mid engine, four wheel drive supercar built on a bespoke carbon-fibre chassis.
The concept car had no doors, but instead the entire bubble canopy lifted away to provide driver and passenger access.
An extreme car for boring times, from a very boring company.
9 Bad Legend: Porsche 914
It says a lot when Porsche guys hate on a Porsche. But unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take much, if the Porsche in question was built by VW. This was the case with the 914, a car essentially given to Porsche to sell, because it was a sports car. A terribly slow and underpowered sports car at that, similar to the everyman VW Beetle that had no sporting pretext or Porsche badge. Adding insult to injury, it was ugly. Shaped like a shovel in the front, a lunch box in the middle, and a cardboard box at the back, the 914 missed the fundamental parts of being a sports car called being pretty.
8 Best Of The Boring: Nissan R390
Le Mans is the crucible that legendary vehicles come from. The R390 was built for this crucible by Nissan, and while the Japanese automaker had considerable racing success on their home turf with their Skyline series, they had never built a Le Mans winner, and the somewhat pedestrian car company had designs on the highest of all racing victories. Powered by a twin turbo 3.5 liter V8, the R390 screamed. Thrust into the ground by actual GT1 racecar levels of downforce and weighing well under 2500lbs, it was an incredibly high performance track machine. On track it was only bested by the Porsche 911 GT1s, beating an F1 GTR and Ferrari 333 prototype among others.
7 Bad Legend: Porsche 944
Once again Porsche had their badge on a VW, and the Porsche fans turned up their nose.
The 944 was better looking than the 914, easier to work on, and far faster than the 914’s earlier versions, but still not really a good car.
It was easy to get to things that needed fixing, at least compared to other Porsches, but things needed fixing far too often, and parts were only cheap when compared to exotica such as the 911. Porsche just wasn’t capable of building a truly everyman’s sports car, even when the sports car in question was infused with grand tourer.
6 Best Of The Boring: Toyota TS020
Builder of Camrys and minivans, modern Toyota may not seem like much of a racecar or supercar builder, but has long been deadly serious about sports car racing. Their heyday in the 90’s was marked by several class acts, including the Celica GT4, SW20 MR2, and of course the Supra. But just as the large Japanese corporation had sports cars on lock, they continued racing efforts with zeal. Porsche and Mercedes had been dominating Le Mans recently with mind-bendingly extreme supercars that may have followed the letter of the rules, but most certainly not the spirit. Inspired by this, Toyota created a 2000 pound 600 horsepower monster whose rule mandated “trunk” just happened to double as its fuel tank.
5 Bad Legend: Lamborghini Cheetah
The US Forces wanted to replace the World War 2 era Jeep, and was shopping around for potential builders. Of all the industrial, automotive, and military companies in the world, exotic car manufacturer Lamborghini stepped up to the plate. They built the Cheetah, which certainly looked the part of next generation light military vehicle, but that's about where the poor Italian automaker’s luck ran out. Tragically slow and unagile, even for a military vehicle, the Cheetah didn't deserve its name. Powered by an anemic 180hp Chrysler engine mounted in the rear, it could neither turn or accelerate well in the best of conditions. Thankfully, the US chose the Humvee instead.
4 Best Of The Boring: Toyota SARD MC8-R
A predecessor to the TS020 GT-One, the MC8-R was born from a strange decision made by high ranking members of Toyota racing. They would campaign two sports racers, one production based and built from a Supra equipped with the MR2’s engine, and the other prototype like and loosely based on the MR2 but with a screaming V8 mounted in the middle.
This latter car is the MC8-R, a stretched and thoroughly rebuilt MR2 designed to race in the famous GT1 class.
However, the nimble MC8-R was like a knife in a gunfight against the F40s and McLaren F1s it raced against. While the race cars never had success, the street cars have had a mysterious existence, with little known about what happened to them.
3 Bad Legend: Porsche 911 Carrera 996
As a world standard of performance cars for over half a century, the 911 has had many ups and downs. The car started as a maneuverable and lightweight sports car that could kill giants, but over time became the giant. These days, the giant slays, but in the awkward transitional period between air cooled and water cooled engines, there was a noticeable hiccup. Engines blew. The standard of the world was an exotic sports car stranded on the side if the road. Couple unreliable engines with the standard dual Porsche issues of high maintenance costs and difficult to work on mechanicals, and you've got a significant problem on your hands. And that's before the massive understeer sets in.
2 Best Of The Boring: Volkswagen W12
Since everyone was building a supercar in the aughts, VW wanted in as well. Mostly to show off their W12 engine that would grace the corporations high end offerings under the names of other marques. The VW W12 was more in line with current supercars of the era than the radical attempts to beat everyone by Chrysler with the ME412 or earlier by Ford with the GT90. With the complex but compact and powerful W layout, the W12 engine in the VW supercar lived up to the hype, making six hundred horsepower in its penultimate form in the car. Never produced, but only ever seen as a concept.
1 Bad Legend: Alfa Romeo 4C
Alfa was once great. They won races via daring exploits in machines designed and piloted by the seat of their pants, snarling through the countryside with equal parts mystical skill and inadvisable recklessness. That Alfa is no longer with us, and has not been for decades. Their current machines may be exciting, but fall apart at the gentlest touch, let alone under the stress of hard driving. Case in point, the 4C. A car whose transmission is so weak it will explode with less than the car’s factory power. If the engine was detuned, it would still be too much for it. The many fundamental problems with the 4C bely a truth. Even if a name is great, a name alone is not enough.
Sources: Jalopnik, Rennlist, Motor1